TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Blu-ray Drive You Can Buy Right Now

Blu-ray disk logo.
David Paul Morris—Getty Images Blu-ray disk logo.

The Samsung SE-506CB is thin, light, compact—and quietest

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

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The $80 Samsung SE-506CB is the best external Blu-ray drive for most people—if you need one at all. It’s the best Blu-ray drive you can get for the least amount of money, and it’s the quietest one we tested. The Samsung is well-liked by Amazon buyers, and it’s conveniently thin, light, and compact.

Who needs this?

If you have a laptop without a disc drive and want to back up music and movies from discs to your computer, or need a disc drive for work, you should pick up one of our recommendations. If you’re trying to backup or transfer files from your computer, you should use a USB hard drive or flash drive instead.

You shouldn’t buy one of these for a desktop computer that has room for an internal drive, because internal drives are generally faster and cheaper than portable ones. You also shouldn’t buy an external drive to use with a tablet.

What makes a good Blu-ray drive?

We surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers to find out what people care most about in an external Blu-ray player. Using this information, we came up with a set of criteria to decide which drive is best for most people.

For starters, it must read and write dual-layer DVDs and Blu-rays. 74% of those surveyed use their external drive only at home, but size and weight are still important. A lighter, more compact drive is easier to store when you’re not using it.

Note that some older laptops don’t provide enough juice to power a Blu-ray drive. It’s not necessary for most people, but for these older machines you’ll need a Y-cable that plugs into two USB ports.

How we picked and tested

We began by scouring Amazon and other retailers for best-selling and top-rated Blu-ray drives, and checked manufacturer websites for models that have been released since our previous guide, published in June of 2013. We eliminated drives that cost more than $120, didn’t read and write DVDs and Blu-rays, or had few or poor user reviews on Amazon. We also cut drives that were heavier or bulkier than the rest, and we didn’t re-test anything that we ruled out in our previous guide.

Then we chose four Blu-ray drives and one DVD-only drive to go head-to-head against our previous pick, the Samsung SE-506BB Blu-ray drive. We tested the Buffalo MediaStation BDXL, the new Samsung SE-506CB Blu-ray drive, the Pioneer BDR-XD05, the Archgon MD-3107S, and the Samsung SE-218CB DVD drive (for people who don’t care about Blu-rays).

Our pick

The $80 Samsung SE-506CB Slim Blu-ray Writer is the best Blu-ray drive for most people. (Some days the black version is less expensive and others the white model is the better buy, so shop wisely.) The other Blu-ray drives we tested cost about $40 more for similar performance.

Our pick was the quietest drive we tested, and it’s conveniently thin and light for storage or portable use. The Samsung was the fastest to rip a Blu-ray to an MKV file. It was a few minutes slower than the competition in our other tests, but all the drives we tested (except the pricier Pioneer) take more than an hour to rip and burn Blu-rays.

The Samsung comes with the CyberLink Media Suite for playing DVDs and Blu-rays. This software works only on Windows, though.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The Samsung’s biggest flaw is that it’s a little bit slower at burning and ripping DVDs and Blu-rays and the other drives we tested. However, it was within five minutes of the competition in almost all our tests, which take over an hour each.

Our pick doesn’t come with a Y-cable, but not everyone needs one—only people with older computers that don’t provide enough power to one USB port. If you need one, you can get a Y-cable or a longer USB cord on Amazon.

A faster (but louder) upgrade

If speed and size are your biggest concerns and you don’t mind paying more and putting up with a noisy drive, we recommend the Pioneer BDR-XD05 Slim Blu-ray Writer. It was the fastest in nearly all of our tests, is the smallest, lightest, and thinnest, and comes with a USB 3.0 Y-cable.

The Pioneer is difficult to find for a good price; the black version costs $130 and comes bundled with CyberLink software, and the white version costs $95 but does not come with any software. The Pioneer’s small size and top-loading clamshell design are particularly convenient for a portable drive.

A DVD-only pick

If you don’t need a drive that can read and write Blu-rays, you should save money and get the $38 Samsung SE-218CB External DVD Writer instead.

Playing DVDs and Blu-rays

Because of movie studios’ piracy concerns, it’s much more of a hassle to play Blu-rays on a computer than on a dedicated Blu-ray player. In order to play Blu-rays legally on a Mac or Windows PC, you’ll need to purchase software that licenses the required codecs.

Wrapping it up

Nearly all of the Blu-ray drives we tested are great options, but the $80 Samsung SE-506CB (black or white) is the best one for most people. It’s inexpensive, fast enough, and the quietest drive we tested. It doesn’t come with a Y-cable, but most people don’t need one anyway. The Samsung also comes bundled with Windows software. It’s the best external Blu-ray burner for people who still need to use an optical drive sometimes.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com.

