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MediaFORM CD-3706P

Hugh Bennett

MediaFORM CD-3706P
synopsis: Equipped with six ultra-speed 12X recorders, large 200-disc spindles, a robust disc-handling robot, and an optional thermal transfer printer, MediaFORM's CD-3706P offers a solid combination of capabilities and the dependability needed for even the most heavy-duty production environment. MediaFORM has also taken a cue from its floppy diskette duplication roots by enhancing the SmartDRIVE2 with digital fingerprinting capabilities. In the evaluation, the CD-3706P performed magnificently, flawlessly processing 5,000 discs during three weeks of continuous testing.

price: $13,995-$20,920

MediaFORM, Inc. USA
400 Eagleview Boulevard, Suite 104
Exton, PA 19341
610/458-9200; Fax 610/458-9554

June 2000 | The CD-3706P employs a modular design which can be ordered either with or without an in-line thermal transfer CD printer. Consisting of a sheet-metal cabinet with two large, clear swinging front-facing doors, the main duplicator unit houses the disc transport robot, six MediaFORM SmartDRIVE2 12x4x32 CD-R/RW recorders, a hard disk drive, separate removable 200-disc input and output spindles and, for rejects, a stationary twelve-disc spike. The optional printer sits on a removable docking station that connects to the left side of the cabinet. Correctly installing and aligning the printer to the rest of the system is a somewhat clumsy and touchy process which MediaFORM recommends be undertaken by the dealer.

autoloading in a vacuum

Like all of MediaFORM's autoloading CD duplicators, the CD-3706P uses a pick-and-place disc handling system manufactured by Amtren Corporation. The mechanism is a straightforward design employing a single-disc picking arm which rides on a vertical screw contained within a column in the center of the duplicator cabinet. A motor turns the screw either clockwise or counterclockwise to move the arm up or down its length. A second motor rotates the entire column from side to side, which enables the picking arm to reach the spindles located on either side of the cabinet and access the recorders located at the rear. Three suction cups (fed by small vacuum pumps) located on the picking arm grasp the discs as required.

Dependability is essential for any autoloading duplicator and the CD-3706P performed magnificently in the evaluation, flawlessly processing 5,000 discs during three weeks of continuous testing. Apart from reliability, other impressive elements include easily accessible spindles, large disc capacity, physical compatibility with small-diameter (80mm) and business-card CD-R discs (duplicating, but not printing), and reasonably fast disc-handling speed. However, the unit did disappoint on a few counts, including the reject spike's lack of an overflow sensor, the cabinet's crude assembly, and the sloppy array of cabling for connecting the optional printer, which seemed bush-league for such a high-end system.

it's all about control

Without a doubt, standalone systems, such as the CD-3706P, are the easiest type of CD duplicators to use and a great choice for non-technical, general office, and production environments. The brains of the system is the controlling PC-compatible computer, which sits hidden in the base of the main duplicator cabinet. The unit is operated through a 14-key membrane control panel (start, stop, copy, compare, 0-9), while current status information and prompts are displayed on a two-line, 24-character LCD display.

Capable of automatically detecting the format of a master disc and invisibly making all of the necessary adjustments, the CD-3706P copies most formats in Track-at-Once and Disc-at-Once modes. A special system configuration is available for dealing with obscure CD+G/M discs, although the more common CD-Text format is not yet supported. Optional Easi-DAT and Easi-AUDIO interfaces can also be ordered for importing audio from analog and digital source for recording onto CD.

Copying with the CD-3706P is a snap and, as with most autoloading duplicators, can be accomplished in several ways. The first is by using a relay mode where the master CD to be duplicated is placed on the input spindle along with the number of blank CD-R discs to be written. After the user presses the "Copy" button and selects "Relay Mode," the unit loads the master disc into the top recorder, makes an image of it on the internal hard disk drive, unloads the master, and continues to load and copy to as many blank discs as are on the input spindle. Multiple masters can also be mixed with blank discs on the input spindle so numerous jobs can automatically be performed in sequence. During testing, the relay mode feature performed as advertised, and proved a great convenience for unattended overnight work.

It should be noted, however, that the system wasted a lot of time shuffling discs because master discs can only be read by the top recorder. As a result, masters and blanks are loaded into the recorders only to be unloaded back onto the input spindle so as to arrange them in the proper order.

