FAST FACTSDisc Makers Elite4 Automated DVD/CD Duplicator
Studio and House-Of-Worship; CD/DVD Burning and On Disc Printing
Mac OS X system for burning and printing 200 CDs or DVDs at a time
- Full CD-R and DVD-R copying with integrated inkjet printer
- Print, burn or both automatically, label design software included
- Integrates easily with Macs
- Four burners, a printer and a robot aren't cheap
- Unnecessarily makes AIFF files for CD burning
- Requires full attention of host computer for big runs
Four burners equal one easy solution for batch jobs
Blu-Ray in the Round
Blu-ray Disc — named for the blue-violet read/write laser used on this emerging high-data-density format — will surely be an increasingly important storage medium for high-definition audio. After all, the Sony-developed Blu-ray Disc can store 25 GB per layer, and a few manufacturers have already introduced both single and dual layer (50 GB) recordable and rewritable offerings that support the format.
Media duplication manufacturers such as Disc Makers are taking note. The company introduced the ReflexBlu Line of Blu-ray Tower Duplicators as recently as March 2007. The first two models — ReflexBlu2 and ReflexBlu4 — are all-in-one creation, editing and duplication solutions for Blu-ray discs (BD-Rs), DVD-Rs and CD-Rs. ReflexBlu2 ($2,999) has a duplication capacity of two BD-Rs per hour; ReflexBlu4 ($4,999) can complete four BD-Rs per hour. Other features for both models include a complete disc creation software suite, USB connectivity for access to one drive for mastering and playback, and a 250 GB hard drive.
— Strother Bullins
The Disc Makers Elite series — a CD/DVD publishing unit with robotic loading, four burners and an inkjet printer — has been around since the late '90s. The recent Elite4 (priced at $4,290) can now produce over 175 copies from a physical master or disc image in a single session and supports CD, DVD plus double layer DVD formats. A pre-assembled industrial assembly houses the Autograph7 4800 dpi full-color printer, four NEC ND-3550D Dual Layer DVD±R burners, and robotics bolted to a sturdy metal base. And — once connecting two power cables, one for the printer and one for the robotics/burner, plus the USB or FireWire ports — the Elite4 now interfaces with PCs and Macs to burn, print, or both.
Disc Makers suggests the following minimum Mac configuration: An 800 MHz G5 running OS X 10.3.7 or higher, 512 MB RAM, 40 GB, two available USB 2.0 slots, 7200 rpm hard drive with 70-percent available space (10,000 rpm drives SATA or SCSI drives are suggested). I loaded the included CD of software — Discribe 5.3.14 from CharisMac Engineering and Discus LE 3.15D, a limited version of Magic Mouse's Discus printing software (that only prints on the media, not on inserts) — and then read the small, easy to follow manual.
Discribe suggests that you remove any non-Apple and third party CD-ROM drivers from other manufacturers. According to the manual, Discribe's CD-ROM extension is capable of supporting virtually all SCSI, ATAPI, and USB CD-ROM and CD-R/RW drives on the market. After disabling any unnecessary extensions, the manual recommends you restart your Macintosh prior to installing Discribe to avoid installation interference and forcing a restart.
I hadn't read that part of the manual before I installed the software on my dual 2GHz processor G5 Mac and ran my first short CD batch. The only problem I ran into was iTunes wanting to start up every time I put a CD in any of the bays, but changing iTunes preferences fixed that. I broke the rules and tried running different apps, checking for email, and doing a bit of sloppy FireWire connecting while burning single CDs. Sometimes I got away with it. Sometimes I didn't.
Disk Makers says stick with media of the same speed for each burn run, and although slower media is acceptable, the system is designed to work best with 16x DVD±R/48x CD-R. Special kits are available from Disc Makers to accommodate different disc sizes including business card-scale. While DVDs that have been produced with copy protection schemes cannot be duplicated, commercial audio CDs are quite easily ripped, whether one track or the whole disc. You can also use the system to erase CD-RW discs.
Starting Discribe brings up a Quick Start window that prompts you to choose "Data CD," "Audio CD," or "Copy a CD/DVD." You can stick with that or change the startup window in Discribe's preferences. The standard window also provides a drop menu that allows you to select from Macintosh HFS, ISO 9660, ISO 9660 XA, Build a Mac HFS, Mac/ISO Hybrid, Disc Copy Image, CD/DVD Copy, CD Extra, Video CD, DVD VideoAudio, UDF, and Stream. Pick the one you want and click on START to begin copying.
