DVD Creation - EMusician

DVD Creation

Remember how exciting it was when you burned your first CD? Making your first DVD can be just as a big a thrill, and the medium offers creative musicians
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Remember how exciting it was when you burned your first CD? Making your first DVD can be just as a big a thrill, and the medium offers creative musicians and artists an ideal platform for their work. DVD-R and DVD-Audio are still unfamiliar to most recording musicians and producers, and as with any new technology, if you want to take advantage of these exciting delivery and storage media, you need to have the right tools and a clear understanding of how to use them.

Finding the right tools is fairly easy because we've done the initial legwork for you. In the second and third articles in our triple feature (“The View Through Windows” and “Power Tools for the Mac”), we discuss the leading affordable programs you should consider for transcoding, authoring, and burning DVDs on the PC and Mac. Armed with this information, you can figure out which program is likely to be right for you.

However, the process of creating your own DVDs is a lot more involved than that of burning a CD. There are a number of potential pitfalls because of the variety of steps creating a DVD-Video disc entails; the vagaries of DVD hardware, software, and media; incompatibility among the various DVD formats; and other problems.

Fortunately, we have you covered there, too. The first of our three features on DVD creation explains what you're up against and how to get the job done right, with minimal frustration and wasted effort. So take your time and study these three stories carefully. The test comes when you make your first DVD, and we're going to help you make it a work of art.

The Inside Track

By Dennis Miller with Chris Armbrust

Making your own DVDs can be tricky but worthwhile. We show you how to do it right.

Making a DVD on the desktop involves three basic stages: transcoding, authoring, and burning. Some software can handle all three steps, but as is often the case with integrated programs, the range of features and customization options within each stage is usually far more limited than with dedicated software. In this article, we will take a look at these and other issues involved with making DVDs and discuss representative products for Mac and Windows that you might find useful.

We'll also explore some of the creative possibilities that DVD presents and will share comments from developers who are working with the medium. (For a more general overview of the technical aspects of DVD, see “World of Options” in the August 2001 issue of EM.) DVD-Audio is of particular interest to musicians and music producers, so we'll look at the current status of DVD-Audio and discuss some reasonably priced software you can use for making DVD-Audio discs (see the sidebar “What About DVD-Audio?”).

TRANSCODING

Transcoding is the process of converting your media files from their native format to MPEG-2, a lossy compression format that is required for DVD. The amount of compression used is variable and is determined primarily by the selected bit rate. The MPEG-2 standard was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) for use with a broad range of source materials and for a variety of different applications (including satellite transmission). It includes a number of different profiles and levels, which are subsets of the full standard that have been defined to handle different types of implementations.

Transcoding (also called encoding, especially when video is being converted during transfer from a device such as a camcorder to a computer's hard drive) is easily the most important step in determining the final quality of your DVDs, and the process can involve a maze of adjustable parameters. If you have a video capture card such as the Canopus DVStorm2 ($1,088) or the Pinnacle AVDV Capture Card ($299; part of the Studio Deluxe bundle), you can capture video from an analog or digital camcorder and encode it directly to MPEG-2 format using the card's hardware encoder. (There are some applications that can do this entirely with software as well; more about that later). Depending on the type of video-capture hardware you own, you'll find various adjustable settings to control the encoding process.

If, on the other hand, you're working with QuickTime or AVI files, perhaps in a video editor such as Adobe Premiere ($549) or Apple Final Cut Pro ($999), you'll need to transcode your program material before authoring can begin. Versions of Premiere prior to 6.5 and all versions of Final Cut Pro are unable to perform this task on their own, so you'll need an application such as Ligos LSX-MPEG or Canopus Procoder if you're running Windows. On the Mac, discreet cleaner ($599; also available for Windows), Apple's iDVD, or the MPEG encoder included with Apple's DVD Studio Pro will do the job. LSX-MPEG and Procoder can run standalone or plug-ins with Premiere.

