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Appeared on: Monday, March 25, 2002
Pioneer DVR-104 DVD-R


1. Introduction
Pioneer DVR-A04 DVD-R/RW - Page 1

- Introduction

The DVR-A03 made many users dream for a true low-price DVD-R recorder. The DVR-A03 was a best seller in many countries and now Pioneer is ready to ship its fourth-generation DVD-R recorder under the codename "DVR-A04". The new model doesn't offer what most users would wish for, "4x DVD-R recording speed", but it does have several improvements over the DVR-A03. We compared, side by side, the "old" DVR-A03 and the "new" DVR-A04.

- New features

The desired "4x DVD-R writing speed" is not yet present, but as Pioneer says there have been several improvements:

1) Drive length has been shortened by 1cm
2) Both horizontal + vertical mounting is possible
3) Increased read speed for DVD-Rom - was 4X, now 6X
4) Digital Audio connector removed - Analog only
5) Front bezel / LED indicator changed
6) Buffer Underrun Free for CD-R/CD-RW
7) Lower Fan Noise - sleeve bearing instead of ball bearing
8) Shorten format time for DVD-RW format (only 2minutes)

- Main Features

The drive supports almost all-available CD and DVD formats including HS-CD/RW:

Writing Speeds
Reading Speeds
DVD-R: 2X-CLV (2.770 MB/s), 1X-CLV (1.385 MB/s)
DVD-RW (both v1.0/1.1): 1X-CLV (1.385 MB/s)
CD-R: 8X-CLV (1.20 MB/s), 4X-CLV (0.60 MB/s)
CD-RW: 4X (0.60 MB/s) * limited to 4x for HS-CD/RW
DVD-ROM (Single): 6-CAV (5.540 MB/s)
DVD-ROM (Dual): 2X-CLV (2.770 MB/s)
DVD-R, DVD-RW: 2X-CLV (2.770 MB/s)
CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, CDDA: Max. 24X-CAV (3.60MB/s)
Video-CD: 4X-CLV (0.60MB/s)

In short, the drive supports 8x writing (CD), 4x re- writing (CD)* limited to 4x for HS-CD/RW, 24x reading (CD), 1x/2x writing (DVD), 1x re-writing (DVD), and 6x reading (DVD). The drive's buffer is 2MB and includes "buffer underrun protection" for both CD and DVD formats (another improvement over the DVR-A03)! With the DVD-R format, only DAO and Packet Writing modes are supported. Lastly, the drive doesn't support RAW writing with either CD or DVD formats.

- The package

We received an engineering sample of the Pioneer DVR-A04. The retail version of the drive will come under the codename "DVR-A04". The OEM model will be named "DVR-104". The retail box will included: The drive itself, multilingual operating instructions (7 languages), 5 pieces of Pioneer 74min CD-R media, 2 pieces of Pioneer 4.7GB DVD-R "General use" media, mounting screws, configuration pin jumper, forced eject key and a Staedler Lumocolor pen.

The drive came without any software but the retail package is planned to include VOB's Instant CD/DVD v6.4 and Sonic Solution's MyDVD v3.0. The drive will become available world-wide at the beginning of April 2002. The price of the drive is not yet known, but for sure it would be lower than the current DVR-A03 price. After a quick search over Pricewatch.com, we saw that the lowest price for Pioneer DVR-104 (bare drive) is around 338$ (380 Euros), while the DVR-A04 costs 375$ (425 Euros). Prices of DVD-R media ,branded, starts from 8$ (Pioneer) and un-branded from 2$ (Princo).

In different regions, other packages could be available. For example, Pioneer Australia offers 3 different retail kits , with different DVD Authoring software and with even Firewire PCI card.

The front of the drive did not include the "Pioneer" logo (retail models will do so). However, it did display the "DVD-R/RW" and "HS-RW" logos. There is one LED present, as well as the eject button and the headphone input jack/volume selector. The exact colours for the "Read/Write" LED are: "Green" during reading. "Orange" during writing, and when an error occurs it blinks "Orange". For the "Disc" LED, it blinks "Green" when the tray is opened or closed. When a read only disc is loaded it lights "Green". When a recordable disc is loaded it lights "Orange". When an unsupported disc is loaded it blinks "Orange":

On the back of the drive there are the usual connectors: IDE interface, power, the jumpers for setting the drive as a Master/Slave, the analog output connector and a 2.7cm built-in fan for keeping the drive temperature low. (Don't forget that DVD-R recording produces higher temperatures than CD-R recording).

