Dividing DVD authors into two groups, "technicians and creative folk," Sonic general manager of professional products Rolf Hartley says Scenarist Studio is, like Scenarist Professional, a tool targeting the technician category, but more as an introduction to that type of authoring than a tool for those at the top of the craft. "Scenarist allows you to manipulate the DVD specification in detail," he says, which is advantageous to "technicians" who want to "differentiate their titles by knowing the spec intimately." Scenarist Studio is designed for the same type of author, but offers a more "focused feature set." With it, he says, you get "the same control Scenarist offers, most important features," but with easier access and at a lower cost.
Scenarist Studio, a software-only solution that lists for $7,999, includes the ability to create DVD-9 titles, work with video material in 16:9 aspect ratio, and create multiple-angle DVDs with up to three video angles supported. Scenarist Advanced, a product in general release for some time at the Studio announcement, adds copy protection, regional coding, and closed caption support to the feature set offered in Studio. Scenarist Professional, the system used by professional and Hollywood authors to create commercial DVD titles dating back to the format's mid-nineties inception, incorporates full access to the DVD specification and support for nine video angles, DTS, Text Data, Jacket Pictures, and more. (For a detailed list of differences within the tri-partite Scenarist family, see www.sonic.com/products/scenarist/specs.asp.)
Comparing Scenarist Studio to other mid-level applications in the Sonic canon, Hartley says mid-range tools like ReelDVD and Producer target the "creative types" on the other side of the creative/ technical dichotomy who want flexibility and control, but are not interested in mastering the intricacies of the hundreds of rules that comprise the DVD spec. It's a question of "manual versus automatic control," he says; abstracted tools like ReelDVD, Producer, and other mid-range tools like Pinnacle Impression, Ulead DVD Workshop, and Apple DVD Studio Pro, are more automatic and allow authors to design "complex menu navigation without knowing the DVD spec."
In terms of practical differences, ReelDVD is a mid-range ($999) tool that takes the code base of Scenarist and imposes a new user interface over it, keeping the storyboard authoring approach, but otherwise sacrificing access to the DVD spec for usability. Scenarist Studio and Advanced, by contrast, feature the same user interface as Scenarist.
"With ReelDVD," Hartley says, "you get easy access to pro-level authoring, and you can create a highly compatible disc, but your options are limited. For example, you can't associate 4:3 and 16:9 video as you can in Scenarist." When you're ready to move up, he continues, you can follow a creative or technical path. On the creative side, "DVD Producer gives you more sources and more functionality" in a tool he also characterizes as "automatic." With Scenarist Studio, "you move up in more of a technical direction. Before Scenarist Studio," he concludes, "the mode of upgrade— Reel to Producer to Scenarist—wasn't consistent."
Recent years have clearly seen more expansion, both in terms of boxes moved and the number of products available, in entry-level and corporate DVD authoring than at the high end, giving the impression that the high-end market has flattened or even max'd out. Hartley concedes that familiarity has drained some of the mystery out of DVD authoring—"the science of DVD authoring," he says, "is not routine, but stable and reliable"—but the continuing growth in the title market has made for continued demand for high-end tools in the Scenarist class. "Hollywood facilities"—Scenarist's core audience—"say they're at max capacity, turning out titles faster than ever. Deadlines for titles are getting shorter. The challenges they face are not in using the tools, but in collecting assets and creating DVD masters."
One way Sonic has attempted to simplify the mastering process is by taking the default DLT mastering vessel out of the equation through a technology called Plant Direct, announced in late 2002. Designed as an add-on to the ROM Formatter mastering tool, Plant Direct is designed to enable "tapeless" submission of a premastered DVD image via FTP upload.
Like the other products in the Scenarist family, Studio is offered in multiple configurations, beginning with the software-only version that lists for $7,999. The product is also sold in two "workstation" configurations, one featuring Sonic's SD-1000 encoder, and the other Sonic's SD-500, with pricing scaled accordingly.