You can record an audio CD from any combination of MP3/AIFF/SDII/WAV files — just drag and drop them onto the Discribe window much the same way you might with Roxio's Jam. Curiously, Discribe creates new AIFF files from MP3 files as well as my WAV masters. Those conversions, while short, do take a few seconds each and, worse, require more disk space. Perhaps the team who wrote this Mac version was unaware that Macs handle WAV files these days. While you can adjust pre-gap times, title names, change the order of the files and play them, Discribe does not support the crossfades, normalization, text, and other metadata that Jam supports. You may have to do that fancy work with Jam and burn a disc to be your master.
If you already have a CD or DVD master, simply load the disc into your computer or one of the Elite4 drives. Strangely, after I chose to put a finished CD in the Elite4's top drawer, Discribe told me there wasn't anything in the number one or number four drive. When I selected drive two, Discribe acknowledged the CD.
Burning with no printing takes less time, obviously. The system cranked out a dozen copies of a 25-minute audio CD in 14 minutes. According to the manual you can choose test then write, or write and then select write speed. Discribe supports "Verify After Writing" and "BURN-Proof/JustLink." Discribe can write CDs in the background with BURN-Proof/JustLink drives, leaving your Macintosh free for other tasks. Based on some occasional flakey results when I was running apps, however, I guess this unit's drives don't fully support that feature.
My first run was a dozen DVDs. During the first load, the progress window on the number four drive did not move. After the other three bays had burned and the first DVD that was in printer number four opened, the robot arm extracted the DVD, the door closed, and the robot put the DVD on the deck not on the spindle. Ah, the reject depository! The next two DVDs in that burner went through without a hitch. At the end of the burn session, the system knew I wanted a dozen and my computer screen prompted me for another blank to complete the job. I slipped one in the supply silo, and it was quickly picked up and delivered to the burner and printer. Done!
The ink-jet printer uses standard HP #56 and #57 ink cartridges. Coverage has a lot to do with how much ink you use, but Disc Makers says you can expect about 300 CDs per set of cartridges. Adjusting for how much ink, exactly how wide the blank's print area is, and how large the hole is takes some tweaking. My advice is to find a blank you like and keep using it so you won't have to readjust the outside and inside diameters, or keep a log so you can make adjustments reliably and quickly. The test process that calibrates the exact center of the printed area isn't all that difficult, but you make some calibration "coasters" in the process. The Discus 3.15 manual suggests using 117 mm for the diameter, but that was about a millimeter short to cover the edges of the Ultra White Inkjet CDs they were thoughtful to send me. I evolved to 119.4 mm and 37 mm. That did the trick, though what you see in the print preview window is not quite what you get.
When you create a label with Discus 3.15, it makes a bmp file. Then you quit Discus and open Discribe to access the bmp file, print, and burn. If you only want to print discs, there's a handy utility in the Discribe menu that lets you choose the bmp file and do a print run.
You have to pay attention during print setups to make sure you choose the "disc printer" and "disc" paper from "Page Setup..." in the Robot Write window. When you click on "Print Settings" to actually print, you have to choose "disc printer" again. Hopefully, future versions will be more streamlined. Next you have to visit the "Copies & Pages" drop menu and "Paper Type/Quality" menu to choose the right paper. From the "Paper" menu I was coached to use "HP Premium Plus Photo Paper, matte."
The printed copies looked very nice. I had also heard about the new Taiyo Yuden inkjet printable glossy CD blanks with the glossy paper settings. They cost more, but I like how the larger glossy surface (23.8 mm inside to 119.4 mm outside) looks very professional. Unless you know what to look for on the data side you might mistake the CD-R for a stamped CD. However, you do need to let them dry a bit, especially if you use a thick paint spray. But after they dry you can hold them under a spigot and rub them with your finger with no smearing — very, very nice.
I had problems with my first 30 CD burn/print run. The system stopped twice, I had to quit and restart the program, and then the computer. On that run, I had put the master in my computer's CD/DVD drive and hadn't clicked the "Cache Entire Disc Before Writing" button. Disc Makers forwarded a diagnostic kit to help find the problem, but before I used it I tried another 30 CD burn/print run with the cache setting selected. Bingo! All 30 made it through in about an hour-and-a-half. Several weeks later, I needed both a 75 and a 25 burn/print run and, with the cache feature enabled, had no problems.
A lot of people don't remember the shift from black-and-white to color TV, or from AM to FM and FM Stereo. My point is once you experience on-disc printing, especially with the glossy blanks, it's very difficult to go back to flat, stick-on labels. Add to that the time savings created by having your own personal robot to take care of business and the argument becomes even more compelling. Sure, you have to make time for the robot because you can't be doing sessions, checking email or hacking around in general on the same computer you have connected to the Elite4. To get total freedom you need to have another computer with the right stuff, or Disc Makers also sells the ElitePro4 complete with its own computer. Having four burners and only one printer can create a production bottleneck, but I'm sure Disk Makers is working on a solution.