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EMedia Review

Hugh Bennett

Primera Composer Optical Disc Duplicator
synopsis: Although there are other autoloading CD-R duplicators on the market for the same money as Primera's Composer, there is none that even comes close when combined with integrated printing capability. (DVD-R duplication is available as a more expensive option.) Compromises were obviously necessary to help achieve the system's lower cost, but not every potential customer needs to copy thousands of discs per month. While the unit lacks the physical robustness demanded by around-the-clock duplication applications and doesn't break any new ground when it comes to features or technology, the Composer should be attractive to many offices, schools, and the like wishing to do low-run disc duplication and labeling.

price: $2,495 CD-R; $9,995 DVD-R

Primera Technology, Inc.
Two Carlson Parkway North
Plymouth, MN 55447-4446
800/797-2772, 763/763-6676
Fax 763-475-6677
Printer pricing: Signature III (inkjet) with printer stand, $1,540; Inscripta (thermal) with printer stand, $3,040

January, 2001 | With its new Composer, Primera Technology has taken a bold step into the world of autoloading CD-R and DVD-R duplicators in the hope of expanding the market for its line of optical disc-label printers. Designed for light-duty work and attractively priced, the groundbreaking Composer brings small-scale duplication and printing within the reach of many who previously could only watch from the sidelines.

The Composer employs a modular design that may be ordered with or without an inline inkjet or thermal transfer CD printer. Consisting of a lightweight plastic and sheet-metal platform, the main duplicator unit acts as the base for a vertically mounted disc transport robot as well as separate, removable 50-disc input and output bins. Recording is taken care of by the internally housed Plextor PlexWriter 12x4x32 CD-R/RW drive [See Bob Starrett's review, August 2000, pp. 50-52–Ed.] or Pioneer DVR-S201 DVD-R drive [See Hugh Bennett's review, December 1999, pp. 58-59–Ed.], and with the optional printer sitting on a removable stand connected to the back of the duplicator platform.

Like several of its higher-priced competitors, the Composer uses a pick-and-place disc-handling system consisting of a single picking arm which rides on a vertical screw housed in a plastic column in the center of the duplicator's platform. The arm is moved up and down the length of the screw by an electric motor, while a second motor rotates the entire column from side to side. This allows the arm to access the single recorder located at the front, the printer in the rear, and the disc bins located on either side of the platform. A clamping mechanism located on the end of the picking arm grasps the discs by their center hubs as required. The Composer's design takes a little getting used to unless you're accustomed to reading Hebrew, since the job flow proceeds from the right side of the machine to the left rather than the more conventional left to right.

Physically speaking, the Composer is a little rickety, but when it came to reliability, the unit performed quite well by processing 500 discs over three weeks of testing with only a couple of minor glitches. The speed of the robot also proved to be acceptable. It should be noted, however, that neither the autoloader nor the optional printers support small diameter (8cm) and business-card CD-R discs. As well, the system lacks a reject area, so failed discs are crudely dropped in front of the unit. Prospective purchasers should also take note that the Composer occupies considerable desk space and may be a little too noisy for operating in a quiet office.

system requirements, setup, and software

Unlike a standalone CD-R duplicator, the Composer must be connected to and operated from a PC-compatible computer. The host PC should not be used to perform any other tasks during the copying process, so it's best to do larger disc runs overnight or to dedicate a separate PC system whenever possible. Realistic minimum requirements include using a 300mHz Pentium-class PC with 64MB RAM; Adaptec AHA-2940U or equivalent Ultra SCSI card; Windows 95, 98, 2000, or NT 4.0; and a hard disk drive with 2GB free space (10GB for DVD-R) capable of sustaining a 2MB/sec transfer rate. For this evaluation, the Composer was put through its paces using a 500mHz Pentium III PC with 128MB RAM running Windows 98 SE, an Adaptec AHA-2940UW SCSI card, a Western Digital 18GB Ultra ATA/66 EIDE hard disk, and a Plextor UltraPlex Wide 40X Max CD-ROM drive.

Assembling the Composer is fairly straightforward and simply involves attaching the printer and its stand to the main duplicator, installing the disc bins, and loading the software onto the PC. Cabling, however, is more elaborate and could prove to be a troubleshooting headache since it involves separate SCSI, parallel, serial, and mini-din connections as well as two power bricks. The Composer also lacks a convenient way to change the SCSI device number and termination of the recorder, so some fiddling may be required.

Controlling the actions of the Composer is the latest version of Prassi Europe's PrimoCD Pro duplication software. In addition to being a highly capable program, PrimoCD Pro is widely used in the industry including on more expensive competing systems from Rimage (in what was until recently known as its Cedar line) and Trace Digital. Multitalented to say the least, PrimoCD Pro not only duplicates the majority of CD formats, but also premasters the most popular ones from scratch.

