With a unit that large, networking becomes an issue, and the Prostar allows for up to eight concurrent data streams delivered over its FireWire interface, meaning multiple users can set up and run their jobs at the same time. Three 250-disc spindles can be configured as two for input and one for output, with a separate spindle for rejected discs—talk about a "lights out" powerhouse. All those features come with a hefty price tag, too: a fully outfitted Producer Prostar DVD-R unit with eight drives (and an optional second Prism printer) has a list price of $53,100.
Not looking for a unit that offers quite so much, but still in the market for a short-run production workhorse? Rimage's Autostar II offers four A04 drives with a 300-disc capacity (400 with the optional four-bin carousel) and the company's proprietary Everest thermal re-transfer printer for $36,995; the 8-drive model lists for $58,270. The control center is a Dell running Windows 2000 with Rimage's Producer Software Suite and ProNET SDK networking software for setup in a multi-user configuration. Like the Prostar, the Autostar II offers multisession copying (both independent and incremental), and an Encrypted Digital Fingerprinting plug-in as a standard feature to place traceable, undetectable watermarks on each disc. (Rimage's Amigo II and Protégé II are one- and 2-drive versions of the Autostar II, and are priced accordingly.)
Rimage is equally prominent in the desktop duplicator arena, with one-, two- and 4-drive models of their Desktop Publisher series, all of which can be run via FireWire by any PC running Windows 2000 or XP and are networkable with the bundled OfficeNET software suite. The single-drive Desktop Publisher 800 features 60-disc input and 120-disc output bins and a 1200dpi inkjet printer for a list price of $5,295; the dual-drive Publisher1000 lists for $9,095, while the 4-drive Publisher 4000 runs $12,595.
Though they didn't start out manufacturing their own duplicators, Microboards' exclusive partnership with Japanese manufacturer Hoei Sangyo made them a major player in the CD duplicator market from its inception. More recently, the company's acquisition of Champion Duplicators gave it a manufacturing base and a foothold in the automation scene; powerful channel relationships in the audio duplication market have also served Microboards well, and their office-market presence helped establish the Cedar Technologies Desktop line that became Rimage's Desktop Publisher series.
At the top of the Microboards line is the MultiWriter Pro series of PC-connected manual towers, which can house from two to eight Pioneer A04 drives. The MultiWriter offers the option of copying a DVD from one of its own drives to any or all of the remaining drives, or of burning up to three DVD images to be burned to different drives simultaneously with Veritas' RecordNow Max software (Toast Titanium for the Mac). Data throughput is accomplished via FireWire, and the MultiWriters require one 1394 card per eight drives—which means that with two FireWire cards a user can run two 8-drive towers. The most basic, 2-drive model lists for $1,995, while a 16-drive setup will run $11,595.
Microboards also offers the DSR DVD series, standalone 4- or 8-drive towers that can also be connected to PC or Mac via FireWire for burning a DVD master (Microboards makes its own FireWire adapters for the PC). The towers can be purchased with any number of drives, the remaining bays left empty for users to fill as their needs dictate.
In standalone mode, the towers feature a remote menu-driven display and two-button control interface. Still Microboards' most popular unit, the DSR has a built-in hard drive for disc image archival, as well as Copy, Copy and Verify, and Verify Only modes. Depending on the number of drives, the DSR lists from $2,095 to $5,595.
Microboards' line also includes two autoloading standalone duplicators, the Orbit line that Microboards took over when it acquired Champion in 2000. Using a unique "gravity-feed" mechanism for automating disc-loading, the Orbit DVD is a single-drive, 50-disc capacity unit, while the Orbit Pro is a 150-disc capacity unit that includes two drives. The Pro also features a hard drive for disc image archival and a batch mode for automated duplicating from different masters. At 26"x16" and 30"x13", the Orbit DVD and Pro are both true desktop autoloaders, with respective list prices of $3,395 and $5,695.
All of Microboards' duplicators support DVD-R and DVD+R source discs, and director of operations John Westrum says they've experienced no problems duplicating from DVD+R to DVD-R. "We haven't discounted the idea of making a complete DVD+R duplicator, but our customers haven't requested one yet," he said, echoing the sentiments of Primera's Strobel.