- Installation

The Pioneer DVR-A04 was installed as a Master in the secondary IDE BUS. The drive worked in UDMA33 mode and after rebooting, it identified itself as a "Pioneer DVD-RW DVR-104". Under WinXP DMA was activated automatically.

The drive was a 2001 model with firmware v1.10 installed. After our tests finished, Pioneer released a newer firmware version (v1.20). There is a also a region free firmware for those who make frequent changes to the region of the drive. Note that this firmware is not officiall!

We used Nero Burning ROM (5.5.7.2), Ahead InCD (3.21), CloneCD (3.3.4.1) and Sonic Solution's MyDVD v3.0 for the CD/DVD recording/authoring tests.


2. CD/DVD Data Tests

Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 2

CD/DVD Data Tests

- SCSI Mechanic v3.0x results

The Pioneer DVR-A04 has almost the same performance as the previous DVR-A03 drive. Both drives support 24x (CAV) maximum reading speed. The Pioneer DVR-A04 seems improved at the "Average Random I/O" mark with 647Kb/s. At the "Average Sequential I/O" mark, the drive is slower than DVR-A03 by only 3Kb/s.

- Pressed CD: (Click to see the CD Speed Graph)

Using Nero CD Speed v0.85, we confirmed the SCSI Mechanic results. The Pioneer DVR-A04 drive has an 18.61X average reading speed, which is slightly lower than the previous DVR-A03 drive.

In the "Seek Times" test, the Pioneer DVR-A04 has the same performance as with DVR-A03 at "Random" and "1/3" tests. There is a noticeable improvement in the "Full Stroke" test. The DVR-A04 resulted in 297ms, whilst the DVR-A03 is 376ms

- CDR Media: (Click to see the CD Speed graph)

With CD-R media, the Pioneer DVR-A04 drive has improved performance and has a 19.01X average reading speed. The Pioneer DVR-A03 drive stays at 12.71X.

- HS-RW Media: (Click to see the CD Speed graph)

Pioneer DVR-A04 has improved the reading performance also with HS-CD/RW media, giving a 19.16X reading speed. Pioneer DVR-A03 stays behind with 12.37X.

- DVD Results: (Click to see the DVD Speed graph for DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW)

Pioneer DVR-A04 supports a DVD reading speed of 6X (X factor = 1385Kb/s) and the test results show that clearly. Pioneer DVR-A03 stays behind with a 4X DVD reading speed.

The seek times of Pioneer DVR-A04 are the same as for the DVR-A03 model, in the "Random" test. In the "1/3" and "Full Stroke" tests, the DVR-A04 gave almost the half seek times than the DVR-A03.

When ripping DVD movies, the Pioneer DVR-A04 has an average reading speed of 2750Kb/s. The performance is confirmed by the specifications, since the drive can only read up to 2X with dual layer DVD's. Compared to Pioneer DVR-A03, the performance has increased slightly.

Pioneer DVR-A04 supports 2X CLV for all DVD formats, including DVD-R/DVD-RW and DVD+RW .The performance of the drive is higher than Pioneer's DVR-A03, since it supported 2X CLV (DVD-R) and 1X CLV (DVD-RW) reading speeds*. Note that both Pioneer DVR-A03/A04 cannot recognize written DVD+R media as the last minute tests showed.

* NB: This is dependent on the state of the DVD-RW media. If it has been finalized, then it should be able to be read at 2X. If it is still in an un-finalized state, then the R4 stays in 1X read mode for un-finalized media because it remains in a "Write ready" state.


3. CloneCD reading Tests
Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 3

CloneCD Reading Tests

- Procedure

We used CloneCD (v3.3.4.1) and 5 original CDs - Euro 2000 (SafeDisc 1), No One Lives For Ever (SafeDisc 2), Rally Masters (LaserLock 1), Desperados (LaserLock 2) and V-Rally 2 Expert (SecuROM 2) - in order to test the reading performance of the Pioneer DVR-A04. We also tested its reading performance with backups of the original CDs, since the reading speed varies between the original and the backup media. The following pictures show reading/writing capabilities for both drives:

- SafeDisc 1/2 results

Both DVR-A03/A04 drives are not the best choice for reading SD1/2 protected CDs. The DVR-A04 drive seems slightly improved over the DVR-A03 drive.

- LaserLock 1/2 results

In the LaserLock 1/2 protected CDs tests, Pioneer DVR-A04's is not too fast and users should really use another drive for such reading tasks.