More efficient copying is available using the CD-3706P's hard disk drive, which can store up to four master disc images (an optional six-image hard drive is also available). After creating and selecting the proper image, all the user has to do is tell the unit how many copies are wanted. Unlike competing duplicators, the CD-3706P uses a partitioning system so the hard disk drive never needs to be defragmented or otherwise maintained. all this and SmartDRIVE2

MediaFORM is the first CD duplicator manufacturer to offer 12X recorders as standard equipment on all their systems. The CD-3706P comes equipped with six of them. Called SmartDRIVE2, the recorders are standard issue 12x4x32 Sanyo CRD-RW2 drives that employ customized firmware to enable several features currently unique to MediaFORM equipment. The first two are SmartSTAMP and SmartRID, which are unique digital fingerprints that the system optionally writes into audio and data discs so they can be traced back to the specific unit and even to the actual recorder which copied them. While many users won't appreciate this feature, serious production shops with formal quality control procedures will welcome the capability.

Not available in time to evaluate in this review were several other SmartDRIVE2 features. These include a rudimentary copy protection scheme that can be added to discs as a means of helping deter casual copying and, as well, SmartMedia, a system by which the CD-3706P will only write on blank discs that have been pre-prepared with a user-defined code.

Although some in the duplication industry expressed misgivings about using ultra-speed recording technology, the initial concerns about the stability of 12X have proven largely unfounded. In fact, the transition to 12X appears to have been easier for Sanyo and many CD-R media manufacturers than was the case with the changeover from 4X to 8X. Consequently, 12X-compatible discs are available from most of the majors, including Kodak, TDK, Taiyo Yuden, Mitsubishi/Verbatim, Mitsui, Ricoh, Maxell, Fuji, and Pioneer.

It almost goes without saying, however, that not all media can be expected to perform well at 12X, so the CD-3706P can be set to operate at slower 8X and 4X speeds. During testing, the SmartDRIVE2-equipped system performed like a pro across the board, regardless of recording speed. The only significant issue with the recorder is that its read speed can't be slowed to 1X which often can be a good strategy when dealing with poor quality audio master discs.

in-line CD label printing

Another feature which sets the CD-3706P apart from the standalone duplicator pack is the optional in-line Spectrum thermal transfer CD printer. In reality a Rimage Prism printer in MediaFORM clothing, the Spectrum offers 300dpi single-color black, red, or blue, or three-color disc surface labeling [See Hugh Bennett's Prism review, EMedia Magazine, June 1999, p. 86--Ed.].

Printing with the CD-3706P is easy and simply involves creating a label on a Windows-compatible computer using any graphics program or the included Seagull Scientific BarTender software. The result is saved as a standard PRN print file on a 3.5-inch floppy diskette which is then inserted into the disk drive of the Spectrum's docking station. After the disc duplicating process, the CD-3706P prints the label contained on the diskette onto each CD-R disc. Multiple labels can even be set up for sequential jobs when using the relay mode to accommodate multiple master jobs. Like most of its competitors, however, the CD-3706P is somewhat inefficient in that it does not print and record simultaneously.

The Spectrum prints high-quality monochrome labels economically on standard lacquer and thermal transfer surface CD-R discs. When compared with color labels printed by inkjet, however, the results are disappointing, since the unit dithers anything but full intensities of black and primary and secondary colors. But since thermal transfer labels are indelible while inkjet-printed discs are subject to smudging, choosing between the technologies involves weighing the trade-offs. When it comes to monochrome jobs, however, the Spectrum rules the roost.

the bottom line

Equipped with six ultra-speed 12X recorders, large 200-disc spindles, a robust disc-handling robot, and an optional thermal transfer printer, the CD-3706P offers a solid combination of capabilities and the dependability needed for even the most heavy-duty production environment. MediaFORM has also taken a cue from its floppy diskette duplication roots by enhancing the SmartDRIVE2. No doubt motivated by the need to create checklist items not offered by their competitors, these features should prove useful in some specialized applications, but only time will tell if the general market will also find them interesting.

Companies Mentioned in This Article

Amtren Corporation
888/226-8736; sales@amtren.com; http://www.amtren.com

Plextor Corporation
4255 Burton Drive, Santa Clara, CA 95054; 800/886-3935; 408/980-1838; Fax 408/986-1010; sales@plextor.com; http://www.plextor.com

Rimage Corporation
7725 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55439; 612/944-8144; Fax 612/944-7808; info@rimage.com; http://www.rimage.com

Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd.
Information Systems Division; burn-proof@infopd.sanyo.co.jp; http://www.burn-proof.com

Hugh Bennett (hugh_bennett@compuserve.com), an EMedia contributing editor and columnist for THE CD WRITER, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems (http://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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