In the Studio: Primera Bravo 4102 Disc Publisher
Posted Feb 23, 2011

Primera Bravo 4102The Primera Bravo 4102 prints gorgeous discs at never-before-seen speeds. During my tests, it didn't produce a coaster after burning more than 200 discs. If you're looking for a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc production system, this unit needs to be on your short list. The Bravo 4102 family includes three configurations: print-only without a recordable drive ($1,995 retail); printer and single DVD-Recordable drive ($2,995); and printer and two DVD-recordable drives ($3,295). Substituting in Blu-ray Disc recorders bumps the price to $3,995 and $4,995, for single- and dual-drive units, respectively. I tested the two-recorder DVD unit (Figure 1, right), which came configured with two dual-layer Pioneer DVD-RW DVR-218L drives that write to single layer recordable media at up to 22X. Since recording performance and reliability depends upon the actual recorder, I searched for user reviews. I found a good price at Amazon ($43.56), but no reviews. At CDRLabs (http://bit.ly/cdrlabs), a single reviewer rated the drive 3.7 out of 5, but dinged the drive for noisy operation, an emotion I seconded once I started burning discs.

The printer is a Lexmark-powered thermal inkjet with a print resolution of up to 4800dpi, with four cartridge bays for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black cartridges. According to the Printer Settings dialog, the large black cartridge is rated at 1,300 discs per cartridge, with yellow at 260 discs, Cyan at 205 discs, and Magenta at 243 discs. During my first round of testing for this review, I printed 100 full-color menus primarily comprising video frame grabs and still had 89% of black capacity remaining, with 70-72% for the other colors, indicating that Primera's estimates were slightly conservative, at least for my discs. If I did my math correctly, this translates to a cost per disc of about $.23.

For Windows, Primera bundles PTPublisher for Windows XP/Vista/7 and SureThing Primera Edition design software, while Mac users get PTPublisher for Mac OS X 10.6 or higher with Disc Cover design software. I tested the Windows software only. To share your 4102 over a network, Primera offers PT Publisher NE for $599, which allows unlimited Windows clients on a network to access multiple Primera devices connected to the LAN.

Hardware and Installation
Primera does a nice job packing the unit, with back-saving handles that you use to pull the printer out of the box. A Quick Start sheet walks you through unpacking the unit, removing print-related supplies from within the print and disc-burning area and dropping the supplied installation DVD in your hard drive, where a tutorial takes over. Even complete novices should have the unit up and running in less than 15 minutes.

The DVD unit connects to your computer via USB, though Blu-ray models connect via eSATA for faster, more reliable data transfers. Don't sweat if you don't have an eSATA connector on your computer, as Blu-ray versions include an eSATA adapter card that you can install in your computer, assuming that you have an open slot, of course.

Once installed, you can configure the unit for operation multiple ways. In Figure 1, the input bin is on the right, output on the left. Rejected discs are flushed down through the center area into a reject bin that's not shown. Or, you can configure the unit in "Kiosk" mode, where both trays serve as input bins, and completed discs are sent into the reject bin, with actual rejected discs unprinted. In both modes, all input discs are covered by the blue plastic top, reducing the risk of dust getting in and ruining a print job.

As alluded to above, the unit can be quite noisy with both burners recording simultaneously. It's not fire engine-loud-you can certainly hold a conversation within 5-10 feet of the unit-but if you plan to run it with staff editing nearby, you'll want to keep some noise-cancelling headphones handy.

One nice feature of the 4102 is a blue status light that starts blinking like a police car flasher to let you know that the unit needs attention, such as when it's running low on ink, or if some other error occurs. That way, if you do install the unit far away from the office crowd, you'll have no trouble figuring out if and when there's a problem.

PT Publisher
The Windows software that I tested offered all of the usual features with a couple of nice twists that I hadn't seen before. Project types are shown in Figure 2 (below), most notable are Copy Projects, where you copy existing (non-copy protected) discs; DVD Project, where you record and print a DVD from a DVD folder; and Image Project, where you record and print a DVD from an existing .ISO or .GI file. In the latter two cases, you can start with an existing DVD, then rip the content to a DVD folder or .ISO file first, then burn additional copies from that source. I ran most of my tests from .ISO files created by Adobe Encore.

Primera PT Publisher

Figure 2. Here are the job types that PT Publisher can handle.

The Advanced Projects on the bottom include the ability to rip audio discs to iTunes or Windows Media Player, or create backup copies of files or folders on accessible drives. Though I didn't test this function, the backup function can reportedly span multiple discs and be scheduled for periodic operation, a nice automatic backup function.

