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Of sound mind and firmware.

Alan Kegel - Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Like a car that starts missing or getting poor mileage when it isn’t maintained… it isn’t the gas. Likewise with CD/DVD production systems.

Planning ahead, by proactively maintaining your CD/DVD publishing systems, will result in better performance and higher quality output.

We recently received a call from a client inquiring about how they can, proactively, maintain the drives in their aging duplication systems to make them fully compatible with modern high speed CD/DVD-R media. Although theirs aren't really that 'old' its important to remember: 3 years is old for technology products... CD/DVD production systems and their recording drives are no exception. The best place to begin is at the manufacturer's website and looking for a Support link, then follow it to 'System Updates' or 'Firmware Downloads'. Most all the leading system manufacturers, like Rimage and Vinpower, make it easy for their clients, to help them maintain everything at optimal performance. One may ask "Why is this important"? The short answer is, 'everything matters'. Media manufacturers are continually tweaking production parameters to optimize disc performance to match that of drive manufacturers recording capabilities. The one (and only!) constant in the media vs drive compatibility equation is the disc itself, which is tightly controlled by Philips. The same holds true for DVD. The drives and their software have no such specifications or licensing controls and, as a result, every drive is different from the next, whether its one manufacturer to the next, or drive model to the next. What that means, is every manufacturer is free to engineer their drives any way they wish, so long as they burn a standards compliant disc that meets criteria for media interchangeability in any reader. Notwithstanding the inevitable fact that drives age... their mechanisms, circuitry and optics become worn... the day it comes off the assembly line is the last time it was up-to-date with the CD/DVD-R media then being produced. And herein lies the necessity of regularly updating a drive's firmware. CD/DVD-R media have gone through evolutionary improvements in the past 5 years keeping up with new generations of recorders. The chemical engineering of recording dye has advanced dramatically to allow recorders to burn data at rates that were fantasies 15 years ago. And that is a fundamental reason why drive firmware needs to be 'flashed' regularly. You see, optical media contains a lookup table of information embedded into the pre-groove area that includes the manufacturers ID, the optimal voltage settings for the laser diode to calibrate its power to and the 'write strategy' that sets up the drive to adjust the laser's power as it tracks from the ID to OD of the disc to create the optical pits and lands in the proper lengths for a 'perfect' recording. There is the mistaken tactic of many end-users to slow down their recorders, or run high speed media at 4X, 8X, 16X etc., in the erroneous assumption that it will result in a better quality disc. Don't do it! Although it seems counterintuitive, it will result in worse quality recordings because high speed media isn't designed to run slowly and it really messes up the formation of the optical pits and lands. It may be a nuisance to upgrade firmware... and far easier to grumble about media... than engaging in proactive maintenance, but bear in mind: the media is all new... the drives are all worn!

And like a car that starts missing or getting poor mileage when it isn't maintained... it isn't the gas... its probably a careless owner who would rather complain than maintain. Likewise with CD/DVD production systems. More often than not, a fresh firmware update (or perhaps cleaning the drive with bottled air and lens cleaning disc!) will resolve most anomalous recorder/media issues, as well as improve your yields and productivity. In those instances when a firmware update may be less than effective, it may entail drive replacement or the acquisition of a new, up-to-date, system to get production "back in the groove".

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