Making personal backups of DVDs is a highly controversial topic that is still being tested in the courts. No copy-protection mechanisms were circumvented during our testing, and CNET does not encourage or condone the illegal copying of commercial DVDs.
InstantCopy's interface is a skillful blend of ease of use and functionality. Its main screen simply lists your computer's playback and recording devices. In most cases, making a copy is as simple as choosing source and target drives, then clicking a Start button.
InstantCopy's deceptively simple main screen lets you set up and launch most copying jobs with only three clicks.
It doesn't take long to discover the power beneath the hood. InstantCopy lets you designate up to 16 simultaneous recording devices for each job, and your copy source and destinations can be almost any combination of CDs, DVDs, and disc images stored on a hard drive or a removable storage device. In most cases, InstantCopy will use your choice of source device and recording media to figure out the type of task you're trying to perform. But you can override its default selections by clicking a Details button that displays a wealth of additional options. Pinnacle manages to organize the potentially overwhelming number of jargon-laden selections into logical, tabbed dialog boxes that let you perform functions simply by clicking check boxes and choosing items from drop-down lists.
Pinnacle has organized a potentially confusing array of esoteric options into a logical set of tabbed dialog boxes.
Most users will be content with the basic copying tools found in InstantCopy's main screen, but the Details section offers plenty of advanced settings for enthusiasts. You can manage a slew of disc-reading, disc-burning, and error-handling options; conserve disc space by removing unwanted DVD features such as foreign languages, commentary tracks, DVD-ROM content, and subtitles; and even restore deleted navigational functions, such as the ability to fast-forward through FBI warning screens.
Selecting one of InstantCopy's standard job Profiles lets you automatically configure multiple settings with a single click.
The Details section also provides preset Profiles that let you automatically set multiple recording parameters with a single click. The several-dozen standard Profiles configure the program for output formats as diverse as Karaoke-CDs, PhotoCDs, and mixed-mode CD-Extra discs. You can also create and save your own profiles.
The biggest hole in InstantCopy's feature set is its inability to duplicate copy-protected DVDs, which account for the overwhelming majority of discs that most people want to back up. Pinnacle deliberately omits this function, since it's not yet clear whether circumventing a DVD-Video disc's copy-protection scheme is ever legal. (For more information about this issue, check www.protectfairuse.org.) The company does, however, coyly note that InstantCopy can burn discs from any unprotected DVD image file, regardless of how that file was created.
Even a task as sophisticated as removing navigational restrictions from a previously authored DVD can be accomplished by simply checking a box.
We ran into several limitations that were not apparent from the program's product literature. InstantCopy can perform true, uncompressed (1:1) DVD-Video backups only if the entire title fits on a single piece of blank media. (The program always, of course, makes perfect copies of DVD-ROM discs.) In all other cases, DVD Copy compresses DVD-Video to fit it onto the target DVD or CD, which always causes some degradation. The video on our test disc was squeezed to about 60 percent of its original size in order to fit on a 4.7GB DVD, and the difference in picture quality was glaringly obvious on a 57-inch Hitachi SWX20B rear-projection TV and a Panasonic CP-72 progressive-scan DVD player. The degradation would be far less noticeable on a more forgiving setup or on most computer monitors.
We also found that InstantCopy can't currently handle DVDs that contain only PCM audio tracks, which is true of many homemade discs. Pinnacle plans to correct this bug with an update this fall, but in the meantime, it shouldn't affect the program's ability to copy commercial DVDs, almost all of which have Dolby Digital-encoded soundtracks.
InstantCopy's performance is satisfactory, but it's still slow compared to that of its closest competitor, InterVideo's DVD Copy. Where InstantCopy took slightly more than two hours to copy an unprotected 8GB dual-layer DVD-Video disc to a single blank DVD, DVD Copy did the same job in 1 hour, 20 minutes. Our 2.5GHz P4 testbed was configured with 512MB of PC800 RDRAM and a 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar hard drive, and we copied content from a Pioneer DVR-A05 to 4X Verbatim DVD+R media in a Sony DRX-500UL DVD-rewriter.
You can force InstantCopy's advanced options to assume any legitimate value, but simply setting most of them to Automatic will usually allow the program to figure out on its own how to provide the best performance.
In addition to the usual driver downloads and patches, the Pinnacle Web site contains an adequate, searchable knowledge base of product FAQs. The site also lets you set up a personalized support area, where you can monitor outstanding support queries. Telephone support is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday, for a toll. Sadly, it's free for only 90 days; afterward, it costs $14.95 per incident. E-mail support is prompt--a support question sent late on a Friday evening received a reply early the next morning--but unhelpful. The answer consisted primarily of links to Pinnacle knowledge base entries, but none were relevant to our problem.