By Stuart Sweetow and Jara Queeto of Audio Visual Consultants ©2007
For many video producers, duplicating DVDs is usually a one-at a-time process. Insert a disc into the computer, and burn data onto it. Then put in another disc, and wait while it does the same thing. After the discs are burned you can print label art onto the discs using a disc-capable inkjet printer. Unfortunately, those printers take only one disc at a time. If you need more than a couple of copies it can be a time-consuming process.
Reasonably priced mini-tower disc copiers have been on the market for some time. They won’t print label art on the discs, but you can buy them with two to ten drives. With tower dupers, you have to remove each disc and place it in a separate printer. Disc printers that handle more than one disc at a time are pricey.
Disc Publishing Systems
Disc publishers are all-in-one units with a writer, an inkjet printer and robotics that automate the process. You insert a stack of blank discs, start the machine and walk away. A robotic arm picks up a blank disc and feeds it into the writer. After it is burned, the arm moves it into the printer part of the unit and then into the stack of finished discs. Until recently, disc publishers were expensive. Now Primera, maker of some of those expensive disc publishing systems, has offered a unit priced for the mass market.
The Bravo SE ($1495) uses a single Pioneer DVD 111 DVD/CD burner and an inkjet printer with 4800 dpi capability. It plugs into a computer USB port and comes with PTPublisher SE duplication software and SureThing CD Labeler. It also works with Macs running Apple OS-X. Primera includes CharisMac Engineering’s Discribe duplication software as well as design templates for Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
The SE works with DVD+/-R and CD-R disc media. The system may be programmed to print at a variety of resolutions with the single ink cartridge.
You can purchase a printer-only version – the Bravo SE Auto Printer for $995. A Blu-ray version of the publisher, the SE-Blu, uses a Pioneer BD-R Blu-ray burner and sells for $2495.
The unit is impressively simple to setup. Connect two cables and insert one ink cartridge. Its small footprint helps it fit easily on a computer desk. The CD installer wizard guides the user through a no-brainer, step-by-step process of connecting cables and installing the drivers and software. Its footprint dwarfs in comparison to the much larger Microboards PF-2 printer we have at our studio that we used for print comparison in this test.
Primera claims that using the default settings, one ink cartridge will print between 100 and 130 discs using a label design with equal ink distribution at 100% coverage. It appears to drink up ink faster than our Microboards printer. This may be because the Bravo has no black cartridge; all three colors of the tri-color cartridge must be used to reproduce blacks.
One Bravo SE ink cartridge from Primera costs $37.95. So the cost for each full-coverage print ranges between 29 and 38 cents. Microboards claims that the high-capacity color ink cartridge in their PF-2 will print up to 600 full-coverage discs. At $74.95 cartridge, you’re getting full-coverage discs at 12.5 cents per print with the Microboards. That’s a considerable difference in price. The Microboards printer also appears to print truer blacks than the Primera; the Bravo’s black print in high-quality mode resulted a slightly brownish hue.
The included PTPublisher software is intuitive and stable with a high feature set. It provides many source options, including audio files, videoTS folders (native DVD-video file structure), disk images, and files/folders (for data DVDs). The included SureThing labeling software lets you create labels with a variety of color backgrounds. You may also print from a JPEG and other standard image file formats. The image should be sized to 4.72″ x 4.72″ to print correctly on a disc.
The default print quality setting is called “Best” quality. Medium quality is called “Better.” The lower quality, called “Normal” lets you print text-only discs in about 38 seconds, and they look just fine.
The two color settings are called “Best for Photos” and “Best for Graphics.” The latter produces a faster print. There is also a setting called “Disc Surface Quality.” I asked Primera support how disc surface quality can be assessed and was told that it’s basically another setting to tweak. Bravo SE users have a variety of options to determine their best settings.
Some users want the highest quality print. Some want the fastest print. Most probably look to find the best quality-to-speed ratio.
After thorough testing and timing, we found the following settings would produce a photographic background in fewer than 60 seconds:
Print Quality: “Better”
Disc Surface Quality: “Medium”
Color: “Best for Graphics”.
The driver also lets users set the inner and outer margins of the disc’s print surface. Each manufacturer makes their printable surface in slightly different dimensions, and sometimes the hub is not printable. This is accounted for by the “Inner Diameter” setting as well as by the “Non-printable” outer margin setting.
We found that controlling these settings was simple and straightforward. The Microboards PF-2 driver is more confusing; it has a checkbox for hub and alignment settings. We found it difficult to print a perfectly-centered disc with the PF-2’s conveyor system, while the Bravo SE, with its tray mechanism, appears to do a much better job of centering the printed artwork on the disc.
We placed several anonymous calls to the Primera support staff, and found them knowledgeable and friendly. They helped us learn how to do more with the SE. We even learned how to power off the unit. The instruction manual doesn’t tell you that the power button needs to be held down for a few seconds. Support is free for the first year and $10 per incident after that.