- SecuROM results

Pioneer DVR-A04 can only read 16bytes (and not 96bytes) of SubChannel data from Data/Audio tracks. This means that you can backup SecuROM 2 CDs but not LibCrypt PSX protected titles, in case you use the DVR-A04 as the main reader.


4. DAE Tests

Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 4

DAE Tests

- Test Method

We used CD DAE 99 v0.3 beta and EAC v0.9 beta 2 software in order to check the DAE performance of the drive with various AudioCDs (both pressed and CDR). The posted DAE results are the average of both applications. We made a full CD Rip starting from the first to the last track of the CD. The Average DAE reported speeds are displayed in the test graphs.

- DAE features

As the EAC reports, the Pioneer DVR-A04 supports "Caching" data, "Accurate Stream", but doesn't support "C2 error info".

- Pressed AudioCD results

The Pioneer DVR-A04 has increased the reading performance up to 24x (CAV). That's a major improvement over the previous DVR-A03. The average reading speed is now 16.2X:

- CDR AudioCD Results

The Pioneer drive has slightly lower reading performance with CDR media than with pressed CDs:

- EAC Secure Extract Ripping mode

After many requests from numerous visitors we have added the EAC's secure extract ripping mode results, which ensures maximum produced WAV quality. Note that for each drive we used the build-in detection function:

Tested Drives
Average DAE Speed (X)
Pressed
CDR
Pioneer DVR-A03
1.6
1.6
Pioneer DVR-A04
4.5
4.6

- Advanced DAE Quality

All drives performed excellently in the Nero CD Speed Advanced DAE quality test. Pioneer DVR-A04 produced "0" data/sync errors and got a perfect score (100). As the Nero CD Speed Advanced DAE test showed, the drive can read "CD-Text" and "SubChannel Data" from Audio tracks:

- Bad CDR Media results

Despite the fact that Nero CD Speed Advanced DAE test stretches a drive's mechanism to the max, we decided to do real life tests with a scratched disc. The disc was dirty, and with some light scratches, enough to cause problems to most of the tested drives. We used CD DAE 99 software to rip the whole disc (756539616 sectors) and the results were very interesting:

Average Speed (X)
Errors
Errors Of Total Disc (%)
Pioneer DVR-A03
7.0
68804154
9.09
Pioneer DVR-A04
17.2
11428546
1.51

As the tests proved, Pioneer DVR-A04 does perform well with scratched CDs. The drive reported many reading errors though, but the final % of the total disc is low, compared to the DVR-A03's results.

- Ripping 90 and 99mins AudioCDs

The drive can read both 90/99min CDs without any problems.

- Reading/Ripping Protected AudioCDs

For the test procedure we used 3 protected AudioCDs, which we tested in both recognition and ripping (with CD DAE v0.3b/EAC v0.9 beta2) processes:

* Pressed AudioCD with Sony Key2Audio
* Pressed AudioCD with Cactus Data Shield 200 (Natalie Imbruglia - White Lilies Island)

Key2Audio
CDS200
CDDAE
EAC
CDDAE
EAC
Pioneer DVR-104
Cannot recognize disc contents
Cannot recognize disc contents

The Pioneer DVR-A04 drive cannot recognize the contents of protected Audio discs.


5. CDR Tests
Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 5

CDR Tests

Pioneer DVR-A04 supports 4x and 8x (CLV) writing. The drive does support buffer underrun protection for CD and DVD formats which is useful for today's applications. We did our tests with Nero v5.5.7.8 and CloneCD v3.3.4.1. For the CD-R tests we used: Creation 74min (12x), Taiyo Yuden 74 & 80min (24x), Mitsui 74min (24 & 16x) and Verbatim/TDK 74min HS-RW media.

- CD-R Tests

We created a "DataCD" job with data slightly higher than 74mins (74:03:65). We burned the same job with both tested drives, using the same media:

Pioneer DVR-A04 needs 601secs to finish the task, which is actually a higher writing time than the DVR-A03. (Future firmware upgrades will most likely not improve this speed).

- 80min CDs

Following the same procedure as in the previous test, we created a DataCD with data lower than 80min (79:49:50). The Pioneer DVR-A04 supports overburning but needs 10 more seconds to end the task, compared to the DVR-A03:

- Writing Quality Tests

We used Ritek 74min CD-R 16x certified media and wrote a full 74min CD. All CDs were burned with the latest Nero version. The produced CDs were measured from DigitalDrives and the test results illustrated at the following table:

8x writing speed
Model
C1
Average Burning Time (secs)
Max
Average
Pioneer DVR-104
14
0,6
601

The Pioneer DVR-A04 produced a very low C1 error rate with the Ritek media. The following graph illustrates the C1 error rate over the whole disc area:

- Overburning Tests

Our attempts to overburn with the Pioneer DVR-A04 weren't successful. The drive kept locking up at the end of the project with 99min media.

