Stand alone CD DUPLICATION ROUNDUP

WATCHING THE TOWERS: stand alone CD DUPLICATION ROUNDUP

Hugh Bennett

although robotic disc-handling systems with integrated label printers may look cool and get all the attention at the trade shows, without a doubt, the Minivan of the CD duplication market is the standalone CD-R duplication tower. When it comes to straight-ahead, no-nonsense disc duplication, nothing beats it for economy, ease of use, and unadulterated throughput. Unlike their fancy automated cousins, standalone CD-R duplication towers are nothing much to look at and typically consist of simple chained banks of CD recorders housed in computer-like tower cases. Standalone duplicators operate more like photocopiers than printing presses, and just as you would normally print all original document using a laser printer and duplicate it with a photocopier, so you write a CD-R disc with a CD recorder and make copies using the duplicator. Standalone technology offers incredible convenience and ease of use and can typically be operated after only minimal training.

Contrary to some opinions, standalone CD duplication systems are not intended to be piracy factories. As the lowest common denominator writable format readable in any CD or DVD drive, CD-R has attained the privileged position previous held only by the floppy diskette and paper. Legitimate uses for making multiple copies of CDs include distributing everything from computer software to technical documents to church music to syndicated radio shows to the infamous Starr Report.

bits and places

At the heart of the standalone CD-R duplication system is the controller, which acts as the brains of the operation and point of interaction with the user. A number of proprietary controllers are commonly used in the various systems as well as some standardized models available to the industry from several manufacturers including JukeBox Information Systems (JIS), R-Quest, and Extreme Technologies. Capabilities vary widely between controllers so it is important for the prospective user to compare and determine the functions needed as opposed to superfluous features or downright gimmicks.

CD recorders are the other principal hardware component. Although Yamaha CD recorders dominated the CD-R duplication landscape for nearly three years, the mantel has been passed to Matsushita and TEAC with the introduction of their new quadruple speed models in 1998. TEAC’s CD-R55S 4X/12X and Matsushita’s CW-7502 4X8 recorders are now the mainstay of the production market and have proven their mettle as low-cost, reliable workhorses. Generally speaking, the CW-7502 has gained greater favor among duplication equipment manufacturers due to its lower cost and its use of MMC (Multi Media Commands), which make it easier to support in software.

At its current OEM pricing, four-speed recording provides better bang for the buck compared to moderately lower-priced 2X models. A quad-speed recorder is able to write a full 650MB disc in roughly 20 minutes, so a CD duplicator employing eight 4X recorders can write eight discs every 20 minutes or 24 discs per hour. For cases in which only half that amount of input data is written (as is the case with the majority of CD-bound data sets), the disc throughput is doubled. Keep in mind though that if finished copies are verified against the master source after recording, the throughput dips accordingly.

However, in a market where speed is king and you are only as good as your next product, CD duplicator manufacturers are already looking forward to the next generation of higher-speed 6X and 8X recorders to satisfy customer demands. Several new products now dot the high-speed landscape including TEAC’s 6 x 24, Sanyo’s CRD-R800S 8 x 20, and Plextor’s PlexWriter 8/20 8X write, 20X read recorders. Observers generally feel that six speed will soon become the recording speed of choice for the majority of the market given lower hardware costs and the greater availability of compatible media. Eight speed is expected to come into its own later on in 1999. In terms of comparison, an 8X recorder, which writes a full 650MB disc in roughly 10 minutes, provides only an incremental improvement over 6X recording, which enables the same task to be performed in about 12 minutes. Put another way, a duplicator outfitted with eight 8X recorders copies 48 discs per hour as opposed to 40 per hour if loaded with 6X units.

choices, choices

Shopping for any new piece of gear is always an intimidating experience, but it can prove downright frightening with something as unfamiliar as choosing a CD-R duplicator. As with any purchase, it is important to get the lay of the land and see what is available and not to jump at the first product you see, which may or may not suit your needs. In a few short years, the market has blossomed and is currently served mostly by the players in this roundup. The most prominent names among today’s tower contenders include Alea Systems, CD CyClone Duplication Systems, Hoei Sangyo, Integrated Network Solutions Corporation (INSC), JukeBox Information Systems (JIS), Media FORM, and MicroTech Systems.

alea system

A true pioneer of the industry, Italian manufacturer Alea Systems began life in 1988 developing SCSI application I/O drivers and host adapters and went on in 1993 to introduce the first truly standalone CD duplication system. Now based in the United States, Alea is expanding its North American market presence with new products and relationships.