Microboards' 4X plans were on hold while the company waited for the DVD Forum to release its 4X media specifications, Westrum says. "Our base controller technology has the bandwidth to support 4X, but until 4X DVD-R technology is readily available, we will continue to provide our current 2X lineup," he says.
MediaFORM (Editor's Note: On August 11, 2003, MediaFORM re-organized as MF Digital, www.mfdigital.com)
MediaFORM's products also run the gamut from the desktop Scribe to the network-ready 8-drive Director NW-2000-8 autoloading tower system. Run on any Windows 2000/NT PC, with the capacity to be part of a user-supplied network, the Scribe CD-9001-DVDR unit is a single-drive autoloader with a 330-disc spindle capacity and optional MediaFORM Spectrum2 thermal printer or Primera Signature Pro inkjet printer. With asynchronous duplicating and printing on a network, the Scribe can make duplicate one master DVD while it's printing the label for a different one in the job queue. At 12 pounds and measuring 16"x16", it's one of the most compact desktop units available; the 4-drive version lists for $9,999.
The next step up on MediaFORM's duplicating ladder is the QuadraPRO LX, a truly standalone 4-drive unit—no PC required—that allows users to duplicate from a disc image stored in the tower's hard drive. The user inputs commands on a "one button per function" membrane keypad, and status and other information is shown on a backlit LCD display. The tower's four spindles hold up to 450 discs, and again the asynchronous duplicating function allows different images to be burned on different drives, while finished discs are printed simultaneously on your choice of a thermal or inkjet printer. What's more, at 22"x17", it's a tower that's practically small enough to fit on a desktop. The Quadra lists for $9,199 with an inkjet printer, $12,999 with the thermal. For a tower that lacks an autoloader but can be used in both standalone or networked environments, MediaFORM also offers the 5000 series, which is available in both 8- and 12-drive configurations; the 12-drive lists for $9,999, the 8-drive for $7,999.
MediaFORM's Director NW-2000-8-D-NT is an 8-drive, autoloading, PC-run tower with a 500-disc capacity. Both offer thermal printing (the Director can be outfitted with an inkjet instead), both are network-ready with Windows NT inside, and both are available in 4-drive models. What sets the Director apart, though, is its Java client capability, meaning that it can run a job from Windows, Mac, and UNIX machines, as well as from the Web. The Director allows for up to eight different jobs to be processed simultaneously, with an unlimited job queue. The 8-drive, thermal configuration lists for $32,999; the 4-drive for $27,999.
Microtech's latest entry into the world of DVD duplication and publishing is the Xpress, a complete workstation outfitted with an autoloading tower of up to four Pioneer A04 drives connected to a 1.5gHz Pentium 4-driven processor with a 40GB hard drive. As all-in-one systems go, the Xpress boasts one of the higher disc capacities, holding up to 600 discs on its removable spindles for lights-out duplicating. For a list price of $8,000, it comes bundled with ImageMaker EZ MyDisc software, which allows for drag-and-drop duplicating from several workstations in a networked environment; it can be outfitted with an optional Signature Pro inkjet or Prism thermal printer for another $7,000.
With 12 A04s located around a central tower of spindles and its two 18GB hard drives, Microtech's ImageAutomator Classic Plus is a four-foot-wide spacehog, but with a disc capacity of 200 or 400, it offers plenty of programmable, hands-off duplication. The BatchDisc utility allows users to stack sets of masters and blank discs, then program the ImageAutomator via a Windows 2000 Pentium III processor to treat each stack as a separate job to be run either consecutively or concurrently. The unit comes with either one or two printers—thermal for quick printing or inkjet for 2400dpi quality. Ready for a 10/100 Ethernet network, the ImageAutomator Classic Plus offers optional Gigabit Ethernet capability as well. The list price for the 12-drive ImageAutomator Classic Plus with thermal printer is $31,900.
If you can do without autoloading and printing, the ImageMaker MJ (multiple job) manual tower boasts seven drives run by an included Pentium 233 CPU or by any number of workstations on a network. The system can be upgraded to include multiple towers, larger towers, or a combination of the two for a total of up to 17 writers, which can process 17 individual jobs simultaneously or make 17 copies of a single job at one time. The basic 7-drive model is $9,995.