The Epson Discproducer is a commercial strength CD-R and DVD-R Robot, which fully automates the task of copying CDs and DVDs from a master file held on computer and producing a set of copies, printed on the surface with whatever artwork you designed to suit.
As such, this is a boon to anyone who relies on CD or DVD distribution for their business. However, the system is not Mac compatible at present, and, like much Epson equipment, relies on the installation of Epson's proprietary software for making the disk copies and reproducing the artwork, rather than working directly from industry standard software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign or QuarkXpress.
We did not discover that the review copy would be PC only until after it had arrived and we had unpacked it. Almost an hour spent searching online and through the documentation eventually made it clear that there were no Mac drivers. This created a problem, because all of our office PCs are 'locked down', so that only administrators with multiple levels of permissions could install it. Having located such an individual, we watched in interest while he installed the drivers and Epson software, which all in all took about 20 minutes.
The device connects by USB, but you will almost certainly want a long cable or a dedicated computer, because, sat beside me on the desk, it was noisy in operation, or even when it was merely switched on waiting for data.
Like all 'robots' which I have used for disk copying, the Discproducer has a place (two in this case) to put in a pile of 25 or 50 blank CDs or DVDs, and a collector. Populating it with a pile of suitable blank printable CDs — after removing the numerous bits of sticky designed to stop things rattling around while in transit — meant that it was now ready for use.
|The Discproducer inside|
Epson's software is, to say the least, finnicky. To be absolutely fair, disc robots are a a fairly esoteric branch of computer hardware, and other units I've worked with also used their own proprietary software rather than connecting well to the gear that the user already has. After a brief time to familiarise ourselves, we found it was a fairly simple matter to set the machine churning out DVDs. The digital reproduction was absolutely fine, and the print was crisp — as crisp as any we've seen on an inkjet Discproducer. Our experience in the past has been that inkjet nozzles tend to clog up if used only rarely, a problem which particularly besets equipment which is used occasionally for large runs. I have no reason to believe that this is the case with this unit, as we didn't have it long enough, beyond the fact that I've seen this happen before both on disk robots and on other Epson printers.
Everything happens behind the plastic-windowed door, so you don't get to watch the little arm coming out in the way that it does on other models. The overall impression, both in terms of look and sound is of having a small microwave on your desk.
The model we reviewed was the standard disk burning and disk printing model. Note that you can only print on inkjet printable disks, which are marginally more expensive than the plain variety, though they are easy enough to locate these days. As a point worth noting, I only buy this type now anyway as you can write on them with a fountain pen, unlike the standard kind from which the writing rubs off no matter what you write on them with. Our model was not networked or networkable, which is a pity for such a high ticket piece of equipment, but there is a network model available, as well as a printer model which only prints.
This machine is not quick! It's the kind of thing you leave for a few hours while it gets on with its work and you are free to get on with your own. Aware of this, Epson have built reliability into it, using a variety of strategies to ensure that it can keep going when left overnight, and, if the worst comes to the worst, won't destroy itself by continually trying to fill a space that has not been vacated by the previous disk.
|Diskproducer at work|
The actual speed of operation is a bit variable. Like all inkjet printers, the printer element goes quite quick if you're printing a couple of words in black ink, and a great deal slower if you are covering the whole printable surface of the disk with CMYK colour. Likewise, the burn time for a CD depends a lot on the amount of data you are putting on it.
The dust resistance on this unit is very, very good — far better than the non-Epson unit I used to use. This is important because, like any unit which relies on lifting things and pushing them around, dust is the most likely cause of long-term unreliability. Epson has also designed this with fewer moving parts than I've seen before in a robot, which also bodes well for its life.
Pros and Cons
High reliability, designed for unattended operation which entirely overcomes the slowness of the process Good quality print, as good as you'll see from the inkjet process, supporting colour profiles Good build, designed for a long life, so a relatively low total cost of ownership
Not Mac compatible Installs proprietary software, which a network manager may be unwilling to support Doesn't work from standard gear such as QuarkXpress, Photoshop Only burns CD-R and DVD-R types — in other words, this does not produce commercial 'pressed' CDs and DVDs, which work to another process, and you will probably find that not all DVD players, CD players and computers will play the discs reliably.
This is a very well designed unit aimed at small concerns which regularly issue material on CD or DVD. It's not a good choice if you want to press a lot of discs in one go because it is slow, and it is generally cheaper to go to a commercial pressing agency once the number of discs goes over 1,000. However, churches, schools, universities, and anyone who produces a fairly steady stream of new material which needs to be distributed cheaply and quickly for playing on consumer DVD and CD equipment will benefit from it. The lack of Mac compatibility indicates that this really isn't aimed at the graphics, photography and video community. My advice to Epson would be to get the Mac drivers sorted out and then aggressively target this at videographers using FinalCut Pro and sound recordists using Logic.
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