JOIN THE DVD REVOLUTION: MANUFACTURING

JOIN THE DVD REVOLUTION: MANUFACTURING

Last week, Brian took us through premastering your DVD. Now, find out what it takes to get it manufactured.

After encoding, authoring, and formatting your disc image, you’re ready to manufacture your DVDs. The optical disc manufacturing process shares a common trait with software development – both processes present potential pitfalls and problems, particularly if you don’t pay attention to the multitude of details that are important to achieving the results you want. Experienced professionals as well as first-time buyers can fall prey to the same problems. When dealing with replication and packaging issues, the more you know, the less likely you will run into problems.

REPLICATION OR DUPLICATION?

There are two types of manufacturing available to the independent producer: replication and duplication.

Replication (including mastering) is the process of “pressing” discs in production lines that spit out a new disc every few seconds. DVD replication is done by large, specialized plants and the replication equipment typically costs about one million dollars per line. A variety of machines are used to create a glass master, create metal stamping masters, stamp substrates in hydraulic molds, apply reflective layers, bond substrates together, print on the discs, and insert discs in packages. Unlike DVD-ROM mastering, DVD-Video mastering may include an additional step for CSS/Macrovision encryption and regional coding. For longer runs, upwards of 300 or more discs, conventional replication can be more cost-effective than duplication and is universally compatible with all DVD players.

Duplication, as distinguished from replication, involves “burning” rather than pressing; it uses recordable discs to copy your master. For projects requiring less than 300 copies (such as those requiring only a few promotional copies), it can be a cost-effective alternative to replication to have them produced using a DVD±R duplicator. Unlike manufactured DVDs, the discs produced in this manner are made from recordable DVD-R or DVD+R media, the same as the discs that you use in your DVD recorder. DVD duplicators may have anywhere from one to eight recorders combined in the same piece of equipment; automated machines can feed recordable blanks into a recorder and even print full-color labels on each disc. Disc Makers offers a robust and affordable line of manual and automated DVD±R duplicators and printers. Visit www.discmakers.com/ hardware/ for more information.

Duplication generally follows this course: The disc image is downloaded to a hard drive connected to a series of DVD-R burners. Discs are burned and verified at the speed of the duplicator. Several different methods for printing on DVD-Rs and DVD+Rs are available, including ink jet, thermal transfer, and silk-screening. Silk-screening produces a disc that looks exactly like a replicated DVD even though it is on write-once recordable media. Disc Makers offers short-run duplication and printing; visit www.discmakers.com/fg3/ for details.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF REPLICATION VS. DUPLICATION

In general, it is more cost-effective to duplicate DVDs onto recordable media for runs under 300 units, and to replicate them onto DVD-5’s or DVD-9’s (like most commercial DVD releases) if printing more than 300. However, there are other advantages and disadvantages of each method of production.

ADVANTAGES AND DRAWBACKS OF DVD REPLICATION:

• -Greatest consistency of production; the manufacturer goes from the glass master, replicated from your supplied master. Also offers most consistency of playability from player to player.

• Most cost-effective over a few hundred units.

• -More packaging options become cost-effective, such as DVDigipaks and Amaray-style cases with shrinkwrap and barcoding, which widens possibilities of retail distribution for your product.

• -More options for larger capacity; a DVD-9 can hold as much data as two DVD-Rs.

• -Small runs (under around 500 units) are less cost-effective due to set-up costs.

• -Replication runs under 1,000 take slightly longer to produce than duplication, although some manufacturers such as Disc Makers havethe capability of providing fast service.

ADVANTAGES AND DRAWBACKS OF DVD-R DUPLICATION:

• -Compatibility: Currently about 90% of standalone players can handle DVD-Rs or DVD+Rs, and this number is increasing.

• More cost-effective below 300 pieces, all the way down to 10 pieces.

• -Extremely fast turnaround times for short runs, which can be done in-house with affordable DVD±R duplication systems like the Disc Makers Elite.

• -Depending on the quality of the blank media, this process results in slightly less consistency of playability from player to player.

• -Professional-looking graphic design and printing are available even in short runs.