TIME privacy

You Asked: What Are Verizon and AT&T’s ‘Supercookies?’

The New York Pops Present "Jim Henson's Musical World"
Paul Zimmerman—Getty Images Cookie Monster performs during The New York Pops Present "Jim Henson's Musical World" at Carnegie Hall on April 14, 2012 in New York City.

Some cellphone owners are discovering this tracking technology is no treat

Food doesn’t have laws — like physics or math — but if it did, “everyone loves cookies” would surely be an indisputable truth. In fact, it’s along that line of thought that “Internet cookies” got their name, because they are all about sharing information — and cookies were made for sharing.

For example, imagine that a website asked your web browser if it would like a cookie. “I would love a cookie!,” it would likely respond, because that’s pretty much what you say whenever someone offers you a tasty treat. On a diet? Just hit the gym — it’s only a cookie, and you can burn it off whenever you want.

But now imagine another website saying, “Have a cookie.” These cookies are not optional, and even worse, you’re not able to throw them out, ever. That, essentially, is a “supercookie,” a web-tracking technology that privacy advocates want eliminated from the Internet.

Overall, cookies are intended to enhance and personalize your Internet experience, and sites from Amazon to Yahoo use them to tailor the web to your liking. “Traditionally when you’re using cookies on the web, it’s primarily for maintaining some site information,” says Satnam Narang, senior security response manager at Symantec. For instance, cookies can save your username on a website so you don’t have to type it in every time you go to log in. Advertisers also use cookies to take note of what products you search for, so they can serve relevant ads to you as you traverse the web. But you can also erase cookies through your browser settings, or turn them off so that they don’t get saved to begin with. Your web browser’s “private mode” is another great way to get around them, because cookies are not saved when this feature is enabled.

Supercookies, however, operate in a completely different way than standard web cookies. Instead of being a small file that gets saved by the web browser, a supercookie is a string of code injected into the data you’re downloading. Called a “unique identifier header,” this code cannot be deleted or wiped clean, because it is not a file.

“There’s no way for you to wipe that cookie away,” says Narang, “because it’s injected into your network traffic.”

Everyday web users wouldn’t know the difference between a cookie and a supercookie until they tried (and failed) to delete their browser-based cookies — and that is what has privacy advocates so alarmed. “Even if you wipe a cookie away, the fact that your ID header (or supercookie) still exists, they’re able to correlate those two separate instances of traffic,” says Narang. “They’ve already profiled not only the cookie, but that unique identifier header.”

Even if you’re browsing in private mode, websites can still monitor the websites you visited using supercookies. “The whole purpose of using private mode is because you want to just browse the website and not have anything saved,” says Narang. “You’re saying, ‘I don’t want you to save any information about me,’ and (with supercookies) that is not being respected.”

Supercookies were first revealed in 2011, when researchers at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley noted that sites like MSN and Hulu were using them. At the time, Congress began looking into the technology. In November 2014, The Washington Post revealed that Verizon and AT&T had been injecting supercookie code into their network traffic. AT&T stopped using the technology shortly thereafter, providing its subscribers with this opt-out link (click on the link with your AT&T smartphone, not your computer’s web browser). But it wasn’t until Monday — and more pressure from lawmakers — that Verizon agreed to let its subscribers opt-out of the online tracking. Its opt-out solution should be made available soon.

But keep in mind, however you have used these two mobile networks to access the web, whether it has been on a smartphone, through a tablet, or with a laptop connected to a hotspot, your online activities have been tracked, and will continue to be followed with supercookies until you opt out on each device. Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

TIME Innovation

Scientists Have Made Computer-Chip Transistors Just One Atom Thick

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Getty Images

This could change everything

In a breakthrough that could potentially revolutionize the technology industry, scientists have constructed transistors made out of a silicon-based material with the thickness of a single atom.

The transistors, created by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering and unveiled in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, hold the possibility for faster, more efficient computer chips.

The material, silicene, is made up of silicon atoms but has proved difficult to work with in the past due to its volatility when exposed to air. But Deji Akinwande, an assistant professor at the school, teamed up with researchers in Italy to create a layer of silicene between a block of silver and a sheet of aluminum, which they then peeled and scraped to create the silicene strip.

“The major breakthrough here is the efficient low-temperature manufacturing and fabrication of silicene devices for the first time,” Akinwande said.

[Science Daily]

TIME Social Media

Your Tweets Will Soon Show Up on Google Search Results

Users should see the change sometime in the first half of this year

Our 140-character tweets will appear more prominently on Google searches in coming months thanks to a deal reportedly signed between the search engine and Twitter.

