Primera Bravo Disc Publisher SEBy Sara Sprague • Category: Lead
As a multimedia shop, we often find ourselves playing the part of a short-run publisher where we have to burn off 20 to 200 CDs or DVDs for our clients. This type of short run can be incredibly pricey if sent out to a duplication house, but if done one at a time it quickly racks up man hours.
The solution: A robotic disc duplicator and printer combo that allows greater ease in creating short runs of as few as one disc. The Bravo SE Disc Publisher by Primera, which we look at here, largely has the entry level duplicator market locked up. With a street price of under $1300, it costs less than half the price of some high end duplicators, and is not too much pricier than what the low-tech solution of a good computer, burner, and inkjet printer would cost (assuming you needed to buy it all from scratch).
Let’s take a look at how the Bravo SE Disc Publisher works.
Hardware and software installation is simple: Remove the packaging materials, run the software installer and follow the instructions. The installer not only installs software for burning and printing, but also steps you through the installation of the hardware. (Not that it requires much stepping through, as it’s pretty much just “plug it in, insert cartridge, and place blank disc in the the input tray so that it can align the cartridges. Primera has done a great job of making the process easy, to the point of it being easier than most desktop printers and scanners that are geared toward consumers.
One thing to note is that the driver has not passed Windows XP Logo testing, so you’ll be notified of that and you’ll have to choose to ignore it in order to use the system. Not a big deal when you consider that most drivers seem to skip Windows XP logo testing these days.
The Bravo SE Disc Publisher is a surprisingly compact unit that measures approximately 16″ deep, 14″ wide, and 7″ high. In this unit is a 4800 DPI inkjet printer and aa Pioneer DVR-215 optical drive that can burn discs at the following speeds: CD: 40x, DVD: 20x, DVD-DL: 10x. (A Blu-Ray option is also available at a higher price point.)
On the right side of the machine is a contoured “input bin” that can hold up to 20 discs. On the left is the Output bin, with the same capacity. Behind the output bin are the burner and the printer. A robotic arm goes first to the input bin to retrieve a disc, the burner opens up, the robotic arm deposits the disc, and starts to burn. When done, the arm grabs the disc, moves it to the printer tray, and the disc starts to print. The robot will re-load the burner while the other disc is printing. Once the printer is done, the robotic arm grabs the disc, the printer tray retracts, and the disc is dropped into the output tray. A little bit of a steep drop, if you ask us, but none of the discs seemed to be worse for their free fall.
The Bravo SE has a bit of a “Rube Goldberg” feeling to it, which is somewhat disconcerting at first, and which had us a bit nervous about breaking the unit by doing something wrong. As it turns out, this piece of hardware has most things well under control. For example, we were concerned that we would have to count off 20 discs for each run, which would be time consuming and more than a bit of an annoyance. Nope. You simply stack them into the input bin. As long as you don’t go over the top of the input bin, you’re fine.
The publishing software only allows you to burn 20 discs at a time, so the output tray will never become over-filled. We were also concerned about what would happen if we had stacked up fewer discs than 20 and went to publish a run of 20. We need not have worried, the software simply prompts you for more and then continues the job. The one thing to look out for is to make sure you always remove the clear stacking discs from the top and bottom of your blank CDs before loading them, as these can damage the unit if they are dropped into the burner or printer. A sticker in the input tray warns you against this.
The Bravo SE comes with two pieces of software: SureThing CD Labeler, and PTPublisher. You can use them independently to create the different parts of your project, or use them in a more integrated workflow by launching SureThing CD Labeler from within PTPublisher.
PTPublisher is where most of the “work” is done. PTPublisher is powered by Sonic (a very well established publisher of disc burning software), and allows you to create Data, Audio, “Copy”, or DVD projects. You can also choose to “Print disc without burning”, “Burn Disc from Image” or “Create a Disc Image”. The interface is very simple. Along the left side you have a panel of common tasks that includes your recent project files. On the right you have your “work area” which is broken down into three screens divided by a “NEXT” button. On the first screen you can add files and folders.
You can change the volume name right on the lower right side of the screen, and you can change the project type by clicking on the optical disc icon on the lower left side of the screen and choosing a new format. On the second screen you choose the label that you want to use. You can also choose to edit your chosen label, which will launch the label editing software. A nice touch is that if you launch the label editing software from within PTPublisher and make changes, the changes will automatically load when you return to PTPublisher as long as you save the file and close the label editor.
Also on this screen you can choose your media type, print quality, and outer margin and inner diameter. These settings save to your project file so that you don’t have to re-enter them. Only “officially supported’ media shows up here, so if you’re using anything other than the short list of media, you’ll want to use “custom”. We found that the outer and inner margin defaults in the “custom” screen worked for all of the different media that we used.
The “High” option worked best for us across the widest variety of media.
On the third screen you basically choose how many copies of the project you want to print (between 1 and 20) and see a summary of your project: How many files/folders you are burning to the disc, their size, and a preview of the label.
Make sure you check out the “More Options” button on the third screen, as there are a few useful items hidden away here. You can choose “Print Reject” to make sure any discs that fail to burn are printed with “reject” so as to not mistakenly use them. You can choose to verify, choose your recording speed, choose the recording type (Track-At-Once, Disc-At-Once), and set the File System and Bridge. A toggle here also allows you to choose if you want to set the Time/Date to the time of mastering (otherwise the time/date used will be the times/dates that the files on your hard drive were created).
For the vast majority of projects, this software is more than adequate. Some more advanced options are not available, for example you can’t mark files or folders on the disc as hidden. Hybrid discs are also not an option. For “special needs” you should consider investing in an additional program that creates more complex disc images. Once you have created a disc image you can open it in PTPublisher to duplicate with the Bravo SE Disc Publisher. We have only had to create a disc image for one particular multimedia project. For all of the other projects we have used this system for, the simplicity of PTPublisher is refreshing.
