Monday, 11 October 2010

Gear Review: Lite-On iHOS 104

Recently I've bought a new BD-ROM drive for my pc. The little tv and movies I manage to see I mostly watch on my computer, these days. I have already a DVD burner and I have no need to burn writable BDs, so a BD reader/burner is just overkill. There are cheaper DVD-burner/BD reader only combinations, but why spend more? BD-ROM drives are a little bit hard to find but units like this Lite-On IHos 404 can be bought online for less than 50 euros.

Actually, I had already a BD-ROM drive, the previous Lite-On model, marked Ihos202. It stopped working a few weeks ago, but I think that the culprit was my two year old nephew who had just learned how to open and close (and open, and close, and so on... ) the damn tray.

Anyway: the unit is externally almost identical to the iHOS202: I bought the OEM version, which comes without a box. The retail version comes with a shiny blue cardboard box. There is a foldable paper sheet with some writing I haven't even bothered to read. The specs, an installation guide, and a small program to check the firmware updates are avaible at The once standard little plastic bag with four screws is not included: of course there are four standard holes accomodating japanese gauge cd-rom screws (I think the retail version includes the screws). It's a standard 5.25 unit with a black cover on the front. Mind that it's a Serial-ata and not an ATAPI unit, so you need a free SATA port on the mb and a free SATA power connector on the power supply. What IS included is a red SATA cable and a CD with PowerDVD 8. It's theOEM version, able to play BDs, but with stereo only output. Of course the unit works with other PowerDVD versions and other BD software (i've tried Total Media Theater).

The unit... just works. It's quiet, it reads BDs,CDs,DVDs without a problem. Windows and Linux recognize it flawlessly. The zone is set by software, of course, with the usual limits: I don't know of any hacks on how to reset it. My unit, which should have the latest firmware, doesn't seem to have a problem with the latest releases of AnyDVDHD, the well known CSS removal software.

The speed (nominally 4x, 8x for DVDs, 32x for CD) is rather good. I have extracted an iso image from a dual layer bd drive in under 40 minutes. It can't read DVD-RAM discs.

If you already have the right components (basically a svga card with HDCP/HDMI support AND H.264/VC1 hw acceleration, that is almost every card made in the last 2-3 years) it can be a good add-on to watch BDs on the cheap (or to build an HTPC). Even if stand alone readers are already well under 100 euros these days, there are some unique advantages in using a BD-ROM unit, like the possibility of ripping a BD to your hard disc to see that rented disc of yours when you see fit (like, in three or four installments in these crazy days...)

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