The new CD Forge II is Alea’s main standalone CD-R tower duplication product and comes in several models. The primary unit is the M4 tower which includes one internal Plextor UltraPlex CD-ROM drive for master disc input, a SCSI hard drive for caching, and from one ($2,475) to four ($3,695) Matsushita CW-7502 4 x 8 recorders.

Although the CD Forge II makes use of what can be considered old 386 PC motherboard technology, two additional pieces of proprietary control hardware are employed by the system to offload tasks from the PC, thereby allowing the use of the less capable, but inexpensive, host. Alea’s SCSI Pipeline is a fast device to device SCSI controller and the SCSIMUX card allows the CD Forge to broadcast the master image to a number of recorders simultaneously. By connecting additional expansion cabinets to the SCSEMUX cards of the M4 chassis up to twelve more recorders can be added to the system. Typically, systems are sold in eight- ($5,995), 12- ($9,690), and 16-recorder ($13,205) configurations. According to Alea, the use of the SCSI Pipeline and SCSIMUX cards allows easy upgrading to new 6X and 8X recorders if desired.

One unique feature of the CD Forge II is its ability to connect to a PC and share its internal hard drive. This allows the computer to save ISO 9660, Rock Ridge, or HFS images on the hard drive and use the CD Forge II to duplicate the material without the extra step of creating a master CD. Since the hard drive is accessed from an electronically switched arbitrating SCSI port, the CD Forge II can remain connected to the computer while duplicating.

CD cyclone duplication systems

The most recent entrant into the standalone CD duplication market is California upstart CD CyClone Duplication Systems. Formed by the partnership behind the successful optical storage product reseller MediaStore, CD CyClone offers a line of duplication related products through several U.S. distributors.

Like many of the duplicators now available, the CD CyClone’s latest T-8 model is based around a Pentium PC so as to offer a high degree of flexibility for a reasonably low cost. The main system comes configured with a hard drive and eight TEAC CD-R55S 4 x 12 recorders. This model lists for $6,995.

Additional expansion is also available by connecting a secondary extension system ($3,995) containing eight more Teac 4 x 12 recorders. For audio enthusiasts, the T-8 offers an optional interface card ($595) for accepting source material from Digital Audio Tape (DAT) for recording to CD. Perhaps a sign of interfaces to come, rather than using an LCD screen and membrane keypad, users interact with and receive information from the T-8 system through a small touch-sensitive screen. This new One Touch Record (OTR) method offers straightforward command inputs and more feedback than is often the case with the conventional and sometimes cryptic world of CD duplicators.

Rather than using a separate computer to handle disc labeling chores, another unique feature of the T-8 is its ability to connect to a 50-disc autoloading printer system. Details are as yet unavailable, but it is expected that the system will be based around a 600 x 600dpi Primera Signature II CD color inkjet printer.

hoei sangyo

Over the course of the past three years, Hoei Sangyo’s name has become synonymous in the CD duplicator community with technological innovation, meticulous attention to detail, and uncompromising quality. Distributed in the United States by MicroBoards Technology, Hoei Sangyo’s latest product offerings further supports this well-deserved reputation.

A direct replacement for the previous generation SR-4400, the new CDstation DSR-8000 offers a completely new modular architecture in a larger five-bay enclosure. The master duplicator, listed at $5,995, comes configured with five Matsushita CW-7502 4 x 8 recorders and an external Plextor 32X UltraPlex CD-ROM drive for reading master discs. An optional ($325) 2GB internal Quantum SCSI hard drive is also available for large-scale installations or times when disc-to-disc copying is not appropriate.

