So, disregarding bundled software and assuming that neither is riplocked, (and keeping in mind that my computer's graphics card, while HD-capable, is rather low-end - an integrated ATI Radeon 4200) which do you think is likely to be better overall for playing and burning, the LG or the Pioneer?
You won't notice any difference in playing between the drives. For hard to read discs (scratches or failing burns) I believe the LG would be slightly better at reading. Burning edge goes to the Pioneer by all reports, but I don't have direct experience with this. My LG is a much older model, and gives excellent burns. It may be my best drive for burning cd's for example.
Verbatim DVD's are one of the types we recommend most around here. Get the ones with AZO on the label, and don't buy their "Life Series" discs, since these are plain CMC Magnetics mid codes.
The French study is often quoted around here, since it seems to be the only torture test available to the public. User testing does not support the results so far however, as there have been very, very few reports of Verbatim Blu-ray media failing after being burned. This is unlike Ritek and Philips discs, and discs manufactured by MBI, which do have a number of users reporting failures.
The Verbatim BD-R discs in your Amazon link are the regular, inorganic dye HTL discs. On the side of the cakebox you can see M A B L over the words Hard Coat. This is found on the good discs. The LTH discs will have LTH prominently displayed on the cakebox, as in this link.
As far as I am aware, there are only two companies selling LTH media. Those are Verbatim and JVC/That's (owned by Taiyo Yuden). The Panasonic discs are HTL.
Out of those, WinDVD appears to be the most affordable, closely followed by Cyberlink (at least as long as it's on sale for about $50, which it currently is). How do their licenses work - do you have to pay for a renewal every year? How long do you get free updates with them? Do either of them also play ripped files?
The license for those players is good only for the duration of that version of the player. In other words, you buy PowerDVD 13, and it is good for any updates to the number 13 version....13.1, 13.2, etc. When they get tired of providing free updates, they simply tack a new version number on the software. So, once PowerDVD 14 comes out, updates to version 13 will slow, then stop entirely within a short time period.
The players will work with various types of media files. Playing ripped Blu-ray, I think they differ a bit. As I recall, WinDVD wouldn't play Blu-ray on the hard drive, but I only had the trial for 11.5, and can't confirm that. Arcsoft and PowerDVD both play ripped Blu-ray folders, but they must have changed that in PowerDVD at some point, because my earlier version wouldn't do that.
The big problem with the AACS accredited players is that they must detect Cinavia in ripped files now. PowerDVD ignores that signal in mkv or mp4 files, but honors it in ripped Blu-ray and burned Blu-ray discs. TMT6 honors the flag in everything except original Blu-ray discs.