ALPHABET SOUP

There are two basic methods of transcoding: constant bit rate (CBR) and variable bit rate (VBR). As its name implies, CBR uses a single rate for the entire transcoding process; it is especially appropriate for program material that runs 30 to 40 minutes or less. Transcoding is faster with CBR because the transcoder does not have to alter the bit rate as it does using VBR. With VBR, the transcoder adapts to your material: complex scenes and transitions get more bits and simple scenes and transitions get fewer. VBR typically uses a two-pass process; the transcoder does an analysis of the material the first time through; then it uses that analysis to determine how to “spend” the bits. Depending on the material, VBR often allows you to put more data onto a disc with quality equal to or better than CBR would provide.

When planning your projects, you'll generally need to do some bit budgeting to ensure that you encode your assets (video, music, and still images) at the highest quality possible — that is, using the least amount of compression — without exceeding the capacity of a disc. DVDs have a capacity of 4.7 GB, and it's a good idea to stay at least 5 percent under the maximum.

If you encode the video at a reasonably high bit rate of 7 Mbps (7,000 Kbps) and encode one stereo 48 kHz, 16-bit PCM (uncompressed) audio stream at the rate of 1.536 Mbps (sampling rate × bit resolution × 2 channels), you can fit about an hour of material on one disc. (DVD can handle different types of audio and a variable number of channels, each of which requires a different amount of bandwidth. See the sidebar “Audio Options for DVD-Video”.) To fit two full hours of material (such as a Hollywood movie) onto a disc, lower rates are used for the video, and the audio is compressed. It is also possible to put audio only on a DVD-Video disc.

You might assume that you can just calculate the highest bit rate for the total playing time of your material and proceed. That's not exactly correct: the DVD spec allows for a top rate of 9.8 Mbps, which is the maximum bandwidth that the medium can handle. This rate is the combined total of all the rates used for your visual images and audio tracks. (Other information on the disc extends the capacity, but that is not a concern here.) If the total for all your material exceeds that rate, the disc won't play. Also keep in mind that most modern computers use software decoders to play DVDs, and it's a good idea to stay well under the 9.8 Mbps maximum rate if you want your discs to play on a wide range of desktops or laptops.

Even if you specify bit-rate settings for your audio and video that fall below 9.8 Mbps, transcoders often allow spikes well above the maximum to remain in the file. If you happen to create a file with too high a rate, then when you load the file into your authoring software, some authoring programs will inform you that your material exceeds the maximum rate and will simply refuse to go on. Other software will allow you to proceed without any warning, which means that you'll end up with useless files, perhaps after having run an all-night transcoding job. You can use a utility such as Teco's BitRate Viewer ($27) for Windows to find out the maximum bit rate in an MPEG-2 file (see Fig. 1).

TRANSCODING PRESETS

Most programs provide presets for different types of transcoding. No doubt you'll find “NTSC DVD” or something similar in the list of default options, and the default settings often work fine. If you dig a little deeper, you'll come across a vast range of settings, including things such as DC coefficient, motion estimation, and field order. In the case of the first two, the higher the setting, the better — enough said. However, settings such as field order require that you know some specifics of your program material — in this case, whether it uses upper, lower, or no fields — in order to pick the correct option.

Unfortunately, when you look at the documentation of your transcoding software, you'll often find cryptic messages such as “Changing the VBV (Video Buffer Verifier) size may produce an MPEG clip that is not playable on your playback device. Make sure your VBV setting is compatible with your playback device.” Good luck trying to find any information about “VBV” in the manual of your new DVD player; it's best just to leave the setting at its default and experiment with other parameters that are more familiar.

Often the best way to determine the ideal settings for your DVD is trial and error. This makes a strong case for using DVD-RW or DVD+RW, which, like CD-RW, allows you to reuse your discs. For material such as animation, where there can be rapid changes between scenes and a wide color gamut, you may need to experiment with many different settings to get the best quality. On the other hand, a simple, slow-moving video of a placid lake will probably look fine using the default DVD presets, everything else being equal.

