Hitachi’s GD-2000 DVD-ROM drive – Hardware Review

Hitachi’s GD-2000 DVD-ROM drive – Hardware Review – Evaluation

Hugh Bennett

Without doubt, Hitachi America Ltd. has taken the boldest public position in the fledgling DVD-ROM drive market. Back in March 1997, when most manufacturers were still talking about single-speed DVD-ROM drives with their 8X CLV CD-ROM read performance and their failure to read CD-R or CD-RW, Hitachi confidently announced the GD-2000, a bar-raising double-speed unit with 20X maximum CAV CD-ROM drive performance and full backward compatibility for CD-R and CD-RW discs. Since then, the features inherent to Hitachi’s second-generation model have become the minimum DVD-ROM drive criteria for most PC-compatible manufacturers and upgrade kit vendors interested in offering DVD as part of their product lineup. That’s good news for Hitachi.

Unfortunately–for both Hitachi and the industry as a whole–the charm of DVD-ROM cannot fully be appreciated without the appropriate combination of supporting hardware and software. Thus the company does not offer a bare GD-2000 drive for consumer purchase. Instead, the drive is available as an integrated part of brand name PCs, or within an aftermarket upgrade kit offered by Pacific Digital, one of Hitachi’s key national distributors.

The Pacific Digital PCD DVD-ROM kit used in this review retails for $370 and includes everything needed to play both DVD-ROM and DVD-Video titles, including Quadrant International’s CineMaster MPEG-2 video/AC-3 audio decoder card, cables, software, and detailed installation manual. Also included as part of the package are several DVD-ROM titles, including Muppet Treasure Island and Spy Craft, as well as several Warner DVD-Video sampler discs.

TESTING THE WATERS

The GD-2000 is a rather unassuming unit–distinguished from a typical CD-ROM drive by little more than the small DVD-ROM logo resting on its front bezel. As with most DVD-ROM drives, the GD-2000 is only available with an IDE (ATAPI) interface and can be connected in either a standard master or slave configuration. Using speedy ATAPI devices like GD-2000 with a bus mastering-capable IDE controller and appropriate software drivers pays handsome dividends by offloading overhead from the microprocessor.

Like other current generation DVD-ROM drives, the GD-2000 reads pressed single-layer DVD-Video and DVD-ROM discs, as well as dual-layer discs using both opposite track path (OTP) and parallel track path (PTP) data layouts. Because of their inherently compatible nature, DVD-Recordable discs are also supported.

It is important to note, however, that the GD-2000, like its contemporaries, does not read the much-anticipated and argued rewritable DVD-RAM and DVD+RW formats. Support for DVD-RAM is not anticipated until the third generation of products, and even then it is unclear if the devices will read 2.6GB/side discs or the promised 4.7GB/side format. Also up in the air is whether cartridges will be accommodated. What is “certain,” however, is that DVD+RW compatibility is unlikely, given Hitachi’s leadership position in the DVD Forum’s DVD-RAM working group. Users for whom compatibility is a significant concern should consider postponing purchasing a drive or resign themselves to replacing the unit in a year or two.

READY FOR THE HIGH DIVE

One area where the GD-2000 outperforms the previous generation of DVD-ROM drives is in its improved reading of CD-ROMs. Higher speeds are achieved by using Constant Angular Velocity (CAV) technology, which spins the disc at a constant rate rather than varying the rotational speed as the optical pickup moves across the disc. In familiar CD-ROM drive terms, this translates to a data transfer rate of roughly 8.6X (1290KB/sec) and approximately 20X (3000KB/ sec) at the outside diameter. During testing, the GD-2000 fulfilled most expectations, with CD Tach Professional benchmarks revealing performance levels comparable to many of the ATAPI CD-ROM drives currently in use.

Perhaps the darkest cloud that has hung over most DVD-ROM drives is their inability to read CD-R discs. Stemming from a difference in light wavelengths of 780nm infrared for CD-R and 635/650nm red for DVD, the problem has confounded many a DVD-ROM drive developer. For Hitachi, though, the point appears to be moot, since the GD-2000 is one of the first DVD-ROM drives to read CD-R and CD-RW discs.

To overcome this wavelength obstacle and provide full backward compatibility, Hitachi has engineered an ingenious optical pickup solution consisting of separate 780nm and 650nm lasers, as well as a circular head containing two objective lenses. Upon detecting the type of media inserted, the drive automatically selects the correct wavelength laser needed and swivels the head to position the appropriate objective lens in the laser light path.

To assess the success of Hitachi’s efforts, the GD-2000 was put through its paces, reading sixteen 74-minute (650MB) CD-R discs from eight media manufacturers (two each of Kodak, Ricoh, Mitsui, CMC Magnetics, Pioneer, TDK, Plasmon, and Mitsubishi/Verbatim) and written by a Yamaha CDR400 CD-Recorder. Interchangeability was estimated by performing byte-level comparisons of the discs’ contents to source data and timing the operation. CD-RW tests followed the same pattern, but used two 74-minute Mitsubishi discs written by Hewlett-Packard CD Writer Plus 7100 and Ricoh MP-6200 CD-RW drives. Given the fact that all of the discs achieved close to their full speed and recovered all data accurately, it seems that Hitachi’s pioneering work has paid off.

Of course, another way to gauge backward compatibility with the compact disc family is to establish compliance with the MultiRead specification set forth by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA), which requires DVD-ROM and other devices to read CD-ROM, CD-DA, CD-R, and CD-RW discs.

