Gear & Now: DVD Duplicators See the Blues
Posted Feb 1, 2007

With no clear victory in sight, the war rages on. Arguments flare from both sides. Skirmishes erupt, alignments are struck then abandoned, and long-term issues of partnership and compatibility remain unsettled.

Pro videographers are a brave and persevering bunch. Despite continued market uncertainty about the viability of competing hi-def DVD formats, capacities, and physical properties, we move forward—all the while hoping to get definitive answers about the future of authoring, burning, duplicating, and replicating DVDs with standard or high-definition video content.

Announcements regarding Blu-ray-capable duplicators started a few months ago, but there's no action on the HD DVD duplicator side. The need for desktop duplication of SD DVDs, single-layer (4.7GB) or dual-layer (8.5GB), is still strong, and manufacturers continue to release new products for the regular DVD market, regardless of the seeming inevitability of their "best before" date.

figure 1Economical Opportunities Abound
It's for that reason that some terrific bargains are available for limited-capacity, limited-requirement DVD duplication. Perhaps the greatest bargain in the DVD duplication world is Disc Makers' Pico duplicator. If the name makes it sound small, that's because it is. Compact and lightweight, the Pico weighs in at 6.6 lbs. and measures 7.1" wide by 15.75" deep, and it's not much taller than two or three stacked half-height drives. It's also far from rugged, and probably wouldn't survive years of systemic physical abuse—but at $699 that's hardly an issue. Disc Makers also offers competitively priced small autoloaders in its EliteMicro and ElitePro series that offer print capability and don't look as likely to blow away as the Pico. Recently outfitted with Mac support (like the Pico itself), the Elite lines start around $1,700.

Even if you're not interested in its on-board printing capabilities, the Aleratec 1:2 DVD/CD Copy Cruiser LS—whose similar stablemate, the Copy Cruiser Pro LX, was an EMedialive Editor's Choice winner—is a good choice for your basic DVD needs. Available at press time for less than $300, it records DVDs at up to 16X, CDs at 48X, and supports DVD-RAM disc duplication, for what that's worth (admittedly, not much). As it has LightScribe labeling software included, silkscreen-quality labels can be printed (two simultaneously) with the unit, although top-quality printing can take multiple passes and color and photo-quality printing aren't available. You can even mix copying discs and burning labels at the same time, so the unit's handy for one-off jobs—like customized wedding video made for individual family members—in which the content and the label of each disc is different. Or, if you've got an on-board DVD burner and a DVD disc image resident on your hard disk, you can burn up to three discs simultaneously with the Copy Cruiser connected—which essentially triples the output of a typical two-drive duplicator.

Kanguru's new 16X DVD 1-to-1 Duplicator, priced around $380, copies virtually any DVD or CD as a standalone unit. It has auto-format detection, and good test and verify features, supported with buffer underrun protection. To copy a master DVD to a blank DVD-R/RW is a one-button push operation, but the Kanguru can be connected to a PC or Mac via USB 2.0 for custom-burning jobs. For greater throughput and larger dupe runs, Kanguru recommends its 716 model, with seven burners and a built-in hard drive, and capacity for up to 70 full-size DVDs in about an hour (up to 16X). It's compatible with DVD±R and DVD±RW media, and also has test, compare, and verification modes, accessible through a menu-driven LCD interface. It's priced around $1,199.

Comprehensive Inc. (formerly ProCon USA) recently announced its rackmount, five-drive DVD/CD duplication system, the PC-C516DL4-DF-RM-H. Priced around $1,800, it features a 250GB internal hard drive for storage of multiple disc images, compatibility with major DVD and CD formats including DVD±R single- and dual-layer at up to 16X, as well as track extraction and disc compilation functions. Comprehensive's DVD/CD duplication system can run up to five drives simultaneously. Each drive is independent; eliminating interference with other drives' writing speed.

figure 1MF Digital's Scribe 9000 series PC-hosted DVD duplicators offer inkjet or thermal (as shown here, with the Rimage Prism) printing and robotic, autoloading duplication of 300-600 discs, and a new "DVD ripping" feature for extraction and re-authoring of (non-copy protected) DVD content. Pricing starts around $5,800.

Solstice recently introduced new disc duplication and publishing systems, including fully automated units with up to nine drives and a 900-disc capacity on to huge duplicator banks, with up to 250 ten-target towers and up to 2,500 simultaneous burns. Solstice systems can be integrated with different disc printers, and come with not just internal hard drives, but fully integrated PCs as an option. Automated duplicators are available for less than $2,000, and the company says it will introduce Blu-ray and HD DVD solutions, as well.

