It's funny you posted this thread - I have made the exact observation in another thread. Yes the RITEK discs use a smooth printable surface, I think it's made of clay if i'm not mistaken - There are pros and cons....... The pros being that it is smooth to the touch :), it also attracts dust particles no matter how you try to get rid of them They also tend to smudge easier. Of course as I pointed in another thread I'd rather have A grade media like TY with a lesser grade print surface than an oustanding print surface with CRAP media that has as much as TEN TIMES more PI/PIF counts
Honestly having used RITEK printable surface myself I can say I agree with you on some counts..... As far as canon, not the best printers for that effect. I use the EPSON R200 and it gives out excellent results. Yes colours will vary with printable surface but it is usually something you can adjust in software.
The TY media uses a rougher surface, but it's still a bit smooth to the touch not as slippery as the RITEK, but still decently smooth (sorry to put it this way but it's the only way I can put it in simple terms.) The TY surface appears rougher, however, unlike the RITEK they appear semi gloss. You could see it has a slightly reflective surface give it a professional look once it dries out. Also, once you print on them and the ink dries out, it becomes smoother to the touch. The surface, I find to be more ink friendly, in the sense it better absorbs the ink. Yes you are right about the difference in colours. When I got my new batch I also thought the print surface on the TY were crap.....but after doing many tests I found that it is not that bad.....both media have pros and cons in terms of their surfaces.
As far as black, I never had any problem with blacks appearing pitch black. I don't know about your printer, but on the EPSON, if you use the default print settings, the blacks will appear blueish or greyish, this is due to the auto color correction and gamma controls - To that effect I select the ICM profile with NO CORRECTION box checked, this provides darker, richer colours and perfect blacks, to me at least. In terms of colours being washed out, I suspect that it's probably caused by a high gamma - If your print software allows for it, lower the gamma, or use no correction modes. Try to make a template that suits your media, you will need to adjust colour saturation and play with some settings to get optimal results, but YES it is possible.
I also use MAXELL printables, the print surface is rougher than Ritek but they are semi gloss too and they look professional.