December 2002|The entire optical media duplication landscape has changed since EMedia did its last duplicator roundup in 1999. Since then, CD duplication has max'd out as CD drive speeds hit 40X and beyond; the most powerful machines can now crank out hundreds of discs an hour from a dozen or more drives. It's so fast and reliable it's almost not interesting anymore.
Not so with DVD duplicators, which still represent only a small portion of the overall duplicator market. Though media is down to a couple of bucks a disc for the "good" brand-name stuff and you can burn two full 4.7GB discs in an hour on a 2X Pioneer A04 (the drive that dominates the duplicator industry), DVD duplication still hasn't taken hold for in-house production the way CD has. Lingering compatibility concerns have certainly slowed things down, as has uncertainty about which writable DVD format will win out in the end. But DVD duplication is clearly on the rise—emerging as a key piece in the digital studio production puzzle—and the familiar faces from the CD duplication world are doing everything in their power to carve out a bigger piece of the pie with robust manual-loading towers, high-capacity autoloaders, and network capability.
As I write this, all the duplicator manufacturers are eagerly awaiting the release of 4X media, a move forward that lets them double their products' productivity by simply swapping the A04 for an A05 and adjusting the cost accordingly. In the meantime, here's the best that the industry has to offer.
Minneapolis-based Primera has positioned itself as the leader in autoloading duplication systems, with everything from the new desktop Bravo, which lists for $2,495, to the heavy-duty, 400-disc, 4-drive ComposerMAX, which goes for $12,995.
The company introduced the Bravo DVD Publisher in late summer 2002 as a means for customers to get high-quality, short-run duplication onto their desktops. "Instead of buying one expensive duplicator and networking it, our customers are buying two or more Bravo units and spreading them throughout the company," says Primera sales and marketing vice president Mark Strobel. "This makes in-house duplication far more convenient than a single, centralized unit."
The Bravo can hold up to 25 DVD-R or -RW discs in its autoloading mechanism, feeding them into a Pioneer A04 drive. The system can be run by any PC with a Pentium III or equivalent processor, running Windows 2000 or XP with NTFS drive partitions. The duplication and printing control is connected via USB 2.0, while the image data is delivered via FireWire. The duplicator comes bundled with Prassi PrimoDVD burning software and SureThing CD Labeler for label design. After burning, which takes about 30 minutes for a full 4.7GB DVD, the unit prints to Primera's own 2400x1200dpi Signature Pro inkjet printer. "The Bravo was our first approach to finding new users," Strobel says. "DVD duplicators are still a small part of our overall sales, although they're increasing every month."
At the other end of the spectrum is the ComposerMAX, which also began shipping this summer. At 72 pounds and with a footprint of 20"x30.5", it's still small enough to be called a desktop duplicator, even though it boasts a 400-disc capacity and can be outfitted with two or four Pioneer A04s. After burning, the unit's robotics transfer the discs to four individual 100-disc output bins or to an optional printer. Users can add one of two Primera Signature IV or Pro inkjet printers, or they can take advantage of dual-printing with two Inscripta thermal printers. The ComposerMAX is also bundled with the Prassi PrimoDVD software, and connects to any PC running Windows 98SE/ME/ 2000/XP via FireWire, which allows for longer cabling than Primera's previous SCSI duplicators. (www.emedialive.com/r1/2002/bennett12_02.html)
In between the Bravo and the ComposerMAX is Primera's Composer Pro, with a 100-disc capacity and two drives for $4,295. None of Primera's units is networkable, though for a short time the company offered the Buzzsaw network software from IsoMedia. "But we found that the vast majority of our users don't need or want to network their Composers," Strobel said. "Many other vendors offer network publishing for the few applications that really require it."