February 2002|Ridiculed by competitors as a mere toy when first introduced, Primera Technology's Composer has taken its place among credible integrated CD duplicating and printing systems. In its wake, the industry has discovered that affordable doesn't necessarily mean useless—that there is indeed pent-up demand for low-cost, all-in-one products offering disc recording and labeling. Over the past year, others have followed in Primera's trailblazing footsteps by releasing systems similar to the Composer. The latest of these is MediaFORM's SCRIBE. Designed as a no-frills contender, the SCRIBE offers a basic set of practical features at a price that should appeal to a wide body of users needing economical, low-volume disc production.
A versatile platform indeed, the SCRIBE is available in three base configurations: CD-R, DVD-R, and print-only. The SCRIBE CD-R and DVD-R versions are modular and available by themselves or combined with inline inkjet or thermal transfer disc printers, while the print-only model offers the same labeling choices but lacks the recorder.
The duplicator itself is a slim, but solid, metal stage for a vertically-mounted disc transport robot teamed with a fixed 100-disc input bin and output spike. In the review system, recording was taken care of by an internally-housed SmartDRIVE-16X (Sanyo CDR-BP4) SCSI 16x10x40 CD-R/RW drive, but the unit will shortly incorporate the latest SmartDRIVE-24X (Sanyo CDR-BP5) SCSI 24x10x40 CD-R/RW drive. And for those doing DVD work, or anticipating future production needs, the SCRIBE DVD-R configuration incorporates Pioneer's award-winning DVR-A03 DVD-R/RW recorder [See Bennett review, June 2001, www.emedialive.com/r16/2001/bennett6_01.html] for dual CD and DVD duplicating duty.
The optional printer is located on a stand connected to the back of the duplicator platform. Original SCRIBE systems were shipped with an inferior printer stand consisting of two loose foam blocks that, thankfully, has since been upgraded by MediaFORM to a proper fixed-metal platform.
System Requirements and Setup
Unlike standalone CD-R duplicators that are completely self-contained systems, the SCRIBE must be operated from a PC-compatible computer. Realistic minimum requirements for CD-R production include using a 300mHz Pentium-class PC with 128MB RAM, Windows 98, ME, NT 4.0 or 2000, and a hard disk with 1GB free space capable of sustaining a 2.5MB/sec transfer rate. DVD-R duplication requirements are more substantial with systems using either Windows NT 4.0 or 2000 with at least an empty 6GB hard disk partition formatted in the NT File System (NTFS).
For this evaluation, the SCRIBE was put through its paces using a 1.7gHz Pentium 4 PC with 256MB RAM running Windows 98 SE, an Adaptec AHA-2940UW SCSI card, IBM Deskstar 80GB Ultra ATA/100 EIDE hard disk, and a Plextor UltraPlex Wide 40X max CD-ROM drive.
Piecing together the SCRIBE takes a little bit of effort and involves attaching the printer and its stand to the main duplicator, installing the included Adaptec AVA-2902B SCSI card and loading the software onto the PC. Unfortunately, cabling has always been a weakness for computer-attached automated duplicators and the SCRIBE is no exception requiring separate SCSI (recorder), parallel (printer), and serial (robot) connections. The unit also lacks a second SCSI connector so it must be installed as the last device on the SCSI chain. In addition, aligning the printer for the first time is somewhat cumbersome and can involve five or ten minutes of trial and error.
Controlling the actions of the system is MediaFORM's proprietary SCRIBE software, a scaled-down version of the program powering the company's larger Axiom and cdDIRECTOR custom disc creation products. Unfortunately, although simplified, the SCRIBE's software interface takes some getting used to as it features an odd array of tabs, check boxes, text fields, and buttons.
Existing discs can be duplicated in several ways, the first of which involves creating a physical image file on the hard drive. Once accomplished making copies is as simple as specifying the desired number and submitting the job for processing. Multiple images can also be created ahead of time and jobs set up to run sequentially or in specified priority order. For the ultimate in convenience, a handy "relay mode" feature removes the need to create images beforehand. The master CD to be copied is placed in the input bin along with the number of blank discs to be written and the SCRIBE simply takes care of the rest. Multiple master CDs can also be copied automatically in this manner.