- CD-Text Results

We created several AudioCDs with CD-Text enabled. Pioneer DVR-A04 can write/read CD-Text without any problems.

- CloneCD Tests

CloneCD v3.3.4.1 reports that the Pioneer DVR-A04 drive supports only SAO-RAW writing mode. According to our tests, Pioneer DVR-A04 doesn't really support RAW writing and rejects the CUE sheet file as the CloneCD software reports:

 

- 8cm mini CDs

The Pioneer DVR-A04 supports 8cm CDs without any problems.

Note: An 80mm disc cannot be used when the drive is mounted vertically. This case remains even when an adapter is used. The drive does not support Non-Standard discs such as Shaped or Biz Card size discs.


6. DVD Tests
Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 6

DVD Tests

Pioneer DVR-A04 supports both 1X and 2X (CLV) writing speeds with DVD-R format. As you may know the X factor in the DVD format is not 150Kb/s but 1385Kb/s meaning that a full DVD-R (4.38GB) will take around 60mins to be written at 1X and half the time at 2X writing speed (30minutes). The DVD format is simpler than the CD, since you have only "Mode1" tracks and "DAO" writing mode.

- Writing Performance

We used Nero 5.5.7.8 and wrote the same amount of data for all Pioneer DVR-A03/A04, Ricoh DVD+RW MP5120A and Panasonic LF-D311 drives. The results are listed in the following table:

DVD Recording Tests
Drives
Writing Speed
Average Writing Time (min)
Pioneer DVR-A03 (DVD-R)
(2x)
28:22
(1x)
56:24
Pioneer DVR-104 (DVD-R)
(2x)
28:15
Pioneer DVR-104 (DVD-R)
(1x)
56:21
Pioneer DVR-A03 (DVD-RW)
(1x)
56:25
Pioneer DVR-104 (DVD-RW)
(1x)
56:18
     
Panasonic LF-D311 (DVD-R)
(1x)
56:24

Pioneer DVR-A04 took 28:15mins to write an almost full 4.7GB disc. The recording time is better than that of the DVR-A03 (by 8secs). At the 1X writing speed, the drive will take almost one hour (56:21), which is again better than the DVR-A03. It's quite interesting that the drive needs less time with DVD-RW format at 1X than with DVD-R media:

DVD-R media at 2X

DVD-R media at 1X

DVD-RW media at 1X


7. 2x DVD-R Compatibility
Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 7

2x DVD-R Compatibility

We used several types of DVD-R media to see which media could handle 2x DVD-R writing speeds according to the current DVR-A04 firmware revision. All branded media from Panasonic, Maxell, Pioneer and TDK can be written at 2x without any problems.

We also tried some DVD-R media from

- CDRecordable.com 4.7GB (no-name)
- Imation 4.7GB (branded)

but Pioneer currently doesn't support 2x writing speed with them. There are many complaints from users about cheap DVD-R media that cannot be written at 2x. Pioneer's answer is that they plan to support more media with future firmware upgrades, dependant upon the media passing through Pioneer's and the DVD Forum's verification process.

Pioneer suggests the use of the following DVD-R media for 2X recording:

2X DVD-R recording compatible media

DVR-103
DVR-A03

DVR-104
DVR-A04

Hitachi Maxell, LTD

OK

OK

Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (Verbatim)

OK

OK

Mitsui Chemicals, Inc.

OK

OK

Pioneer Video Corporation

OK

OK

TDK Corporation

OK*1

OK

Taiyo-Yuden Co. , LTD

 

OK

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.,LTD (Panasonic)

 

OK

*1 Starting with firmware revision V1.65

As of March, 20, 2002

Pioneer says that not all the media produced by the above manufacturers is 2X compatible. To confirm whether or not the media intended for use is 2X DVD-R compatible, ask at the point of purchase.

Pioneer has posted the following information explain the current situation with "un-branded" DVD-R media

With the launch of the DVR-103 and DVR-A03 DVD-R/RW drives, Pioneer included a feature to allow recording of DVD-R at 2X. This feature has been brought about by Pioneer's own engineering initiatives. Within each drive there are media specific optimizations called 'write strategies'. These write strategies are tailor made for specific media, making 2X DVD-R recording possible.

Currently the specification set by the DVD Forum for DVD-R is 1X recording. Pioneer was able to base its 2X DVD-R recording feature on this specification, making it possible to include this benefit for its customers.