Imation has introduced the D20 CD and DVD publishing system, which copies up to 20 discs at once and includes full-color, direct-to-disc printing capabilities (using the company's own inkjet-printable media with patented smear-resistant AquaGuard surface) at up to 4800dpi. The system uses an integrated Pioneer DVD/CD recorder with recording speeds of up to 16X for DVD±R, up to 8X for DVD±R DL, and up to 40X for CD-R. At press time, Imation was bundling the D20 disc duplicator, a package of ten printable CDs with AquaGuard, image creation software, and ink, for a $1,495 MSRP.

Primera Technology's Editor's Choice and Best of 2006-winning automated Bravo SE Disc Publisher has roughly the same MSRP, $1,495, and also burns up to 20 discs per job using the built-in Pioneer DVR-111 drive. The unit also handles full color 4800dpi inkjet printing. Bravo SE attaches to a PC running Windows 2000/XP via USB 2.0, and offers compatible duplication and labeling software. Bravo SE also attaches to any Mac running OS X, and comes with duplication software along with design templates for Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

figure 1The Verity Systems 1 to 21 PowerTower features a master 7-bay tower and two slave 7-bay towers daisychained together. The new 16X DVD±R system, available through Summation Technology, uses NEC drives and optional internal hard drives for small-to-medium DVD runs, rated at up to 150 4.7GB DVDs per hour. Prices start at $2,999. The duplicator automatically detects the type of CD or DVD master and provides "frame accurate" data and audio including UPC, ISRC, and audio indexes. A compare master, compare copy feature is used for data verification for both CD and DVD images.

For the ultra high-capacity crowd, Rimage Corporation recently released a very large-capacity network-attached CD, DVD, or BD publishing system. The new Producer III 7100N and 8100N boasts robotic, autoloading duplication and printing of up to 300 discs in four blank media bins, and functions in a client/server, networked-printer environment, and has its own built-in computer, keyboard, monitor, and mouse. Also available with the 7100N and 8100N is Rimage's recently updated thermal retransfer print technology, Everest III. Disc-printing templates are included, but users can create a menu of their own templates for uniformity. With four 16X DVD±R drives, embedded PC, and Everest III printer, the Rimage 8100N is priced at $39,950.


Next-Generation Disc Production
Dedicated Blu-ray solutions, offering one way to distribute high-definition content to the home-based viewer, are now making their way to market—even as some observers debate whether the standard will actually survive its battle with HD DVD, which, for the most part, remains unaccounted for on the desktop production side.

Pioneer's BDR-101A Blu-ray Disc/DVD writer (MSRP $999) will let users author and test high-definition Blu-ray Disc content (it also 25GB of storage on single layer BD-R or BD-RE media). The drive will read BD-ROM discs, read/write single layer BD-R and BD-RE discs, read DVD-ROM, and read/write most DVD recordable media formats. Future generations of this drive will offer increased speed and, eventually, dual-layer recording.

figure 1Sony has also recently shipped its similarly capable BWU-100A (left), at a street price around $750. Meanwhile, MCE Technologies has debuted BD recording support on the Mac side with its new $699, half-height internal burner.

We've also heard the first rumblings of desktop disc burning from the HD DVD camp, with Toshiba's CES-week announcement of its new internal SD-H903A HD DVD burner. But at this point, all the duplication talk in the HD space concerns Blu-ray technology alone.

Microboards announced plans to release a Blu-ray version of its CopyWriter Duplicator, and its branded single-sided Blu-ray media, recording at 2X speed. The Blu-ray CopyWriter will be available in 4- or 10-recorder configurations, priced around $9,000 and $20,000 respectively. The towers can come with onboard hard drive to store as many as six full-size (25GB) disc images. They will duplicate both Blu-ray Discs and DVD-R discs.

Primera is offering its Bravo SE Blu Disc Publisher with direct-to-disc inkjet printing capabilities for up to 20 discs per job. As its other products do, the Bravo SE Blu automates the burning and printing process with sixth-generation robotics, the built-in Pioneer BDR-101A drive, and USB 2.0 connections to any PC running Windows XP/2000. Duplication and labeling software is included.

The Bravo SE Blu Disc Publisher has an MSRP of $2,995; it's available now, for those brave enough to take that leap of faith as the HD disc marketplace remains in flux.

Lee Rickwood is a media consultant and freelance writer.