Mini-review: LG GGC-H20L Super Multi Blue Blu-ray Disc & HD DVD-ROM Drive on Ubuntu

Optical storage certainly has come a long way, and with each new advance brings new affordable hardware to help nudge it along. The HD-DVD and Blu-ray disc formats brought along with it the ability to store and distribute high-quality, full high-definition 1080p movies.

Unlike when DVD first appeared, and probably thanks to the battle that was waged between the HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats, the provision of high-definition media and associated players has dropped in price rather dramatically to drive acceptance. I have a fairly large original DVD collection, but I am a quality freak and in light of high-definition releases, I loathed the idea of buying a DVD version of a given movie knowing that for about the same price I can buy a high-definition version.

So I decided to buy a Blu-ray drive. One of the cheapest options on the market is LG’s internal drive option called the “Super Multi Blue Blu-ray Disc & HD DVD-ROM Drive”, model GGC-H20L for about AUD$150. This review is my experience using the drive under Ubuntu 8.10, Intrepid Ibex.

My unit came packaged in a slightly larger-than-usual box with attractive print on it. I normally prefer to buy an OEM drive since this packaging generally always ends up in the bin, so I’d rather save some money. Unfortunately my retailer didn’t have any, so I had to buy the retail box.

The LG GGC-H20L drive

In a nutshell, this unit is able to read HD-DVD and Blu-Ray media as well as DVD and CD media, but it can only write to DVD and CD media (all the usual formats you expect, so I won’t detail them here). This suits me fine as these days I rarely write any discs except for giving someone a copy of Ubuntu on disc, and I just needed the ability to read Blu-ray movies that I buy.

Out of the box, the package contains the drive itself, a program disc for Windows only with disc burning software, a backup application, a simple DVD authoring application and PowerDVD for movie playback (this disc was promptly thrown in the bin – I don’t need it). There is also a printed manual, four mounting screws and a serial ATA (SATA) cable and a serial ATA Molex-to-SATA power adapter cable provided.

This is my first optical drive with a SATA interface – everything before this used the usual IDE cable, so it was a pleasure to connect the drive and banish the last of my parallel cables to the cable bucket. General installation was a breeze – as typical as any other optical drive.

Powering up, the system recognised the drive straight away and Ubuntu started booting. Ubuntu saw the drive right away and mounted it as my CDROM drive. It still gets referred to as /media/cdrom which I could change, but honestly, there’s little point to that (and maybe I’m being just a bit lazy because typing “cdrom” is faster and easier than typing “blu-ray”Smilie: ;).

The tray of the drive ejects very quietly which is a nice change from my old Sony DVD-RW unit and upon closing makes that satisfying deep “ker-klump” noise akin to the quiet closing of a door on an expensive luxury car. Smilie: :) The activity light on the front of the unit is a lone bright-blue LED. Of course, a Blu-ray capable unit with a blue light – brilliant…

To do some basic testing, I stuck in a regular CD. The drive detected the disc within seconds and Ubuntu popped up the icon for it on my desktop. No faster or slower than my Sony drive. I was able to read the CD without any issue.

I repeated the test with a DVD disc. Again, no issues. The disc was identified and opened within seconds.

I don’t have any HD-DVD discs handy, so I was unable to test this feature (not that you can buy any of these discs out there anymore anyway).

I then inserted one of my newly purchased Blu-Ray movie discs. Again, the disc was detected within seconds and an icon appeared for it on my desktop (note that reading Blu-ray discs requires the UDF 2.5 filesystem which Ubuntu Intrepid thankfully has already).

The AU/UK release of “The Island” on Blu-Ray disc

The Autorun had no idea what to do with the disc:

Autorun Prompt after inserting the disc

I was half expecting the laser to spend a few extra seconds determining whether or not the disc was Blu-ray or HD-DVD, but clearly a delay is not needed, despite using a different laser. I was impressed. Again, I was able to read and navigate the Blu-ray disc and I was also able to copy files from it without any issue. The drive transferred data at approximately 8.8MB per second. I was able to read off 500MB worth of data in about 1 minute. In the case of the movie disc I inserted, the actual feature is a 21GB file which would have taken approximately 40 minutes to copy.

The file structure on the disc

Burning discs was completed with usual success. I burnt an Ubuntu ISO to a CD using Brasero without any issue. Burning a DVD was effortless also. Again, burn time seemed to be no different to my old Sony unit.

The drive has Lightscribe ability as well, to burn funky labels onto Lightscribe-compatible discs, but as I did not have any such discs handy, I was unable to test this feature.

In operation, the drive is very quiet. Any noise it does make is certainly being overshadowed by the noise of my PC’s fan and the room air-conditioning I’m using right now.

Predictably I was unable to PLAY any of the Blu-ray movies I purchased due to the fact that the DRM used on these movies is vastly different to that on DVD’s, and that Linux has no official support for Blu-ray – both Totem and MPlayer certainly had no idea what the media was.

Totem cant play Blu-ray

Instead, my primary use of this drive will be to make file backups of decrypted Blu-ray movies I purchase and watch them that way instead (because I’m a sucker for high-definition). I have written up a separate post detailing how I did this, the results of which are playable in both Totem and MPlayer – you can read it here.

All up, I think this is a good value for money drive. It’s cheap, cheerful and does the job as advertised. At the moment, it appears the only widespread use of the Blu-ray medium is for movies (and PlayStation3 titles). Outside of that, my drive will ultimately still spend most of its time reading DVD and CD mediums. Who knows, maybe PC games and Linux distros will eventually be released on Blu-ray?

Outside of that, the drive is reasonably future-proof with the ability to be updated via firmware updates, although such updates are Windows-only executables on the LG website, which is a shame. Still, it’s better than having to deal with a DOS boot floppy of old, and it is possible to run the firmware update through a virtual Windows session or via Wine. At the time of writing, my drive was delivered with version 1.03 of the firmware.

Aside from its enforcement of DRM, the Windows-only firmware upgrades and its decidely Volvo-like aesthetics (it’s boxy, but it’s good), there’s nothing really to fault this drive. I give it a hearty thumbs up.

Review score: 8 out of 10