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Nov 2009 16

Hardware Review: Lightscribe CD/DVD Burners

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LightScribe Label Example
LightScribe Label Example

Back in 2004 Hewlett-Packard engineer Daryl Anderson had the notion that if you can burn data on to a disc, why couldn't use use that same technology to burn the label?  And thus the LightScribe burner was born..

I had always wanted to pick one of these suckers up and never got around to it because I already had a CD/DVD +/- burner and didn't need a new one..  I couldn't reason the cost of getting a second burner when I didn't really use the one I had all that often..

Well about 4 months ago my old burner went off into the weeds and never came back, enabling me to buy a Lightscribe external burner and bid all my labeling woe's goodbye! Sorta..

I don't want to claim the label burning idea as my own, but I have to admit I had the same idea several times after many an hour of trying to get some form of "pretty" label into my CD's without completely throwing them out of balance..   And I am opt'ing to review the technology as a whole, not an individual burner..  They will all work about the same..

So, with that I have to say the burner itself is excellent.. I have had zero dead discs (discs that just fail for no reason during the burn process) and it is pretty darn fast at burning the disk data..  My old burner would have dead discs all the time and was slow as hell by comparison..  This is likely just due to the new 16x burner being a generation (or two?) newer than my old one..

So.. the long and short of it is, when it comes to burning your data -- it works just fine.  But that's not the real reason I purchased it.. I want a device that can burn labels so that I don't have to use stickers, a special printer or even (god forbid) a sharpie..

Stickers tend to throw the disc out of balance which at modern high drive speeds can be a bad thing.. Special printers can be pricey (though the new ones that print right on the disc do a nice job) and the require inks, and in some cases label stickers..  And if I have to resort to a sharpie no one will know what is on the darn disc cause my hand writing is horrible..

So this is where the technology is supposed to really shine and it does to a point but I have some complaints..

Firstly, let me say it's awesome being able to photoshop up some labels and just burn them to the disc..  The Lightscribe folks have even put together a software package that allows you to cobble together labels from preexisting templates, with lots and lots of other templates downloadable off their website..

That's nice..

But (complaint #1) it's ungodly slow..  It takes something like 6 minutes to burn an ISO with this 16x burner? I don't know the exact time but it's pretty darn fast.. It then takes about 35 minutes to burn the label..  Why does it take so long?

That wouldn't be too bad if it weren't for the fact that (complaint #2) the label is extremely light or faded and hard to read.  Folks on one forum I browsed were joking that we have to wait for the "DarkScribe" burner to come out before the labels will be easy to read..  Frankly the contrast ratio is extremely poor..  For the amount of time it took, it should produce a much sharper image than it does.. Apparently this is something new to the 16x discs and the old 8x discs didn't do this..

Also, I haven't tested this yet but I'm told all you have to do is burn the label multiple times in order for it to be easier to read.. that means though that you have to suffer that 35 minute label burn several times.. Bleh..  Apparently around the center of each disc there is a barcode that allows the drive to know the precise rotational position of the disc, enabling multiple burns..

And finally, (complaint #3) apparently you have to take special storage precautions with the discs or else the labels will fade..  Seriously?!

I don't know how bad the fading can get as the labels seem somewhat faded right out of the burner..  I think any amount of fading would render the label unreadable in fairly short order..

So.. there you have it.. I love the technology but the fact that it's Slow as hell, Faded unless burned multiple times, and Can fade further seems like some pretty stiff drawbacks..

Suddenly the printer that can print directly on the disc, in color no less, seems like a better option..   (Yeah lightscribe can't do color)..  One thing I was surprised by was the cost of the media..  Lightscribe discs used to be a lot more expensive than regular CD/DVD's.. that isn't the case any longer.. So yay for that..

All in all I'm happy with the purchase and would recommend the burner, but you have to understand that you will need to burn the label a couple times to get a good looking label with any contrast to it..

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