To make 2X DVD-R recording compatible for "General" media, the following steps must be completed. First, the media must pass the DVD forum's verification for 1X DVD-R. Secondly, with the cooperation of the media manufacturer, Pioneer fine tunes the media for 2X recording. Only after passing through these stages is the media considered 2X DVD-R compatible.

On some media 2X DVD-R recording may not be possible depending on the media's release date, and due to the need to implement this development process. Unlike high speed CD-R recording, 2X DVD-R recording requires optimization. Without any optimization the possibility exists that the recorded media will lack the desired playback quality. This process has been implemented in order to avoid customer confusion over DVD-R media that is deemed not compatible with 2X recording. The 2X DVD-R record feature is media specific. The record speed may default to 1X depending on the media used.

Pioneer will endeavor to communicate this to the end user by making this information available in instruction manuals, product packaging, and other methods of communication. Along with the cooperation of media manufacturers Pioneer will make every effort to increase the number of 2X record compatible DVD-R media.


8. RW-Packet Writing Tests

Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 7

HS-RW Writing Tests

We used Nero 5.5.7.8 for writing CD's with the maximum RW writing speed (4X) for the Pioneer DVR-A04. Note that the test result from DVR-A03 comes with normal CD-RW media:

The Pioneer drives need around 20mins to finish the task, due to its low (4X) re-writing speed. The erase time is 50 secs, 3 seconds faster than the previous model.

- CD Packet Writing Tests

We used Ahead InCD v3.21 for all Packet Writing tests. We used TDK HS-CD/RW media and we formatted it. The formatted disc revealed 530mbs of free space. We copied a 403 MB file (403.147 kbs) from a Hard Disk (on the same PC as the writers) to the formatted RW media-using explorer (we dragged and dropped) and we completed the test twice to eliminate possible time measurement faults and user errors:

The Pioneer DVR-A03 supports only 2.4X writing and 2.8X reading speeds with a packet written formatted RW disc.

- DVD-RW packet writing tests

Using a blank DVD-RW disc, you can format the disc with the UDF 1.5 format and then use it like a normal CD packet-writing medium.

-Test Results

We used the same file/methodology that we are used for our CD packet-writing test. The drive needs 5:01mins to write the file and 4:50mins to read it. That can be translated in 0.98X writing and 1.00X reading (X factor = 1385Kb/s). The erase time is also shorten to 2 minutes.


9. Conclusion

Pioneer DVR-A04 IDE DVD-R/RW - Page 9

Conclusion

Positive (+):

Negative (-):

- Super CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW combo drive
- Supports 2x writing DVD-R
- Supports 1x reading/writing DVD-RW
- Supports 8x writing CD-R and 8x re-writing* HS-CD/RW = 4x
- Performance is within the drive's specifications
- Supports reading of SubChannel Data (only 16bytes)
- Supports CD-Text (reading/writing)
- Low noise and CPU Usage whilst operating
- Drive includes fan to keep temperature down
- Initial price is lower than competitor DVD+R drives

- High Speed Re-writing has been limited to 4x
- Doesn't seem to support overburning higher than 82mins
- Doesn't support DAO-RAW
- Doesn't support 2X DVD-R with all media

DVR-A04 is the second low-end DVD-R recorder from Pioneer. The company had really dominated the market with the DVR-A03 recorder and the new model has several improvements over the previous one. The biggest improvements are the higher reading speeds and the supported buffer underrun protection for CD and DVD formats. There is also support for HS-CD/RW format with 4x re-writing speed. The DVD recording times also seem to be improved and a possible good price for the drive will make it a successful buy, however not as much as the DVR-A03 series. Why? The answer is simple.

The main problem of the DVR-A04 is the new generation of DVD+R/RW recorders that will hit the market in the same time frame. The DVD-R format has proven 'higher compatibility' with DVD desktop players than the new DVD+RW format. However the DVD+R format promises the same and even higher compatibility than DVD-R, something that makes things more complicated. Also the DVD+RW format supports a higher recording speed of 2.4x. Of course no one yet has tested the compatibility of a DVD+R disc, but soon we will have more info.

As a final word, we can say that Pioneer DVR-A04 will not disappoint its potential buyer who wished for several improvements over the already successful DVR-A03. Of course though, the desired 4x DVD-R recording speed is not yet implemented, but after the summer something will come up. The drive's initial price will be less than 600 Euros around Europe, and the "old" DVR-A03 price will be even lower. Who said it's not the time to buy a DVD-R drive?



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