Provides: Blu-ray disc reading and writing
Minimum Requirements: 1 (or 2) USB ports
Price: $109.95 to $399.95
Remember the days when you had to fight for those around you to buy a DVD player to replace those blasted VHS players? You likely stressed how much better the resolution on DVD would be. Or perhaps your experiences was more about storage instead of playback. Maybe you were trying to get others to switch from CD to DVD, or something similar. This is, of course, a result of its superior storage space. Blu-ray is no different, and FastMac would like to help your Mac recognize or even burn BluRay discs.
It should be noted that FastMac has a few different models of Blu-ray drives, but this review focuses on the one that will likely appeal to the most users. It’s external, works on USB, and is in the slimline form factor.
The drive itself is very small, and looks no different from the external slimline DVD or CD drives you may have seen. The familiar size of this drive has an added benefit. Not only can it be added to most USB 2.0 compatible Macs, it’s super portable too. If you have two open USB ports, you don’t have to even plug it into the wall; it draws all the power it needs from the USB drives. And this drive supports almost every useful format under the sun. It does all the CDs, DVDs and BDs (Blu-ray discs) you can throw at it. And depending on which model you foot the bill for, it might even burn all of the above.
FastMac’s lowest external model will read and write CDs and DVDs, but only read BDs. The next step up will burn BDs at 2X, and the final, top of the line model, will burn at 4X. You might be thinking that 2X isn’t that bad, but remember, this is a BD. BDs can hold somewhere around 25 or 50GB depending on if it’s a single or dual layer BD. That’s a ton of space, and even at 4X, it takes a long time. If you can afford the price difference, buy the faster model. Of course, you could always buy a cheaper one now and expect the price to plunge over the next year or so.
So, why in the world would you want a BD drive? Sadly, the only way to actually watch a commercial BD on your Mac right now is to boot into Windows via BootCamp and use the newest version of PowerDVD from Cyberlink. This is an enormous pain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple begins to incorporate support for Blu-ray into Mac OS X. In fact, we’ve already seen some support sneak its way into iTunes.
Ok, so if you can’t watch BDs, what can you do? Save copious amounts of data onto a single disc. You can store a ton of stuff with 25 or 50GB. You could more than likely back up your entire iTunes library and store it, just in case. But also, you can actually burn standard video BDs, like the kind you would put in a BD player. This is accomplished through Toast Titanium with the HD plugin (which is an extra $20). I tried this out, and it worked perfectly. It’s really fun, though less magical than the first time you burned a DVD with your home videos.
Just think of the possibilites this kind of space provides. You could back up most of your important data—if not all of it—on a single BD. You could burn home movies filmed in HD onto BDs to watch in your player. Heck, if you have the accessories for it, you could record Star Wars with a TV tuner, then burn them each to their own BD and have the world’s first copy of the Star Wars trilogies on Blu-ray. But what’s the catch?
There’s always a catch, and as usual, it’s the money. Blu-ray drives are a relatively new thing, and the discs themselves are similarly expensive. Remember when DVDs first came out and they were ridiculously priced? Yeah, it’s similar to that. But just like DVDs, you can buy rewritable BDs. They cost more, but you can rewrite to them (you’ll need Toast Titanium for this, as Mac OS X can’t figure out how to erase a BD). And remember, while it might seem like a lot of money for a single disc, it stores so much more than a DVD, so I suppose you should expect it to cost significantly more.
Right now, it’s hard to find a good reason to buy the low end drive from FastMac. If Mac OS X supported BD playback, I’d recommend everyone buy one since Blu-ray is so amazing. But unless you have a source of data filled BDs, there’s little reason to justify the purchase. The writable drives, on the other hand, are amazing for data storage. If you have Toast Titanium with the HD plugin, you can even burn your own video BDs, which is simply amazing at this point in the story. And it isn’t hard to imagine that Apple will someday incorporate BD playback support into iTunes or Quicktime. That would, of course, make this a perfect solution for watching BDs with your MacBook on the go.
But none of this is cheap, not by a long shot. Cool technology costs money, and Mac users like us are completely familiar with that. So, exactly how deep are your pockets, because this could easily cost you 500+ dollars to burn your first disc. Is it worth it? I can’t answer that. All I can tell you is that it works as advertised, and it’s a ton of fun for HD video fanatics.