Buying Guide: CD & DVD Duplicators
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With all things technology, there is always a rush toward faster and more efficient performance at a more affordable price point. This is just as true concerning CD and DVD duplication as it is in any other area of technology. The rise of affordable and fast audio and video multimedia disc duplication solutions makes it possible for bands, artists, churches, businesses, and other institutions to have more control over distribution of recorded music or video on CD or DVD.
If you've got some audio or video (or maybe both) you want to be able to share for free or for profit, on CD or DVD, this guide will help you choose the type of duplicator you need to get started. If you want to distribute audio or video content on a large scale, you'll need more than a CD burner. In fact, even if you only duplicate and distribute 5-10 discs a week, you'll soon see significant savings of time and wear-and-tear on your computer by using a dedicated duplicator. Consider that with up to ten drives in a single tower, you can write ten discs at once and burn over 100 full discs in about an hour!
The main points you'll need to consider are the type of duplicator you need, the volume and speed of duplication you require, and if you want all-in-one duplication and disc printing.
Thanks to affordable drive components and competition between duplicator manufacturers, every duplicator on the market features high-speed drives for fast disc writing. Due to the same factors, though, individual drive speeds change frequently on all of the duplicators, so examining the drive speeds on a model-by-model or even manufacturer-by-manufacturer basis is difficult. You can be assured, however, your duplicator will be fast, as nearly every CD drive used for duplication is in the 32X-52X CD writing speed range (as of spring 2008). The same applies to DVD duplicators. Most have at least 16X writing capability—which is obviously slower than CD writing speeds, but fast for the more complicated DVD/video media writing process. A few of the all-in-one duplicators and printers feature slightly slower times, but are still quite fast. You'll probably find the direct-to-disc printing process takes longer than the disc writing.
CD and DVD duplicators can be categorized into two main types: standalone and computer-based. The distinction between them is simple, as you've probably already surmised from their names. They take different paths but ultimately lead you to the same place. An extremely important difference that's not always obvious is what types of media each duplicator can produce. Some will read and write only CDs or DVDs, while others are designed to do both. Make sure you purchase the duplicator appropriate for the type of media you want to distribute. If you think you might want to now or in the future duplicate both audio and video discs, definitely purchase a duplicator built to write both types of media. It's much more expensive to add DVD or CD copying later.
A standalone duplicator does not require any interaction with a computer to do its job. All you have to do is drop the disc you want to copy into the master drive and start duplicating. These work great if you've already created and authored a "master" disc using your computer's CD or DVD burner or a standalone CD or DVD recorder. There are two different types of standalone duplicators you can choose from, depending on the type of functionality you want: a tower duplicator or an automated duplicator.
Tower-style duplicators have two basic levels of functionality. Some towers are strict one-disc, push-button disc copiers, where you can only duplicate one CD or DVD at a time from a master disc. Others have onboard memory to allow you to save a few disc image files from duplication sessions. If you need to make a duplicate but don't have the master on hand, you can write it from the stored disc image. Duplication volume is pretty simple with tower duplicators: the taller the tower, the more discs you can write at once. However, tower duplicators require supervision. You have to stand by and reload the drives every time one of them finishes writing a disc. If you don't have the time to be a part of the duplication process, an automated duplicator can be a better choice.
With their disc hoppers and tiny disc-picking robot arms, it may seem as though an automated disc duplication machine is part novelty, and admittedly they are cool in a geeky, futuristic type of way. But with their ability to duplicate hundreds of discs while you go about your other business is nothing to take lightly. That's their primary appeal and it can be a big time saver for people with a busy schedule.
The advantage of a computer-based duplicator over a standalone duplicator is the ability to author a disc directly from your computer. This saves you the step of writing the disc on your computer and then transferring the disc to your duplicator. Once you have created the disc image on your computer, you can start duplicating it. Often computer-based duplicators include feature-rich software that allows you to set up multiple jobs for burning so you can drop in a stack of discs and earmark certain portions of the spindle for different duplication projects.
Computer-based duplicators are available in the same categories as standalone duplicators—towers and automated—with the addition of the disc publishing machine category. Disc publishers deliver automated, all-in-one CD or DVD writing with direct-to-disc label printing as well. If delivering a final, polished disc for distribution is your goal, you should give the disc publisher category serious consideration. It can save you time and money down the road to have a machine that you can set up for a burn-and-print job (or several), walk away, and return in an hour to find a stack of 50 discs with nicely printed labels ready to be distributed.
When you're thinking about purchasing a CD or DVD duplicator, take a few minutes to map out all the scenarios in which you can envision using your duplicator. If you are in a band and want to produce your own CDs for distribution, how many CDs do you need to turn out? How quickly do you need them? How much time will it save if you buy a duplicator capable of writing 10 discs at once over a model that writes three? The same questions apply to organizations like churches and businesses. If you need to distribute a sermon or presentation to dozens or hundreds of people immediately afterwards, what type of duplicator best fits those needs?
Also, if you're using a computer-based duplicator, it's no problem to save past disc images you've created and write them to disc when you need them later. For example, you could quickly create a copy of an old sermon or album upon request. Some standalone duplicator provide similar functionality as well, so examine the features carefully before you buy if you need that capability.
When you're planning your duplication setup, make sure you get plenty of blank discs for the job. Include enough for your project, as well as some extras in case you run short or need to do an additional run later. Make sure you consider what type of printing you'll be putting on the disc as well. Disc surfaces are specifically prepared for the type of printing to be done. The inkjet printing available with most all-in-one disc publishers lets you produce full-color, high-resolution images and text and requires a disc surface receptive to the liquid inks. Thermal printing gives you basic, one-color images and text but is also less expensive per disk than inkjet printing.
Make sure you think about packaging for distributing or archiving your discs as well. For professional distribution, obviously plastic jewel, book-style DVD, or custom-crafted cardboard disc cases are still the rule. But for more informal distribution, you can choose paper or plastic envelopes. After you get those details squared away, you can start duplicating, packaging, and distributing your media.