Shooting, editing, authoring and burning a DVD of your latest video is a major feat. But what if you want to burn a dozen or more copies? It's time to take a look at DVD duplication.
OK, so you've just recorded some high resolution video and it's going to be used in company training. But wait, there's a catch! You need 500 copies available to distribute immediately. And OK, you've also got a monster amount of important data that needs to be backed up. But you don't want a thousand of those annoying CDs or DVDs in their jewel cases taking up space in your home. Instead, you want that data burned to just a few discs. Or, heck, maybe you backup and burn like there's no tomorrow, but you're tired of the tedious process and just want it burned automatically. Phew! Those are some heavy demands, aren't they? Well, fortunately, for all of you in each of those tricky situations, there are disc duplicators to meet each of your needs.
For the uninitiated, disc duplicators are very much like conventional CD/DVD burners. They make copies of discs and they burn at variable speeds depending on which one you buy. But unlike the burner you might have in your computer at home or at the office, disc duplicators come specialized to mass produce burned copies, quickly turn around Blu-ray, or autorun discs. There's a lot of variety in disc duplicators, but generally speaking, they fall into two categories.
Setting Control to Manual
Manual duplicators come in many forms. Some are internal or external computer drives, others come in stacks of drives with as few as one or as many as 50 units per system. These are very handy if you're looking for a slightly smaller-scale operation, but still want the job done quickly. With most, you can easily burn copies of a disc by putting the original master disc in the tray, pressing a button and saying "engage!" OK, well the engage part isn't needed, but it's still fun.
At any rate, the duplicator will then make copies in a matter of minutes. Cool, huh? Duplicators burn in both DVD and Blu-ray formats, but each has its own set of trade offs. The standard CD/DVD duplicators are usually broken down by features, such as number of drives, built-in memory or LightScribe abilities (which we'll get to later). The basic manual duplicator can be bought cheap (for a few hundred) with starter units writing at speeds greater than 20X.
Blu-ray is a considerable step up in price. You should expect to pay $500 or more at minimum for one of these puppies, but if you're looking to burn in high-definition, you'll get it. Blu-ray manual duplicators can turn around discs in one to two hours, sometimes less. Because the Blu-ray units write to 25 gigabyte discs in high-def, write speeds are slower (in the range of 2X to 8X). The 2X variety is the economy way to go if you want the quality without breaking the bank. The 8X kind burns a lot faster, but many companies charge leaps and bounds more for them.
In short, manual duplicators are good for the intermediate level user who wants affordable options. There's a good range of choice in drives, and the true upshot of these is with multiple unit duplicators, if one or even two to three fail, the rest will still function. The only real thing to watch out for is that some non-standalone duplicators may have compatibility issues.
Prices range from cheaper models (Copystars CD DVD 1 to 1 ... $151) to intermediate (like the Reflex X5 Pro Duplicator... priced $1,250 and up) and the pricey (Xerox D1015BD ... $7,630).
It's Automation, Baby!
Automatic duplicators are the robotic kind, and no, we're not talking about the Terminator here. They won't shout "come with me if you want to live," but they will grab the discs and load them for you. How the duplicator works is you provide the original disc and the device will grab it and automatically make numerous copies of that disc.
Like manual duplicators, these devices are differentiated by whether or not they can burn DVD or Blu-ray. Because the latter is a relatively new technology, DVD auto duplicators are much more common and cheaper.
I'm going to go ahead and say right off the bat that automatic duplicators are really meant for people or companies interested in mass production. Models such as the Systor AMBA Series 3 automatic duplicator can store and copy as many as 220 discs at a time. They're meant to crank out copies of the same disc like a photocopier is meant to make copies. So if you're an indie video producer and you want to make a few thousand copies for buyers, this is for you. But if your interest is data backup, these aren't the droids you're looking for - move along.
The good news about automatic duplicators is they're darn fast at what they do. Many burn CDs at 30x to 40X speeds, and can crank out DVDs at 20X. Some drives also have built-in hard drives. Storage is variable, usually based on how much you're willing to pay. But you can find duplicators with HDs that carry up to 500GB worth of information, or more.
To wrap up, automatic duplicators are usually more expensive than their manual counterparts. Their use is more specialized, but they're still great for anyone who wants true automation. Just be aware that the automated units carry more moving parts that have more of a chance to fail than manuals. The robotic arm on some may be more fragile than you'd like, although some are ruggedized.
Prices range from moderately expensive (Nimbie NB12-BR ... $1,295) to the more expensive (Primera Bravo XRP Disc Publisher ... $4,995).
OK, so now you know what a duplicator is and what types there are. But you're still scratching your head wondering just what the heck else you can get for your money. You're wondering what features these things have, because everybody loves features, right? The most advertised feature you'll find in duplicators is LightScribe. LightScribe is a type of disc labeling that's done by the laser in the duplicator itself. After specifying what you want that label to be, and if you want an image, the duplicator will etch it onto each copy of the master disc in black and white, sepia or full color if you so choose.
LightScribe technology is an interesting beast that has changed much over time. It was originally developed by Hewlett-Packard and could only produce disc labels in sepia. Now you can get your best labels printed in any color you like without having it say "I'm sorry, I can't do that."
There is a catch to using LightScribe though. Because of the way the labels are written onto the disc, they can fade within months if mistreated or mishandled. Some have reported fading after heavy use, as seen in music burns. This typically happens if the discs are stored in heavy sunlight, high humidity or extreme temperature. It's also not a good idea to leave the discs in players for too long because the heat they give off is greater than internal room temperature in many cases. Luckily, the fading won't hurt any data.
Other notable features include firmware updating, self-diagnostics and custom software, which are now somewhat common in duplicators across both categories.
The Final Word
If you only burn one or two or even five or six copies occasionally, but not regularly, and you have the time to sit and feed your burner over and over again, go for it. But if you need to copy more discs more often, duplicators are a great time saver. And in most cases, every copy is a perfect clone.
So there you have it. There's clearly a lot of choice when it comes to disc duplication. Duplicators have truly evolved since the early days of CDs and DVDs. They've gotten more sophisticated, a little more affordable and a lot less annoying to set up. Looking at the grid of all the companies in the game right now, one can almost feel the salivating going on. It's like being a kid in a candy store where every kind of candy is something you love. Some items there are clearly out of your reach, but chances are there's something that suits you.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Disc Duplicators Buyer's Guide
Sidebar: Disc Duplicators: Pros & ConsManual Duplicators
- Usually affordable.
- Wide range of options in drive numbers, if one drive fails, the others still work
- Non-standalone duplicators may have compatibility issues
- Requires more work than automated duplication
- Automated process rolls out discs fast
- Convenient and easy to use
- More expensive than manual duplicators
- Has more moving parts that can break
Evan Burt is a journalist and published author writing in Northern California.