Instead of crawling for data, as Google previously had to do, the search engine giant will now have access to Twitter’s firehose, basically a flow of data created by the microblogging company’s 284 million active users, according to sources cited by Bloomberg.

In layman’s terms, this means users will be able to view live tweets instead of Google’s current model of just showing the profile information.

Twitter also provides data to Yahoo! and Bing.

The deal reportedly does not include advertising revenue, but Bloomberg suggests Twitter will receive data-licensing revenue, which reached $41 million in the third quarter of 2014.

Engineers from both companies have reportedly already begun the process of designing the new search arrangement.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is trying to boost his company’s users to compete with more popular social-media sites like Facebook, with 1.4 billion users, and Instagram, which boasts 300 million users and is also owned by Facebook.

The company’s growth rate has clearly disappointed investors and stock has dipped from nearly $66 per share at this time last year to just over $40 today.

News of the deal comes as the Verge reports that Costolo worries Internet trolling is negatively impacting the company’s growth potential.

“It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about [trolling] every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day,” he said.

Twitter is set to report fourth-quarter earnings Thursday.

TIME Drones

Watch This Awesome Millennium Falcon Drone Take to the Skies

This *is* the drone you're looking for

This story was originally published at the Daily Dot.

Drones have many practical uses, from surveying crop fields to filming movies to documenting climate change. But the best technology is part practical, part recreational. That’s where the Millennium Falcon comes in.

Han Solo’s heavily modified YT-1300 light freighter from the original Star Wars trilogy is one of the most iconic spaceships in pop culture. It’s no wonder, then, that a drone enthusiast named Olivier sought to combine the affordable power and speed of today’s drones with the irresistible shape and design of the Millennium Falcon.

In a Reddit thread on the site’s DIY forum, Olivier explained that he built the Falcon around a powerful quadcopter model. The quadcopter “is an overpowered little beast,” he wrote, adding that it was “easily capable of 90km/h [56 miles per hour] horizontal speed.” With his special customizations, however, that dropped to “probably about 30km/h,” or 19 mph…

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME legal

Man Convicted of Running Notorious Online Black Market ‘Silk Road’

In this courtroom drawing, defendant Ross William Ulbricht listens to proceedings from the defense table during opening arguments in his criminal trial in New York on Jan. 13, 2015.
Elizabeth Williams—AP In this courtroom drawing, defendant Ross William Ulbricht listens to proceedings from the defense table during opening arguments in his criminal trial in New York on Jan. 13, 2015.

The man who went by the name 'Dread Pirate Roberts' faces life in prison

Ross Ulbricht, the website developer who controlled an online bazaar that offered drugs and illicit goods in return for Bitcoin, was found guilty on all charges by a jury in New York on Wednesday. He faces life in prison.

In 2011, Ulbricht founded the $1.2-billion empire dubbed “Silk Road,” and ran it until his capture by the FBI in October 2013. The website allowed people to anonymously purchase goods ranging from heroin to false identification, much of which was sent thousands of miles through regular mail. Ulbricht went by the nickname “Dread Pirate Roberts” while running the site.

MORE: How the Feds Nabbed ‘Silk Road’ Drug Kingpin ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’

Ulbricht’s defense claimed the 30-year-old Eagle Scout and physics student was framed by the real czar of the illicit website.

A jury took about three hours to find him guilty on all seven counts, Bloomberg reports, including trafficking drugs on the Internet, narcotics-trafficking conspiracy and running a continuing criminal enterprise.

MORE: The Secret Web Where Drugs, Porn and Murder Live Online

TIME apps

This App Will Decide if Your Partner Is ‘Marriage Material’

marriage app
Getty Images

We are all doomed

Need to know if you Craigslist blizzard boyfriend is marriage material? Thankfully there is an app that can make that decision for you!

Marriage Material launched Monday in the iTunes App Store, and its websites boasts that its creators spent “months working with dozens of relationship experts” to best analyze your marital fate.

In reality, the app provides two quizzes (extra quizzes cost 99 cents) that 1) determines where your partner falls on the “Lazy/Hot” scale and 2) calculates your compatibility after asking thought provoking questions like, “Does he treat you with love and respect?” and “Does he have an occupation you respect and leaves time for you?”

It seems safe to say that you might be better asking each other a bunch of questions instead.

If the app’s a success, at least there will be a market for a spin-off.

(h/t: Christopher Mims)

TIME technology

Hate Your Cable Company? Time For Schadenfreude

A Comcast logo on the side of a vehicle in San Francisco on Feb. 13, 2014.
Robert Galbraith—Reuters A Comcast logo on the side of a vehicle in San Francisco on Feb. 13, 2014.

