Asus SBC-04DIS-U Slim External Blu Ray Reader Page: 1
Introductionblu ray
 
High Def and Blu Ray are words we are hearing more and more often these days. With Blu Ray winning the format war and Blu Ray disc sales going through the roof, Blu Ray is becoming the 'must have' product in movie entertainment.
 
Frankly, I have to agree. Blu Ray is a superb format with excellent picture quality and top notch sound. Blu Ray hasn't been catered for a huge amount on the PC, but manufacturers like Asus are really starting to provide for the High Definition market and this is where they come in with the over-named Asus SBC-04DIS-U Slim External Blu Ray Reader.
 
It's great to see Asus start producing products that support the High Def format and their slim Blu Ray drive isn't only for PC use. With it's diminutive size and gloss black/blue LED design, it's perfect for a portable laptop Blu Ray drive for those who want high def on the go.
 
 
Specifications
 
Let's see how the drive stacks up when we check out the specs from Asus's website.
 
Write Speed
DVD-R: 8X,- (CAV)
DVD-RW: 6X,- (Z-CLV)
DVD+R: 8X,- (CAV)
DVD+RW: 8X,- (Z-CLV)
DVD+R(DL): 4X,- (Z-CLV)
DVD-R (DL): 4X,- (Z-CLV)
CD-R: 24X,- ( Z-CLV )
CD-RW: 16X,- ( Z-CLV )
DVD-RAM: 5X

Read Speed
BD-ROM/R/RE: 4.8 X max.
DVD-R(Single): 8 X max.
DVD-RW(single): 8 X max.
DVD+R(Single): 8 X max.
DVD+RW(single): 8 X max.
DVD-R(DL): 6 X max.
DVD+R(DL): 6 X max.
DVD-ROM (Single): 8 X max.
DVD-ROM (Dual): 8 X max.
DVD-RAM: 5 X max.
CD-ROM: 24 X max.
CD-RW: 24 X max.
CD-R: 24 X max.

Access time
BD: 240 MS
DVD: 200 MS
CD: 200 MS

Writing Mode
DVD-R & DVD-R(DL): DAO(Disc-At-Once)/Incremental Recording (Multi-Border Recording)
DVD-RW & DVD-RW (DL): DAO(Disc-At-Once)/Restricted Overwriting/Incremental Recording (Multi-Border Recording)
DVD+R & DVD+R (DL): Sequential Recording (Multi-Session Recording)
DVD+RW & DVD+RW (DL): Random Recording
CD-R/RW: DAO(Disc-At-Once)/TAO(Track-At-Once)/SAO(Session-At-Once)/Packet Recording (Multi-Session Recording)

O/S Compatibility
XP compatible
Vista compatible

Interface
USB2.0

Data Buffer
2 MB

Bundle Software
Cyberlink

Disc Formats
Write: DVD+/-RW,DVD+/-R,CD-R,CD-RW,DVD-RAM
Read: BD-ROM,BD-R,BD-RE,DVD-ROM,DVD+/-RW,DVD+/-R,Photo CD,CD-DA,CD-Extra,CD-Text,CD-R,CD-RW,DVD-RAM

Dimension (WxHxD)
157x142x21 mm

Weight
412 g
 
Whilst the write specifications aren't amazingly impressive, Asus have still supplied a drive that is capable of burning CD's and DVD's at a reasonable speed. I do not think that these will be massively important to those paying the premium for this portable Blu Ray drive as I would expect they are getting it to watch Blu Rays on!  


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Packaging
 
Packaging is an odd mix. Whilst it is bordering on professional on the outside, I think the packaging looks an little cluttered. At least it features a decent image of the drive on the outside though.
 
box front  box read
 
Moving onto the insides of the box, we see that as usual, Asus have packaged up the drive very tightly. With foam inserts and a compartment for the wiring, the protection is topped off with a covering over the drive itself.
 
box inside
 
All in all then, Asus have done a decent job of packaging up the drive, if it might possibly look a little lack-lustre on the shelves of a retailer.
 
 
Appearance
 
Several things really strike you when you first open up that box. Firstly the drive really is a stylish object. Gloss black with a cross on it (for the LED lighting), the drive wouldn't look out of place sitting next to any modern HTPC setup. Secondly, the drive really is as slim as Asus advertise it and is worthy of it's title.
 
asus br drive front  asus br drive rear
 
Above you can see the sleek front styling.
 
asus br drive front  asus br drive comparison
 
The drive looks nice from the front too, with a silver bezel for the eject button. Notice the Blu Ray disc logo proudly displayed on the front. Above also you can see I've grabbed an old LG drive to compare sizes. Excuse my finger marks on the drive, but it's worth illustrating a slight downfall of the glossy surface!
 
drive lit up  drive open lit up
 
After plugging in, the cross on the front of the drive lights up. Whilst this isn't hugely bright it does become a little disconcerting in a darkened room when watching a movie. Luckily, as we'll see, Asus thought of that. Notice I'm using the stand provided to keep the drive upright. There are rubber feet to allow you to lay it flat too.
 