For this assessment, compliance was verified by reading the appropriate four discs described in the OSTA test plan for MultiRead devices, even though Hitachi has not yet surrendered the GD-2000 to MultiRead’s self-certification tests. In testing, the pressed CD-ROM held a single-session ISO 9660 track, the pressed CD-DA disc held five audio tracks, and the CD-R and CD-RW discs held the Epsilon 11 test disc layout, which consisted of three sessions: track-at-once in the first, fixed packets in the second, and variable packets in the third. As with the less formal tests, all discs were easily read by the GD-2000, which is further testament to Hitachi’s commitment to providing backward compatibility.

COME ON IN, THE WATER’S FINE… FOR NOW

Conventional wisdom tells us that what’s new is old and what’s old is new–a dictum that holds at least partially true with new technology, where early adoption almost guarantees obsolescence. Devices always become less expensive and capabilities forever increase. In the case of DVD-ROM drives, there has been a rapid transition from I X to 2X devices. What’s more, 1998 is expected to usher in not only higher-speed units, but DVD-RAM and DVD+ RW media-reading capabilities.

However, if you currently need or want a DVD-ROM drive and can’t wait to find out what all the fuss is about, then Hitachi’s GD-2000 is an excellent choice. Given its solid backward compatibility with existing compact disc formats, including CD-R and CD-RW, 8X/20X CD-ROM read performance comparable to current generation CD-ROM drives, and double-speed DVD-ROM capability, it would be hard to go wrong with this unit.

Hitachi GD-2000 DVD-ROM Drive Main Feature Checklist

CD SUBCHANNEL SUPPORT Read

UPC/EAN A

ISRC A

SCMS B

Index points B

Copy prohibit A

Emphasis A

R through W subcodes B

DVD TYPES Read

Single-layer A

Dual-layer A

DVD-R A

DVD-RAM B

DVD+RW B

CD TYPES Read

CD-R A

CD-RW A

CD-ROM Mode 1 A

CD-ROM Mode 2 A

CD-DA A

Mixed Mode A

CD-ROM XA A

CD-i A

Photo CD A

Video CD A

CD Extra A

8cm discs (CD-3) A

PERFORMANCE

Advertised Tested

CD-ROM

Transfer Rate (Mode I)

2K inside 1290KB/sec 133KB/sec

16K inside 1290KB/sec 1195KB/sec

2K outside 3000KB/sec 2858KB/sec

16K outside 3000KB/sec 2853KB/sec

Seek/Read Test

Full stroke 180ms 177ms

Random access 130 ms 122ms

DVD-ROM

Transfer Rate 2826KB/sec Not tested

Seek/Read Test

Random access 210ms Not tested

OTHER ATTRIBUTES

Flash Firmware A

Digital Audio Extraction A

MTBF 100,000 POH

Duty Cycle 20%

Form Factor 5.25″ half-height

Interface Enhanced IDE (ATAPI)

Buffer Size 512KB (DVD-ROM), 128KB (CD-ROM

Rotation CLV (DVD-ROM), CAV (CD-ROM)

Disc Loading Tray

Mounting Orientation Horizontal or vertical

Mechanism Hitachi GD-2000

Legend

A – Supported B – Not supported

Companies Mentioned

Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) 311 East Carrillo Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; 805/963-3853; Fax 805/962-1541; http://www.osta.org; CIRCLE NUMBER 417

Pacific Digital Corp. 2052 Alton Parkway, Irvine, CA 92606; 714/252-1111; Fax 714/252-9397; http://www.pacificdigitalcorp.com; CIRCLE NUMBER 419

RELATED ARTICLE: Hitachi’s GD-2000 DVD-ROM Drive

Synopsis: Hitachi’s GD-2000 is a second-generation, double-speed DVD-ROM drive with 20X maximum CAV CD-ROM drive performance and full backward compatibility for CD-R and CD-RW discs. Using Constant Angular Velocity (CAV) technology, which spins the disc at a constant rate rather than varying the rotational speed as the optical pickup moves across the disc, the GD-2000 offers an approximate 8.6X (1290KB/sec) data transfer rate at a disc’s inner diameter and 20X (3000KB/sec) at the outside diameter. The drive is not priced by itself, but is instead integrated with brand name PC-compatibles, or within an aftermarket upgrade kit offered by Pacific Digital, a key distributor. The Pacific Digital PCD DVD-ROM kit used in this review retails for $370 and includes everything needed to play both DVD-ROM and DVD-Video titles, including Quadrant International’s CineMaster MPEG-2 video/AC-3 audio decoder card, cables, software, and detailed installation manual. If compatibility and obsolescence concerns do not factor into the purchasing decision, the GD-2000 is a solid investment, given its backward compatibility with existing compact disc formats, CD-ROM read performance, and double-speed DVD-ROM capabilities.

Price: $370 when purchased with Pacific Digital’s PCD DVD-ROM kit; includes GD-2000 DVD-ROM drive, Quadrant International’s CineMaster MPEG-2 video/AC-3 audio decoder card, cables, software, and installation manual.

For more information, contact: Hitachi America Ltd.

Computer Division, 2000 Sierra Point Parkway, MS: 500, Brisbane, CA 94005-1835; 800/448-2244, 650/589-8300; Fax 650/244-7647; http://www.hitachi.com; CIRCLE NUMBER 410

Hugh Bennett, an EMedia Professional contributing editor and columnist for The CD Writer, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems Inc., a company based in London, Ontario, Canada offering CD and DVD-ROM recording, mass reproduction, and consulting services, as well as CD-R/RW and DVD-R/ RAM hardware, duplication systems, software, and blank media sales. Bennett is also the Chairman of the Canadian Advisory Committee for ISO/IEC JTC 11SC 23 dealing with optical disc technology and editor of the Optical Storage Technology Association’s (OSTA) Running Optimum Power Control white paper.

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