You ask some good questions, and make some good points. Of course most of the average users on CDFreaks, CDRinfo, and CDRlabs, probably do not own all the burners they talk about.... however, *SOME* of the less average users just might!
Personally, I would love to tell you *ALL* about my feelings on the NEC 3500AG, which is the OEM version of the NEC 3500A.... but unfortunately, you'll have to wait until I'm done my review of it. I'm sure the same goes for Wesociety of CDFreaks, who is in a similar situation.
So, to answer your question regarding why people know things about DVD Burners, and you can't find a decent review:
Many people are very diligent about watching the forums of CDRinfo, CDRlabs, and CDFreaks. And many MANY people who own these drives post scans of media they have burned in them. So anyone following these threads will have some idea of how the drive performs on that media, as outlined by the tests being run and uploaded by the drive owners. HOWEVER, this also means that people commenting on the scans they've seen posted have no real world experience with how these discs really perform, relative to the scans done. This can be a big problem sometimes. I could upload scans of discs that look like the disc is of top notch quality, but the disc itself is completely unreadable in most drives. For this reason, when I do my reviews, I ALWAYS test the disc in multiple other drives, and give the results. But I degress. Properly done reviews are probably the best way of knowing the drive before you purchase it... Unfortunatly, the best drive reviews always take time. So patience is the best thing I can suggest.
Good luck! And I hope I helped at least a little
Punch Cards -> Paper Tape -> Tape Drive -> 8" Floppy Diskette -> 5 1/4" Floppy Diskette -> 3 1/2" "Flippy" Diskette -> CD-R -> DVD±R -> BD-R
The Progression of Computer Media