One of the biggest concerns about standalone CD-R duplication systems has been the expense of expanding the number of recorders or upgrading to new or higher speed drives when they become available. To address these concerns, Hoei Sangyo employs their new Versatile Media Interface (VMI) card technology in the DSR-8000. In contrast to the previous generation SR-4400, which could only be expanded by daisy-chaining master units, the new DSR-8000 allows up to three lower-cost ($4,295) five-recorder slaves to be chained to each master (i.e., one to each VMI card). As many as 10 master/ slave combinations can be daisychained together for writing up to 200 simultaneous copies from the same master source. In addition to recorder expansion, the modular VMI system provides greater opportunities for system upgrades. These include a DAT import option for converting audio DATs to CD-R discs, as well as a method for connecting 6X and 8X CD recorders and DVD-Recorders when these devices come to market at reasonable cost.

In addition to the VMI architecture, the DSR-8000 offers several other innovative features, including FlexHD and DirectSCSI. With the optional hard drive installed, FlexHD allows each master/slave grouping in a large chained configuration to start duplicating independently of one another, thus allowing the operator to load and unload discs with minimal downtime. Also unique is DirectSCSI, which lets the DSR-8000 be connected to a PC or Macintosh to allow all of the duplicator’s recorders to function seamlessly as the target writers of the computer.

For cases where the DSR-8000 is not sufficiently large for the task at hand, Hoei Sangyo has recently introduced a DSR-8800 model, which offers identical features, but in a larger form factor. The $6,995 master DSR-8800 comes configured with seven Matsushita CW-7502 4 x 8 recorders and an internal Plextor UltraPlex CD-ROM drive. The system can be expanded with up to three seven-recorder slaves ($4,995). As with its SR-4400 sibling, up to 10 master/ slave DSR-8800 combinations can be daisychained together allowing the writing of up to 280 simultaneous copies from the same master source or a remarkable 840 full discs per hour.

Hoei Sangyo also offers a special vertical market duplicator based on the older SR-4400 chassis aimed specifically at Sony PlayStation software developers. The DPM44 system consists of control software and an interface card that connects a developer’s proprietary DTLS2210 CD-ROM Generator PC to up to ten SR-4400/CS duplicators outfitted with Sony CDU-921S 2X recorders. A less expensive Powerbox model is also available for installations where developers already have existing Sony CDU921S or CDU-924S recorders.

integrated network solutions corporation (INSC)

Distinguished from its duplicator peers by its heritage in the network arena rather than the diskette duping game is Integrated Network Solutions Corporation (INSC), a relatively recent arrival from Laguna Hills, California.

INSC’s main product is their CD Copier SA-8. Housed in a solid and easily serviceable RAID cabinet, the SA-8 comes configured with one internal Plextor UltraPlex CD-ROM drive for master disc input, a hard drive, and one ($3,626) to eight ($7,196) Matsushita CW-7502 4X recorders. Like comparable equipment from MediaFORM, CD CyClone, and MicroTech Systems, the SA-8 uses standard Pentium PC and Microsoft Windows technology at its core and as a result is highly flexible. For example, this flexibility allowed INSC to be the first vendor to integrate higher-speed 8X recorders so they can offer an SA-8 configuration with one ($3,995) to eight ($9,995) Sanyo CRD-R800S 8 x 20 recorders.

Another result of using a PC architecture is easy expandability. By utilizing a four-channel AdvanSys SCSI card, the number of recorders addressed by the SA-8 can be extended through a simple external expansion cabinet containing one ($1,643) to eight ($5,213) Matsushita 4X8 recorders or one ($1,845) to eight ($6,845) Sanyo 8 x 20 recorders.

Reflecting INSC’s strong background in networking products is the ability of the SA-8 to connect to a LAN through an optional 10/100 Base-T Ethernet card ($495). Once connected to a network the SA-8 can receive premastered ISO9660 images to its internal hard drive which it then uses as the master for duplication. Other significant features of the SA-8 include a copy counter to keep track of the number of discs being recorded, a running log that can be displayed on screen or printed out from a connected printer to be used for more comprehensive diagnostics, and support for a wide range of current legacy recorders.

For users with even larger initial needs, INSC also offers a SA-15 model which offers identical features to the SA-8, but, in addition to a CD-ROM and hard drive, offers configurations ranging from one ($4,817) to fifteen ($11,995) Matsushita 4 x 8 recorders or one ($5,095) to fifteen ($14,895) Sanyo 8 x 20 recorders in a single clean chassis.

