The best way to start getting your feet wet in DVD duplication as your clientele begins to demand longer runs is to invest in a standalone DVD duplicator. The learning curve is minimal, and the investment is smaller than with an automated DVD production system. Tower duplicators only do half the job, of course; if you're producing DVDs for clients, you're going to want to print attractive labels on them, and a standalone tower duplicator like the Disc Makers ReflexMax won't help you with that. But it will off-load DVD duplication chores from your PC or Mac, and allow you to get other editing and postproduction work done while the discs burn.
This is not news to many of you; the ReflexMax7's immediate predecessor, the ReflexPro7, recently took home the 2005 EventDV Reader's Choice Award for DVD Duplication Towers. The ReflexMax7 adds several new features, notably increased recording speed (16X for DVD±R, 48X for CD-R), a bigger hard drive (120GB), and DVD+R DL support.
All these features are well-implemented, though anyone who's been around the DVD block knows that speed increases come with diminishing returns. 8X wasn't twice as fast as 4X, and 16X is nowhere near twice as fast as 8X. And you can only achieve "full" 16X DVD recording when burning from the on-board hard disk, but this is hardly a shortcoming for runs of seven or more, since burning from an image stored to the hard disk gives you access to another target drive. And even if they aren't twice as fast as what you get with 8X, ten-minute-or-shorter full-DVD burns are nothing to sneeze at.
I'm guessing that Disc Makers named this product the ReflexMax because they thought it was a cool-sounding name, which of course it is. But it's also worth noting that the "Max" moniker is especially fitting since 16X is, in fact, the maximum recording speed that DVD will reach. Perhaps they'll enhance the unit in future generations by increasing DL recording speed, adding more hard disk space, incorporating drives with dual-layer DVD-R support, or rolling out a 10- or 11-drive model; but as for its core capability—DVD±R recording—16X is as fast as the ReflexMax or any other DVD recording system is ever going to get.
How it Tested
We tested the ReflexMax7 here in our editorial office over several weeks with a variety of projects. It proved easy to use, fairly fast, and largely reliable—not perfect by any stretch, but its performance was very much in line with that of similar units we've tested. The tower ships with seven Plextor PX-716A DVD recorders. The Plextor recorders offer 16X recording to DVD±R and 48X CD recording. (Both of those are maximum speeds; the drive doesn't actually record at a full 16X or 48X across the breadth of the disc, reaching full speed only in the last stretch of a full-disc burn.) The Plextor drives also offer 4X burning to 8.5GB DVD+R DL media.
Usability is another hallmark of this unit, once you get the knack. You navigate the panel of options using a membrane keypad that consists of up and down arrow buttons and ENT and ESC keys. The simplest operations are disc-to-disc copies using the top recorder (ID:1) as the source drive. For faster operation or to bring the maximum number of simultaneous copies to seven, navigate through the main menu to Image and then to Load Image, and the ReflexMax will copy the complete disc in Drive 1 to the hard disk (ID:0) as a compliant DVD-Video image, or whatever format you have on the source disc. The 120GB hard disk is divided into partitions marked A, B, C, D, etc., and will keep your loaded images distinct by partition, but you'll have to note what content you have in each if you intend to keep multiple disc images resident on the drive. (This may prove useful if you're producing stage events, for example, and expect additional requests for disc copies to come in incrementally; you'll have your disc images at the ready for quick burning when the demand arises.)
We're not especially interested in CD burning in a professional sense, since few event videographers are delivering work to their clients on CD, but for the record, the ReflexMax proved a mostly effective CD duplicator, whether using the top drive as source or CD-Audio images stored to the hard disk. Most of our six- and seven-disc duplication exercises went well, although the duplicator occasionally reported errors when burning to Drive 2 and failed to burn the disc (performance was much better burning from an image on the hard disk than when working from a CD source). The system consistently burned at 32X (about 3:30 for six full discs) when burning from a disc source, and 48X (about 2:45 for seven full discs) when burning from a hard disk-stored image. Our CD-R tests were performed using 48X CD-R media from HP, Verbatim, Taiyo Yuden, and Ritek USA (Ridata).
DVD performance was even more reliable. All the DVD burns we attempted succeeded, and verified properly. Sometimes they weren't as fast as we expected, but I'll happily wait an extra minute or so for a full complement of successfully burned discs rather than get a mix of good and bad discs faster. Disc-to-disc copies of our 4.55GB source DVD-Video were achieved in just under 13 minutes using Verbatim 16X DVD media. DVDs burned from Partition B on the hard disk (after waiting 6:30 to load the image) took 9:55 to produce seven good discs that played back and verified well. We also tested the system on a 7.7GB DVD+R DL source disc; success once again, with the burn clocking in around 31 minutes.