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Editor's Choice

Rimage Producer Prostar

Hugh Bennett

Rimage Producer Prostar
synopsis: Big, bold, and (somewhat) beautiful, Rimage's Producer Prostar may be the most expensive CD publishing system on the market, but it is by far the most capable. The Prostar's high price tag makes it an inappropriate choice if all you are doing is high-volume CD duplication (there are far more cost-effective, single-purpose products on the market), but with refined robotics, reasonably polished software, and unprecedented single-device throughput, the Prostar stands alone for mass customization chores.

price: $41,500
configurations
• Tower PC, 8 recorders, 1 printer - $41,500
• Tower PC, 8 recorders, 2 printers - $45,000
• Rackmount PC, 8 recorders, 1 printer - $43,500
• Rackmount PC, 8 recorders, 2 printers (as reviewed) - $47,000

Rimage Corporation
7725 Washington Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55439
952/944-8144
Fax 952/944-7808
http://www.rimage.com

August 2001 | Minneapolis-based Rimage–by any measure the industry leader in the area of network-based CD publishing systems–has once again upped the ante with its Producer Prostar, truly the most elegant and technologically advanced system now available for recording and printing high volumes of customized discs.

As expected, the Prostar can copy existing CDs, but the unit truly stands apart when creating massive amounts of discs from scratch using data drawn from SANs or other network sources. Typical applications include document imaging and COM replacement, customized software production, and Internet order fulfillment as well as centralized CD production for large corporate workgroups. That said, such state-of-the-art capabilities don't come cheap. System prices start at $41,500.

If big jobs call for big equipment, then the Prostar certainly has what it takes to tackle any sized task. Measuring 35" x 18" x 32" and weighing in at 180 pounds, the basic Prostar comes fully assembled so customers, according to Rimage, "have a positive out-of-the-box experience." Unfortunately, the designers neglected to incorporate handles on the Prostar chassis, so most people will have trouble just getting the unit out of the box. And when planning for the Prostar, keep in mind that a completely configured system with a full load of CDs weighs in excess of 300 pounds. An extremely sturdy table or bench is thus a real necessity.

elegant design

To keep out dust and prying fingers, Rimage designed the Prostar as a completely enclosed entity. Consisting of a tall, rectangular sheet-metal cabinet with a large semicircular plastic door, the interior of the unit is loaded with eight Plextor PlexWriter 12/4/32 CD-R/RW recorders, the disc transport robot, three easily removable input and output spindles (500 maximum total disc capacity), and a fixed spike for holding rejected discs.

Prostars come factory-configured with either one or two Perfect Image Prism color thermal transfer disc label printers, serviceable on top through a removable cap. The printers are not easily accessible, however, which makes ribbon changes (a common occurrence for such a high-volume machine) a challenging adventure. When placed on a typical bench, access to the printers is over five and a half feet off the floor, so it's an awkward affair to quickly replace ribbons (a clumsy, manual-spooling process). It's also inevitable that the protective sheet-metal cap that covers the printers will soon, in practice, be cast aside.

In contrast with the inner workings of some CD publishing systems, the Prostar's robotic system is an electromechanical work of art. The unit employs a conventional, single disc-picking arm which rides on a vertical screw located in a column in the center of the cabinet. Motors turn the screw either clockwise or counterclockwise to move the arm up or down its length and rotate the column from side to side to service the spindles, located in the front of the cabinet, and the recorders and printers, located in the rear. What separates the Prostar from every other production system on the market, however, is its innovative disc-picking system.

Most other automated CD duplication and publishing systems use a single mechanical or vacuum-gripping device to manipulate discs. There, picking systems grasp and transport each disc one at a time from the input spindle to a recorder and then to the printer and output spindle. While practical for serving a few recorders and an inline printer, these designs create a serious production bottleneck when attending many high-speed recorders and several printers.

