(DVD) Power to the People
Posted Aug 12, 2003

Not long ago, DVD-Video production was the esoteric pursuit of a select group of professional technical experts. But as software has gotten easier and hardware has gotten cheaper, we've seen DV and DVD sink into the realm of the enthusiast/ prosumer. But just how low can it go? Well, CyberLink Corporation, best-known in DVD circles for its PowerDVD player, has released a software tool called PowerProducer that aims to bring digital video down to rock bottom, down to the Average Joe, the man and woman on the street, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.

According to CyberLink senior director of sales and marketing Michael Demeyer, PowerProducer is aimed at a user level even lower that the nerdy hobbyist level. CyberLink has set its sites on "entry-level casual consumers," according to Demeyer. "Our target market is casual users of DVD who want to take personal movie content—from their camcorders or wherever—and get it onto CD-R or DVD-R for viewing in the living room," he says. With PowerProducer, CyberLink aims to play in the space currently occupied by Sonic MyDVD, Mediostream neoDVD, Pinnacle Expression, and CyberLink's most direct competitor—fellow software DVD player provider InterVideo, with their very recently updated (and fairly recently introduced) WinDVD Creator Plus (www.emedialive.com/r8/2002/nathans12_02.html).

Demeyer explains the heated up competition in consumer DVD authoring software by the dramatic price drops driving the adoption of DVD recording hardware. DVD-R drives will get so cheap so fast, he says, that soon they will replace CD-RW as the standard drive on many PCs. He cites a Jon Peddie report which estimates that over 1.3 million DVD-Recordable drives were shipped in 2001 and anticipates the number to swell to over 30 million by 2004. Demeyer believes that within 12 months, DVD-R drives will be in the $100 range and the major PC makers like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM will be building them into their higher-end platforms. When that happens, "A new class of software will be necessary," says Demeyer, who obviously sees his PowerProducer product as being a member of this new class.

Employing the familiar look and feel of an HTML browser, PowerProducer features a wizard-style interface with detailed instructions and information to guide users throughout the whole movie-making process. It enables virtually anyone—even first-timers with no knowledge of video editing or CD burning—to produce home movies and photo slide shows onto CDs, VCDs, SVCDs, DVDs, or MiniDVDs. With PowerProducer, in just three easy steps, users can import video files from video capturing devices, then perform basic editing functions such as adding some simple special effects and creating chapters to the video clip. It also features the "QuickBurn" solution, a one-click step to capture video from DV camcorders directly into DVD discs.

The PowerProducer product is no frills. It is not meant to compete with Adobe Premiere. In fact, CyberLink has another more advanced product called PowerDirector to which it steers potential customers who are interested in "artistic manipulation," as Demeyer puts it. "PowerProducer is not a full-fledged video editing product; our PowerDirector is our classical video editing tool, with its transitions and effects and so forth. But even PowerDirector is aimed more toward enthusiasts than professionals," Demeyer admits. "PowerProducer is an attempt to move into a broader market. It is less an editing tool than it is a compiling tool. It is intended for less artistic-oriented users, people who just want to get their video from camera to disc and send it to grandma so she can see it on her TV."

"I define enthusiast as someone who really wants to do it, who is willing to take the time to learn the software, so he can do artistic things with the video," Demeyer continues. "We intend PowerProducer for people who don't want to take the time to learn software. They don't want to get fancy; they just want to get their stuff on a disc and start sharing it with their friends and family."

The popularity of DVD will be key to the success of PowerProducer, says Demeyer. When he talks about grandma looking at home movies of the grandkids on her TV, he is assuming that grandma has a DVD player. The DVD player is the assumed delivery platform for PowerProducer-generated content—even though PowerProducer-generated video can also be displayed on PCs by using the product's run-time player, Demeyer explains. "This product is clearly tied to the writable DVD format," he says.

But given the high capacity of DVD, won't users quickly run out of personal home movie footage? How will they use the PowerProducer product then? Well, Demeyer predicts that people will use PowerProducer to "address the personal movie space." Most PowerProducer users will use DVD-R the way most audio enthusiasts now use CD-R. "The best analogy is audio CD-R," says Demeyer. "Most people use CD-R to compile their favorite songs onto a single audio disc. Similarly, many people will use PowerProducer and DVD-R to compile their favorite TV shows onto a single DVD disc."

Do people really need DVD-R for their personal video? Wouldn't CD-R work just as well in many cases? Yes, of course, says Demeyer, and PowerProducer supports the Video CD standard, but the Video CD standard has not taken off in America the way it has in the Far East. "It's frustrating to me that people are so unaware of the Video CD format," says Demeyer. "U.S. consumers don't see CDs as a video medium. There's a sort of disconnect here. The U.S. public associates DVD with video." He hopes that once Americans start using products like PowerProducer, Video CD will get the attention he feels it deserves.

But on the other hand, PowerProducer users will have no trouble filling up DVD-R discs, Demeyer predicts. He thinks that because they will be doing more compiling than editing, they will need more capacity. They will be dumping large raw files onto disc and will therefore need DVD. These users won't be like the enthusiasts who tend to spend a lot of time cutting and tweaking their footage, paring it down until it is like a polished gem. "They'll want to take their whole tape, put it on disc, and maybe add a couple of chapter points and be done with it," he says.

And just in case American consumers don't get casual about digital video fast enough to make PowerProducer successful, CyberLink has hedged its bets by incorporating a Slide Show feature into the product. Users can create customized photo slide shows complete with background music. Included are tools to set the transition timing and other display settings and adjust the synchronization of the audio tracks. Thus, CyberLink hopes to cash in on the thriving digital photography trend. "I read somewhere that 14.5 billion digital images were taken in the U. S. last year," says Demeyer. "But they are all just sitting in isolated computers. There's no good way to share them. But putting them onto a DVD disc allows you to share your photos with any of the millions of people who have DVD players."

Here are some of PowerProducer's main features:
• Auto Capture Device Detection: PowerProducer auto-detects a user's video capture device and displays the options available with that specific device.
• Auto-File Separation: Users can pre-set a maximum file size limit, so that PowerProducer will then record until it reaches that size and then continue recording subsequent files. This is a convenient feature for recording large files automatically.
• SVRT: A proprietary engine in PowerProducer that renders MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and DV-AVI video "faster than any other software," according to CyberLink (keep in mind that all the competitors named here make precisely the same claim). With SVRT, only the edited portion(s) of a video file is rendered, which saves time and also preserves the original and un-edited video quality.
• Interactive Navigation Menus: Special feature that allows users to produce unique navigation menus, selecting from over 40 template designs.
• Trim, Merge, and Split Video: To remove unwanted sections, users can split video and combine video clips using the quick and easy slider bar or by entering the exact mark-in/out time points in PowerProducer.
• Quick Burn: A convenient one-click function to burn video files right onto CDs or DVDs.
• i-Help: Built-in help guide located throughout the program. Users can click on any i-Help icon, and it will display helpful information on terminology and procedures.

Demeyer says that about 75 to 80% of CyberLink's products are sold as OEM bundles, with the remaining 20-25% being direct sales through the company's Web site (www.gocyberlink.com). A non-boxed download version of PowerProducer is currently priced at $99. —Mark Fritz