Intro & overview
The Samsung SE-S184 was proclaimed the world's fastest USB external DVD burner. In the world's first review of the SE-S184, Bob Crabtree checks out the Samsung's writing and reading credentials, sees how it performs some of the many useful tasks a burner can carry out and ponders the need for speed and the claims made for burners.
Practically every TV set in the land has a DVD player sitting under it or alongside it, so having the ability to write your own DVD movies discs is something that many people are likely to welcome, especially those who shoot video.
Anyone with a PC fitted with a TV tuner will also find a DVD burner invaluable since, with the right software, it's possible to archive recordings of broadcast TV programmes and movies to DVD.
Writing video to optical disc, though, is just one of the many useful things you can do with a DVD burner - and the possibilities only increase as burners are able to write to a wider range of media.
Today's latest models, of which the Samsung SE-S184 is a prime example, are burn-everything jobbies. The Samsung itself is far from expensive - you can buy it for just £39 including VAT - but the E-IDE internal burner on which it's based is even cheaper, costing under £21, inc VAT.
Some (but not most) of these latest writers are able to burn labels directly to discs (CD or DVD) using HP-patented LightScribe technology - and the Samsung is one of the elite.
All you need to do is flip the disc over in the burner so that the label side is facing down and use suitable software. This is always supplied with LightScribe burners but freebie software is also available from the LightScribe site.
The disc, though, has to have a label side that's been treated to be suitable for writing in LightScribe burners and the blanks still carry a premium over plain or inkjet-printable media.
Naturally, the latest models can handle write-once DVD-R and DVD+R discs, along with DVD-RW and DVD+RW rewritables.
And the ability to burn to plus and minus media means there are no worries, as there used to be in the early days of consumer DVD writers, of accidentally buying blanks that won't work in your particular model.
On top of that, these new-generation models can burn to higher-capacity DL (double-layer/dual-layer) variants of the two write-once blanks (there are, as yet no RW rewritable DL discs) and can handle the rugged, longer-life rewritable DVD-RAM format, too.
DVD-RAM discs cost far more than any of the other DVD blank media (though DL blanks remain pricey, too), so they're not something we'd expect most people to normally choose instead of -/+RW rewritables or ultra-cheap write-once blanks.
However, being able to write and read DVD-RAM is useful if you need to make secure copies of highly-important files on a PC.
It will also be of considerable value to many owners of camcorders because a goodly number of camcorders now use DVD-RAM as their preferred recording media, since, in camcorders, it offers better and faster disc access and navigation than other types of recordable DVD.
Camcorders take 8cm mini discs, rather than full-size 12cm discs, but the Samsung, like most burners, has a well in its disc tray to accommodate the smaller size of media.
In addition, all DVD burners can to write to CD blanks - CD-R write-once and CD-RW rewritables. So, as with a CD-only burner, you can create your own music-disc compilations and backups of commercial audio CDs for use in the car or portable and personal players.
Being able to write to CD and DVD also allows you to create backup copies of commercial software - so there's no need to risk damaging the valuable originals by using them on an everyday basis.
And, of course, all types of CD and DVD blanks can be used to make temporary or permanent copies of data files that sit on your PC, though DVD-RAM is the format of choice if the files are very important.
The makers of DVD burners, DVD blanks and DVD-writing software will all tell you that DVD is great for backing up PC system drives and partitions. We won't spoil your enjoyment by giving you our take on that idea at this early stage but will say right now that it's something we have very strong opinions about!
Instead, let's first look over on page two at the pros and cons of external DVD burners...