Jukebox information systems (JIS)

Originally a manufacturer of RAID systems and CD jukebox controllers, JukeBox Information Systems (JIS) now has several years of CD duplicator experience under its belt to complement its significant visibility through a growing network of dealers and vendors using JIS’ technology in their own products.

Unlike many duplicator manufacturers who radically change their products year to year, JIS has stuck with the same basic products since introducing them in 1996 and offers three fixed configurations using either TEAC CD-R55S 4 x 12 or Matsushita CW-7502 4 x 8 recorders. The Encore! 2DS model offers two recorders ($2,895), the 4DS four recorders ($4,395), and the 7DS seven recorders ($6,995); all systems include a 1GB hard drive. Several other vendors offer the Encore! product line under their own names, one of which is floppy diskette duplicator equipment veteran Trace Digital, that brands the the JIS towers as PowerWriter II, IV, and VII.

JIS has also been very successful as an OEM technology provider by selling its dual SCSI channel Concerto CD duplication controller to other manufacturers for incorporating into their own products. For example, CopyPro offers CD-R200, 400, and 700 series duplicators using a JIS controller, as does JVC Professional Computer Products in its Standalone Multi-Drive system.

Since its introduction, the Encore!’s feature set has evolved incrementally. JIS indicates that the company expects to release further enhancements throughout 1999 including support for higher speed 6X recording, multiple disc images on the hard drive, simultaneous writing, and copying to the hard disk and a new DAT to CD duplicator.

mediaform

As low and medium-run software and audio duplication continues its move from magnetic media formats to CD-R, no manufacturer has enjoyed more success than Exton, Pennsylvania-based MediaFORM. From its humble beginnings designing, manufacturing, and selling software production and packaging equipment in 1989, MediaFORM has assumed the role of the industry’s irresistible force evidenced by boldly passing out corporate 800-pound Gorilla lapel buttons at fall Comdex 1998 in Las Vegas.

Although its product line is ever expanding, MediaFORM’s flagship duplicator continues to be its Editor’s Choice-winning CD2CD PowerPro CD-5900 [see Hugh Bennett’s review, November 1998–Ed.]. A state-of-the-art system, the PowerPro uses an open Pentium PC architecture to keep costs down and enhance system reliability while allowing for future expandability. The main system comes configured with an A/V IDE hard drive and up to eight ($6,195) Matsushita CW-7502 4 x 8 or TEAC CD-R55S 4 x 12 recorders. A ninth bay on the bottom of the tower can be configured with an optional Plextor CD-ROM drive or an Iomega Jaz drive for creating original CDs.

Unlike many standalone duplication towers which have a fixed number of recorders, the PowerPro can be easily and economically expanded. In addition to the main unit, additional throughput can be added by purchasing an external expansion cabinet ($4,795) that connects to the master tower to expand to eight more recorders. For larger-scale needs, a $695 networking system allows as many as four PowerPro duplicators with expansion cabinets to be connected together for a total of as many as 64 recorders writing the same data simultaneously. Unattended duplication is also available by connecting MediaFORM’s CD-2700 ($3,925) single-recorder 50-disc autoloader.

Another feature which distinguishes MediaFORM’s PowerPro from its competitors is the ability to create audio CDs from scratch using the optional Easi-DAT and Easi-Audio attachments. Based on a Zefiro Acoustics ZA2 digital audio card, the $695 Easi-DAT allows users to connect any digital audio source (DAT, MiniDisc, DCC, ADAT) through a standard coaxial or optical S/PDIF or AES/EBU port to convert contents to CD. The $395 Easi-Audio package, based on a Creative Technology Soundblaster AWE 64 Gold sound card, upgrades the CD-5900 so any analog source (record, cassette, etc.) can be imported and written to CD.

For those with smaller production volume requirements than really call for a system of the PowerPro’s power, MediaFORM’s product roster also includes the smaller-scale CD2CD Plus CD-5300 version, which offers identical features, but with reduced expandability. The CD2CD Plus accommodates up to three recorders ($3,695) with a four-recorder expansion cabinet ($2,895) available to extend the system to a maximum of seven writers.