During testing, the SCRIBE proved that it offers a lot of bang of the buck. After a few minutes of processing to create the initial image of the master CD, the SCRIBE took a respectable 55 minutes to produce ten discs containing 650MB of data, 39 minutes for ten discs holding 350MB, and only 15 minutes to duplicate ten discs containing 50MB.
Designed more for duplication than premastering, the SCRIBE copies the majority of CD formats and unencrypted DVDs from existing discs, but creates only basic audio and data discs from scratch. Support includes the drag-and-drop authoring of Mode 1 Disc-At-Once (DAO) data CDs using ISO9660 with Joliet extensions (UDF 1.02 for DVD) and red book audio from WAV and MP3 files. Particular to MediaFORM systems including the SCRIBE are the features associated with the company's SmartDRIVE technology. The most fundamental is a stamping system that writes fingerprints into discs for quality control and authentication purposes, but, unfortunately, it remains unfinished as there is currently no way to read back the information on the system. Another interesting ability is a rudimentary copy protection system that can corrupt specified dummy files during recording to make resulting discs a challenge for others to duplicate.
Setting the SCRIBE apart from many of its competitors is its support for a broad array of optional printers that can be purchased with the unit or added at a later time. Currently, the SCRIBE offers attachment of MediaFORM's Spectrum/ Rimage's Prism and Primera Technology's Inscripta thermal transfer printers, as well as Primera's Signature III, IV and Pro color inkjet models for labeling inline with disc duplicating. Selecting the right printer for each application is extremely important as each model and technology has its strengths and limitations.
Thermal transfer printers feature reasonable speed, the ability to print monochrome labels on standard lacquer surface CD-R and DVD-R discs, and indelible results. In terms of current alternatives, the $4,699 Spectrum/ Prism offers 600x300dpi printing resolution as well as single-color black or three-color cyan, magenta, and yellow output. More of a rugged commercial solution, the Spectrum/Prism is overkill for most office applications and is best paired with the SCRIBE print-only model to create an inexpensive production-level autoloading disc printer. By contrast, the $2,999 Inscripta was designed with office use in mind, and features 610x305dpi capability along with red/black, blue/black, or green/black two-color or black, orange, red, wine, shamrock green, forest green, royal blue, or brown single-color output.
Inkjet printers, on the other hand, are considerably less expensive and offer attractive full-color photographic-quality output, although they do so at the cost of using discs with special surfaces and producing water-soluble labels. Primera's $1,499 Signature IV offers 1200x1200dpi print quality sufficient for most jobs, as well as full-color output from a single three-color ink cartridge. The more capable $1,899 SignaturePro boasts faster speed, higher 2400x1200 maximum resolution, and true four-color capability.
Printing with the SCRIBE requires creating label designs ahead of time using a conventional graphics program or the software included with the Primera or MediaFORM/Rimage units. Using standard PRN files created by the programs as the label sources, the SCRIBE can be set up to copy and print discs or simply print discs by themselves. One feature sorely missing, however, is the ability to create at least basic labels from within the SCRIBE software to make quick and dirty jobs more convenient.
Most users will likely opt for the lowest-cost solution, so the SCRIBE was evaluated using a Signature IV printer. During testing, duplicating and printing full-surface labels using the Signature IV's 1200dpi presentation mode, the SCRIBE took 65 minutes to output ten 650MB discs, 45 minutes for ten 350MB discs, and 36 minutes for ten 50MB discs. A good all-around performer that generates very attractive labels, the Signature IV's speed is well-balanced with the SCRIBE when printing on reasonably full discs. The SCRIBE's simultaneous recording and printing ability allows the Signature IV to keep pace, but the faster SignaturePro would prove less of a bottleneck when dealing with smaller sets of data.
The Bottom Line
Aimed squarely at the emerging market for low-cost automated solutions, MediaFORM's SCRIBE may be a little rough around the edges, but it is a competent performer well-suited to short-run CD and DVD duplication and labeling chores. With its wide selection of printers, no-nonsense features, and reasonable speed, the SCRIBE stacks up well against its competition and is well-worth considering.