Disc Burning with Sony's Digital Relay
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Burning discs on Mac 9.1
To burn your first disc, connect the Sony unit to a USB port and make sure the power is on. For general data-sharing among Macs and PCs, CD-RWs are very convenient. I tested burning CD-RWs with the Digital Relay on both Macs and PCs, and the discs burned on one could be read by the other platform. I like that.
When you insert a blank CD-RW or CD-R disc in the burner, your Mac will determine its type and present you with a dialogue box that reads, "This disc needs to be prepared for burning. Do you want to prepare this disc?" You're provided with an area to name the disc and a drop-down format box that gives you three options (as illustrated in the screenshot below).
Make your format selection then hit the "Prepare" button. In a matter of seconds you have a new CD disc icon sitting on your desktop ready to accept data.
Burn a MP3 disc
So let's have some fun and burn an MP3 disc for playback on the go with the Digital Relay. To make one, here's what you do:
- Drag your MP3 files, or your artist folders with the MP3 files inside, on to the MP3-formatted CD-R or CD-RW disc sitting on your desktop.
- Highlight the disc by clicking on it once, then go to "Special" ==> "Burn CD-R" (or CD-RW). Your Mac will ask you if you're sure that you want to burn the disc. Choose "Burn."
- Go get a cup of coffee. While you're doing so, the Mac will save the image of the files you want burned, then instruct the Digital Relay burner to write the tracks, and then it will verify the data before completing the job.
- That's all there is to it.
Now a word of advice. Figure out all the songs you're going to want on your disc ahead of time and make sure they don't exceed 656 Mbytes, because even if you use a CD-RW disc, you can only burn once for MP3 discs. For this reason, you'll probably want to use the much cheaper CD-R discs for MP3-type discs.
The combination of Apple software with the Sony Digital Relay creates a great system for burning CDs or all types. The best part is that it's all done right there on your Mac's desktop without any special third-party software to fool around with.
The only down side that I encountered is that the process seemed to take a little longer when I used Toast for burning, but that's just a perception.
Burning data discs for cross-platform reading
Apple's Disc Burner software uses an advanced ISO9660 format for creating standard data discs. What this means is that regardless of which platform you burn your disc on, Mac or PC, either platform can read those discs. This is a very handy feature if you are delivering discs to customers or if you work in a cross-platform environment.
The procedure is essentially the same as I outlined earlier for creating these CDs except this time you prepare the disc by selecting the "Standard (HFS+/ISO 9660) 656 MB" format. Drag your files from your desktop to the prepared disc, then choose "Burn CD" from under the Special menu.
Burning audio discs with iTunes for standard audio players
To create an audio CD, simply launch iTunes, create your play list, then hit the Burn button in the upper-right-hand corner of the player. iTunes will ask you to insert a blank CD, then prepare it to accept your play list.
You then click "Burn CD" and the application will convert your MP3s to standard audio format and burn them on the CD.
All you have to do is find some way to entertain yourself while iTunes and the Digital Relay burner do all the work. You can read Apple's iTunes overview for more information if you're desperate for entertainment.
Mac OS X compatibility
The good news is that the Sony Digital Relay is compatible with Mac OS X. The bad news, at least for the moment, is that Apple is still working on its CD burning software for Mac OS X and all you can create are audio CDs via iTunes.
I successfully burned an audio disc with iTunes on Mac OS 10.0.4, and it sounds great. According to the Apple site, complete CD burning flexibility will soon follow in upcoming updates. When they do, I'll be ready to test those updates with the Digital Relay.
Windows 98 SE compatibility
The Digital Relay also works smoothly with Windows 98 SE. As you can guess, there's a bit more work in setting it up though.
The strangest aspect of the setup is that the software CD that Sony includes with the Digital Relay doesn't contain the Windows drivers on it. So when I launched the CD Extreme application, it didn't recognize my burner.
I rifled through the original packaging looking for a second CD, but there was none to be found. What I did discover, however, was a floppy disc that appeared to have the drivers I needed.
So then I was forced to dig though my junk box to find the floppy drive that came with my IBM ThinkPad, and connect it so I could load the drivers. After doing so, the Digital Relay worked smoothly burning both CD-Rs and CD-RWs with equal ease.
(Remember when we used to use floppy drives on Macs?)
To be honest, my time of mourning for the deceased LaCie CD-R burner was short-lived at best. It was bulky, non-portable, single platform, non-MP3, and quite frankly, a little on the homely side.
I love the fact that I can tote the Sony Digital Relay in my backpack and use it one moment for listening to MP3 CDs, and then another for burning photos on to a CD-R disc for a client. The Lithium battery provides lots of juice in-between charges, and the clever remote control has an LCD readout that provides all of the playback information I need while serving as a handy way to navigate the tracks on the CD.
The Digital Relay is also very quiet as it goes about its business. My old laCie burner, may it rest in peace, was so loud that I often had to leave the room as it grinded away at its work.
Kudos to Apple for supporting cool devices such as the Sony burner. Sure, when I buy my next laptop, it will probably have an Apple burner built-in. But in the meantime I'm glad I can tap the power and ease of iTunes and Disc Burner software without having to buy a whole new computer.
And when I do buy that new computer, I'll still have the Digital Relay for portable playback and burning CDs with other units such as the ThinkPad.
At $299, I think the Digital Relay is a bit pricey for a 4X burner -- and that's after the recent $100 price drop from $399. Sony equipment often comes at a premium price. But to their credit, they have designed a beautiful tool that works equally well on both Macs and PCs.
On the whole, I find the Digital Relay remarkable.
Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.
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