Before this Pioneer repair thread fades back into obscurity, I thought I'd report my recent experiments with burner replacement/swapping.
I've performed countless burner replacements on various pre-2006 Pioneer dvd recorders (the 100% Pioneer-made units with Pioneer burners inside). Each of those older models contained a standard generic Pioneer PC burner, modified with a custom controller board with proprietary connections for the recorder motherboard. When the recorder burner croaked, in 99% the cause was mechanical or laser failure (the custom controller board was still good). So all one needed to do was remove the old recorder burner, open it to harvest the controller board, then swap that board into a very inexpensive (> $40) new Pioneer PC burner.
Beginning with the 2006 models (540-543-640), Pioneer recorders were made in collaboration with Sony. All these new Pioneers and Sonys used a new exclusive Sony burner, and Sony adopted the Pioneer user interface. If you took off the brand logo, you often couldn't tell them apart. These "Type 2" Pioneers were improved in every respect save one: DIY burner repairability. The Sony burner they contain is not used in anything but Pioneer and Sony DVD recorders: no inexpensive generic PC version exists. Replacements were only available via factory service centers at a cost approaching that of a complete new recorder.
Making matters worse, each "Type 2" recorder model splits its motherboard into two pieces: one attached to the recorder chassis, the other sandwiched inside the burner. The board in the burner includes crucial components like the HDMI, digital audio circuits, and front panel USB/DV encoders. So even if one does luck out and find a "spare" burner on eBay or at a surplus dealer, it often won't be the exact right one for your specific recorder. Another hurdle is the increased difficulty removing the burner module from the chassis: you need to completely remove the front panel and disconnect multiple fragile ribbon connectors.
All the above has long held me back from repairing 540-543-640, 450-550-650, and 460-560-660 models with dead burners. When I had access to the factory-supplied burners, and clients willing to pay the $350 cost, I did do a few drop-in replacements of the complete burner+motherboard unit. But I hadn't been able to figure a less-expensive workaround or alternative.
Until this past weekend, when I finally grew annoyed enough with my personal workhorse DVR-560 to tear it apart and experiment. My 560 had become increasingly cranky about high-speed burning of DVDs from its HDD. For most of 2014 it would ruin 1 out of 3 blank discs with a failed burn, then in the last couple months that became an insufferable 2 out of 3 discs ruined. This drove me to finally remove it from my gear rack to see what I could possibly do to repair it. Since at this point, it wasn't willing to burn 70% of the time, I figured I had nothing to lose if I destroyed the burner. So for the first time, I disassembled a "Type 2" burner after removing it.
To my great surprise, upon removing the bottom plate I discovered this "Sony" burner used the exact same connection configuration as the old Pioneer burners! The four internal ribbon cables connecting the inner burner mechanism to the sandwiched "motherboard" were almost identical to the layout in a Pioneer 510, 520, or 530 series recorder burner. So Pioneer must have exerted some influence over Sony in this regard. This gave me the idea there might be some leeway in swapping burner mechanisms by simply switching the sandwiched motherboards.
Then I remembered I still had a funky Pioneer 550 recorder in storage. That particular unit had a short in its HDD controller which wasn't repairable, but I kept it around on the off chance I could use it as a parts donor someday. On a hunch, I removed its burner and opened it. Sure enough, it was the exact same internal mechanism as the 560 version, aside from housing a very different motherboard. So I swapped the mother board from my 560 burner into the 550 burner, and installed the 550 burner into my 560 chassis. The 560 booted up without a hitch, and is now working perfectly with no burn failures. Later, I opened up one of my Pioneer 540 recorders, and found it also uses the same basic burner mechanism, only difference being the motherboard sandwiched inside.
Based on this, I would tend to believe ANY burner form ANY 2006 thru 2008 Pioneer model could be swapped and made compatible as long as the motherboard it contained was recycled. After double-checking a few of my Sony service manuals, it looks like the burners in their x50, x70, x80 and x90 series would be similarly swappable (and might very well work in a Pioneer with no problem once the Pioneer motherboard is installed). The only issue I could imagine with using, say, a Sony 780 burner in a Pioneer 550 would be possible loss of DVD-RAM burning ability (which the Sony recorders do not have). I suspect even this may not be a problem, however: the "RAM" functionality might be determined by the installed board and not the burner mechanism itself. It is entirely possible Sony made a single burner mechanism for all Pioneer-Sony models, with functionality determined by the individual recorder motherboards.
My successful recent experiments left me very interested in ordering a Sony 780 replacement burner from one of the UK-based parts dealers AVS member Super Eye mentioned in this
related post. If my theory is correct, and they work just as well in Pioneer recorders, I'll be glad of having another spare (despite the cost being a little high at $125 USD + international postage).
BTW, while I had my failing Pioneer 560 burner open, I noticed it was FULL of dust and grit. These things must suck in dust as badly as the notorious Panasonic burners do. The rubberized spindle was so dirty I could barely see the black rubber ring. I cleaned it with some rubber restorative, and cleaned the laser lens (plus the laser guide rails which were also filthy). Whether this cleaning could revive the burner in the same way Panasonic burners respond to cleaning, I'll have to leave for future testing (the only recorder I had handy to test it in was the 550 with dead HDD controller).