June 2002|Ulead's DVD Workshop is a guided missile targeting Sonic Solutions' DVDit! and its grasp on the middle range of the DVD authoring market. Brilliantly conceived and well-executed, DVD Workshop incorporates the best ideas from the video-editing and DVD authoring worlds into a comprehensive, end-to-end solution that surpasses DVDit! on almost every front.
It's a product that will upset the balance of power in the DVD authoring market, though to understand which market and why takes a brief history lesson.
It wasn't so long ago that the only available DVD-R drives cost over $17,000, relegating the drives' use to studios and mastering facilities producing mostly Hollywood titles. DVD authoring and mastering were black arts, requiring design skills, scripting capabilities, and boatloads of patience with the cryptic, unnecessarily technical, interfaces.
As DVD-R prices drifted slowly downward, new programs with much simpler interfaces came to market. Still, even those programs, like Sonic Solutions' DVDit! and Spruce Technologies' SpruceUp, were produced by the same companies that designed the higher-end programs, and lacked the same ease of use we had come to expect from design programs like Microsoft's PowerPoint or FrontPage.
Usually, the shortcomings were minor, like the lack of alignment controls for onscreen objects and that lovely Format Painter control we use so much in Word and PowerPoint. Though irritating, these faults were easy to overlook considering how much more accessible these programs were compared to their predecessors.
Then, as DVD-R prices dropped below $1,000, a new class of developers entered the market, like Apple, with iDVD. Though these programs couldn't access the extremes of the DVD feature set, like multi-angle videos or CSS protection, they made it simple to capture and encode your videos into MPEG-2 format, create, and link basic menus to the video files, and then burn the disc.
Over time, the market has evolved into three clear segments. At the top are the professional programs like Sonic Scenarist, which provide complete access to all DVD features. Until DVD Workshop came along, the mid-range market, for corporate or event photographers, was primarily owned by Sonic's DVDit!.
The most important feature separating DVDit! from most consumer or entry-level products is the ability to create nested menus, or menus that link to other menus. Otherwise, titles navigate sequentially from menu A to menu B and so on, which is acceptable for summer vacation videos, but not for a sales video.
However, the consumer programs are not without their unique charms, and introduced several important concepts into DVD authoring. One of the most powerful is DV scene change detection, or the ability to capture video and separate out different scenes using time codes stored in the DV tape.
For example, with Pinnacle Express, you connect your camcorder to the computer, and the software captures your video, identifies all unique scenes, and then lists them with a thumbnail image. You drag and drop the desired scenes into a menu, name the scenes and you're ready to burn.
Also important is the ability to easily create and synchronize slide shows with background audio, a great medium for compelling presentations. Finally, most consumer level programs offer wizards and templates for menu design, restricting design control, but speeding project development immensely. (For a more detailed DVD taxonomy, see Jeff Sauer's "The Matrix," www.emedialive.com/r8/2002/sauer1_02.html.)
Designed and shipped before any action in the consumer space, DVDit! lacks all of these features. As you probably suspect by now, Ulead's DVD Workshop has them all. So without further ado, let's make the introduction.
in the workshop
DVD Workshop borrows most of its design bones from Ulead's VideoStudio 6.0, which is a good thing. A large capture/edit/preview window dominates the program with tabs on top that work you through the four stages of DVD creation, capture, edit, menu creation, and burning (Finish). Immediately below the preview window is a filmstrip containing finished menus and titles, which can be either videos or slide shows, with activity-specific menus on the top left, and libraries of assets and styles on the bottom left.
We started our projects by capturing from our DV camera. You can use scene detection during capture to produce separate files for each scene, or capture one large file, which Workshop can scan for scene changes. We used the second alternative, which made it easier for us to join two scenes together.
If your computer is fast enough, you can also capture directly into MPEG-2 format, but you lose scene detection, so we didn't try this feature. The program can also import AVI, QuickTime, and MPEG-1/2 files.
slide shows, anyone?
After capture, you move to the edit tab. There, with both captured and imported media, you can easily set new in and out points using simple slider controls. Then you can set chapter points within the video file, useful when working with long clips, and even select the thumbnail frame that will represent that chapter on the menu screen. During encoding, DVD Workshop will automatically encode all beginning chapter points as I-frames, allowing the fastest possible access during playback.
To create a slide show, you load the images into the library and then drag them, singly or en masse, onto the Title Strip, setting a global duration parameter or customizing onscreen time by image. All images appear as an individual chapter on a strip alongside the preview screen, allowing convenient reordering. Then you drag an audio file onto the Title Strip, and you're ready to preview.
DVD Workshop encodes all images at their original resolution, which was impressive given the disparity in shapes and sizes we used in our tests. In contrast, other programs often stretch images to the 720x480 display resolution, forcing you to edit each image precisely before input.
After completing all slide shows and videos, it's time to create some menus.
three-way menu creation
DVD Workshop offers three mechanisms for menu creation. You can start with a completely blank slate and build your own menus, use a canned or previously created template, or use a wizard to create all menus for you. This approach provides the best of both worlds, the ease of use of consumer-oriented programs, and the creative flexibility offered by corporate and some professional programs.
For example, if you want to string 20 vacation videos together, use the menu wizard, pick a theme, edit page and video titles, and you're done. On the other hand, if you need to create a corporate DVD with custom backgrounds, video menus and specific program logic, DVD Workshop can support that too. You can even create one menu and then save it as a template for all other menus.
As you would expect, working with templates and the wizard is relatively straightforward, so we'll spend the most time talking about custom menus. Ulead breaks this into three elements: the menu page itself, and text and button objects on the menu page.
You start by double clicking on the Menu Strip, which creates a new menu page, each with a box showing the "safe area" for TV viewing. Menus can have single-colored backgrounds, or you can drag in a background image or video to create a motion menu. You can also drag in an audio file as background music for the menu.
Next, you import your button objects, which can serve as visual garnish or as a navigational tool. For example, you can easily import your company or school logo, or other image, to enhance the appearance of your presentation. Ulead also includes a number of frames to serve as backgrounds for your video thumbnails. Or, you can select from the supplied libraries of button-object menu items to help the viewer navigate through your production.
The third menu element is text. As you would expect, you have full access to all fonts installed on the computer, with control over font attributes like bold, italicize, and underline. Ulead also provides a nice assortment of text effects like emboss, fire, snow, neon, and drop shadows. You can also customize the "state colors" for each button—essentially, the color the button turns to when selected. Finally, as with all buttons, you can adjust the brightness, contrast, and transparency values for all text objects.
What we like best, however, are the alignment controls and the ability to copy and paste attributes. This makes it simple to ensure that your text and other objects are properly spaced and that the edges align, and if you ever decide to change fonts, you don't have to tweak each text line by hand.
Ulead has also added controls to make buttons equal height and width, extraordinarily useful when resizing multiple objects that ultimately need to be the same size. With DVDit!, you have to do this manually, a frustrating and time-consuming process. We also liked the ability to save any menu as a template, simplifying the creation of consistent menus over an entire project.