• -Not as robust as a pressed and screen-printed DVD and is more susceptible to damage from handling and environmental contaminants.

• Becomes less cost-effective at runs over 300 units.

One compromise might be to do some of each – duplicate a small quantity for quick-turn needs such as promotion or testing, and replicate the rest as a commercial run. Disc Makers offers both replicated and duplicated DVDs, and your product specialist will be happy to advise you on the proper format for your needs. Another option is to purchase a DVD±R duplicator to handle your short-run duplication needs in-house quickly, and then send your large runs out to a replicator. Call us at 1-800-237-6666 to discuss your options.

TURNAROUND TIMES

Most DVD replicators will handle rush jobs, but invariably some type of premium is involved. To save money, plan ahead. You may see ads in trade publications that suggest that DVD replication is as simple as dropping a roll of film off for processing. In reality, the process is not that simple. DVD replication requires careful attention to a number of details, which if rushed or overlooked can lead to unsatisfactory results. If you want to produce a professional quality title, it is best not to rush the job.

When manufacturers quote a turnaround time, it is often for replication only, and does not include premastering, label film preparation, packaging, or shipping. While a company may promise five-day turnaround, in fact they need to receive on-disc printing information two days before the order starts. If your film and master arrive on a Monday, your DVDs won’t ship until the following Tuesday. Five days becomes seven, or nine if you include a normal weekend. And if you need printed inserts or other packaging as well, you must provide art or film even earlier.

Keep in mind that turnaround times are only estimates. Delivery schedules can change if proofs are not approved on time or if there are any complications during the manufacturing process. Manufacturing plants do not reimburse you for delays, so if you have a release date give yourself a safety buffer. Also, be aware that when turnaround times are quoted, they usually do not include shipping times.

Based on our experience, we also know that it often takes longer to pull together your artwork and master than anticipated. And the authoring process can add an entirely new wrinkle. Not only is the authoring not a part of the generally-quoted turn time, it also involves checking proofs, possibly multiple rounds, over days or weeks.

Our advice is to not to wait until right before film festival deadlines to begin the manufacturing process. Having your DVDs ready early allows you to get promotion and press – both of which will help you increase your chances of getting into a festival, improve your attendance and buzz at the show, and help you sell more films and get distribution! Disc Makers can discuss with you various options based on your turn-time requirements.

EARLY DESIGN OF PACKAGING

Given the nature of quick replication turnaround times, the packaging for your DVD-Video can frequently take more time to produce than the disc pressing. We recommend that you start designing your packaging while you’re still inthe testing stage, or even earlier, during authoring. While you may be making changes in your menu right up to the minute your master goes to press, your packaging and marketing message are unlikely to require such last-minute changes. In practice, package design, and even printing can be completed days, or sometimes weeks, before your disc master is completed. Completing the packaging materials in advance of the DVD replication can help avoid unnecessary delays in the manufacturing process.

FACTORING IN THE COST OF RUSH JOBS

Plan well in advance and give yourself sufficient time to complete each step of development. That way you can avoid the high cost of faster turnaround times (which can sometimes add more than a 100% cost increase), as well as the anxiety and headaches that accompany a last-minute project. However, if your deadline is racing at you like a freight train and cost is not a deterrent, it’s nice to know that lightning-fast turnaround times are often available. It is important to know that your manufacturer can give you realistic and reliable turn times and that you will be working with experienced project managers.

CHOOSING A MANUFACTURER

There are many different manufacturing options; you need to weigh certain tradeoffs for cost, quality control, thoroughness, and delivery times.

A list of the benefits and drawbacks for each option follows:

-Service Bureau. Using a service bureau can be very convenient for short runs, but you have little to no packaging options and your results may not be guaranteed.

-Authoring House. Like a service bureau, an authoring house usually brokers out most packaging and replication tasks. Quality control may be lacking, packaging options may be minimal, turnaround times are often longer, and costs tend to be higher. Plus you are dealing with a third party who may not convey your detailed instructions exactly to the manufacturer.

