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321 Studios

There’s a lot to be said on the topic of this controversial software, but if you’re simply wondering if it works as advertised, the answer is yes. 321 Studios has done a fine job with this software that allows you to easily make fast, perfect backup copies of your DVDs, and their commitment to continual improvement is evident in the frequent updates of the software. I tested the software with Sony’s multi-format DRU-500A DVD burner on a 2.2GHz P4 system running Windows XP.

Why Two Titles? What’s Xpress?

  • Make backups of any DVD movie
  • Span DVD-9 movies to two discs keeping all bonus material
  • Compress DVD-9 movies to single disc (movie only)
  • Restores scratched or defective DVD movies
  • NTSC/PAL compatible
  • Win XP/2000/98/ME

321 Studios

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DVD X Copy Gold includes two products – DVD X Copy, which will copy a DVD movie completely, without additional compression – preserving the quality of the original -- and Xpress that will compress the movie further until it fits on a single backup disc.

Many DVD movies come on a 9.4 GB dual-layer disc, which all DVD players can read – but there are currently no dual-layer burners (or media) available to the general public. That means either you will have to use two discs to make a complete backup of these movies. If the running time of the movie is less than 120 minutes, DVD X Copy will give you the option of stripping the extra features (Director’s commentary, trailers, deleted scenes, etc.) from the disc and backing up only the movie itself.

But if the movie runs longer than two hours, you’re out of luck – and that’s where the Xpress version comes in. It will compress and transcode the video signal into smaller files that will fit on a single 4.7GB DVD. There is some loss of video quality, but without a big-screen (42”+) HDTV you’d be hard pressed to notice. On a big screen, the video quality is noticeably different when doing a/b comparisons, particularly on titles, but it is superior to VHS. The audio doesn’t suffer at all, and the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is preserved, although if you favor DTS surround, you’ll need to stick to the two-disc backup scheme. Remember that there is no degradation of video quality when using DVD X Copy, so aside from losing the bonus materials, this is where a price must be paid for squeezing a long movie onto a short disc.

Simply put, if you’re only concerned about backing up the movie itself, DVD X Copy Xpress is your friend. If you want to make a complete backup, then you will want to purchase the Combo that includes DVD X Copy.

Do You Want To Keep The Bonus Material?

When I first started playing around with making backups of DVD movies, I was only concerned with backing up the movie itself. I seldom found time to watch the extra material anyway, and it’s often not terribly interesting. Then I started using my backup copies and discovered the value of this extra material.

When your flight is delayed and you’ve got a six-hour layover, suddenly the director’s running commentary on a film you’ve seen fifteen times becomes pretty interesting. After that, you can polish up your foreign language skills.

Time, Time, Time

How long does it take to make a DVD backup? More than an hour, less than two in most cases. The slowest process is burning the backup copy, with most DVD burners limited to 2X or 2.4X speeds. While 4X burners and media are available, I believe a slower burn speed may create discs that are more compatible with other players.


Although I did not have the opportunity to try this function, 321 Studios claims that DVD X Copy and XPRESS can restore damaged discs while making a backup copy. If the original is scratched and it ‘skips,’ the software will attempt multiple re-reads of bad sections before writing the file.


During my review of the Sony DRU-500A DVD burner, I tried some different combinations of freeware and shareware titles to accomplish what DVD X Copy (and Xpress) do. That is, making two-disc complete backups, and single-disc compressed versions of the movie alone. To summarize the experience, it is possible – but it’s not for the faint-hearted, and it takes longer. I was particularly pleased with DVD X Copy Xpress’ speed in compressing to a single disc – it does it on the fly while writing the ‘scratch’ copy to your hard drive, eliminating a time-consuming step necessary with the alternatives.

Caveats – Mainly Media and Hardware

My first impression of both products was a bit worrisome. There just aren’t very many options, and being an experienced computer user, I was skeptical that it would work without checking and selecting endless options and inscrutable functions. But it did! Basically, you insert a movie DVD, click on “Start,” then insert a blank DVD-R (or -RW, or +R, or +RW) when it asks. Typically, the process is completed quickly and flawlessly. Go figure – when it works, simplicity is a beautiful thing.

One area the software seems to have problems is with ‘episodic’ DVDs – DVDs with episodes of television shows instead of one long movie. There are often suggestions for workarounds on the web site forum. DVD X Copy XPress sometimes requires custom “.tdf” files to get the desired audio and video content recorded, also available for many specific titles on the web site. These snags are what keep this software from getting a 10/10 rating. (Note: 321 Studios has recently released a new product, DVD X Copy Platinum, which allows you to create and share .tdf files)

There are a limited number of burners that don’t get along with this software. You can find them listed on the 321 Studios web site’s FAQ under “Most Popular Questions.”

Aside from understanding that you’ll almost certainly need two discs if you want to preserve the bonus features of your DVD, the caveats of using this software have nothing to do with the software itself. (To be fair, that isn’t the software’s fault, either!)

The caveats have to do with your playback equipment, and the brand of media you choose. Not every DVD burner will work with every brand of DVD media, particularly the low-cost ‘no-name’ brands. In other words, don’t buy a large spindle of blanks without testing a sample or two first. Additionally, standalone DVD players can be similarly fussy about what they eat, besides being fussy about + or – formats.

Some DVD players will like DVD-R better than DVD+R, and some the other way ‘round. I have an older Toshiba player, which is claimed to be compatible with +R and +RW is not, nor will it play –R discs created on the Sony burner. It will, however, play discs written on a standalone Panasonic video DVD recorder (albeit with quirky behavior when navigating the disc).

Unfortunately, when it comes to answering the question of whether the discs you create will play on your equipment, the bottom line is that there’s only one way to find out. The newer your equipment, the more likely it is to work. Should you have compatibility problems, try several different well-known, name-brand discs first. Personally, I wound up buying a new DVD changer (Sony) for my home theater system that plays anything I throw in it, even rewritable media.


321 Studios deserves some sort of award for their commitment to improving and supporting their products online. Updates are released frequently, and they’re kind enough to let you know by e-mail every time there is a new release available for download.

Their web site features a comprehensive FAQ for each of their products, and there is a lively and active support forum as well. Many software publishers could learn something from 321’s online example in this area.

Legal Issues

Doesn’t it go without saying that you may only legally copy DVDs that you own? Renting or borrowing them doesn’t count, and while you can argue all you want that the studios get more than their fair share of the profits, the artists don’t make a dime from pirated copies. Intelligently, the 321 people built in their own brand of copy protection, so that your backups are an ‘end of the line’ copy – you can’t make a copy from a backup made with either DVD X Copy or XPress.


Both of these products work as advertised, they’re simple to use and do their jobs quickly. The caveats listed above show that they’re not quite perfect, but close – and that your hardware is your first concern.

It is important to understand that there are often compatibility glitches between burners, media, and playback equipment. It’s probably not as bad as it sounds, particularly with newer equipment -- but be aware that finding the correct combination is up to you, and you alone. I stress that because most of the complaints I hear on this topics are discs that cannot be read on a standalone DVD video player, but work fine on the computer, and often, in a buddy’s DVD player, too.

Once you verify that your hardware will play nicely with each other, the 321 software will make you smile. 321 Studios not only offers a money-back guarantee, but a 14-day evaluation copies are downloadable from their site, so you can be sure the software will work well with your existing hardware.

Scott Salveson

Web Target PC


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