PREPARE THYSELF

As with audio, knowing how your video is going to be delivered makes a huge difference in your transcoding settings. There isn't room here to go into all the fine points of preparing your video material for different delivery methods, but a few pointers are in order. For DVDs that are going to be played back on a TV, you'll want to use nonsquare pixels, keep the color range limited, and use interlaced frames. For DVDs that are intended for playback on a computer screen, you should use square pixels, an expanded color range (computer monitors can display many more colors than TVs), and progressive (aka noninterlaced) frames.

Whatever transcoding software you end up with, be sure to spend lots of time at the users forum of the company you buy from. No doubt you will find many people with the same questions you have.

AUTHORING

Authoring is the step that provides the most creative opportunities in the DVD-production process. What happens when the user first puts a disc in his or her player? How many chapter (index) points will the disc have that the user can jump to randomly? What about multiple subtitles or soundtracks? These and many other aspects of a DVD are determined with authoring software. With a little effort, you can create your own Hollywood-style DVDs.

This section explores a number of authoring concepts. Before you jump in, take a look at the sidebar “Anatomy of a Disc” for background on the various elements of a DVD that you can control, along with definitions of some relevant terms. See the sidebar “Top 10 Authoring Tips” for additional suggestions.

WHAT'S THE PLAN?

Even for a simple DVD, you need a plan. More up-front preparation results in a better disc and a less frustrating creation process. Aauthoring tools let you do a lot of improvising as you go along, but you need to give serious thought to how you want the viewer to experience your DVD before you start.

One of the first things you need to determine is what the viewer will see when the disc is loaded into a player or drive. Most often, a disc will either begin to play automatically or will present the viewer with a menu of options. You determine the sequence of events by specifying a startup action. For example, many authoring programs let you define one of your video clips as the first play. The clip might be your actual video, or it might be a sequence that includes an opening or splash video (and/or the FBI warning), then a transition to the main or top-level menu.

You'll often find discs that are configured to auto play and stop. This approach works just like linear tape in that the user loads the disc, it plays, and when it is done, it stops (no rewinding is necessary, though!). To create this type of DVD, just define your movie as the first play of the disc; you don't need to define any end action. Another approach is auto play and loop. Discs configured this way are great for trade-show booths or kiosks and are easily created by having the end action of the video point back to the beginning.

Creating a disc that can “play one scene or play all” gives you even more flexibility. DVDs of this sort use various types of menu structures and are more interactive than the basic configurations described earlier. Depending on the number of scenes you wish to make accessible, you can have just a single menu or a hierarchy of menus that allows jumps to any number of points on the disc.

YOU'RE MY TYPE

DVD authoring packages differ in terms of the number of features and the amount of flexibility they offer, and features are presented in varying ways from program to program. You need to be sure that the software you pick provides the features to create the type of disc you are after. In general, you'll find three different approaches to working with your material.

Menu or wizard based

This style is found in many entry-level programs, such as those bundled with DVD drives. It provides menus for importing assets and determining navigation paths and is best for simple, straightforward DVDs without too many buttons or menus.

Timeline based

Here, movies, menus, and slide shows are presented on a timeline or in a list. You connect the various assets by picking the destination you want from a list provided in a window or menu. This style of program can work well for complex projects, but you don't have a visual overview of your project's structure.

Flowchart or graphical layout

This approach is the most flexible. It typically assigns each asset an icon on the screen. You create the navigation path and the various links you want by drawing connections between the various icons or accessing a dialog showing each asset's attributes and specifying what action you want it to have (for example, defining what action should occur when a button is pressed). This type of interface allows you to see the structure of a disc, but if you use numerous menus and links, the screen can become cluttered and a bit overwhelming.