All in all then, Asus have provided a great looking, very slim Blu Ray drive you can carry around easily and not be embarrassed to take out and sit next to your stylish Vaio laptop.
 
 
Package
 
Asus have provided you with what you need to get going in the SBC-04DIS-U and not a huge amount more.
 
We have:
 
* Mini USB to 2 x USB cable
* SBC-04DIS-U driver and software disc
* Quick install guide
* Gloss black drive stand
 
Whilst the bundled software does include Cyberlink PowerDVD software, it perhaps would have been nice to see a cheap bundled Blu Ray included to get your collection started, especially at the £150 RRP Asus are asking for the player. 


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Testing Methodology
 
Usually at OC3D we strive to give you all of the facts and figures with our hardware reviews. However, with the SBC-04DIS-U, I don't feel that potential buyers will be using the drive as a burner or reader of normal DVD's and CD's. As such, I will give a short analysis of the drive's capabilities regarding burning and then  get really into the stuff you want to hear: how the drive does playing Blu Rays.
 
Tests
Write test using Nero Burning Rom 7.
Burning CD Album - Intimacy - Bloc Party. 482MB 48:05 minutes.

Read Test using SiSoft Sandra and a DVD written with an artifically created 4.5GB text file.

Blu Ray Playback (Region B UK Discs):

• Monsters Inc
• Quantum of Solace
• Twilight
• Terminator 2 Skynet Edition
• The Matrix

DVD Playback

• The Matrix
• Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
• The Bourne Identity

Whilst the player is touted as a Blu Ray player, I think it is important to play some DVD's as well to ensure you wouldn't be disappointed when watching DVD's. I will be using the graphic card's scaler.
 
 
Test Setup
 
I feel it is very important to get the test setup correct when testing items such as a Blu Ray player. As such, the following setup will be used:
 
PC Setup

Dell 2407 WFP (QED QUNEX HDMI/DVI-P Cable (3MTR)

Intel Q6600 @ 3.3GHz
Abit IP35 Pro
8GB OCZ ReaperX PC6400 @ 1000MHz
MSI 8800 GTX
Lite-On SATA DVDRW (model LH-20A1S)
Seagate 7200.10 250GB HDD
Coolermaster Real Power Pro 1000w PSU
Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim
Belkin AV Home Cinema Surge Protector - 7 Socket

AV Setup

Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ80B Plasma

Yamaha DSP-AX863SE AV Amplifier
Mordaunt Short 906i Floorstanders (Bi-Amped, silver coated oxygen free copper)
Mordaunt Short 905i Centre Speaker (Bi-wired, silver coated oxygen free copper)
Mordaunt Short 905i Bipole Rears (300 strand oxygen free copper)
BK Electronics XLS200 DF (Mark Grant Canare LV775 10MTR)

Additional Cabling

2 x Tacima CS929 6 Way Mains Conditioner
Chord Company Silver Plus HDMI Cable (1.5MTR)
QED Performance HDMI-P Cable (1MTR)
 
This setup will enable full 1080p signal to be passed to the plasma TV and a high def audio signal to be bitstreamed for processing by the AV Amplifier for maximum quality.
 
 
Software
 
Asus have provided Cyberlink PowerDVD with the SBC-04DIS-U. This is an excellent software player and it's great that Asus provide this with the player. However, I found that the version on the CD had quite major issues playing back newer Blu Rays such as Monsters Inc. As such, I downloaded the latest version of the software (which is not a free upgrade), and this resolved all issues with the playback. This is certainly something Asus should address when it comes to their retail packs.
 
powerdvd
 
The Asus Blu Tuner software is a very light piece of software that dimms and brightens the LED's on the SBC-04DIS-U. This is simple and effective and a must if you have a dark room to watch your Blu Rays in.
 
blu tuner
 
Asus also provided their Turbo Engine software that increases the connection performance between the USB cable and the external drive". Whilst I'm not sure exactly how accurate this promise is, I installed it as a default and had no issues at all with USB transfer speed.


Asus SBC-04DIS-U Slim External Blu Ray Reader Page: 4
SiSoft Sandra Results
 
I used the SiSoft Sandra Optical Drives Benchmark to test the SBC-04DIS-U. Testing was completed with a DVD filled up with a 4.5GB text file on a DVD-R.
 
sisoft sandra  sisoft sandra bar graph
 
As expected with the specifications of the SBC-04DIS-U (in red), the drive index and access times weren't very impressive at all.
 
 
Audio CD Burn Test
 
I burned an audio CD by Bloc Party (Intimacy). Weighing in at a fairly average 48:07 minutes and 482MB, it's a fair test. I used a Lite-On SATA DVDRW (model LH-20A1S) as a comparison.
 
 
Again as predicted, the burning speed of the Asus was a little slow. Whilst this was a little disappointing, I do not see it as a huge issue, considering the purpose of the drive. It is worth considering though if you are interested in the drive as a multi-purpose tool.
 