-Replication Plant. Using a replication plant can gain you a very competitive price and it also allows you to deal directly with the people responsible for the replication. However, unless you are a large and frequent client the customer service is limited, and you may find your work will take a back seat to bigger clients. Also, if your packaging is complicated, you may have to deal with packaging companies yourself.

-Brokers. If you want to hand off most of the replication and packaging responsibilities, a broker will do everything for you. Customer service is one of their priorities. The larger firms are usually experienced and can handle even the most complicated jobs. However, because they broker out every service, your turnaround times may take longer.

-One Stops. One-stop services combine the best aspects of brokers and replication plants. They are service oriented, do most of the work in-house, have expertise with a variety of packaging options, and feature some of the best turnaround times in the business. However, if you are looking to replicate extremely large orders (250,000 and up), you may find their prices aren’t as competitive. Disc Makers is one of the largest one-stop replication companies in North America.

One-stop replication companies eliminate the hassle of coordinating all of the various elements of the manufacturing process. At some companies, you can just supply your data and program files on a DVD-R disc and your design on a disc, and they’ll take care of the premastering, duplication, manufacturing, printing, assembly and packaging. The trick is to find a replicator that handles small runs (1,000 units) and offers the highest level of quality control and customer service so you feel comfortable during each step of the process.

Ideally, you want a full-service replicator who is able to provide services equal to your level of expertise. Find out if the plant needs you to supply finished printed art materials, or masters. Can they perform premastering, typesetting, and printing services for you? A one-step service facility can save you a lot of time, work, money, and frustration by having all your needs handled by a single, experienced account manager working for a reputable company.

For more information on Disc Makers’ services go to dvd.discmakers.com, or call 1-800-237-6666 for a free catalog.

NARROWING YOUR CHOICES

Open any film trade magazine and you’ll find dozens of ads from DVD manufacturers. The competing offers and promises can be bewildering, and the jargon they use, such as “backprint,” “glass mastering,” “film output,” “four-color printing,” and “supplied design,” is tossed about as if every reader has worked in a manufacturing plant. To further complicate things, one ad may offer a deal on quantity, another on design – how do you compare the offers to get the most bang for your buck? We’ve taken some of the mystery out of the manufacturing business to help you make the best decision.

First, all legitimate replicators offer free catalogs or brochures with complete pricing and product information. Gather materials from several companies to start comparison shopping, and look beyond the hype. Compare details:

• -Are they all full-service plants that can create production masters, or will you be required to supply production-ready film or removable computer media for design?

• -Do any of the manufacturers on your list mostly handle runs of 10,000 units or more? If so, your product will sit while their major-label clients’ work heads to the front of the line.

• -Are prices clearly marked, from master formats you can supply, without a lot of fine-print additions that can drive up your final cost? Do they provide templates?

• -You want a company that will manufacture a major-studio-quality product. Have they won awards in design or printing? Look at the samples: are they appealing and professional-quality? Do they have client testimonials and a list of noteworthy clients?

• -Do they offer the additional services you might need? Do they offer a full range of products to cover your needs, or will you have to put together a patchwork quilt of companies to fill your order?

• -How long have they been in business? Are they financially stable – or could they go under before your project is finished? (It’s not unheard of for bargain-basement manufacturers to declare bankruptcy and be unable to deliver product.)

• -Is the bulk of the work done in-house to ensure fast turnaround and good quality control, or is everything brokered out to who-knows-where?

• Is your satisfaction guaranteed?

-In addition to comparing vendors, determine your needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

• What medium will your master be on?

• -Will you supply artwork on a disc, or will you ask the manufacturer to design your project?

• What kind of packaging will you need?

• Will you want to print posters, stickers and/or postcards?

Knowing this information will help you further narrow the field of manufacturers. Next, get a realistic price and turnaround estimate from prospective providers. Remember, if you are using a broker, he/she may have no control over the turnaround time.

WHAT DOES THE PRICE INCLUDE?

Many facilities will tell you their price is complete, but there may be hidden costs. We recommend that you consult the following checklist to confirm what items are included in each company’s package.

