Test Drive: Fidelipac Dynamax DCR1000 MO Digital Cartridge Machine

The extended recording times offered by the MO drives is a big plus, but the real beauty of the DCR1000 is the user interface. It's obvious that from the beginning this digital cart machine was designed to make the transition from conventional carts to digital a painless procedure with essentially no learning curve. This task is accomplished with a front panel on the playback unit that cannot get any simpler. There's a STOP button, a CUE button, and a START button. A 2-line, 24-character LCD display, a slot for the disk, and an eject button complete the front panel. Playing a disk is practically identical to playing a cart in a conventional deck. Insert the disk, and the DCR1000 automatically cues to the desired cut. Press PLAY to start playback. Press STOP to stop playback. If there's anyone on your on-air staff that can't figure this machine out right away, they probably have trouble using their car radio as well. If there is more than one cut on the disk, press the CUE button to scroll through them.

The disks are enclosed in a hard plastic shell and feel very sturdy. Though you certainly wouldn't want to "slam" a disk into the drive, you can firmly insert it without it feeling as though you're dealing with a very delicate instrument. The mechanism feels sturdy enough to handle the daily, rugged use it would no doubt get in a 24-hour a day, seven day a week studio. A solid "click" is heard when the disk is inserted properly and a green LED on the drive lights to indicate that the drive is active. When the audio is cued, the LED goes out. The 128MB disk used for this review cued about three to four seconds after insertion. Pressing the small eject button on the drive ejects the disk in about three seconds.

When a disk is inserted and cued, the LCD display shows the Play Mode (more on that later), the cut number, and the cut length on the top line. The bottom line displays the cut title while in the Stop mode and displays an outcue when in the Play mode. In effect, this display provides the information you would normally get from a cart label (and the display itself is about the same size as a cart label). An added plus is that the length on this cart label is "live" and counts up or down as the cut is playing.

As you can see, there isn't much to learn about the DCR1000 as far as playback is concerned. As a result, the playback units can be installed in an on-air studio with little or no time spent learning how to use them. Recording on the DCR1000 is a bit more involved, and it's necessary to spend just a little time with the manual if you want to take advantage of all the available features.

The record module features large LED bargraph meters for metering playback and record levels. Two OVL (overload) LEDs light to warn of digital clipping. In the middle of the record module are five function buttons. The COPY button enables copying audio from one disk to another. Push the MODE button to switch between mono and stereo recording modes. Mono and Stereo Mode LEDs indicate the active mode. Press the SAMPLE button to toggle between 22kHz, 26kHz, 32kHz, and 44.1kHz sampling frequencies. Four red LEDs indicate which sample rate is active. Press the INPUT button to toggle between analog and digital inputs. Press the FORMAT button to format or erase a disk.

At the bottom of the record module are four buttons, three of which are found on analog cart record decks. Once record modes and sample rates are set, press RECORD. The display shows how much recording time remains on the disk. Press START (on the playback module) to begin recording, or press the START ON AUDIO button (on the record module) to initiate recording once audio is present at the inputs. The SEC and TER buttons are for, you guessed it, secondary and tertiary "tones" or cues. To end a recording, press STOP (on the playback unit). This places a secondary cue at the end of the recording. Tertiary cues are recorded by pressing the TER button. Each cut can have up to eight tertiary cues.

Up to sixteen cuts can be recorded onto the 2MB and 13MB disks. The MO drives/disks allow for up to 99 cuts per disk. Each cut is recorded to the disk in a linear manner, one after the other. This lets the drive read and write as efficiently as possible because the head is not bouncing all over the drive to find the various pieces of a cut. This also prevents problems that occur with disks becoming "fragmented." The only drawback to this format is that if you decide to record over a previous cut on the disk, the new recording cannot exceed the length of the original as this would cause the next cut to be recorded over. When the maximum length is reached, the recording simply stops. This is no major drawback and only means you have to check lengths of previous recordings before replacing them.

A PC/AT keyboard plugs into the back of the record unit and enables titling cuts, entering outcue information, and accessing several functions of the DCR1000. Press Ctrl-F4 to set the Play Mode (mentioned earlier). In Manual Mode, the disk cues to cut 1 when inserted. Press the CUE button to cue to other cuts. In the Cart Mode, the disk cues to the next cut each time it is inserted. For example, let's say there are four cuts on the disk. When inserted, it will cue to cut 1. After cut 1 is played, it will cue to cut 2, and it will remember to cue to cut 2 even after the disk is removed and reinserted--just like an analog cart. In Theatre Mode, the disk cues to cut 1 on the disk. After playing cut 1, it cues to cut 2, after cut 2 it cues to cut 3, etc.. However, if removed and reinserted, it will cue to cut 1 regardless of which cut was played last.

This Play Mode information is recorded to the disk. So you are setting the Play Mode for the disk, not the unit itself. Let's say you have a disk with four Pepsi commercials on it and the Play Mode is set to Cart. The spots will rotate in the order they were recorded. But you also have the option to alter the rotation order by pressing Shift-F5. You can change the order of the rotation, but the rotation percentage must remain equal for each cut. To get one cut to rotate a greater percentage than the other, use the Copy Cut Header function by pressing F3. This makes a copy of the cut without using additional disk space. If cut 2 of our Pepsi rotation is to play 50% while the other three rotate, make three copies of cut 2 and put them in the rotation to run every other spot.

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