Using a CD-ROM drive as the master reading source, existing CDs can be duplicated disc to disc or transferred to an image file for later copying. PrimoCD also offers a "streaming" feature more commonly found on standalone duplicators. Streaming involves the users placing a master CD to be copied into the input bin along with the number of blank CD-R discs to be written. The unit then loads the master, makes an image of it on the hard disk, and makes as many copies as there are blank discs in the input bin. Multiple masters can also be mixed with blank discs so multiple jobs can automatically be performed in sequence. Batch copying is also available when premastering or working with images on the hard drive, allowing for truly unattended operation.

The Composer would be an awkward peripheral indeed if original CDs always had to be created with another program before they could be duplicated. Thankfully, PrimoCD Pro also premasters Mode 1 and Mode 2 XA data (ISO 9660, Joliet, multisession), audio (CD-DA, CD-Extra), and Video CD. During testing, PrimoCD Pro worked like the pro it is by accurately duplicating every disc put to it as well as creating several dozen audio and data discs from scratch. Thanks to its 12X recorder and respectable robotic speed, the Composer reliably pumped out roughly eight 650MB discs per hour. In addition to solid recording, PrimoCD Pro also demonstrated excellent readback verification capability (every disc or sampling) for ensuring the integrity of the duplication process. PrimoCD Pro does have a few functional holes, though, such as a lack of display time estimates to complete jobs. Its interface is also somewhat disappointing compared to mainline recording programs (such as Easy CD Creator) and might be confusing to someone using the software only on an occasional basis.

printing options

Optional disc labeling capability for the Composer is available by attaching one of two Primera products: for thermal transfer, the Inscripta (released in late 2000); or for inkjet, the Editor's Choice-winning Signature III inkjet printer [See Hugh Bennett's review, February 2000, pp. 54-56–Ed.]. Older Signature I and II printers also work with the Composer. Choosing the right one involves appreciating the strengths and weakness of the two technologies.

Until recently, Rimage was the only manufacturer of thermal transfer CD printers, but Primera entered the race in the fall with its lower-cost Inscripta model. Available for $3,040 (including docking station), the Inscripta offers 610 x 305dpi printing resolution as well as single-color black or red/black, blue/black, or green/black two-color output. Thermal transfer devices such as the Inscripta have several compelling attributes including good speed, an ability to use most standard lacquer surface CD-R discs and DVD-R media (lacking a center hub ring), and, most especially, printing indelible images.

The $1,540 (including docking station) Signature III offers 1200 x 1200dpi print quality as well as full-color capability supplied by a single three-color cyan, magenta, yellow (CMY) cartridge or black (K)-only ink cartridge. As with all inkjet CD printers, the dyes used by the Signature III do not adhere to the smooth lacquer or durability coatings of standard CD-R discs, so special "inkjet-printable" media must be used. Printing is somewhat slower and the resulting images, which are water-soluble, can smear if not handled carefully.

Printing with the Composer is fairly straightforward and labels can be designed in several ways. PrimoCD offers a primitive, built-in feature for generating quick labels, but most users will opt for creating their designs using the included copy of MicroVision Development's excellent SureThing CD Labeler First Edition software or any other Windows- compatible graphics program. Using the standard PRN file created by the software as the label source, the Composer can be set up either to copy and print discs in a sequential operation or simply to print discs by themselves.

For this review, the Composer was evaluated using a Signature III printer and it performed wonderfully. Thanks to its straightforward printer driver and tray-loading design, the Signature III is virtually fool-proof to use and well-suited to low-run production duties in non-technical environments. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that, depending upon the time it takes to record each disc, printing can introduce a significant bottleneck into the duplication process. For example, when printing full-surface labels, printing times for the Signature III varied between 40 seconds (600 x 300dpi) to a little over two minutes per disc (1200 x 1200dpi). Although it was not available in time for this review, Primera indicated that a newly available version of the PrimoCD Pro would help address this problem by allowing the Composer to record and print simultaneously.

the bottom line

Although there are other autoloading CD-R duplicators on the market for the same money as Primera's Composer, there is none that even comes close when combined with integrated printing capability. Compromises were obviously necessary to help achieve this lower cost, but not every potential customer needs to copy thousands of discs per month. While the unit lacks the physical robustness demanded by around-the-clock duplication applications and doesn't break any new ground when it comes to features or technology, the Composer should be attractive to many offices, schools, and the like wishing to do low-run disc duplication and labeling.

Other Companies Mentioned in This Article

MicroVision Development, Inc.
5541 Fermi Court, Suite 120, Carlsbad, CA 92008; 800/998-4555, 760/438-7781; Fax 760/438-7406; http://www.surething.com

Pioneer New Media Technologies, Inc.
2265 East 220th Street, Long Beach, CA 90810; 800/444-6784, 310/952-2111; Fax 310/952-2990; http://www.pioneerusa.com

Plextor Corporation
4255 Burton Drive, Santa Clara, CA 95054; 888/675-3986, 408/980-1838; Fax 408/986-1010; http://www.plextor.com

Prassi Europe SARL
Worldwide Headquarters, 75 Bd. Oyon Technopôle, Novaxis 72100, Le Mans, France; http://www.prassieurope.com

Hugh Bennett (hugh_bennett@compuserve.com), an EMedia Magazine 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.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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