MF Digital Scribe EC Standalone
Posted Dec 1, 2004

MF Digital has few peers when it comes to offering flexible DVD and CD duplication equipment. The fully automated Scribe EC (standing for "endless configuration") is a perfect example. Available in standalone SA (reviewed here) and PC-attached models, the Scribe EC offers up to six DVD/CD or CD recorders, capacities ranging from 220 to 600 discs, optional label printing, and business-card production capabilities.

The Scribe EC achieves this flexibility through well-considered modular architecture. All models consist of a common duplicating station (several available sizes) containing the disc transport robot along with input and output bins. A Windows XP embedded control PC is also incorporated into standalone systems. A separate tower housing the recorders is placed on the deck of the robotic unit and with the printer on top of the tower. Thus, components can be mixed and matched to meet different job requirements or upgraded as needed with the different recorders or printers.

The Scribe EC comes equipped with either Pioneer DVR-108 DVD/CD or Plextor PX-W5224TA CD recorders. In terms of raw capabilities the Pioneer offers 16X DVD±R (the Scribe EC SA operates the Pioneer at 8X), 4X DVD+R DL, 4X DVD±RW, 32X CD-R, and 24X CD-RW writing. It also reads prerecorded DVD at 16X, DVD±R at 12X, DVD±RW and DVD+R DL at 8X, and CD-ROM/R/RW at 40X. The Plextor writes CD-Rs at 52X and CD-RWs at 24X and reads CD-R/ROM at 52X and CD-RW at 32X.

Two- and four-recorder versions of the Scribe EC can be outfitted in addition with a disc label printer—either Rimage's PrismPlus! or MF Digital's OptiEC Pro (a re-branded Primera Signature Z6). The $4,995 PrismPlus! is a thermal transfer unit offering 300x600dpi monochrome (black, red, blue, or green) as well as three-color (cyan, magenta, yellow) operation. It's quick and inexpensively produces durable labels on lacquer, bare, or thermal surface discs. The OptiEC Pro at $1,695 is a more affordable inkjet option boasting 4800x1200dpi resolution and full-color results using six inks. As is always the case, operation with inkjet is slower and requires printable surface media. The resulting labels, although more visually attractive than those produced by the PrismPlus!, are not as physically robust.

In Praise of Standalone
PC-attached systems have their advantages, but there is a lot to be said for the simplicity of standalone duplicators. These include ease of use, a small physical footprint, freedom from user meddling, and minimal virus concerns. Standalone systems also spare their users from nightmarish compatibility problems arising from various mishmashes of motherboards, BIOS versions, and chipsets, and even blindly trying to optimize performance through hard drive, controller, and interface experimentation.

Operating the Scribe EC SA is indeed straightforward, thanks to a conveniently placed 14-key membrane control panel and an easy-to-read backlight LCD display. A few button pushes enable primary functions including copying, verifying, and printing. Secondary services include creating audio compilations, simulating operation, executing alignment routines, displaying recorder information, and the like. An interesting feature is the ability to read a CD-R's manufacturer ID code (MID) code in order to identify the disc's origin. It would also have been useful, however, had the unit displayed these details as well as maximum recording speed information for writable DVDs. Also on the wish list is the ability to specify random or fixed intervals of discs to be verified as well as the ability to set the book type of DVD+R/ DL media for greater playback compatibility (a limitation shared by the unit and the Pioneer recorder).

Discs are duplicated in two ways. The first method is to copy the originals to the unit's internal hard drive (up to six masters can be stored) to be called upon as desired. During testing it took 7:20 and 20:10 to archive full single-layer (4.7GB) and double-layer (8.5GB) DVDs respectively and 3:30 for full CDs (700MB). The other technique is a convenient relay mode where one or multiple masters to be copied are placed in with the stack of blank discs.

During testing of a Scribe EC SA equipped with two Pioneer DVD/CD recorders, the unit performed solidly. Duplication is accomplished "asynchronously" so recorders efficiently start writing individually rather than waiting for the others to receive discs. In relay mode, this translated (including the time to store the master on the hard drive) to a respectable 30:15 to duplicate ten completely full CDs and 22:10 for ten half-full discs. DVD throughput was also impressive, taking 51:45 to copy ten full single-layer DVDs and 30:58 for ten half-full DVDs. Over the course of several months of operation, the Scribe EC SA proved mechanically reliable, recording and printing over 1,000 Verbatim DVD-Rs and 200 MBI/Glyphics CD-Rs without incident.

