Disc Duplicators Buyer's Guide: Dupe it, Times Many!

Those with good memories will remember the time and effort it used to take to get the computer, DVD burning program and DVD burner to all work together. Now the process is almost ridiculously simple – except that one thing hasn’t changed. If you’re going to duplicate a number of DVDs, you still have to make the first one, and then duplicate it one-at-a-time using a computer’s duplication program that has you inserting and removing DVD discs one after the other.

That’s where a disc duplicator comes in; it’s an external machine that doesn’t even need a computer. You give it your completed DVD and it does the rest – providing you’ve “fed” it with blank discs and set the control appropriately.

The best part is the price – we’re not talking about tens of hundreds of dollars (remember how much the first DVD burner for your computer cost?), but a few hundred dollars (unless you go for a “Ferrari-like” model, instead of a sturdy and dependable “Ford”). Of course if you want to scale up the cost, automate the process or add Blu-ray burners instead of DVD, (which is the same kind of rodeo, just Blu-ray uses different types of horses and a different burner technology to saddle up).

To speed up your duplicating process, here are a few things to consider about disc duplicators where anything less than ten copies coming at you is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know.

Manual Disc Duplicator

At its most basic, your finished DVD goes into one side of the duplicator while the blank disc goes in the other. A few buttons, switches and other Mad Scientist-inspired controls later, the duplicator has copied the contents from the finished DVD to the blank, creating a perfect clone. Pop the clone out, insert another blank, rinse and repeat. This becomes even faster when multiple DVD burners are added, so that each burning cycle results in a number of clones. The disc speed is usually conformed to all of them – so if you’re able to do “20X” speed for burning it will apply to every disc being burned. No mix and match.

Example – Manual Disc Burner -Vinpower Digital SharkCopier SATA Duplicator.

This series of stand-alone disc duplicators provides up to 15 burners – no PC is needed whatsoever. A built-in 160GB hard drive (500GB for Blu-ray duplicators) allows for blanks to be burned without needing the original. An LCD display provides all the necessary information for making intelligent choices, and the counter keeps track of the discs that have been burned versus the total number required for the project. 20X burning speed ensures quick copies – for example, up to 120/hour with a 10-burner model.

Automated Disc Duplicators

Automated (or “Robotic” for Asimov fans) disc duplicators say goodbye to you once the master dish has been put in the drive and the blank reel has been loaded with blank discs. The procedure is then set and activated through a control panel (LCD, natch) that doesn’t require a computer. Changes in the burning speed (up to the maximum the drive allows) and other variations are available. You just sit back and recite the three laws of Robotics, or hum an Eminem tune as the discs pop out like from a Pez dispenser.

Example – Automated Disc Burner – Primera Bravo 4102 Disc Publisher

Two DVD/CD recordable drives and a 100 blank disc capacity sounds good; add a built-in thermal inkjet printing on the discs and it’s gotten even better. Discs are picked up and transported robotically (high-speed belt drive) the speed of the burners bringing the ability to burn up to 150 discs per hour into play. LED lighting shows you what is going on inside, PC/Mac integration means ease of control and front dispensing of the final discs means they’re ready to be taken out without having to open a drawer or door. All for under $3500 retail.


Options

Like cars, disc duplicators come with options that add to the value – and price. Some models perform diagnostics upon startup to ensure that everything is ready to party, while other models add basic copy protection to the copies to drive a wedge against piracy. Some duplicators even add a hard drive that can copy the contents of the master disc and then transfer that data to the blanks in a more efficient manner. This doesn’t enable the drive that holds the master disc to copy discs, but it does allow you to place your master away for safekeeping after just having played it once. It also lets you reselect the “disc” for burning at a later time. And of course those burners that do Blu-ray handle high-definition BD discs.

Example – Automated Blu-ray Disc Duplicator – Spartan AO3RBHDLG

Yep, they should work on the name, but for under $3000 you’re getting the ability to do Blu-ray copies (you can use it for DVD too, obviously). It knows enough to understand different master discs when confronted by it, and the 100 disc capacity gives the three BD burners a workout – DVDs go lickety-split, while Blu-rays follow just a few steps behind. Blanks that don’t make the copy cut get ejected, while those that do go into a storage area to keep them safe and clean.

Companies

The manufacturers of disc duplicator are a varied bunch, and most of their names are not well known to the buying public. This pretty much obliterates the idea of brand-loyalty, and so it’s the features that should be considered, as opposed to how many different types each company makes, or what the price is. Some research into the company, the disc duplicator you are interested in and other buyer’s remarks on how they feel about their purchase will be needed. “Caveat emptor” (Let the buyer beware) indeed.

Sidebar: Printing A Label On The DVD

The presentation of a DVD disc can be as important as the contents on it — the rule of first impressions taking precedence here. Just writing the title on the surface of the DVD with a felt marker won’t score points. To give your DVD copies a look that sugests quality, the label that is on it must appear professional — and it doesn’t hurt if the label can avoid being smudged or easily pulled off the disc as well. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, short of drawing a label on the disc yourself.

LightScribe
LightScribe-enabled DVD burners add the ability to burn an image directly on a DVD — in effect creating text and graphics cover art that is indelible. No muss or fuss with sticking a label on here. Of course the DVD must be LightScribe-enabled, adding to its cost compared to that of regular blank DVDs. A program provided with the LightScribe-enabled DVD player is used to do the burning. Manufacturers of Light Scribe-enabled DVD burners include Microboards, Alterac and U-Reach among others. [link removed- no longer available]

Inkjet Printers
There are inkjet printers which are designed to print directly onto the label of a special blank DVD disc, for example, the Stylus brand of Epson inkjet printers. The advantage of these printers is that you are printing directly onto the disc, using a printer that has an added capability, as opposed to a stand-alone printer that does nothing but print labels. Inkjet-compatible discs must be used, and these are available from a wide variety of manufacturers, such as Imation, Maxell, TDK and Memorex among others.
Epson America, Inc. www.epson.com

Standalone Thermal Label Disc Printers

A thermal label disc printer accepts a blank DVD in a slot. A keyboard is then used for printing text on the disc or, if the model allows a connection to a computer via a USB cable (for example, the Casio CW-L300), the computer can provide the input to put on the disc. No graphics can be included as the printer is text only. The number of lines that can be printed is limited also, depending on the printer model.
www.casio.com

Marshal M. Rosenthal is a technology and consumer electronics freelance writer.

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