Mon, 21 Jul 2003

Choice of portable DVD drives

Free-falling prices are not new when it comes to electronics, but perhaps DVD players are one of those electronic devices that have become cheaper faster than the others. Today, a DVD player costs not much more than a VCD player, and the widely available DVD-based movies and music videos have driven the player's popularity.

Newer notebook computers are now coming installed with a DVD player, too, and they are not limited to high-end models only. Users love it, as it enables them to watch DVD-quality movies while on the road. But, more importantly, it allows them to load large encyclopedias, access massive databases, make video-based presentations and even install software without having to swap the platters. There is a version of Microsoft's Encarta that comes in one single DVD, for example, and LINUX-ON-DVD.COM offers Linux on ... well, the name is self-explanatory.

Now, what if your notebook does not come with a built-in DVD player? The good news, as always, is that there are after-market portable DVD players. Two of the best-looking portable DVD players are ASUS SCB-2408-D and ASUS SCB-1608D. Both are lightweight (250 g), have very attractive designs and are selling like hotcakes.

Both can write and rewrite CD-ROMs, read DVDs and DVD-ROMs, read CDs and CD-ROMs. Both can be connected to the PC or notebook through a USB 2.0 or an IEEE 1394 port. The only difference is the speed at which they write to the CD-Rs.

There is one shortcoming with the ASUS SCB players, though. Neither of them can run on batteries. There will not be a problem when using them with a notebook computer, as they will draw the power through the USB or 1394 connection. However, you cannot use them as stand-alone gear.

Similar to these two products is Sony VAIO External DVD+RW drives PCGA-CRWD2, PCGA DDRW1 and PCGA DVRW1. Two of these models, each of which comes with a US$599 list price, can even burn DVDs directly from your camcorder. Then there is also BenQ with its USB-based DVD player. The BenQ Portable DVD player comes with an A/C adaptor and can be connected to your TV. It also comes with an infrared remote control.

ASUS, Sony and BenQ are of course not the only makers of portable DVD players for notebook computers. Other vendors, especially those from Taiwan, will soon come up with their own products.

The most important features to look for include the two interfaces -- USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 -- the ability to write CD-R and CD-RW with the help of an overrun buffer, and a sturdy housing that will protect the electronics and the laser pickup mechanism from banging around and accidental falls.

One thing to remember is that in addition to the portable DVD drive, there are also portable DVD players. This hardware, which aims to provide entertainment, usually comes with its own screen and audio amplifiers. We shall take a look at them in another article.

-- Zatni Arbi