While more and more videographers have discovered the creative possibilities of DVD authoring software, many still haven't taken the next step towards in-house DVD production. They rely on outsourcing for their disc-duplication needs, or instead try to copy discs one at a time on whatever DVD burner came with their workstation. Outsourcing may relieve some of the workload, but it can also add significant expense, not to mention the inconvenience of trying to squeeze a short run into a service bureau's schedule. Copying discs one at a time works when a client only wants a couple of discs. But what about events with audiences that demand dozens or even hundreds of discs?
That's where standalone duplicators come into play. Due to a vigorous and competitive market in recent years, DVD duplicators have increased in the number of drives that they offer while decreasing in price. Microboards' DSR DVD-D8810 offers 1-to-10 CD/DVD duplication for less than $2,500. It may not be cheap, but there's no arguing with the duplicator's near-flawless performance, built-in hard drive, and stylish exterior. It's a fine addition to the long tradition of top-notch standalone duplication towers produced by Microboards and their Japanese manufacturing partner, Hoei Sangyo.
Our testing has shown that most any studio that delivers DVDs in runs of 10 or more could realize both cost and time savings by adding a DVD-D8810 1-to-10 CD/DVD duplicator to their arsenal and bringing DVD production in-house. And the Microboards DSR DVD-D8810 fits the bill as well as any.
An Out-of-Box Experience
Every time a new package arrives at the EMedia/EventDV editorial office, it's like Christmas all over again. Boxes big and small arrive at our doorstep, filling the office with anticipation. And just like Christmas morning underneath the tree, the bigger the box, the wider our eyes get. Needless to say, the DVD-D8810 requires quite a large box. At the same time, its footprint doesn't take up that much more space than a tower PC. That said, it wouldn't fit underneath most desks, and you should really have someone there to help you get it out of the box because the thing ain't light.
The duplicator's exterior would fit well into any studio equipped with other modern equipment, if style is a concern. Its dull silver exterior and black facing don't stand out as much as the brushed steel or aluminum that many other tower duplicators feature, nor is it as sterile as white. The unit's green LCD screen is readable, but it doesn't exactly beam out its messages; you still have to bend down to see what it says. To bring the screen to eye level and make the drives at the bottom of the tower more reachable, consider raising the DVD-D8810 up slightly with a sturdy bench or even cinder blocks.
The DVD-D8810 packs a surprisingly large number of features and settings into an interface that only has two buttons. But they accompany this complexity with a comprehensive user's manual that walks users through all of the functions that the tower can accomplish, which include Copy, Simulation, Registering Data to the Hard Drive, and Track Extraction—all of the usual suspects that you'd expect in a tower duplicator with a built-in hard drive.
The DVD-D8810's hard drive features 80GB of space for staging and storing disc images and individual audio tracks. The drive is split up into ten partitions, allowing for ten DVD disc images to be saved (you can also store 10 CD images there, though that's obviously a less efficient use of the space). The hard drive's first partition is allocated for audio track extraction; you can save disc images to it, but if you want to extract tracks and there's information already stored in the first partition, the duplicator will request that you delete everything that's in that partition. I found this to be somewhat limiting, although no more than a minor nuisance, unless you're in the habit of storing disc images long term. (The first partition's logjam grows if you choose to add the USB 2.0 feature to your unit, and enlist it for storing images built on your PC. This application also uses that first partition exclusively. It would be nice if these designations weren't so hard and fast, allowing users to copy to and from any of the partitions any time they want to.)
While you won't be able to manage tracks once they're registered to the hard drive, getting the tracks extracted and back onto CD couldn't be simpler via the two-button interface, which is how it should be. Standalone duplicators are dedicated to one task and one task alone, copying CDs and DVDs. So the workflow should be as straightforward as possible. For the most part, the DVD-D8810 holds true to this, although not entirely.
