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Buffalo External USB3 Blu-ray Writer Review

Posted by Andrew at 1:00 AM on October 14, 2010

Having won the format wars, Blu-ray is the hi-def standard; USB3 ports are appearing more regularly on motherboards and 3D is definitely flavour of the month.  So it’s not entirely unsurprising that Buffalo has brought out an external drive that brings all three together.

The BR3D-12U3 Blu-ray drive was released back in September and brings together all the latest technologies into a good-looking external drive.  With a USB3 connection, it has 3D playback support for 3D movies and 12x write speed for both single and dual layer disks.  The full technical specs are here and the RRP is £199.

Buffalo kindly lent GNC a drive to test for a couple of weeks and, frankly, I liked it, probably because it matched my PC case.  However, let’s be a bit more objective.

The drive comes in the usual red coloured Buffalo-style box.  Inside, you get the external drive itself, a power supply, a USB3 cable, a quick start guide and a software CD.

The external drive is black and I think it looks good as far as computer peripherals go.  The case is a fairly hard plastic and the top surface has a shiny speckled surface which is attractive.  The other surfaces have a different matt finish which is plainer but not unattractive.  The front panel has a blue LED that lights when reading and writing.  There’s a green power LED at the back that perhaps ought to have been blue as well.

The PSU comes with UK and European plugs and connects into the external drive at the back.  There is no power button.

If you haven’t seen a USB3 cable or connector, you might be a little surprised. The A connector (that’s the bit that plugs into the PC) looks fairly normal, but the B connector (that’s the external drive end) is a bit different – it’s kind of like two connectors piggy-backed on top of each other.

The Buffalo drive was tested on an Ubuntu Linux 10.10 PC and an HP laptop with Windows 7 Home.  Neither of these actually had USB3 ports or 3D graphics cards, so some of the advanced features couldn’t be tried out.  Regardless, this was still a pretty capable drive.

Windows 7

Windows 7 instantly recognised the drive when it was plugged in via USB2 and put a new drive into Computer.  At this stage, any attempts to play a Blu-ray disk were met with errors as there was no media player installed that could decode Blu-ray disks.  Buffalo have helpfully included the ubiquitous CyberLink suite of programs to get round this.

The CyberLink installation went smoothly enough but it could have been clearer.  The laptop already had an older version of the CyberLink software and instead of saying that a previous version was installed, it simply says, “Do you want to uninstall CyberLink Product X”. This is a bit counter intuitive when you are trying to install the software.  Once I’d overcome that hurdle, it was plain sailing, though it takes a good twenty minutes to get everything loaded up.

The CyberLink suite is made up about six different components – one for playing movies, one for working with music, one for video editing, etc.  I tried out the movie player (PowerDVD) and the disk burner (Power2Go)

The Blu-ray films all looked deliciously detailed in comparison to DVDs and the playback was smooth – no problems here at all.  There were a few issues with the main menu, though.  In “Toy Story”, the animated background seemed to display over the menu so it wasn’t possible to see the options.  I was able to play the film by pressing Enter, but you’d have no hope accessing any other content.

The software also has two modes, “Classic” and “Cinema”.  The former plays the film within Windows 7, whereas the latter gives it more of a video player feeling.  The Cinema mode felt much more polished than the Classic with more attractive menus and preferences screens.

The data module (Power2Go) worked as advertised, allowing files to be dragged from the filesystem before being burned to the disk.  Helpfully, it has a thermometer style display showing you how much of your 24GB had been used.  If you’ve used any of these type of tools before, you’ll be right at home.

Apart from the issue with the top menu, the CyberLink suite seemed to work well enough, but it does prompt frequently to register and upgrade (at a cost).

Linux

Buffalo doesn’t provide any Linux software but using the drive with CDs and DVDs was trouble-free anyway.  DVD’s played well in VLC and there were no problems burning to DVD-R or DVD-RW.  Blu-ray disks were seen as data devices as there’s currently no Blu-ray players for Linux (AFAIK).  However, Brasero recognised BD-Rs just fine and wrote to a single layer disk without trouble.

Using dd to copy data from a Blu-ray disk gave an average of around 14 MB/s for 43GB disk.  Don’t forget that the drive was connected via USB2, not USB3.

Conclusion

As I mentioned at the beginning, I really liked the hardware.  However, I felt it was a little let down by the CyberLink Suite – if you are paying the best part of £200 for what is a high-spec device, you want the bells and whistles, not nagged into upgrading.

Regardless, movie playback was sweet, with the detail you expect from Blu-ray and I didn’t see any stuttering in the films I watched.

The recording or writing features worked well too, though I wasn’t able to test the high speed writing, partly because of an absence of USB3 ports but also the fastest media I could get my hands on was only 4x.

Overall, I’d say a solid and good-looking device and if you are in the market for an external Blu-ray writer, it’s definitely worth considering.

Thanks to again to Buffalo for providing the review unit.

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