• Label film and proofs

• Replication overruns

• Print overruns

• Art file prep and proofs

• Printing

• Glass mastering

• Replication

• Assembly

• Freight on proofs and tests

• Rush charges (if required)

• Polywrap (if required)

• Shipping

• Sales tax (if you don’t have a resale certificate)

While important, price should not be your sole criteria in choosing a manufacturer. When you take into account the complete cost of development, authoring, packaging, replication, distribution, and promotion, a price difference of pennies per disc doesn’t add up to much. Weigh all the options carefully, and then go with a company that gives you the best value, rather than simplythe lowest price. A company like Disc Makers can offer speedy turnaround,helpful customer service, high quality control, valuable additional services (i.e., distribution, a free UPC bar code, free marketing and promotion guides, a guarantee of customer satisfaction, free master tape screening, additional print materials, etc.), convenient locations, and one-stop convenience. While a reasonable price is important, in DVD manufacturing you really do get what you pay for.

CAN THE REPLICATOR HANDLE YOUR FORMAT?

Know what format you need, and make sure your selected replication plant can produce it. Not every replicator can handle DVD-9 or other less common formats. Check ahead of time to make sure the format won’t causethe replicator problems.

WHO WILL DO THE BEST JOB?

In the end, your choice of replicators might be decided by less-tangible factors. Ask yourself, “How comfortable am I with the representative at the plant?” and “How confident am I that the plant will do what they promise?” These questions take on a new level of importance when your project’s success is on the line. You may want to choose the facility that has the strongest track record, answers your questions thoroughly, and gives you the highest comfort level. Your experience while getting an estimate for a project can be a key indicator of what your customer service will be like.

If you are new to manufacturing, be patient. The second time around is much more comfortable. You will know the manufacturer and they will know you, making you more comfortable with the entire process. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to articulate your concerns to your representative. Remember, you are always better off if you know all your costs in advance, the person you are dealing with is a manufacturing professional, the company is established and reliable, and is comfortable with your order, not merely doing you a favor. Have the quote in writing along with what it includes and their guarantee.

DO-IT-YOURSELF DVD DUPLICATION

DVD-Video discs solve many data distribution problems for filmmakers, but a barrier to the convenience has been the gap between running off a few discs on your DVD-R or DVD+R burner and meeting the minimum quantities for economical replication (typically, 300 or 400 discs). If your production company frequently needs anywhere from ten to several hundred discs at a time, a DVD±R duplicator may be the answer to your needs.

At the simplest end of the spectrum, high-speed one-to-one duplicators run off several discs an hour with a single-button, copy-machine ease-of-use, and cost less than $800. These machines typically do not even require a computer to manage the process and can provide an inexpensive solution if your monthly disc duplication requirements are modest. Training a staff member to run duplicates on these simple machines is a matter of minutes.

At the higher end of this market, sophisticated high-speed duplicators with robotics can handle a stack of 50 to 200 blank DVD-Rs or DVD+Rs and often integrate full-color printing into the duplication process. These types of units generally require a host computer to manage the duplication sequence. Higher-end equipment, available in the $4,000 to $7,000 range, can duplicate anywhere from 12 to 32 DVDs an hour.

You may have avoided using DVD duplicators in the past because you need an end product with a more traditional appearance than disc printing technology of the past was able to provide. One solution is to have blank DVD-Rs and DVD+Rs custom-printed so that you can take advantage of superior silk-screened printing techniques and still enjoy the flexibility of being able to run discs with updated content whenever necessary. The printing options range from simple single-color designs to full-color process printing and the blank DVD-R and DVD+R looks every bit as professional as replicated media, since the same printing processes are used.

That said, on-disc inkjet printers now offer high-quality, durable printing directly onto your DVDs. Like inkjet paper printers, new inkjet disc printers are capable of extremely high resolution, photo quality printing and vibrant color output. And the best part is that you can design your artwork and print it on a disc within minutes. An alternative to inkjet technology is thermal printing technology. Thermal printing is an exceptionally inexpensive print method (only about $.02 per disc) but is limited to black monochrome line art.

Check back next week when Brian discusses artwork and packaging.

For more info on Disc Makers. visit the company’s website.




Posted on March 12, 2004 in Features by

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