The workflow for most projects is very similar: First, you choose the project type, then you select the source material, and then you tell the system whether to print a label and locate the print file, which is a SureThing project file. As Figure 3 (below) shows, you can see the label before you print, a nice error detection feature. You also configure the printer for quality, inner diameter, outer margin and color modes on the same screen.

Primera SureThing
Figure 3. It's nice to see the label and all print controls before you actually start printing.

The inner diameter will adjust in the preview window according to the inner diameter settings, so if the disc on screen doesn't match that in the printer, you know that you have a problem before you waste time and ink printing discs that you can't use. There are also extensive disc alignment and calibration functions, though my print alignment was spot on, so I didn't need to use these.

Then you configure the number of discs to record and print, and either press the Go button to start right away (or to add the project to the existing queue), or schedule the job for later. As you'd expect, you can save projects for future re-use. As with most disc publishing software these days, you can copy protect your DVDs from within the main program interface using spellbinding technology licensed from Patronus.

What's unique about the software? Well, I can't recall a recorder/printer that tracks how many discs are in the bin and will let you know up front-while you're still around to fix the problem-that you don't have enough blanks to complete the job. You can create project sets for multidisc projects, and produce all the required discs by choosing and running the project set. There's a support center that accesses the web-based knowledge base so you can run down any technical issues and a software update function.

Not to say that the picture was completely rosy. I found the multiple-project workflow confusing-you can open multiple projects simultaneously, with each new project presented atop the older ones. I wasn't even aware that I was opening multiple projects until two or three days into the review; a tabbed like structure like that used by most browsers would have been helpful. As a result (I think), many projects that I wanted to save didn't get saved, so I had to re-create them for testing.

Overall, although it's been awhile since I've looked at disc publishing software, but I don't recall working with any programs that were this feature-rich or usable.

Labelling Your Discs
As mentioned, Primera ships the SureThing CD Labeler program for label creation on Windows, with their own label software provided on the Mac, which I did not test. SureThing is the standard among disc publishers, and for good reason: It's easy to use; it has nice design features such as horizontal, vertical, and circular text; it comes with lots of useful templates; and it can easily input your own images to serve as the background or the entire label.

With my labels, for example, I modified the Photoshop PSD file that I used for my DVD menu to fit in the circular design window. Then I exported a TIFF file from Photoshop for input into SureThing, complete with most of the text that I was going to include on the label. In SureThing, I added a nifty DVD label and the circular copyright text shown on the bottom of the label in Figure 4. Obviously, this approach helps ensure design coherence between the disc menu and label. Or, for simpler projects like backup or other data projects, you can quickly customize a SureThing template.

Primera SureThing
Figure 4. The SureThing label creation program

Of course, easy to use software and cute labels matter little if performance was slow or the print jobs ugly. Fortunately, neither was a problem with the Bravo 4102.

Performance
To test performance, I timed the unit recording and printing ten 4.4GB discs, which took 38:54 (min:sec) on the 16X TuffCoat with WaterShield Surface media that Primera supplied. In contrast, with my regular 8X Verbatim inkjet-printable media, ten disc production time was 50:26. I ran both sets of tests with recording speed set to the max, but verification off, and print speed set to maximum quality.

In comparison, the last duplicator/printer that I tested, had a 20X recording speed, as compared to the Primera unit's 22X, and produced a similar job in 57:53. Another unit that I tested back in 2007 was the previous speed champ, and produced a similar project in 55:03. To be fair, both units were working with 8X DVD media, which was the fastest available at the time.

The last time I tested a Primera unit was back in 2005, and it peaked at 12X recording speed and took 60 minutes to record and print 10 3.9GB DVDs. Back then, in CD-trials, I recorded and printed ten 49-minute audio CDs in about 33 minutes. On the current unit, I burned and printed ten copies of the same CD in just over 20 minutes using 48X media supplied by Primera.

Standalone print speed was also impressive. Though I wasn't able to duplicate the 6-second print speed claimed on Primera's website, it took only 55 seconds to load and print a single disc, with 22 seconds of that time spent under the print heads.

Finally, print quality-particularly using the TuffCoat with WaterShield waterproof-surface media-was absolutely fabulous, with great colors and fine detail, and its shiny coat proved once again to be completely impervious to water. Heck, if the unit produced any coasters, I could have used them as coasters without risking ruining the finish.

That said, I didn't produce any coasters after about 200 recorded and printed discs, which is testament to this unit's reliability. No software crashes either, which bodes very well for a product literally days out of beta testing when I got it.

Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics. He is chief instructor at StreamingLearningCenter.com.