The Scribe EC SA DVD/CD model examined here supports all DVD and CD varieties (except DVD-RAM) recorded in a wide variety of formats. Be aware, however, the unit does not duplicate discs written in the DVD+RW Video (DVD+VR) or DVD Video Recording (DVD-VR) modes typically used by consumer electronics recorders and DVD camcorders. During testing the unit easily duplicated many common types with ease (DVD-Video, UDF 1.02, ISO 9660, HFS, hybrid) while, responsibly, not reproducing copy-protected discs.

Absent, however, were safeguards to prevent copying at least one unsupported application format. It was indeed possible to accidentally reproduce DVD+VR discs with the Scribe EC SA thus begging the question if the results were valid. In the same vein, DVD+VR content could be duplicated onto DVD-R/RW ("dash") discs (a forbidden practice and fraught with potential compatibility issues). In fairness, this concern is not unique to the Scribe EC SA and has yet to be resolved by many manufacturers.

When certain issues were detected, however, it would have been helpful if the Scribe EC SA displayed meaningful alert messages rather than simply rejecting discs without indicating the nature of the problem. For example, this would happen whether the blank discs loaded in the machine were lacking sufficient capacity to receive the contents of the master or if they were the wrong type.

Although the Scribe EC SA is a standalone device, disc label designs must be created ahead of time using a separate PC. This is accomplished using Rimage's efficient CD Designer software included with the PrismPlus! or MicroVision's smooth SureThing package that comes with the OptiEC Pro. Layouts and artwork are fashioned as required, saved as standard "PRN" files on disc (CD-RWs work well), and then read into the duplicator to copy and print discs or simply print discs by themselves.

Our evaluation system came complete with a PrismPlus! printer. During testing in monochrome mode, the unit performed impressively, adding on average only a few minutes to overall production time. For print-only operation it took 6:26 to impart ten discs with near full-surface labels. More complex decoration using a three-color ribbon would, of course, take longer, as it would to employ an OptiEC Pro inkjet printer.

Come Together
In addition to its standalone operation, the Scribe EC SA can also be connected to a 10/100Mbps Ethernet network or single PC through a crossover cable. Using MF Digital's license-free "Command Module Client" software for Windows XP/2000, a PC can manage one or multiple Scribe EC SA systems with duplication jobs submitted and monitored remotely either individually or collectively.

While the client software is saddled with a homely interface and little documentation, it does offer interesting possibilities, including freeing up valuable authoring systems from recording discs and eliminating the need to create and validate numerous masters when employing multiple duplicators. It's also possible to duplicate directly from authored images created by Pioneer PRV-LX1 professional DVD recorders connected to the network.

Care And Feeding
Technology is always on the move. To keep current, the Scribe EC SA's internal software and Plextor CD recorder firmware is upgraded as needed by simply downloading the latest version to a CD from MF Digital's Web site, and inserting the disc into the duplicator at the appropriate time. During this evaluation, this was performed routinely to correct a few bugs.

Updating Pioneer DVD recorder firmware, on the other hand, is very awkward. It requires connecting a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to the system or disconnecting the recorders and using a separate computer. Again, to be fair, this is an irritating limitation of Pioneer recorders in general and is shared by all so-equipped duplicators on the market. Physical service, on the other hand, is simplified by the Scribe EC SA's modularity since it is possible to keep backup components on hand to replace recorders or printers without returning the entire system for repair.

The Bottom Line
As it stands, the Scribe EC SA is a little rough around the edges. MF Digital has yet to sort out a few of the glitches, add robust error reporting, and update its documentation. The company also needs to consider extending the scope of some features. That said, the Scribe EC SA offers valuable standalone and interesting network possibilities and is a flexible, capable, and solid choice when it comes to performing straightforward DVD/CD disc duplication and printing chores. All in all, the Scribe EC SA should be seriously considered by anyone needing this kind of disc production.

System Requirements
Minimum System Requirements (for Command Module Client):
• 800MHz+ Pentium 3 with 256MB RAM running Windows 2000 Pro (SP 4+) or Windows XP (SP 1+)
• 7200RPM ATA-100 HDD with 850MB space for CD-R or 5GB (NTFS) for DVD-R)
• 10/100Mbps Ethernet card