Hands on with Primera's Bravo SE Disc Publisher

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DVD authoring in the classroom is a reality. It may not be literally everywhere, but with the proliferation of the format and the widespread availability of free and easy authoring tools, educators in pockets around the world have adopted this medium for everything from class projects and course materials to multimedia presentations and informational pieces for parents and community members. But for many educators who want to get involved with DVD authoring, there is one significant practical barrier: the time it takes to produce multiple DVDs.

Actual authoring time aside, the time it takes to burn discs and print labels can be prohibitive, especially since the person creating the actual discs can't simply walk away and return later when 15 or 20 discs are done burning and printing. He or she is stuck there feeding discs into the burner and printer manually, which can take hours.

There are tools out there to help alleviate this problem. Videographers, production studios and post-production houses have for years had access to automated disc production systems. However, these tools have generally been prohibitive in another way: price.

But that really changed when Primera launched its Bravo SE Disc Publisher earlier this fall, shown below in Figure 1.

BRAVO SE: HARDWARE FEATURES
The Bravo SE is an automated disc publishing system that's meant to take the "manual" out of the labor involved in burning and printing CDs and DVDs. What differentiates it from previous solutions like it is its price: At a list price of $1,500, it comes in at almost half the price of its nearest competitor.

The Bravo SE, like other models in Primera's Bravo line of Disc Publishers, is fully automated. With its unique robotic arm, it picks up discs one by one, inserting them into the burner, removing them from the burner, inserting them into the printer and finally placing the finished discs into an output bin.

Hence, unattended operation. (Figure 2 shows the robotic arm in action.)

The principal distinction between the SE model and the others in the line (such as the Bravo II and Bravo Pro) is disc capacity. The Bravo SE is designed for short-run jobs, handling up to 20 discs at a time. Other models that I've tested in the past have been able to handle 50, 100 and even 200 discs at once. This doesn't mean that, using the Bravo SE, you're limited to 20 discs total. It just means that at the end of a 20-disc run, you'll need to insert another stack of discs in the event that the job requires more.

Another distinction of note is the Bravo SE's print quality. All Bravo models use a Lexmark inkjet mechanism. Translation: The quality isn't going to be the same as what you might get out of an Epson disc label printer. However, the mechanism in the SE is improved over previous Bravo models. Like other Lexmark printers, the one integrated into the Bravo SE offers 4,800 DPI resolution. But it is also the first in the Bravo line to use the smaller 3 picoliter droplet size. The result is a much more appealing final print, one that tends to get far less muddy in dark areas and areas with subtle gradients than its predecessors.

The actual quality that you will see in the final prints depends heavily on the media you use. By far the best quality I've seen comes from Primera's new Tuff Coat Watershield surface, which is now available on both CD and DVD media. It's worth mentioning here as well that this Watershield disc type is, in fact, quite water-resistant. Even when wiping on the surface with a wet tissue, I saw no smearing whatsoever on the disc.

The ink cartridge itself is good for about 114 full-color, full-coverage print jobs. (Lighter coverage extends cartridge life.) A replacement CMY cartridge runs $38.

The final distinction between the Bravo SE and other automated disc production systems is its form factor. Weighing 11.5 lbs. and measuring 15" W x 7" H x 14.75 D, it's more compact and easier to move around. It occupies about the same amount of desk real estate as a regular printer.

The Bravo SE is USB 2.0-based (cable included) and is compatible with Mac OS X and Windows systems. The integrated disc burner is a Pioneer DVR-111 DVD±R DL/CD-R mechanism (16x DVD±R, 8x DVD-R DL, 40x CD-R).

SOFTWARE FEATURES
The Bravo SE includes burning software for Mac OS X and Windows. Note that the software is not designed for authoring. For that, you use whatever authoring tool you'd normally use. When the project is finalized, you then use the tools included with the Bravo SE to burn from a disc image, from a Video_TS folder or from an existing DVD or CD. (The software can also be used to create CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs, audio CDs and other disc types.)

On the Mac side, it includes CharisMac Discribe Robotics Version. This is a somewhat simple CD and DVD mastering and copying suite that includes additional features designed specifically for the Bravo SE: a job queue, robotics testing, image selection (for the label) and the ability to print and burn multiple copies of a disc.

It also provides controls over the Bravo's printer, such as quality settings and inner and outer diameter settings (Fig. 3).

Figure 4 shows the dialog presented to the user when burning a disc, including the ability to choose an image to be printed on the disc.

In the past, Bravo models also included a basic label design utility for the Mac. The Bravo SE just includes EPS templates for use in any popular graphics application.

On the Windows side, the Bravo SE includes Primera's new Primera PT Publisher software, along with SureThing CD Label Software Primera Edition.

PERFORMANCE/RELIABILITY
Now, one thing that ought to trouble you about automated disc production systems is their reliability. You do not want to start a print run and come back a couple hours later just to find a disc jammed in the printer or CD tray. This is something that Bravo devices have in their favor. The feed mechanism is not gravity- or suction-driven. The unit uses a robotic arm with a light-based sensor to detect individual discs, pick them up and place them accurately into the printer and CD trays. And so you eliminate the problems associated with other types of mechanisms. (Gravity feeds, for example, have problems with modern discs designed for spindles because those discs have little grooves designed to keep them in place in their packaging. This can cause them to get stuck in a feed, which, of course, can cause enormous problems in the production process.) On no Bravo model I've ever used have I experienced an error in accuracy with the robotic arm.

The reliability of the individual components of the Bravo SE are also improved over previous Bravo models I've tested. With previous models, I would, at times, experience stoppages in print runs for no apparent reason. In the two months I've had the Bravo SE, I have not experienced this problem even once with jobs of any size.

I should also mention the reliability of the printer. Right out of the box, the print heads are calibrated accurately enough that you can begin printing without any preliminaries. If you've used other disc label printers, you know that this is not usually the case. Usually you need to print tests to ensure that the labels do not come out off-center, showing white crescents on the inner and outer margins of the discs. No calibration was necessary for me with the Bravo SE. (Color calibration is, of course, another matter entirely. The unit does ship with a color profile, but, as with all printers, you'll want to do some tweaking to ensure the color on output is as close as possible to what you see on your display.)

In terms of performance, the Bravo SE delivers about what you'd expect. The speed of disc burning depends heavily on the type of project you're working with and the amount of data being transferred onto the disc. You're looking at five or six minutes for a full-length DVD. Print speed is about 90 seconds for a full-coverage label at highest quality. Printing takes place on one disc while another one is burning, so it really isn't a factor in the overall time it will take you to complete a production project.

EASE OF USE
When you read the phrase "disc production system," you probably start envisioning a system that requires certification to operate. But the fact is that the Bravo SE is straightforward and easy to set up and use. Once you install the drivers and software, it becomes no more difficult to use than any external disc burner or printer. Just launch the software; select the disc you want to burn; select the image you want to print; and you are pretty much there. It really couldn't be much simpler.

OVERALL RECOMMENDATION
Primera's Bravo SE is a breakthrough in automated CD and DVD production. In this price range, there is simply nothing else on the market right now that can match it. What's more, with its improved print engine and precision robotics, it's even a step ahead of a number of other models out there. The limitation of a 20-disc capacity is its only drawback when comparing it with other models. But burning and printing 20 discs at a time automatically is certainly an improvement over burning and printing discs one by one. For its features, value, performance, reliability and ease of use, we give it an A- grade.

The Bravo SE is available now for Mac OS X and Windows systems for $1,495.95 (list). Primera does not offer educational pricing itself, though some vendors do.

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About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Have any additional questions? Want to share your story? Want to pass along a news tip? Contact Dave Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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