MediaFORM duplicators are available directly from Pennsylvania-based MediaFORM and from a prominent west coast reseller, the Bellevue, Washington-based MARCAN, Inc. (http://www.marcan.com). MARCAN announced the early 1999 availability of its re-branded version of the MediaFORM CD-5900 in November 1998.

microtech systems

Best known for its mid- and high-end ImageMaker and ImageAutomator CD-R duplication and high-volume custom disc production equipment, MicroTech Systems (formerly MicroTech Conversion Systems) of Belmont, California also offers a range of standalone products under the DiscQuick name.

After analyzing the potential market for its products, MicroTech decided that many organizations just need and want to make quick and simple copies. With that in mind, DiscQuick takes a simpler approach to standalone CD-R duplication by offering straightforward duplication without all the bells and whistles which might get in the way.

The most popular model is the DiscQuick 200 series, which uses a Plextor UltraPlex CD-ROM drive as well as from two ($4,095) to seven ($8,095) Matsushita CW-7502 4 x 8 recorders in a single sturdy metal cabinet. The DiscQuick does not use a hard drive so copying is accomplished disc-to-disc with one-button simplicity. Data read-back verification is included with the DiscQuick as is a multilingual feature enabling switchable English and Spanish menus.

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Companies mentioned in this article

Alea Systems, Inc. 9689-A Gerwig Lane, Columbia, MD 21046; 410/290-8646; Fax 410/290-8658; http://www.alea.com; INFOLINK #400

CD CyClone Duplication Systems 20472 Crescent Bay Drive, # 108, Lake Forest, CA 92630; 909/470-4795; Fax 949/470-4796; http://www.cdcyclone.com; INFOLINK #404

CopyPro, Inc. 4020 Pike Lane, Concord, CA 94520; 800/887-9906, 925/689-1200; Fax 925/689-1263; http://www.copypro.com; INFOLINK #405

Hoei Sangyo Co. Ltd, 12-15 Nihonbashi-Kobunacho Chuoku, Tokyo 103-0024, Japan; 81-3-3655-3418; Fax 81-3-5642-7559; http://www.hoei.co.jp; INFOLINK #408

INSC 22995 Mill Creek Drive, Laguna Hills, CA 92653-1215; 800/875-1117, 949/455-1000; Fax 949/455-2601; http://www.insc.com; INFOLINK #410

JukeBox Information Systems 31119 San Benito Street, Hayward, CA 94544; 510/441-8125; Fax 510/441-2214; http://www.jbis.com; INFOLINK #412

JVC Professional Products Division 5665 Corporate Avenue, Cypress, CA 90630; 714/816-6500; Fax 714/816-6519; http://www.jvc.net; INFOLINK #413

MediaFORM, Inc. 400 Eagleview Boulevard, Suite 104, Exton, PA 19341; 800/220-1215, 610/458-9200; Fax 610/458-9554; http://www.mediaform.com; INFOLINK #416

Mediastore, Inc. 2238 North Glassell Street, Unit A Orange, CA 92865; 800/555-5551, 714/974-5551; http://www.mediastore.com; INFOLINK #432

MicroBoards Technology Inc. 1480 Park Road, Suite B, P.O. Box 846, Chanhassen, MN 55317; 800/646-8881, 612/470-1848; Fax 612/470-1805; http://www.microboards.com; INFOLINK #419

MicroTech Systems 2 Davis Drive, 8elmont, CA 94002-3002; 800/223-3693, 650/596-1900; Fax 650/596-1915; http://www.microtech.com; INFOLINK #420

Trace Digital 1040 East Brokaw Road, San Jose, CA 95131; 408/441-8040; Fax 408/441-3301; http://www.trace.com; INFOLINK #429

Hugh Bennett [hugh_bennett@compuserve.com), an EMedia Professional contributing editor and columnist for THE CD WRITER, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems (www.forgetmenot.on.ca], a company based in London, Ontario, Canada offering CD and DVD-ROM recording, replication, and consulting services as well as CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RAM hardware, duplication systems, software, and blank media sales.

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