The Moving Picture: NEW boss--same as the OLD boss
Posted Apr 1, 2002

The new breed of DVD authoring software (See "Amateur Hour," can make our traditional ideas of DVD authoring seem almost quaint. Complexity and intricacy be damned! Authoring, in many cases, doesn't have to be much more than a humble, even automated and forgettable, output process, living-room simple and unintimidating to the uninitiated. Yet, just as those new entry-level tools have turned the tables on yesterday's authoring methods, at least for straightforward projects, there may be an even bigger change ahead for DVD creation.

In January 2002, Microsoft announced a licensing agreement with Sonic Solutions for DVD technology including Sonic's AuthorScript, the DVD engine code that runs behind pretty user interfaces to create compliant disc images. Microsoft has not yet announced any product plans from this agreement with Sonic, but it's easy to imagine a few scenarios for DVD authoring built into Windows.

In Windows XP, Microsoft has already followed Apple's integration of CD-R/CD-RW writing functionality into the operating system. As with the MacOS, Windows XP supports dragging and dropping files onto an icon to write files to disc. DVD authoring is a different operation than DVD burning, of course, but for DVD-Video the two go hand in hand. Adding both to Windows would be a logical step given Microsoft's growing attention to digital imaging in Windows XP.

Obviously, Microsoft does not yet have a free DVD authoring application like Apple's iDVD, so the addition of such is an odds-on bet for this Sonic partnership. Microsoft has mimicked Apple's iMovie with the Windows Movie Maker, an easy-to-use, storyboard-based video editing application. Now, with a FireWire capture driver included in Windows, Microsoft has a solution that supports video capture from a digital camcorder and limited video editing for consumers. However, the output presently targets email and the Web using Windows streaming media. Microsoft, with a hand in consumer electronics with Windows CE and UltimateTV, is certainly aware of the commercial success of DVD players and, like Apple and the other authoring toolmakers, may see DVD creation as a parallel opportunity in home video. It's even possible that Microsoft sees DVD authoring in a Windows CE device in the living room.

Whatever Microsoft does with DVD authoring, it is likely to be very basic, aimed at an extremely broad cross-section of Windows users. Whether that means an output-to-DVD module for Movie Maker following Pinnacle's and Ulead's approach of integrating editing and authoring or a standalone application like Apple's iDVD, Microsoft probably has little interest in competing with focused DVD authoring products on features. History suggests that enabling basic capabilities that solve rudimentary user problems without exposing serious tech support obstacles works best. It'd be hard, for example, to imagine Microsoft taking on Motion Menus for some time.

So that leaves advanced features and flexibility in the domain of dedicated DVD companies with plenty of room for differentiation. An exception to that may be Microsoft's evolution of PowerPoint with Producer, a way to link video and audio with slides in a timeline interface. Outputting that functionality to DVD, in addition to the current streaming media all within Office XP, would be a nice step forward to business users.

There's inevitable trepidation whenever the hungry eyes of Redmond turn in the direction of tiny companies struggling to find a market. That Windows might soon claim "built-in DVD authoring" could be enough to take a big slice out of that vast consumer market pie. To stay in the game, the DVD tool vendors all have to work harder. Ideally, for business users, that will mean more presentation and corporate communications-oriented features like MedioStream's Live Capture to DVD.

However, DVD authoring built into Windows would ultimately further authoring's migration from its traditional place as a specific discipline. Sonic's AuthorScript is already at work linking DVD output with nonlinear editing interfaces from companies like Avid, just as Ulead now outputs to DVD from their more affordable MediaStudio Pro and VideoStudio video editing software. This direction is allowing users at all levels to output virtually any video project onto CD or DVD and that's really as it should be for DVD creation to take hold en masse.

With Microsoft and Apple both in the DVD authoring business, DVD takes a huge step toward legitimacy as a default format for moving communications information. The littler DVD companies will have less market education to do now that DVD-Video has demonstrated its value beyond Hollywood movies as a multipurpose video distribution format.

All of this downward momentum of DVD authoring may spell trouble for dedicated DVD service bureaus trying to pay off their elaborate encoding and authoring workstations. But these affordable and integrated authoring tools have a place in DVD authoring studios working at all levels; even the most sophisticated post houses need to tear off demo discs and freeing the big billable workstation from those tasks is probably healthy. If all the new interest in DVD in general translates to more business opportunities for training, kiosk, point-of-sale titles, and marketing collateral material of all degrees of complexity, that's clearly a good thing. However, evolution also means a re-examination of billing rates, at least for smaller products.