I am convinced — given the number of men and women, not to mention animals, that regularly travel into outer space — that this is a futuristic society. And most music producers today work their craft, at least partially, with a computer that reduces music to zeros and ones inside a box smaller than a suitcase. Yet every once in a while, a product like the Primera Technology Bravo Disc Publisher comes around that truly reminds me that I am living in the Space Age.
The Bravo is a completely automated, multiple-disc publishing system for your computer. It burns and prints directly onto a large variety of disc formats, including printable CD-R, DVD-R, Data CD, Video CD, 80mm CD and even those business-card CD-Rs. It's plug-and-play with a Mac or PC and provides tools for designing graphics and burning discs in batches as large as 25. For an independent working musician, this machine is a dream come true. I was just wrapping up two projects that required small-run duplication when I received the Bravo for review, so I was poised and eager to try out this thing in a real-world scenario. I tested the Mac version on my G4/500 MHz. Although the manual says that a 700MHz G4 is the required minimum, it worked on my machine, albeit a bit slower.
When I took the unit out of the box, I immediately liked what I saw. Bravo is a handsome package that is the size and weight of a tabloid-size ink-jet printer. Under its transparent smoke-colored door on the front is a disc-input bin, an output bin and a faulty-disc reject ramp. The printing mechanism looks simple, and my experience with printers has proven that the fewer complex moving parts they have, the better. I found both a quick-start guide and a user manual in the box, which are always welcome. My own tendency with new gear is to dive right in and consult the manual when needed. Armed with the quick-start guide, I plugged in the unit, connected the USB and FireWire cables (yes, it requires both) and began loading the drivers. It was simple, and I was up and running on my first test in a matter of minutes.
The review unit came with both white and silver printable CD-Rs. I loaded a white one into the input bin; dropped in the two ink cartridges (one black, one CMY color); and installed the two included applications, Discus (for designing graphics on discs) and Discribe (for arranging and burning discs). I launched Discribe, and without consulting the manual, I easily navigated through the program. Discribe gives you three burning options: Data CD, Audio CD and Copy a CD/DVD. For data CDs, there is an extensive list of supported formats, including Mac HFS, ISO9660, Mac/ISO hybrid, UDF, Disc Copy IMG, Video CD and more. Once I chose Data CD and selected the files for backup (which you can do with the Choose button or simply by dragging-and-dropping), Discribe took me to another screen where I could choose the number of discs to burn, set the burning speed (2x to 5x, depending on the media), select an image for printing or launch Discus for creating a new design on the fly. I chose Discus and began to explore Bravo's graphics capabilities.
Discus is divided into three sections: Canvas, Paint and Text. Although Discus is by no means a comprehensive painting or graphics application, it is simple to use and includes a cool-enough selection of familiar tools, as well as its own plethora of ready-made textures and designs that anyone with an artistic sense can work with. Discus provides print-edge marks for the different media that Bravo supports, enabling you to preview the area that will print. You can zoom in and out, lighten or darken images and rotate them. Text can be vertical, horizontal or circular, and all fonts in the computer are available for use. I slapped together a quick design, sent it to print and then ripped. The results were impressive: The disc was 666.1 MB with a full color graphic, and the entire process took just six minutes. The print results were fair, and I also tried it with a few of my own designs with good results.
BURN, BABY, BURN
For the big test, I went ahead with a full run of 25 discs, this time with an audio CD. I already had the graphic done in another program, which Discus imported with no problem. (TIF, JPEG, BMP and PICT formats are supported.) The audio was already on my drive as AIFF files, but Discribe also supports MP3, WAV and SDII formats and can import CD Audio — a feature that many applications lack. I did find one glitch: A CD would not load on my Mac while Discribe was open. Once I quit, it would load, and Discribe would then see it when launched. Making an audio CD is simple; you can drag-and-drop audio files, move the track order around and set the pre-gap time between songs from 0 to 9 seconds. With the graphics set and 31.37 total minutes of audio ready, I let my project rip. The entire process took almost exactly one hour and 40 minutes, averaging four minutes per CD-R (burning at maximum speed). Not too shabby! All of the discs played fine, and the graphics looked excellent, especially on silver. The only problem I encountered was that two CD-Rs mysteriously didn't finish printing. They stopped at about one-quarter printing and were in the middle of the batch, indicating that Bravo did not run out of ink.
I put Bravo through its paces one more time, running another batch of 25 audio CD-Rs, this time with less audio data but more complex graphics. During this run, I experienced several difficulties with the unit freezing, failing to pick up discs and more, forcing me to restart several times. The documentation provided e-mail and telephone contacts, so I got on the horn. When a tech-support person answered, he was professional and friendly and spent the better part of 20 minutes with me. He promptly e-mailed a utility with instructions to clear up the problem. I used the utilities and then burned a batch of 10 CD-Rs with mixed results; most of my woes disappeared, but there was still one failure. I assessed in the end that errors seemed to happen whenever something else was occupying RAM. The company does recommend a dedicated computer for optimal performance.
Bravo is a nifty all-in-one machine for rapidly duplicating professional-looking promotional CDs and DVDs, CD business cards and more from just about anyone's desktop. It seems finicky, however, because it requires plenty of RAM and a better-than-average-power computer, and it occupies both a USB and a FireWire port. Tech help is good, but be sure to check the specs of any machine you plan on using it with before you drop the investment. Then, let it rip!
BRAVO > $2,495 (DVD-R); $1,995 (CD-R)
Pros: Fast disc duplication. Easy graphics handling. Loaded with design presets. Good print quality. Totally automated. Can run in background. Multiple-file-format-friendly for read and write.
Cons: Needs very new computer. Uses both a FireWire and a USB port.