For those of you who have waited hours for a cable repair guy who didn’t show up, or who got charged $700 for a remote control you didn’t know you had, here’s your moment of solace:

It’s been a really terrible month for the cable industry.

After decades of enjoying close ties with the nation’s political elite and a succession of really good deals as a result, the National Telecom and Cable Association’s famously powerful Washington lobby has begun taking some major lumps.

The latest blow came today, when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he will employ the strongest-possible regulatory tools to ensure that all Internet service providers adhere to net neutrality rules on all parts of their networks. While the telecom association, along with its most powerful members, like Comcast and Verizon, have said repeatedly that they are in favor of net neutrality rules, their version of what those rules should look like is significantly different than what Wheeler has proposed.

Today’s announcement comes less than a week after another blow to the cable group’s lobbying effort. Last Thursday, the FCC voted to update its definition of broadband to mean at least 25megabits-per-second download speeds, in order to reflect modern Internet use. (Prior to the announcement, broadband was defined as at least 4 mbps on downloads—a connection that is not fast enough to, say, have a high-def video conversation with your grandma on Skype, according to the FCC’s own research.)

The National Telecom and Cable Association lobbied hard against that redefinition in part because its members—Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, et al—currently sell “broadband” packages that are significantly slower than what most people would consider, and what is now legally considered, “broadband.”

The two biggest cable companies, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, perhaps had another reason to oppose it, too. Comcast, which has made a bid to buy Time Warner for a cool $45 billion, has hoped the Department of Justice will approve the merger on the grounds that an even-larger Comcast would control just a third of the nation’s broadband market. That was true under the old definition of broadband. But under the new definition, a combined Comcast-Time Warner would control roughly 63% of the U.S. broadband market—a number that may raise eyebrows among anti-trust officials at Justice.

The National Telecom and Cable Association didn’t see either of those setbacks coming.

For decades, the cable and telecom industry has been one of biggest power players in D.C. politics. That’s in part because it spends more every year on campaign donations and lobbying expenditures than almost any other single industry, keeping pace with defense contractors and healthcare. And it’s in part because it has enjoyed unusually close personal relationships to the city’s powerful elite. For example, the currently NCTA President, Michael Powell, is the former chairman of the FCC, and the current chairman of the FCC is Tom Wheeler, is a former president of NCTA. Another former president of the NCTA, Brian Roberts, is now the CEO of Comcast. Both Roberts and Wheeler are generous donors to the Democratic Party and enjoy famously close relationships with President Obama.

But those tight-knit bonds have begun fraying lately. In November, for example, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts put in a call to Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser at the White House, to urge the president not to call for new regulations on net neutrality, according to the Wall Street Journal. Jarrett ignored his pleas and, a few days later, Comcast was blindsided when Obama made a public announcement, calling on the FCC to enact the strongest-possible net neutrality protections.

That little anecdote is bad for Comcast not only because Roberts didn’t end up getting what he wanted, but also because someone at the White House wanted that story to be told—perhaps to send a message to Comcast, and the industry in general, that the White House isn’t doing its bidding anymore. Welcome to the big leagues.

So why the turning tide? Open Internet advocates give credit to “a decade of dedicated grassroots organizing and advocacy.” In the last few years, digital rights and consumer advocacy organization like Free Press, CREDO, and Fight for the Future have spear-headed dozens of grassroots and online efforts to get public officials’ attention. Last summer, for example, they helped organize a record-breaking 4 million people to write letters to the FCC in protest of the commission’s previous, more industry-friendly, net neutrality proposal. In November, Obama cited those 4 million voices as one of the reasons he was calling on the FCC to revise its previous proposal.

But there’s another, more cynical reason for Washington’s about face: Silicon Valley. In the last seven or eight years, tech giants, like Google, Amazon, and eBay, who were once famously naive about the interworkings of Washington, D.C., have started upping their game, hiring crème-de-la-crème lobbyists, pouring money into campaign coffers, and hobnobbing in all the right places.

In other words, it’s not only that the cable industry has had a bad month. It’s also that Silicon Valley has had a good one.

TIME Innovation

China’s Alibaba Is Beating Amazon to the Drone-Delivery Punch

Watch Alibaba drones deliver tea to Chinese customers

Chinese mega e-tailer Alibaba is testing the use of delivery drones to deliver shipments to hundreds of customers in Beijing and other cities, Bloomberg reports. The technology is demonstrated in Alibaba’s video above.

Amazon has long said it wants to experiment with similar drone deliveries here in the United States. However, it has yet to receive federal regulators’ blessings to do so. While advocates of small drones say they could boost innovation across fields from delivery to agriculture, some are concerned that having too many drones zipping around the skies could pose a safety risk.

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