MCE Blu-Ray Burner: So Far, So-So

Almost four weeks ago I took the plunge and ordered a Blu-ray burner from MCE Technologies to install into my Power Mac G5 tower. It was on back order for quite a while, as was the media I ordered from Meritline (which I expect to finally show up this week). The drive itself arrived at the end of last week, and they were kind enough to ship a re-recordable Blu-ray disc with it, so I was able to play with it some over the weekend.

The results so far have not been encouraging.

Getting it installed in place of the factory DVD burner seemed physically pretty easy, but I could not get my Mac to recognize it at all. I took it out and reseated it a few times, and finally realized the problem seemed to be with the daughter board mounted very loosely on the back of the drive. This board was evidently added to convert from the drive’s native SATA connectors to the ATAPI cable that is in my three-year-old Mac. The converter board is only held on by the SATA connector itself and a stack of foam mounting squares (the kind I used to use to put up pictures in my dorm room). Carefully reseating the adapter board and reattaching the drive finally allowed my Mac to realize it had a optical drive again.

My first test was to be burning an HD video disc, since I want to be able to save things to be watched on my TV in its full digital glory. Unfortunately, although Toast 9 (with its HD/BD plug-in) is supposed to be able to do this, I had no luck. Toast took a really long time to encode the program, and I suppose that should not surprise me—I only have two 2.5GHz G5 processors. So if I can get the drive working as it should, it will probably motivate me to finally upgrade to one of the new crazy 8-core Intel towers. But after hours of encoding, as soon as Toast started trying to burn it would immediately fail with an error about an invalid block size. So I need to hit up the Roxio support people about that issue.

But I wanted to see if the drive itself was the problem, so I erased the disc using Disk Utility (worked fine), and tried burning a huge file in the Finder. The first attempt failed, but with a different complaint: my machine was too busy and had not delivered data in time. This I could believe, because by then I was also working on rendering another movie. So I erased again, quit my other tasks, and tried burning the 8GB data file again. It worked just fine, and I was able to mount the resulting disc in the Finder. Great—basic functionality confirmed.

But I was not out of the woods yet. I went back to my other projects and my Mac kept locking up, requiring me to hold down the power button to force a shutdown. At first I thought DreamWeaver must be to blame, but then it happened somewhere else. Tired and frustrated as I was, I thought to check the console logs, and I saw errors being reported about the ATA bus being wedged. Huh, could it be because I had the Blu-ray disc mounted? I tried ejecting that, and suffered no further lockups. Grr, I can’t live with that. So now I need to talk to the tech support at MCE as well. I want to try with a few other media types first so I can give them a detailed problem report, but that will take a lot of time, with an intermittent problem like this. Argh.

And then through the rest of the weekend I noticed a few times that the machine failed to successfully go to sleep, even when there was no disc in the drive. This is a problem I definitely did not have previously.

Man, I hope there is an easy way to sort out these problems. I’d really like to have a drive like this, but I can’t put up with an unstable system, not when it has been working great for years. And I know troubleshooting something like this could be a royal pain.

So, it does appear that Blu-ray is still very bleeding edge. The delays in shipment of both the drive and the media suggest that this is an industry-wide issue, not just a Mac problem. As for my instability and inability to burn HD video, I’ll write an update when I’ve had a chance to hear from the two companies’ support teams.

2 Comments

  • By Paul, July 27, 2009 @ 1:30 am

    Hello,

    I installed a drive in my 2006 MacPro this weekend and I am getting exactly the same issues. I disabled the original superdrive to just leave the MCE drive in place but the same issues occur.

    Did you get anywhere this may have to go back and try an external USB drive.

    Cheers
    Paul

  • By James Elliott, July 27, 2009 @ 9:18 am

    I’ve since replaced my PowerMac G5 with a 2009 Mac Pro, and the drive is working fine in the second bay alongside the Apple-installed SuperDrive, although Toast is still not happy with it. I can burn Blu-ray data discs from the Finder, and will be trying with Final Cut Studio one of these weeks.

    The new machine has SATA interfaces for the optical drive, so I was able to eliminate the problematic ATAPI adapter entirely. The hard lockups that plagued my G5 with the drive and adapter have not happened with this configuration.

    Best of luck in your troubleshooting!

    -Jim

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