To dramatically improve system efficiency, the Prostar instead employs a novel, double-sided rotating picking arm with two vacuum-gripping systems. When a production run is initiated, the first side of the arm is used to grasp discs from the input spindle to load them one at a time into the awaiting recorders. As each disc finishes writing, the arm moves to the input spindle, grasps another blank disc using its first side, flips over, moves to the awaiting recorder, grasps the written disc using its second side, flips again, and deposits the fresh blank disc into the recorder. The arm then flips again and deposits the written disc onto the printer tray or onto the output spindle. This elegant ballet then continues for as long as is needed.

control center

The brains of the system are a Windows NT 4.0-based "Control Center" currently consisting of either a conventional tower or, better still, a rackmount Dell PC, which slides smartly into a bay under the Prostar's chassis. The unit supplied for the evaluation was a PowerEdge 2450 rackmount system complete with a 733mHz Pentium III, 256MB RAM with an Ultra160 SCSI Wide interface, a single 18 GB/ 15,000 RPM Seagate Cheetah X15, three 9GB/10,000 RPM Cheetah 18XL hard drives, a Plextor 40X CD-ROM drive, 100BaseT Ethernet card, 15" monitor, mouse, and keyboard.

Running on the Control Center is a handful of applications which empower the Prostar to perform a wide range of publishing tasks–from straight CD copying to rapid-fire unique disc creation using files drawn across a network to disc labeling. Like all of Rimage's production systems, the Prostar offers either synchronous or, to maximize throughput, asynchronous operation as well as the ability to simultaneously write from distinct data streams to each of its eight recorders.

Most users will interact with the Prostar using the CD-R Workstation application that operates on either the Control Center itself or on a network-attached PC. Thanks to its wizard-style interface, the CD-R Workstation is more conventional than similar software on competing systems and vastly simpler to use. On a mundane level, most types of existing CDs (CD-ROM Mode 1 & 2, XA, CD-DA, mixed-mode, CD-i, CD-Extra, etc.) can be easily copied by the Prostar by simply designating the source, inputting a job tracking name, assigning a production priority, specifying the desired label to be printed, and indicating the number of copies to be made.

More representative of the type of work the Prostar is really designed to tackle, however, is creating large numbers of discs from scratch, typically by using information accessed over a network. The CD-R Workstation supports a surprising number of logical formats, including ISO 9960 (all levels, Joliet, Rock Ridge, and Mac extensions), bootable, native HFS, and CD-DA, as well as disc capacities ranging from 80-minute to various business-card CD-R discs. Disc labels may be designed as necessary with either the supplied CD Designer software (a customized version of Seagull Scientific's BarTender) or any other program which can output its work as a PDF, BMP, or print file. In addition to static labels, discs can also be marked with unique information (time stamp, customer name, etc.) by referencing a previously created external merge file.

Those seeking greater simplicity than is afforded by CD-R Workstation can instead choose to use the included WinBurn client software. Originally offered as an add-on feature for additional cost, Prostars now include unlimited-use WinBurn licenses. WinBurn provides a drag-and-drop environment that most users will find more familiar. During testing, WinBurn worked well and did indeed have a more intuitive disposition, although products such as this still have a long way to go for general office use. If Rimage's off-the-rack solutions aren't to your liking, command of the Prostar can be given over to user-created custom applications authored using the optional $3500 PowerTool suite.

After jobs have been created with either CD-R Workstation or WinBurn, the CD-R Image Server automatically takes care of premastering chores and hands off to the CD-R Production Server for recording and printing. The Production Server is the real power behind the throne, keeping the Prostar's many recorders and printers working together and processing jobs according to their assigned priority while allocating the necessary hardware resources. During testing, the Prostar's controlling software trinity proved very predictable and stable, albeit a little confusing when trying to keep straight what does what, when setting operational parameters. There are also several functional holes including remote administration, watermarking, and copy protection, but Rimage indicates these will be addressed sometime in the future with the next generation of its ProNet enterprise software.

