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Edit Review — Primera BravoPro Disc Publisher

Nov 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jan Ozer

Industrial-strength burner/printer saves wasted days.


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As a video producer, I often plan my life around making my computers and programs work while I'm not there. I might ask DVD Studio Pro to encode and burn a DVD, then go off on a run. I'll set up Sorenson Squeeze for a 12-file batch compression and leave for the night, or render 60 minutes of SD output from HDV source in Pinnacle Liquid Edition and shut off the lights for the weekend. The one job that has always required my presence, however, is the totally mundane task of reproducing and printing DVDs.

The BravoPro unit has a source tray on the right and an output tray on the left. The print engine sits above the two Plextor drives, and the robotic arm on the upper left manages all transportation to and fro.

I've done as many as 50 a day manually, flipping discs between two DVD recorders on separate computers and printing on my trusty Epson Stylus Photo R200. But the cost of human capital is high — essentially, I lost the day, paying myself about $7 an hour.

Recently I had several large reproduction jobs coming up, so I was more than happy to review the Primera BravoPro Disc Publisher, an industrial-strength disc production system with an equally robust price tag of $3,995. While this may exceed the impulse price range of many smaller production shops, the BravoPro is an absolute dream for corporations or service bureaus with frequent runs of five to 100 CDs or DVDs — once you work through some initial start-up hurdles.

The BravoPro is a microwave-size unit comprised of two Plextor drives, a 4800×1200dpi Lexmark print head, and a robotic arm that transfers discs from the 50-disc input tray through the burning and printing workflow to a 50-disc output tray. Or you can add a third tray and employ a “kiosk” mode that can produce a maximum of 100 discs. The unit, which connects to your computer via USB, comes with both Macintosh and Windows mastering and label-design components.

I started by installing the unit on my Dell Precision 670 dual Xeon workstation, which resolutely refused to recognize the Plextor drives. A quick trip to Primera's online Knowledge Base informed me that this is usually caused by software conflicts, particularly with Roxio's Easy CD Creator software. While this particular program wasn't on the Dell 670, several similar programs were, so I punted and installed the software on an older Dell Precision 530 workstation, which recognized the drives at once.

For Windows users, Primera bundles Sonic's PrimoDVD for controlling recording functions and MicroVision Development's SureThing CD label designer for producing labels. PrimoDVD supports a number of different job types, including audio CDs and data CDs and DVDs, but most consumer programs for these tasks are easier to use and offer better features. Thus PrimoDVD is best used in a replication role, either copying a CD/DVD disc directly, or copying a disc image.

For my DVD replication testing, for example, I output a DVD image file (.img) from Apple DVD Studio Pro over the network to the Dell, which I used as the source for my DVD discs. Or you can copy a (non-copy-protected) DVD or CD by placing it in the computer's DVD drive, or one of the two Plextor drives on the BravoPro. PrimoDVD will copy the contents to the computer's hard drive, then start burning. With all projects, you have the option to test-write before burning and verify the data after burning, which boosts production time significantly but adds a nice level of quality control.

PrimoDVD can perform rudimentary batch operations in Stream mode, where you place multiple masters in the source bin, each followed by the desired number of blank discs. Unlike with the Macintosh software, however, you can't print on the disc in this mode, and you can't burn from multiple disc images, just from the actual discs.

For recording and printing jobs, you should design the label in SureThing first, then save the label in a normal SureThing project file. You then choose this SureThing project file from within PrimoDVD and set other recording parameters, click the proverbial Go button, and BravoPro starts burning and printing.

Overall, the Windows software is functional, but not overly impressive. While PrimoDVD is generally straightforward and worked as advertised, the software has a dowdy, pre-XP feel. SureThing is a bit better, but lacks niceties like the alignment tools we've all grown accustomed to from the menu design functions in DVD-authoring programs.

Note that you can design your labels in other programs and print directly to the BravoPro, even engaging the robotics to print multiple discs. So you could record in one pass using the BravoPro, then print, though this would increase overall production time since you couldn't print while burning.

The SureThing disc label design program comes bundled with BravoPro Disc. The four-color image looked great on the discs but consumed large quantities of ink.

