As a co-owner of a small record label and several production facilities, I can understand why duplication facilities are losing business. Because of the popularity of online distribution for both final product and for demos, there's less need for physical CDs or DVDs. Even so, it's sometimes necessary to have actual discs on hand for sales or promotion. But more often then not these days, only short runs of physical product are required. So for a small business that provides music or video to its clients, an affordable, in-house duplication solution could really make sense. In previous issues, I reviewed Primera's Bravo II (Tape Op #44) and BravoPro (#46) Disc Publishers. These are automated, all-in-one duplicator/printers. You design the on-disc image on your computer, you build a playlist of files to put on the disc (or load a disc image file), you drop a bunch of blank, inkjet-printable discs into a bin, and then take a lunch break while your discs are burned and printed. But to justify the $2000-$3000 baseline costs of these Disc Publishers, you'd still need to do a good amount of duplicating. Primera's recently released Bravo SE Disc Publisher, on the other hand, streets for about $1000. If
you factor in the cost of blank media, ink, cases, and paper (for the inserts), it would take about ten runs of 100 CDs each to pay off the Bravo SE. And that figure doesn't even account for the cost of convenience-you could do as little or as many CDs per run and change both the print design and the digital content at your whim.
The Bravo SE that I received on loan from Primera was equipped with a Pioneer dual-layer DVD+/-RW/CD-R drive (other drive options are available) and bundled with PTPublisher authoring/duplication and SureThing label software for the PC, and CharisMac Discribe for the Mac. Other peripheral manufacturers could really benefit from emulating Primera's exemplary installation process. I stuck the installation disc into my PC's drive, and it walked me through the whole process, beginning with removal of all the packaging protecting the robotic arms, and ending with auto-alignment of the print head. A USB 2.0 cable is included. By the way, the software requires and installs Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1, but it doesn't prompt you to update .NET 1.1 to SP1 in order to plug the many security holes in the pre-SP1 release. You'll have to do this yourself. (Not even the most up-to-date software download on Primera's website includes .NET 1.1 SP1.)
The supplied PTPublisher software is much nicer looking and easier to use than PrimoDVD, which came with the Bravo II that I purchased a few years ago. But PTPublisher lacks some features of PrimoDVD that more sophisticated users might need, including control of blank space between audio tracks, a built-in viewer for the detailed log, direct authoring of GI and ISO image files, and direct disc-to-disc copy. But I think the majority of users purchasing the Bravo SE at its low price point won't miss these features, and there are workarounds. You can burn from an ISO disc-image file rendered with other software. One nice feature that's well-placed is the option to keep the original timestamps of the individual files intact or to adjust the timestamps to the actual burn date/time. Also, when you're creating an audio disc, you can preview your audio tracks in place without the need to start an external audio application.
SureThing label software has benefited from a few years of updates since my first go at it, and it's now easier than ever to use (or abuse) the power of computer graphics to create your "look". You still get all the text effects, but now with even more parameters to tweak. Unfortunately, there's still no real-time preview for text effects-not even for change of font or size. There are a bunch of filters you can apply to the background image; a library of images is included, but you can use any JPEG or GIF file. And there's even red-eye reduction and exposure control for shadows and highlights. It's kind of like a junior version of Photoshop Elements, but additional features make SureThing way more meaningful for disc publishing than standard photo-editing software can be. For example, there are tools for barcodes (type in a number and get one of nine different types of barcodes, including various forms of UPC and EAN symbols); variable text fields (date, time, serial number, merge data, etc.); and special characters (copyright, circled-P, trademark, umlauts, etc). The printer driver is fully configurable for any type of blank media (as long as its circular-yes there are non-circular discs out there), and because it automatically centers and crops the print image, you can print from any application. I had no problems using Photoshop and Illustrator, not only for direct printing but also for creating a file to import into PTPublisher for a duplication run. The Bravo SE can print up to twenty discs at a time. It's compact enough that it fits easily on a 19" rack shelf with room to spare; you just need a little extra space above it so you can flip up its translucent cover. And when you use Primera's TuffCoat with AquaGuard (matte) or WaterShield (glossy) media (Tape Op #55), the printed image on the disc won't smudge, even if you use the disc as a coaster. (But you'll still get professional-looking discs if you use generic inkjet media, even if it's not water-resistant.) If you're a band, small label, or media production house, and you've got an eye for graphics and don't mind doing hand assembly of your disc packaging, the Bravo SE makes a ton of creative and financial sense. ($1495 MSRP for DVD/CD version, $2995 for Blu-ray; www.primera.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.