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Gimme Five
Posted Dec 30, 2003 Print Version     « previous Page 2of 3 next »

Paperback Writer
The author of Digital Video Essentials, iMovie 3 Solutions, and most recently Sybex Books' DVD Studio Pro 2 Solutions, Erica Sadun has been using DVD SP since version 1.5. With a background in digital imaging and computer science, she's got enough know-how to get the most out of DVD SP even on her 733mHz G4, a formerly formidable contender that she acknowledges is "just barely adequate for DVD SP."

As of December, she hadn't even upgraded to Jaguar, much less Panther. "DVD authoring is, in the end, about a million fussy details, all of which must include dotted i's, crossed t's, and so forth," she says. "I think you'll find the DVD audience is very conservative when it comes to jumping onto new operating systems and new equipment. When you're building things that count, rather than just playing with the software, you need tools that work."

She describes her experience authoring with DVD SP 2 while writing her latest book as "marvelous," though she admits she's still coming across bugs. "1.5 is buggy, too, but we more or less know what the bugs are and how to work around them," she says. In particular, Sadun says that Apple hasn't fixed a layer-break problem that first popped up in 1.5 and persists in 2.0, and which results in some players being unable to read the layer breaks on DVD SP-authored DVD-9s. (As this issue of EMedia went to press, Apple announced a DVD Studio Pro 2.0.3 update that it said would fix the layer break problem, as well as several other bugs in the software.)

Sadun praises the way that DVD SP 2 makes it possible for a more general audience, including small business and education, to jump into advanced DVD authoring at an affordable price. "It's got a better interface and better abstraction," she says. "It's really much more exciting software." While Apple is touting the Basic and Extended modes as the best way for neophyte authors to get into the DVD game, Sadun thinks that's the wrong approach. "I don't know what Apple was thinking with Basic and Extended," she says. "DVD SP isn't iDVD. If you're trying to think in an iDVD manner when using DVD SP, you're going in the wrong direction. I think [Basic] hurts new authors more than it helps them."

Like others we talked to, Sadun misses the previous versions' graphical view, which showed the relationship between tracks and menus, and she adds that she hasn't yet warmed to DVD SP 2's new scripting interface. Still, she says she uses scripting in almost all of her projects; after all, she does have a computer science background. "Most of my scripts are 1-3 lines long, though some are more complex," she says. "A short, simple script can often do the job well. I think it's a matter of being a programmer already and being comfortable using registers and such."

Though some authors have complained that DVD Studio Pro's abstract authoring model limits what they can achieve, Sadun says the GPRM sacrifice is worth it. "You can stick with DVD SP and eight GPRMs, or you can pay a lot, lot, lot more to get those extra ones," she says. "The abstraction layer does a lot more for me than the lack of state information takes away."

As for third-party software, Sadun says she uses Photoshop for titling ("a must-have," she says), OmniGraffle diagramming software for overall planning and screen design, and Graphic Converter for batch conversion of images. She also uses MPEG Append, a DVD SP Helper application that modifies Studio Pro's MPEG naming conventions to make sure the files meet timecode requirements for multi-segment files, and says she relies heavily on the bit budget calculator at Jim Taylor's DVD Demystified Web site (

School Days
Like Sadun, Alan Edwards has a computer science degree, which let him get into the digital video game early on. Currently, he is an instructor at New Brunswick Community College in Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada, where he teaches in the school's Digital Media program. Also like Sadun, he's still working on a G4 (albeit a dual-processor model), though he updated to Panther as soon as it was available. "It seems more stable than Jaguar," he says. "I had a few issues with Compressor crashing early on, but the latest update seems to have fixed that."

A longtime user of version 1.5, Edwards said that DVD SP 2 took some getting used to, but the learning curve was worth it. Edwards says he loves being able to put together quick menus with SP 2's new templates and create motion menus without always having to work in After Effects. Edwards also finds the alignment tools intuitive and easy to use, and says that it's much easier to set markers in 2.0.

Edwards' job is to teach students how to author DVDs, but even the teacher needs a textbook. "The documentation with DVD SP 2 is far superior to the previous efforts," he says. "Many things are now clear that were not explained well in the earlier manuals, such as how to use pan-and-scan."

On the downside, Edwards joins the chorus of voices singing the blues over the loss of the graphical view. He adds that his wish list for future updates includes the ability to do pan-and-scan within the application, rather than going into Final Cut. He doesn't mind, however, going into another program rather than using DVD SP 2's included Peak Express to do his audio editing. A composer himself, Edwards is sticking with Apple's $699 Logic Platinum, which offers more channels and tighter control, as well as a MIDI editor.

Even with his extensive experience, Edwards says he's gravitated toward Studio Pro 2's Extended configuration. "I have a relatively small monitor, and I found that Advanced was a bit of a clutter with all of its windows," he says. "I used Basic a few times for quick and easy projects, and found it very easy to get decent results with very little effort." The menu templates, he adds, are perfect for newbies, letting them make professional-looking projects right out of the box.

Now that it no longer crashes his machine, Edwards has nothing but praise for Compressor, especially the batch feature that allows him to "put a few things on to cook overnight." The split-screen preview window is especially useful, he says, and he appreciates the ability to place i-frame markers in pre-compression, although he usually places all of his chapter markers in Final Cut Pro. In fact, Edwards says he had a number of large Final Cut Pro projects ready before DVD SP 2 was available, but held off putting them on DVD until the new version was available so he could utilize Compressor's variable bit rate compression while maintaining his chapter markers. "Being able to put things straight into compressor from Final Cut Pro is a great way to streamline the project workflow and save time and space."

He wishes, however, that Compressor was more integrated with DVD SP 2's A.Pack, which encodes audio to Dolby Digital (AC-3). Right now, you have to take an AIFF file into A.Pack to convert it to AC-3. "It would be great to have a simple version that gives you the option of a 2.0 AC-3," he says. "It would just be a convenience for those simple stereo jobs."

Though he's been impressed with DVD SP 2's menu and motion menu capabilities, Edwards says he's always got Photoshop and After Effects ready to go so that he can customize his projects more than DVD SP 2 will let him.

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