Apple has announced new Power Mac G4 systems, which will include Apple's new omniwriting SuperDrive, as well as its iDVD mastering software. The system, with its $3,499 price tag, isn't targeted for the mainstream consumer market. Its baseline audience is "prosumers" who desire to replace their aging VHS tape collections with DVDs.
The SuperDrive, a Pioneer DVR-103 drive with Apple-customized firmware, supports writing to not only DVD-R (2X), but CD-R (8X) and CD-RW (4X). A firmware upgrade expected later this year will also supply write compatibility with rewritable DVD-RW media. The drive currently supports 4.7GB DVD-R general-use discs.
The bundled software, iDVD, is a simplified DVD mastering application designed for users who are inexperienced with the DVD authoring process. iDVD allows users to drag-and-drop QuickTime files and pictures into a DVD project, and users can create menus, buttons, and backgrounds using the software's supplied themes. Users can also design their own custom interfaces. The software supports up to six "buttons" on the main menu, and any of the buttons can also be a folder that leads to another six-button menu. iDVD uses a software MPEG-2 encoder and a static compression rate that is hidden from the user. Before burning to a disc, a user can preview a project to test navigation and flow. Up to one hour of video can be stored on a single DVD-R disc. "We feel that this gives consumers a realistic option when choosing to output video on DVD as opposed to VHS, where there are issues of lower quality and durability," says Mike Evangelist, senior product manager of DVD products at Apple.
But Apple's emerging DVD strategy encompasses more than facile hobbyist encodes and burns. Apple has also announced a professional DVD authoring solution, DVD Studio Pro. DVD Studio Pro is, as the name would suggest, designed for professional DVD authors. The software can include every feature that the DVD-Video standard allows. "DVD Studio Pro is designed for everyone except the upper-crust developers who need extremely low-level access to the DVD spec," says Evangelist. "The software is targeted at users that need to create discs such as corporate training DVDs, etc." The software supports up to 99 video tracks as well as multiple language tracks. DVD content can be customized to include slide shows, still or motion menus from layered PhotoShop files or video clips, and interactive links directly to the Web.
MPEG-2 video is encoded in DVD Studio Pro development using Apple's software encoder (the same encoder used by iDVD), which Apple says can achieve up to 2X encoding speed on a 733mHz G4. While DVD Studio Pro may be cutting-edge software, it also requires cutting-edge hardware. Minimum system requirements include a Power Mac G4 with AGP graphics, a DVD-R, DVD-RAM, or DVD-ROM drive (configuration must support Apple DVD Player 2.0 or later), Mac OS 9.0.4 or 9.1, QuickTime 4.1, 128MB RAM, and a 12GB hard drive. The software is available separately at an MSRP of $999.
Apple has also announced that it will sell 4.7GB DVD-R (general use) discs in packs of five for $49.95. While the current market for home DVD recording is small (due, in part, to high prices to date for both drives and media), Apple is attempting to expand the market by offering a comparably low-priced solution. Who knows? Maybe years from now, when recordable DVD drives are standard-issue in new computers, we'll all look back and say, "Apple made it happen."