OWC’s Mercury Pro external 16x Blu-ray & Optical Storage
ABT launched in 2008, and in that same year, six years ago, OWC announced the first Quad Interface Blu-ray external drive on the market for Mac and PC offering FireWire, USB 2.0, and eSATA. The flagship OWC Mercury Pro drive featured a 4X Blu-ray disc write speed that allowed you to burn up to 50GB per Blu-ray disk, and it was priced starting at $499.99
Fast forward six years. ABT is still putting out quality reviews, and although the Blu-ray write-once speeds have increased from 4X disc write speeds to 16X, the media is mostly stuck at 6X. However, burning capacity has significantly increased. Last year, Blu-ray media progressed from the then super-expensive dual-layer 50GB discs to the currently super-expensive triple-layer 100GB write once disks; and quad-layer 128GB BDXL compatible discs may now be played. Best of all, the price for OWC’s latest flagship Mercury Pro external burner is now priced at only $167.99!
We borrowed an evaluation unit from OWC and kept it for nearly two months as we delved into optical storage, something we haven’t done for a decade, and there was a lot of information to digest. We also received 6X 25GB and 50GB Blu-ray disks from DIGISTOR along with their archiving software, REWIND, which we shall evaluate for you, along with PowerDirector 14 Ultra which we received from Cyberlink.
About the same time that we received the evaluation OWC Mercury Pro external Blu-ray, our Philips DVD burner failed and we replaced it with an on sale, slightly older ASUS 12x Blu-Ray burner that is limited to last year’s fastest 12x write speeds and 50GB disks. So we had two burners that we compared to each other. The main difference is that our ASUS Blu-ray burner is an internal SATA drive, and the OWC Mercury Pro is an external combination-interface drive that we used with USB 3.0.
Why buy an external Blu-ray drive?
For just one desktop PC, there is absolutely no need for an external burner, and it will save the user a significant amount of money to buy internal. However, for two or more PCs, an external burner makes sense, especially when using notebook PCs, and particularly for Mac. External Blu-ray drives are popular since they can be plugged into a notebook PC, tablet, or netbook using a variety of connectors, usually USB 3.0.
Watching high definition Blu-ray video and movies on a PC is easily possible with an Blu-ray external drive with the appropriate software. Just make sure that your PC is powerful enough to support the software that you choose. And many of these devices have the ability to not only read Blu-ray technology, but to quickly write information to a disk also. This allows the user to record high definition images to a high capacity disk that is far more durable and of much higher capacity than CD or DVD.
Why use Blu-ray at all?
For a long time, progress with optical storage appeared to stagnate. Storing information had progressed from CD to dual-layer 8.5GB DVDs, much the same way as the CD had replaced the floppy; yet Blu-ray adoption was not happening. The burners were expensive, and Blu-Ray disks were limited to 4X burning speeds and 25GB capacity.
High-capacity flash drives filled the PC storage gap between DVD and HDD, and tiny mSATA external drives with capacity to 1TB are available. PC games are never released on Blu-ray, and players have to put up with 4, 5, or even more, DVDs.
For example, Max Payne released in 2001 on 1 CD. The sequel appeared in 2003 on two CDs, but when the long awaited reboot of the series appeared in 2012 as Max Payne 3, it took 35GB of HDD space and was released on 4 Dual-layer DVDs – something that could easily fit on a single 50GB BluRay disk. With the advent of 4K and the next generation games for the latest consoles, one can only wonder how many DVDs will be required for Max Payne IV before the PC gaming industry considers Blu-ray.
Originally, it appeared that Blu-ray would only become popular for playing back high definition Blu-ray movies, and even that was predicted to become niche as connected services such as Netflix can stream content over the Internet without physical media.
Unfortunately for the content streamers, Internet-based streaming services have not achieved the reliability and the performance available from Blu-ray discs. Blu-ray provides the same consistently excellent image quality while streaming video is generally limited by bandwidth that does not usually allow for the same high standard.
The creation of high definition video for home and casual users required a device that could handle higher capacity storage disks for playback of various formats, and even a dual-layer DVD can only store up to 8.5GB. Casual HD movie makers love Blu-ray, and a home HD movie on an inexpensive 25GB or 50GB Blu-ray disk is often a perfect holiday gift to share with friends and relatives who can view it on their own Blu-ray movie players and big screen HDTVs at their native resolutions. And Blu-ray storage is progressing, as we can play 128GB BDXL disks now and record on 100GB disks. Eventually, recording to 1TB disks will be possible as Blu-ray storage technology advances.
Facebook recently announced that it was developing an archiving system that will use thousands of Blu-ray discs for their massive storage needs. Amazon may also be doing the same largely because of the built-in longevity of Blu-ray discs. Hard drive, tape and DVD storage may routinely need to be replaced about once every five years, whereas a Blu-ray disc designed for archiving may last for fifty years or longer!
The Golf Channel recently announced that it would adopt an automated optical disc-based archival system. As 4K high-definition video becomes the standard, storage needs are going to grow significantly. Sports broadcasters mostly save all old telecasts of events for many years.
Because Blu-ray has recently emerged as a very cost-effective method for permanent archiving, new Blu-ray archiving formats have been recently developed that can store from 300GB to 1TB on a single dual-sided,triple-layer optical disc!
No only can big business benefit from Blu-ray archiving, but the smaller businesses and individuals may also benefit from simple archiving software like REWIND by DIGISTOR which we use for our own permanent archiving purposes.