When you want to erase data from a partition in the hard drive, you're led through a series of menus that end with one that reads ">HDD1? (DISC TO HDD1)." What the machine is asking is if you want to register another master to the hard drive. During testing, we didn't realize this until it was too late. Once you instruct the tower to start on a task, there's no stopping it. We didn't have to wait long, but it seemed unnecessary to have to sit there until the DVD-D8810 finished what it was doing. Also, you need to be careful about closely following the workflow laid out in the manual. If you press a button or insert a disc at the incorrect time, you'll find yourself walking through the same steps more than once.
Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…
The results of actually using the DVD-D8810 lived up to expectations. CDs burned in 4:08; a DVD with 1.2GB of data took only 5:08. These speeds were for disc-to-disc duplication. If you're copying directly from one DVD to another, you'll only be able to realize 4X speeds; for 8X, you'll have to register data to the hard drive first and then copy from HDD to DVD. The aforementioned 1.2GB DVD burned in a little over three minutes when first copied to the internal hard drive—right-on-the-money for 8X performance.
All of the testing went smoothly, except for one problem: when working with various brands of CD media we had around the office (HP, Ridata, Memorex) the tower's drives wouldn't successfully burn ten discs simultaneously. Every time that we tried, anywhere from one to five discs would generate errors and quickly be relegated to the pile of coasters that this office generates. DVD performance was flawless with our original stash of Verbatim and Ridata 8X DVD±R media, but the hit-and-miss with CD media remained cause for concern. We contacted Microboards about this problem, and they promptly shipped us two boxes full of Taiyo Yuden CD and DVD media (Microboards is actually one of the world's largest distributors of CD and DVD media). With these higher-quality discs, the duplicator's CD success rate climbed to 100% immediately, and the duplicator continued its top-notch DVD performance, repeatedly pumping out ten flawless discs on multiple successive efforts.
This serves as a lesson for anyone interested in bringing DVD production in-house: if you're producing DVDs for commercial use—and why else would you be duplicating in quantity—don't use cheap media. Also, it pays to use the media recommended by the manufacturer of the drive. Choose a brand that works and stick with it—even if there's a minimal price differential, you'll be glad you did. Ruined CDs and DVDs aren't much of a problem if you're burning one disc at a time, but when you're producing dozens for a larger project, each bad disc means wasting unnecessary time and expense.
Price, Accessories, and More
The DVD-D8810 has an estimated street price of $2,345. The standard model does not include any connectivity options, but for an additional $129, a USB 2.0 connection can be added that enables you to record to the first hard drive partition of the DVD-D8810 from a PC or Mac. Prassi Tech's Zulu 2 comes bundled with the USB 2.0 connection to facilitate communication between the tower and the desktop or laptop. The unit that we received did not have this functionality, so we were unable to test it or the accompanying software.
Nearly $2,500 may seem to many videographers like a lot of money to spend on disc duplication, but if you're already working on projects that require the output of dozens of discs, you'll eventually realize a cost savings by moving towards in-house DVD production and reducing your outsourcing expenses. You'll also gain the freedom to produce multiple copies of your work in very little time. On top of all this, if you're looking to generate a little additional revenue to make up for the up-front costs of the DVD-D8810, you can always sell your services doing small-scale DVD duplication. As with batch video encoding and A/D conversion, DVD duplication is a valid and profitable way for videographers to broaden their offerings.
All in all, the DVD-D8810 performed nearly flawlessly, effortlessly pumping out disc after disc. While we did have some minor quibbles over usability and interface design, these weren't major enough to change our opinion that any videographer involved in projects that output to more than ten discs at a time would benefit tremendously from adding a DVD-D8810 to their workflow.
Minimum System RMinimum System Requirements for Hosted Operation:
• P3 PC (2GHz for 8X DVD recording) running Windows 2000/XP
• 128MB RAM (512MB RAM recommended for large filesets of small files
• 4GB available HDD
Other Companies Mentioned in this Article:
Hoei Sangyo, Co. Ltd., www.hoei.co.jp
Memorex Products, www.memorex.com
Ritek Corporation, www.ritekusa.com
Taiyo Yuden, www.t-yuden.com
Verbatim Corporation, www.verbatim.com