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At under £100, TDK's thermal printer is the cheapest direct-to-disc option for labelling CDs and DVDs. What's the catch?

TDK's announcement of a sub-£100 CD/DVD label printer got a lot of readers excited. That's not surprising when the only other disc printer we've looked at - Epson's Stylus Photo 950 - can't be had for much less than £330 and, at the time of our review, looked to be the cheapest disc printer on the UK market.

After the initial excitement, though, it swiftly became clear that the two machines are very different. First, the only thing that the TDK can do is print to discs, while the Epson can also print to paper up to A4 size. Also, unlike the Epson, which prints to the entire disc surface, the TDK prints at any one time only to a single box-shaped area just 74mmx16mm in size. No less significantly, the Epson prints in full colour, but the TDK can print only one colour at a time. A single black cartridge is included in-pack, but cartridges in blue, red and silver are also available. To print in a different colour, it is necessary to change to a different cartridge. But, whatever the TDK's shortcomings, it's available for less than a third of the price of the Epson. With that in mind, how does it fair under the microscope?

The TDK is okay for quick and dirty jobs that don't require full-colour/full-disc printing. But that rules it out for folk who take their DVD production seriously. But it is cheap. The machine has inherent limitations, and these are made worse by TDK's ill-thought out software. The problems aren't enormous, but the software is needlessly complex and limiting and requires swift sorting out.

It's also important to realise that the outlay on cartridges will mount quickly with heavy use (though the same is true generally of inkjets, as well). The cheapest TDK cartridges we've seen were £6.76 (inc VAT, ex carriage) from Each cartridge is claimed by TDK to be good, on average, for 40 discs if printing to a single area and 20 if printing to both areas. That makes the per-disc print cost at least 17p, or more likely 34p, even for those who shop around for cartridges.

All this said, a lot of people are going to buy a TDK and, hopefully, they'll be the patient sort and only expect to use it for simple jobs. Pros and perfectionists, on the other hand, should consider an Epson 950, or wait until our review next month of a competing inkjet disc printer, the Odixion DigiPrinter. This is expected to sell for around £150, which might sound cheap, but not when you know that the underlying printer is a Canon S200 that typically sells for under £60.

Yianni Kyriacou

For the full review, see the April 2003 issue of Computer Video.

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Reviewed in April's issue:

Canopus DVStorm 2
Panasonic NV-MX500B

In April's news:

Sony DVD disc camcorders
Sonic Foundry's Vegas 4
Dazzle DVD/analogue package
VideoStudio 7
Formac Devideon
Partition Magic 8
Pinnacle CD/DVD copying
Pinnacle Edition roadshow
Sorenson Squeeze 3 Codec
Ulead Cool 3D Studio

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