During a month of operation, the Prostar performed admirably while processing 1,200 discs of various formats and sizes. In terms of system performance, disc throughput observed was unprecedented for a single device and close to Rimage's advertised values, ranging from 78 unlabeled and 71 monochrome-labeled 650MB discs per hour to a staggering 330 unlabeled and 273 monochrome-labeled 30MB discs per hour.

prism label printing

The Perfect Image Prism has received some minor upgrades since first hitting the stage in 1999. Originally outfitted with 300 x 300dpi capability, the Prism now offers enhanced 600 x 300dpi printing for producing higher-quality, graphic-intensive labels. Several new ribbon options are also now available. These include monochrome black, red, or blue, two-color red/black, green/black, and blue/ black combinations; and a three-color cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) ribbon for full-color printing. As before, monochrome printing can label most standard lacquer-surface CD-R discs, but printing multiple colors can only be done on a few types of lacquer media and, by design, on special thermal printable-surface discs.

Over the years, monochrome thermal transfer printing has become an industry standard for in-house corporate work and commercial production services alike. And for good reason. In testing the Prostar's Prism with a black ribbon on Kodak, MBI, and TDK lacquer, as well as Mitsui and Kodak thermal white surface discs, printing was brisk and the results were indelible and extremely attractive. Line art and graphics were clean, bold, and dark, and text was highly legible. Consumable cost is also quite reasonable, at roughly eight cents per labeled disc.

Characterizing the success of full-color printing with the Prism, however, is more a matter of taste. Due to the limitations of thermal-transfer technology, the Prism is incapable of generating high-quality photographic images or even completely saturated areas of color except for full intensities of black as well as primary and secondary colors. Shades appear as roughly dithered patterns, and black is pale compared to its monochrome cousin. Adapting label artwork to work around the limitations of the Prism produces reasonable color labels, but most will find the results disappointing, especially with a consumable cost of roughly 34 cents per disc.

A far more attractive alternative to printing entire labels in color involves selectively printing variable or unique components, such as names, addresses, or serial numbers, onto CDs that have already been commercially silk-screened with static, graphically involved elements. Printing is deftly aligned with existing artwork by the Prostar's tried-and-true Perfect Print feature, which uses an optical sensor and gear system on the second side of the picking arm to locate a silk-screened reference mark on each disc and rotate them into the proper orientation. During testing, Perfect Print worked flawlessly and, thanks to the double-sided design of the picking arm, impacted very little on overall system performance, reducing throughput by only a handful of discs per hour. Rimage has yet to indicate if it will offer the Prostar with its new photo-realistic Everest printer, so for the moment, those seeking high-quality color labeling must rely on Perfect Print or seek out other solutions.

the bottom line

Big, bold, and (somewhat) beautiful, Rimage's Producer Prostar may be the most expensive CD publishing system on the market, but it is by far the most capable. The Prostar's high price tag makes it an inappropriate choice if all you are doing is high-volume CD duplication (there are far more cost-effective, single-purpose products on the market), but with refined robotics, reasonably polished software, and unprecedented single-device throughput, the Prostar stands alone for mass customization chores.


Companies Mentioned in This Article

Eastman Kodak Company
343 State Street, Rochester, NY 14650-1181; 800/243-8811; http://www.kodak.com

MBI (Glyphics Media subsidiary)
333 Metro Park, Rochester, NY 14623; 716/272-1360; Fax 716/272-1391

Mitsui Advanced Media, Inc.
10045 Federal Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80908; 800/682-2377, 914/253-0777; Fax 914/253-8623; http://www.mitsuicdr.com

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

TDK Electronics Corporation
901 Franklin Avenue, Garden City, NY 11530; 516/625-0100; Fax 516/625-0100; http://www.tdk.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 (www.forgetmenot.on.ca), a reseller, systems integrator, and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.


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