 
Noise
 
During Blu Ray playback the drive is a little on the loud side. Whilst I do not have professional sound equipment, it was worth noting that the sound of the drive rose well above my PC, which isn't exactly the quietest system in the world.
 
Having said that, with the surround sound on full pelt and things exploding around me, I didn't notice. This may cause you an issue if you are listening in a quiet area and is certainly louder than a stand-alone unit. 


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Image Quality Tests
 
Note that ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 3 was used for playback, rather than the included Cyberlink software. This was in order to bit-stream the high definition DTS-HD MA and Dolby True-HD audio to the AV receiver. I did also test using Cyberlink and can confirm that this only worked on all Blu Rays used with the latest version of Cyberlink PowerDVD version 9.
 
DVD Viewing Results
 
DVD viewing was a decent experience with the Asus SBC-04DIS-U. The drive easily kept up the playback speeds needed for DVD. I also want to note that the drive span up all the test DVD's very quietly and I could barely hear it whilst in operation. This is in contrast to the Blu Ray playback.
 
Quality was good using both the Nvidia and the TV's own scaling. Images were solid and identical to that on the internal LiteOn SATA drive in the test PC.
 
Blu Ray Viewing results
 
The real test came when I loaded up a Blu Ray.
 
Grabbing Monsters Inc first I waited for the disc to load. With my fairly powerful desktop PC, I didn't have to wait long and the SBC-04DIS-U span up the disc. Monsters Inc is a fantastic disc to watch on Blu Ray and using the Asus SBC-04DIS-U Slim External Blu Ray Reader was no different. Each hair on Sulley's head was perfectly clear as it should be and The Abominable Snowman, Mike Wazowski, Boo, Waternoose and the rest of the scary crew were all rendered perfectly.
 
Moving on to my better half's copy of Twilight led me to some more in-depth analysis of the performance of the drive. At points where the director adds grainy effects on the movie I noticed a very (very) slight drop in quality compared to a stand-alone player. Spinning up Quantum of Solace showed the same slight added grainy-ness to the picture. I found it difficult to decide if this was the drive itself or the processing from the graphics card, especially as DVD performance was identical to the internal DVD player.
 
Sound-wise there was nothing you could quibble about with the Asus player. It delivered a full high definition bit-stream direct from the disc with no issues at all.
 
disc information
 
Perfomance-wise the drive itself had no issues at all. I did not notice any slow down until I forgot the PC was playing a Blu Ray on my plasma TV and decided to start encoding a movie for my iPhone! Surprisingly, this did give me some slight skipping in the video, but was hardly the drive's fault.
 
As previously stated, the drive really does spin up quite a lot when watching Blu Ray's and this almost gets enough to ruin some of the quiet bits of the film.
 
Blu Ray quality was very good but I felt lacked 'something' I can only describe as 'pop' in the image. However, compared to a good quality Blu Ray player such as my Panasonic DMP-BD35, the Asus SBC-04DIS-U stands up incredibly well and does a great job of delivering high def content.
 
Now onto the conclusion. 


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Conclusion
 
Asus have made a very decent external add-on drive with the Asus SBC-04DIS-U. Stylish and thin with a modern clean look and weighing in at a very decent 412g it's a great addition if you have a very capable laptop or PC, but lack a Blu Ray drive to go with it.
 
Now I can tackle the biggest issue with the drive I have at this time - pricing. Asus have given an RRP of £150 for the Asus SBC-04DIS-U and that's quite a lot. Considering you can grab a well-specced Sony or Panasonic from the last generation of Blu Ray players for around £20-30 less than the Asus SBC-04DIS-U; it's a large price to pay for just a drive on it's own. Add to that the fact that Asus have added in a fairly sparse software bundle (including an out of date software player), it doesn't seem the best value for money I've ever seen.
 
Of course, the stand-alone market isn't where Asus are aiming the Asus SBC-04DIS-U. The lightness and diminutive size of the player lend themselves to a great laptop companion. However,as great as the drive is in this aspect, I'm not entirely sure that someone on a laptop's battery would want to use a drive that needs two USB 2.0 connectors to power it.
 
That aside, the Asus SBC-04DIS-U is an awesome, innovative bit of kit that plays high definition Blu Ray drives and looks great doing it.
 
As such, I think Asus deserves a hearty 'Recommended' Award for the Asus SBC-04DIS-U. Despite Asus predicting a lower 'street price' for the unit than £150, I still think the drive is a little too much for what it is.
 
The Good
+ Fantastic High Definition play-back
+ Gorgeous looking drive
+ No external power (other than 2 x USB 2.0) needed
+ Very slim and light
+ Excellent playback performance
 
The Mediocre
* Not quite as good as a stand-alone player
* Bundle lack-lustre
 
The Bad
- Let down by high price
- Loud during Blu Ray playback
 
recommended award 
 
Thanks to Asus for the review sample.
 
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