In my Windows tests, I burned and printed in one pass. While operation went smoothly on the Precision 530, it did not go quickly. The first DVD test run recorded at a lethargic 1X pace. It didn't take a trip to the Knowledge Base to realize that the slow USB1 ports on the older Dell computer were likely restricting performance. I could resolve this by installing a USB2 interface card in the Dell, or move to a faster computer for the performance trials.

Since it was time to test the Macintosh side of the equation I chose the latter, installing the unit on a dual 2.7GHz Power Mac G5 with USB 2.0 ports. For the Mac, Primera bundles CharisMac Engineer's Discribe software to run the BravoPro, and includes disc design templates for Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop. Using these programs, or the design program of your choice, you create an image file that Discribe prints on the disc during production.

I designed my Macintosh labels in Magic Mouse Productions Discus RE, which offers a feature set similar to that of SureThing in a much prettier package. Then I output a high-resolution PDF file that I then input into Discribe while setting up the recording project.

Like PrimoDVD, Discribe can create new audio and data CD discs, but other tools like Roxio Toast are better suited for these tasks. Anyway, most users will likely use Discribe to copy finished discs or disc images. In this role, operation is simple: Choose the disc image or disc to reproduce, choose the label image to print on the DVD, and set the number of copies.

As noted above, Discribe can work in true batch mode, setting up multiple jobs from multiple image files with the ability to print labels as well as record.

Performance on the USB2-equipped Mac was inspiring. The unit took just under 11 minutes to record and print a 3.9GB DVD file from a disc image, and produced 10 printed DVDs in 60 minutes. I intermixed 8X media from Verbatim and Ridata during these tests and got similar results from both. In CD trials, I burned and printed 10 49-minute audio CDs in about 33 minutes.

All discs proved compatible in all tested players, a mix of 10 set-top and computer-based players. This was not surprising, given the combination of Plextor drives and high-quality media. Print quality was absolutely gorgeous, every bit as clear and crisp as output from my Epson Stylus R200. My test label was primarily a frame grab from the DVD's concert video, upsampled in Adobe Illustrator to around 4000×3000 to provide plenty of grist for the 4800dpi print engine. The picture was stunning on the printed media, with fine text that was highly readable even in smaller font sizes.

The downside of this four-color approach, of course, is ink consumption, and the BravoPro's color ink cartridge ($47.95 direct) started signaling low after about 120 discs, for a per-disc cost of about 41 cents. Expect much better results with simpler labels with less color-intensive designs.

What else did I learn in my three-week romp with the BravoPro? Pre-burn error checking could have been better, as could post-error reporting. For example, Primera supplied 100 blank discs for my testing, and I couldn't tell if the media was CD or DVD. They turned out to be CD discs, and the program didn't warn me when I tried to burn my 3.9GB DVD image file to disc. After the discs failed, the PrimoDVD reported a buffer underrun, which didn't help me resolve the problem.

Once I got the media type sorted out, the unit worked very well, especially the robotics, which were smooth and accurate throughout, with no dropped or mis-picked discs. However, over the course of the 300 or so discs produced, I did find two instances of discs in the output tray that weren't actually recorded.

The first time I encountered this, I assumed it was user error, but I started checking stacks from the output tray and found a second unburned disc in the middle of a stack. Since time wasn't of the essence, I switched to Verify After Recording mode for all production and didn't encounter this problem again. Still, even if you use this mode, you should probably quickly check the back of each disc to see if it was recorded. As noted before, if the disc was recorded, it played in all tested players, and my test revealed no data corruption or similar problems.

Overall, the BravoPro was an impressive performer, with generally competent software and simply outstanding hardware. The labor savings should easily justify the price tag for those frequently producing small lots of CDs or DVDs.


BOTTOM LINE

Company: Primera
Plymouth, Minn.; (800) 797-2772

Website: www.primera.com

Product: BravoPro Disc Publisher

Assets: High-speed, hands-free disc burning and printing with great quality and high compatibility.

Caveats: Check each disc after recording to ensure that no blanks get through.

Demographic: Corporations and service bureaus that frequently produce small lots.
Price: $3,995

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