We weren’t able to test the unit thoroughly with a Macintosh computer, but Macs are completely supported by Primera. Discribe publishing software is included, and it seems to be a pretty powerful piece of software. However, PTPublisher on Windows XP and Vista really appears to utilize the device to its fullest.
We were impressed by the ease of use and quality of discs published on the Bravo SE. While our Microboards prints more accurate black, the Primera’s printing mechanism gives more ease of control over accurate positioning of the print.
However, the fact that it can only burn one disc at a time makes big jobs time-consuming. If you need to get a large number of discs burned and printed in a short amount of time, it is more efficient to burn your discs with a dedicated tower duplicator. You can then purchase the Primera AutoPrinter print-only version of the Bravo SE, which costs $500 less than the print-and-burn version tested here.
In measuring the speed of duplication, we found the Bravo SE took about as long as a tower duplicator to burn a single disc. However a tower can burn several discs simultaneously. The Bravo SE, with its robotic mechanism and single burner, burns one at a time. When you can stack 20 discs at a time, the machine can become tied up for hours.
While it is possible to stack up 20 discs and go to lunch, if your DVDs have 4GB of data, plan on a long lunch. It takes about 20 minutes for each disc to burn and print. That’s about a seven-hour lunch! The system works in the background, so you can perform other computer tasks while discs burn and print. However, if you need to publish quantities larger than 20 at a time, a dual-burner publisher or a tower duper is a better choice.
But for the majority of video producers, the Bravo SE Disc Publisher is a low-cost, automated publishing system. It sure makes it easier than burning and printing one disc at a time. If you don’t need to consistently churn out high-volume jobs, but want a reliable publisher that works in the background, the Bravo SE as a publishing system should be highly considered.
Bravo SE Disc Publisher
Bravo SE DVD/CD Publisher $1495
Bravo SE Blu Disc Publisher (Blu-ray drive) $2495
Bravo SE AutoPrinter (No drives, for printing only) $995
Number of Drives
One Pioneer drive
Bravo SE Blu Disc Publisher
One Pioneer BD-R drive
Up to 4800 dpi
Maximum Print Width
Cyan, Magenta, Yellow cartridge, Primera P/N 53332
Z-ColorTM color profile included
For the PC: PTPublisherTM SureThingTM CD Label Software Primera Edition
For the Mac: CharisMac Engineering’s DiscribeTM
Bravo SE Blu Disc Publisher
For PC support only: PTPublisherTM SureThingTM CD Label Software Primera Edition
Printable-surface DVD R and CD-R; standard or water-resistant
Minimum System Requirements for PC
For PC: Pentium III processor at 700MHz or higher, 500MB or more RAM, available USB 2.0 port, NTFS drive partition
Bravo SE Blu Disc Publisher
For PC support only: Pentium IV processor at 1GHz or higher, 512MB or more RAM, available USB 2.0 port, NTFS drive partition
Minimum System Requirements for Mac Computers
For Mac: 700MHz PowerPC G4 or higher or Intel Solo or Duo CoreTM processor, 256 MB or more of RAM, available USB 2.0 port
Windows XP/2000 for PCs
OS X v10.2 or higher for Mac
Bravo SE Blu Disc Publisher
Windows XP/2000 for PCs
UL, UL-C, CE
FCC Class B, CE
100-240 VAC, 50/60Hz, 60 watts
11.5 lbs. (4.1 kg)
15″W x 14.75″H x 7″H
(381mmW x 375mmH x 178mmH)
- TuffCoat Plus (white, standard printable surface)
â€¢ TuffCoat with AquaGuard surface (matte, bright white surface, water-resistant)
- TuffCoat with WaterShield surface (glossy surface, water-resistant)
One year parts and labor; optional
Extended warranties available
Water-resistant Disc Media
One of the exciting developments that users of the Bravo SE and other systems can take advantage of is the AquaGuard water resistant disc media. These discs use a proprietary nanoparticle technology. According to Primera, “The AquaGuard coating grips and holds ink to lock designs in place, unlike standard inkjet media that easily smears when exposed to moisture.”
These discs cost about double that of ordinary inkjet-capable disc media, but in addition to water resistance, they have a glossy surface. The disc surface looks and feels more like a retail DVD movie. Manufactured by Imation and sold as Memorex and Taiyo Yuden, Primera calls these discs Tuffcoat Watershield.
We let a Tuffcoat disc sit in a bowl of water overnight, and the ink did not run. The only problem with the Tuffcoat discs is that if a large black area is printed, it ends up looking dark green. Smaller black areas such as text seem to remain black. When these shiny discs were tested with our Microboards printer, the large black areas cast a bluish shade.
This is the first generation of water-resistant inkjet discs, and hopefully newer incarnations will handle solid black areas better. It’s a minor trade-off for glossy discs that won’t smear.