Now video producers can easily create DVDs for their clients, handling the project from start to finish using a DVD duplicator with no outside help.
Once upon a time, DVD duplication was almost exclusively the realm of companies that specialized in the process. But, as technology prices dropped, videographers and producers discovered a whole new world of options. Now video producers can easily create DVDs for their clients, handling the project from start to finish with no outside help.
Are you interested in taking duplication matters into your own hands? Then you should read this buyer's guide. We'll first examine some of the benefits of owning a DVD duplicator, then help you sort through the myriad options on the market today.
When you're considering whether or not you need your own duplicator, here are some factors to keep in mind:
- Ease: When you need a quick turnaround on 40 copies of your training video, being able to do multiple duplications yourself is a great headache saver. Having your own standalone duplication machine enables you to be a "short-order" DVD distributor. Just count the cost - duplicating on your own does require some time investment.
- Money: Being able to do duplications in-house is an added service to offer your clients. When you've paid off the machine, you're pocketing the profits from the job instead of sending them to an outside duplication company. But remember to figure in the cost of ink and discs when determining your per-disc duplication cost.
- Flexibility: Your duplicator gives you the freedom to make changes at the last minute, such as adjusting the disc menu or tweaking an edit. You don't have to worry about missing the deadline to communicate those changes to the duplication house. A further benefit is the ability to copy the exact number of discs your client needs - you're not stuck ordering an extra 100 discs just because that's the round number quantity an outside company offered.
Checking the Numbers
To start your investigation of DVD duplicators, calculate the number of discs you expect to duplicate per job. While this amount will vary, a rough estimate can give you the answer to the first riddle - what capacity do you need? Capacity has two meanings: hopper capacity is simply the number of discs that a duplicator can store and, in the case of an automated machine, can process without input from you. Drive capacity, on the other hand, indicates the number of burn drives included in the system and thus the number of discs that it can copy simultaneously.
The next number to look at is speed. How fast can a duplicator churn out discs? This is dependent on two things: first, how many drives does the duplicator have? A duplicator with three drives will be able to burn three times as many discs per hour as a comparable duplicator with just one drive.
Second, look at the drive speed. A drive that can burn DVDs at 8x speed will be much slower than its 20x speed cousin. And read the numbers carefully - DVD duplicators also duplicate CDs, as well as various flavors of the DVD format. The drive burns the different media at different speeds, so make sure you're looking at the speed that matches the media you'll be using.
Finding the Time
When you consider your next option, automated or manual, think about your schedule. If you're barely meeting deadlines as it is, then you'd better look at automated machines. An automated duplicator allows you to fill the disc hopper, configure your job and push a button. Voil! The discs copy away, and you can move on to another task.
A manual duplicator isn't quite as easy to please. Each time discs finish copying, you must physically remove them and insert blanks. Definitely more work, but manual duplicators are more likely to have multiple burners, which will make for quicker duplication jobs in the long run as long as someone is available to change out discs.
An Army of One (or Two)
Do you want your duplicator to be single or paired up? Some duplicators require a host computer to function as your interface for configuring duplication jobs. Other machines are standalone, and you configure the jobs on the duplicator itself.
If you decide on a duplicator that requires a host computer, just make sure your system can handle it. If you frequently render effects-laden projects, and you want tocopy DVDs at the same time, your poor computer might choke! Consider as well whether you'll be using the duplicator at multiple locations - you can easily transport a standalone duplicator to job sites without the added task of bringing along and setting up a host computer to run it.
You could also pair your duplicator with a disc printer. The great thing about a printer (available only in automated duplicators) is that you accomplish everything in one place. The discs are burned, printed and stacked neatly, all with the push of a button. The downside? Printing takes time and can slow your disc throughput. Even if your duplicator has two or three drives burning at a time, the printer will still determine disc throughput. If this is a concern, look at a standalone disc printer as an accompaniment to your standalone duplicator.
A Printer by Any Other Name
Not all inline printers are created equal - or similar, as you'll learn when shopping for one. There are three types of printing processes to consider, depending on your needs and budget. Ink jet printers are usually on lower-cost duplicators and are capable of photographic-quality labels. So why wouldn't you want one? Smudging. If the disc gets wet or the environment is overly humid, the ink is subject to smearing. You can avoid that problem by using waterproof printable media, such as Taiyo Yuden's Watershield or Verbatim's AquaAce discs. Another option would be to spray a protective lacquer coating on the disc.
Your second choice is a thermal transfer printer, which is almost exclusively the domain of higher-end duplicators. In case you're not familiar with this method of printing, thermal transfer melts "ink" from a wax ribbon onto the disc surface to produce the image. The disc's face will then be completely scratch- and smudge-free without your needing to apply a protective coating. Thermal printing also enables you to print to the edge of the disc.
These types of duplicators are more expensive, but thermal transfer cartridges can be cheaper than ink jet in the long run. Some thermal printers do only monochrome, some suffer from low resolution and some are choosy about the type of surface they'll print on. Research your options thoroughly when looking at thermal transfer.
Finally, what about LightScribe and LabelFlash? These technologies allow you to inscribe your label on the disc while it's inside the drive by flipping the disc over to burn the label after you've burned the data side of the disc. It offers silkscreen-quality printing without the high silkscreen price. On the flip side, you're limited to using LightScribe or LabelFlash-compatible DVDs (depending on hardware), and your color options are monochrome only. You're also likely to encounter speed issues, as getting a good-quality image inscribed on your DVD is not a quick process.
Your Final Answer
These are some of the main options available for today's DVD duplicators. In order to make your final choice, consider the intended use of the duplicator. If you'll be making copies of weddings for brides, then you probably will want a printer but not a high-capacity duplicator. If you're hoping to offer duplication as an extra service to your corporate clients, then be prepared to pay more for an automated, fast-burning machine. The accompanying products grid should help you narrow the field and find the perfect machine for you.
Julia Camenisch is a freelance producer and stock footage shooter.
Click here to download a PDF Manufacturer's list of Videomaker's DVD Duplicators Buyer's Guide 2009.