What to look for in an external Blu-ray drive
For a PC user, feature set, size, speed and technical support, including the warranty, are the most important to a Blu-ray user. The feature set includes the type of connectors used and the number of ports available. Included necessary cables and supported configurations make the drive easy or difficult to use. The OWC Mercury Pro scores high marks with its extensive feature set and quad connecters.
USB is by far the most popular interface and USB 3.0 is also the fastest of the four connection choices and the one that we are using for this evaluation. There are two FireWire 800 and one FW 400 connections which are alternately known as IEEE 1394, a standard backed primarily by Apple until recently. FireWire devices can be daisy-chained while retaining its full duplex capabilities, something USB 1.1 and 2.0 lacked.
FireWire 400 supports speeds up to 400Mbps (50MB/s) while FireWire 800 supports speeds up to 800Mbps (100MB/s). As a comparison, USB 2.0 operates at 480Mbps (60MB/s) and USB 3.0 transfers data at 3.0Gbps (300MB/s). If anyone still uses USB 1.1, it can transfer data at 12Mbps (1.5MB/s). Apple has since moved on to Thunderbolt and support for further faster versions of FireWire are unlikely.
The size of an external Blu-ray burner will be important depending on need. Some would prefer a small device with a built-in AC adapter. Others will prefer the “built like a tank” heavy design of the OWC Mercury Pro and the external power brick which means less internal heat build-up compared to using a smaller unit with an internal power adapter. OWC uses their own external case with a quad-interface to house a very fast and high-quality internal LG 16X Blu-ray burner.
Read and write speeds are important to achieve a fast data transfer rate and the Mercury Pro excels for an external drive. Technical support and warranty are important, and OWC provides both. The Mercury Pro is strictly plug and play, so there are no issues; and there is a 1-year warranty on the product.
Blu-ray drives work out of the box as plug and play Windows hardware. You are able to drag and drop files to be burned to disk. However, Blu-ray burners can only be used for archiving or playing back DVDs (using a media player). To playback or record Blu-ray, you will need licensed software.
We use two very important and popular software programs. One is PowerDVD 14 which is the latest Blu-ray media playback/record/editing software which we received from CyberLink for evaluation. The other is REWIND which we received from DIGISTOR for evaluation. It is a very simple to use archiving tool especially made for archiving on Blu-ray disks that we use for permanently archiving our own data, especially tax information.
In addition to single and double layer BD-R discs, the Mercury Pro external Blu-ray drive offers expanded support for up to 100GB of data on triple layer BDXL-R/BDXL RE discs and up to 128GB on quad layer BDXL-R discs. For comparison, 128GBs of data on a single quad layer BDXL disc is the equivalent of 27 standard DVDs or five single layer Blu-ray disks. Our last generation ASUS drive is limited to 12X burning speeds (not important) and 50GB dual layer BluRay disks. The lack may prove to be far more important next year as prices drop on the 100GB disks. Generally it is not yet cost effective to use 100GB disks for storage as they are very expensive – well above fifty dollars for a single write once disk! However, 50GB disks which used to occupy extreme pricing slots last year are now much more reasonably priced, generally below $2 each when purchased at ten or more in bulk.
From OWC’s site:
The USB 3.0, FireWire® 800, and eSATA multi-interface data connection options provide the throughput to support fast 16X write speeds. From 640MB CD-Rs to 128GB BDXL media, the Mercury Pro External Blu-ray optical drive provides the right speed and data capacities for every size project.
Key Features Include:
- Read and write all optical formats
• Includes everything needed to get up and burning with ease.
• High-quality, double shielded FireWire 800 (1394b) connecting cable (9-9 pin cable)
• High-quality, double Shielded USB 3.0 Standard-B to Standard-A cable
• Large Buffer Memory: 4MB
• RoHS Compliant
• 1 Year OWC Limited Warranty
• Prosoft Engineering® Data Backup 3
• Smile® DiscLabel™ software for labels and jewel case inserts
• Roxio Toast® 11 Titanium media toolkit with Blu-ray support (optional)
Pricing and Availability:
The OWC Mercury Pr External Blu-ray optical drive is available now from OWC and from select retailers for just $167.99.
The OWC Mercury Pro External Blu-ray optical drive is also available with Roxio Toast 11 Titanium media toolkit software for only $219.99.
- OWC Mercury Pro Quad Interface External Blu-ray Drive
- 110v US Standard Power Cable
- UL Listed U.S./International Auto Switching 100 ~ 240v, 50/60Hz input, 12 Volt 2.5 Amp output Power Supply (adapter plugs for International use sold separately). For replacement power supply, click here.
- High-quality, double shielded FireWire 800 (1394b) connecting cable (9-9 pin cable)
- High Quality Double Shielded USB 3.0 Standard-B to Standard-A (backward compatible with USB 2.0/1.1) connecting cable
- Two (2) Pieces 25GB BD-R 4x Write-Once Media
- Prosoft Engineering® Data Backup 3
- OWC Disc Labeling Software Bundle
- LightScribe System Software
- LightScribe Simple Labeler
- Smile On My Mac: DiskLabel
The OWC Mercury Pro uses a LG 16X Blu-ray internal drive into which they factory install into their own Quad-interface clear acrylic case.The specifications of the internal 16x LG Blu-ray drive look exceptional and we will want to see how this translates practically to using the drive. After we check out our test bed, let’s unbox the Mercury Pro Blu-ray external drive.