SureThing is the label editing software that comes with the Bravo SE, and that is integrated with PTPublisher. It has some interface similarities: There is a project toolbar down the left side, a work area to the right. In addition to this, an alignment toolbar runs along the right side of the screen, and a text/editing toolbar runs across the top. Along the bottom is a pre-set template toolbar where you can quickly change the background, design, and font used.
On the left toolbar of SureThing you will see “Actions” which allows you to create a new project, save a project, open a project, print your design, or preview your print. Below that is a “Backgrounds” area that allows you to select a background, create a collage, touchup & add effects, change the size and position of your background, change the properties of the background, or clear the background.
Under that is a “Pictures and Clipart” section where you can browse for pictures and clipart, browse for CD/DVD symbols, Touchup or add effects to your images, or use the picture tool. (The picture tool allows you to draw a marquee on the disc design, after which a browse window pops open so that you can choose the picture that you want to fit within the marqueed area.) Below the Pictures/Clipart tool group is a “Text” group of tools which allows you to create a text frame, add circular text, add text effects, insert special fields, and insert symbols.
SureThing comes with 88 backgrounds, 21 designs, and 5 fonts. You can add more items, of course.
The software has quite a few levels of customization and you can create some very interesting labels. Then, of course, you can also import images that you created in another program.
(NOTE: The software on the Mac is different, and not reviewed here.)
The Bravo SE Disc Publisher (DVD/CD) has an MSRP of $1495, though it can be found selling at expected discounts. This is extremely low for this type of product, with most competing brand offerings selling for nearly twice the price. Its stiffest competition actually comes from other units in the Primera Bravo family.
There are a few things that you need to take into consideration, though: The ink cartridge is a single CMYK cartridge instead of individual ink cartridges. The 53335 cartridge is 24ml which translates to 8ml of each color. This can quickly run up the cost in ink, particularly with full coverage printing, or with large areas of a single color.
For example, despite Primera’s estimation of 120 full-coverage print jobs per cartridge, we were able to chew through a full “high yield” cartridge across only about 80 discs when we used the high quality setting and printed a disc that was mostly Cyan. Since the cartridge retails for $47 for the new “High Yield” version, each disk cost us over 0.50 cents just for the printing. And while we had other colors left over in the cartridge, it would only be useful if the next job had no need of cyan. With a more even color distribution and about 25-50% coverage, the cost comes down to about 10-20 cents per disc (for ink). By comparison, and as a rough reference point, our mid-range office inkjet printer was able to print many times the number of disks than the Bravo SE was, on a single set of cartridges. The ink on the office inkjet printer cost about 5-10 cents per disc for full coverage. The decrease in ink cost is probably a combination of two factors: The independent ink cartridges in the office inkjet printer allowed us to replace each cartridge as the color ran out, and the printer driver allowed us to reduce the ink saturation on the disc significantly without degrading the quality of the print job.
If you use a brand of media with a more “Matte” surface, and turn the ink saturation levels down in the printer driver (following the instructions in the manual), you can reduce the cost of the print job substantially. With 75% saturation on a non-glossy surface you get excellent print quality and your numbers come up to Primera’s estimated 120 discs per cartridge. You can lower the saturation on glossy media as well, but you’ll start seeing print quality issues.
This ink issue is somewhat addressed by its bigger siblings, the Bravo II and Bravo Pro, which house the black cartridge separately.
The estimated life of the unit (based on Primera’s service reports) is roughly 10,000 discs burned (optical drive) and 25,000 discs printed (print heads). These items can be replaced by Primera when they cease to work in order to extend the life of your unit.
A few things to note:
1- Despite the unit’s surprisingly diminutive size, you need to make sure that sufficient space is open behind and above the printer in order to avoid overheating. Also, to fully open the top cover you will need 15.25 inches of space above the unit. Not a big deal, just plan on having the extra space.
2- We had to disable autorun on the computer that was attached to this unit, otherwise each time a disc was inserted into the optical drive of the unit, the computer would recognize it and try to auto-run. This resulted in a lot of failed runs and “No disc in the drive. Please insert a disk into drive.” warnings each time a disc was loaded to burn or verify. We are told that this issue was resolved in later versions of the software that we did not have access to at the time of the review.
3- Once or twice the system stalled on the “unloading printer disc” step of the process, as though the robot didn’t recognize that it had already dumped the disc into the output tray. The solution to this was simply to retrieve the disc from the output tray and place it back into the printer tray so that the robotic arm can grab it and dump it back into the output tray. After this, the system will go merrily back on its way.
This disc duplicator is a tremendous cost and time savings if you regularly do short-runs of DVDs or CDs. Less frequent and larger runs make a duplication service a better option on both the cost and effort scales.
Disc unit costs were an interesting thing. We expected short runs to cost more in materials than dupe house alternatives. Surprisingly, if we shopped for good deals at the media supply houses, we were actually able to bring in the material costs to the same or even less than what a large pro job would cost. Not counting our time and extra labor of course.
The one kink in this mix was the costs of the inkjet printing. If a project could live with minimal ink coverage in its label design things were good. However if it needed to look more commercially produced with a full color label, the costs per unit became too much for our tastes. This then is the weakest link of the system.
Keep in mind also that while the Bravo SE automates a lot of steps, it does not handle printing the DVD wraps, inserting the discs into cases, or shrink wrapping. These steps add additional manual labor to the mix that starts to make professional disc duplication look awfully tempting as your quantities go up.
If you know your needs, and they align with the Bravo SE’s strengths, this duplicator might be your perfect match.