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Posted Apr 1, 2002 Print Version     Page 1of 5 next »

A new class of easy-to-use authoring tools is transforming DVD creation from a complicated craft into an automated task for home computers. The manufacturers say these consumer-oriented products are ideal for birthday parties and vacation videos, but does that make them toys that forego "pro" features in favor of sub-par performance and pedestrian-user pandering? Are these products serious enough for corporate users as well?

April 2002|Over the last two-odd years, EMedia has followed the rapid devaluation of DVD authoring currency. Blue-chip DVD authoring engines that once solely endowed the aristocratic authoring interfaces of premium-priced systems now toil to meet the DVD desires of much more modest and affordable consumer products. Call it economic strife in the DVD authoring world bringing prices, as well as companies, down; or capitalist cleverness eyeing a consumer electronics windfall. Either way, DVD authoring's economic exclusivity is gone and it's now a buyer's market.

What does this mean to the emerging class of DVD professionals—not so much the professional authors and post housers, who'll still do most of their work on high-end systems, but business users whose DVD needs and skills are relatively basic, but bottom line-sensitive all the same? Do these overtly consumer-oriented tools represent a simpler and cheaper way for professionals to get video onto DVD and get the job done? In essence, can the business class ride coach?

To find out, we looked at five "consumer-level" Windows products that are all priced below $100: Sonic Solutions' MyDVD, Dazzle's DVD Complete, MedioStream's neoDVD, Pinnacle Systems' Express, and Ulead's DVD MovieFactory on Windows. We also take a fresh look at Apple's recent release of iDVD version 2.0, a free application currently available only with the purchase of specific Apple G4 system configurations.

Pro Form, ah?
If you relish thorough control of DVD authoring parameters—like General Purpose Register Memories, and pre- and post-commands—you've come to the wrong place. These six software applications have a much different priority than creating complicated, multi-angle titles with six languages and three subtitles. They don't support copyright protection or closed captioning and none does Karaoke. They're all were designed to appeal to a broad public with camcorders and kiddie footage, but they do a job that even professionals can't ignore.

The bottom line with any DVD authoring application is creating a consumer player-compatible DVD-Video disc image. If the project isn't complex, high-end authoring pro interfaces can slow that process. Each of these entry-level tools eschews rich programming in favor of a drag-and-drop or wizard interface that's accessible to DVD newcomers and efficient for simple productions. Media clips are automatically converted to compliant MPEG-2. Menu buttons are automatically created from a frame of the video clip, and links are made, too. Navigation is basic. And each application includes a preview function so you can simulate DVD playback of your title during authoring.

Each application also directly controls a DVD burner and writes the disc. Since each of the Windows products leverages Microsoft's FireWire driver for direct capture from a DV camcorder, we used CDCyclone's DVDRevo FireWire OEM version of Pioneer's DVR-A03 drive to test each of the Windows-based applications. Each of those products also supports DVD-RAM drives and plans to add support for new drives and burners as they appear on the market, including DVD+RW drives. At this time, Apple's iDVD2 only works with Apple's SuperDrive-branded version of Pioneer's DVR-A03 burner.

Pro Fusion?
While these entry-level tools aren't matching feature sets with high-end authoring stations, there are some surprising comparisons.

First, three of the six products—MyDVD, DVD Complete, and DVD MovieFactory—can insert chapter marks into video clips, a staple DVD authoring feature that allows viewers to watch entire clips or jump in at specified points. DVD Complete and DVD MovieFactory do this by scrubbing through videos and manually marking points. MyDVD adds chapter points, but only during video capture, not import, and does so either at a set time interval or manually by hitting the spacebar during capture.

iDVD2 and DVD Complete both support rather exclusive Motion Menus. Generically, "Motion Menus" refer to static buttons over a moving video background, although recently some products have added motion to the buttons themselves, effectively playing the video clip in a window of the menu. iDVD2's motion menus do both and can have both static and motion buttons in the same project. DVD Complete supports motion buttons, but only static graphic or photographic backgrounds.

Thanks to digital camcorders with OS-supported FireWire connectivity, most of the applications hint at encoding workstation capabilities with machine-controlled video capture. Only Apple's iDVD does not do it, although the companion iMovie does. Each Windows product even includes modest clip-trimming capabilities (Apple's iMovie edits video), and neoDVD and Express can add minor dissolve/fade effects between appended clips.

The Windows products also support output to CD-ROM and VideoCD and Express adds SuperVideoCD. Apple's iDVD only offers DVD output. MyDVD supports widescreen, which is becoming a common feature of consumer camcorders. And DVD Complete exotically has region control and parental lock features, as well as an error log—features generally reserved for top-flight tools. DVD Complete can even swap button—HiLite images for when they are selected by the user's remote for highly customized menu styles.

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