NEXT STEPS

After you've gathered your assets and configured the structure of your DVD, you can preview the project to see how things line up. The preview will give you a good idea of what the disc will look like when played. If things look and sound good, then you'll finish the authoring phase by creating the various DVD files on your hard drive. Files are stored in a very specific directory structure that includes folders called Video_TS and Audio_TS (see Fig. 2). To get a last look at how your project will appear on disc after you've created these files, point your software DVD player to a file with the extension VOB in the Video_TS directory and start playback.

Keep in mind that most set-top DVD players will manage the basic features of DVD just fine, but the handling of advanced features such as multiple angles, subtitles, and multiple audio tracks is implemented differently. As a result, it's a good idea to check your disc on as many machines as you can before sending it out for manufacturing.

NOTES TO SELF

A DVD project will consume two to four times the amount of disk space your basic assets take up, and a typical project can require 10 or 20 gigabytes. Also, transcoding, multiplexing, and burning your DVD can take as much as five times the length of the actual playing time, so plan for this in your schedule and in your delivery commitment.

Above all, organization is the key to keeping a project manageable. You can easily have dozens or even hundreds of individual asset files for a relatively complex project, and a logical folder structure and naming convention will help you keep track of your material. Periodic backups (every day, or even every hour) will save lots of grief and time.

Finally, only make the DVD as complicated as necessary to accomplish your desired objectives. In most cases, simpler is better.

ADD-ON BURNERS

Some Macs have had DVD burners for a while, but built-in burners on the PC have sprung up only recently. As a sign of the times, you'll find that different companies offer different types of devices. For example, recent Dell systems offer a DVD+RW; Gateway offers a DVD-R.

Adding a DVD burner to a Windows machine that is capable of handling the task can be as simple as removing the existing CD-ROM drive from the computer and substituting a DVD drive. Some drive manufacturers, such as Pioneer, recommend that selected drive models use Programmable Input Output (PIO) mode for data transfer rather than the more current (and common) DMA mode. Look at your IDE controller settings in Windows Device Manager to see if you can locate this option if your drive requires it.

As of this writing, Pioneer had just introduced the A05 DVD-R/RW burner ($299). Hewlett Packard's latest models are the dvd200e (external; $449) and dvd200I ($499; internal) DVD+R/RW burners. Sony offers a hybrid drive, the DRU-500A ($349), which has the unique ability to burn DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/+RW, and, like the others, CD-Rs. Typically, add-on drives such as these include entry-level authoring and burning software.

Mac owners can find both USB and FireWire DVD burners starting at around $399 in both DVD-R and DVD+R formats. For example, the Formac devideon superdrive, an external FireWire unit, comes with transcoding and authoring software (see “Power Tools for the Mac” on p. 72). Not all Apple software supports such drives, though — for example, iDVD only works with Apple's internal SuperDrive — so look on the Apple Web site to see if your drive is compatible with the Apple software you want to use.

Keep in mind that the designation used to measure DVD burn speeds is different from that used for CD. A rating of “1x” on a DVD equals 1.385 Mbps; “1x” for CDs equals 150 Kbps. Also, most DVD drives are somewhat slower at burning CDs than dedicated CD burners. The Pioneer A05, for example, is one of the fastest DVD drives around, yet offers burn speeds of only 16x for CD-R and 8x for CD-RW, and its read speed for CDs is 32x. If you have an extra drive bay and IDE connector, you might want to keep your existing CD burner onboard, especially if it is fairly new and fast.

SET-TOP BURNERS

One solution that allows you to avoid many of the potential problems of DVD creation is to use a set-top DVD burner/player. Units such as the Philips DVDR985 ($799; see Fig. 3) and the Pioneer DVDR 7000 ($1,295) offer tremendous advantages over doing it all on the desktop. For starters, they both have FireWire inputs, so you can capture audio and video directly from a DV camcorder or computer-based digital-video output card with no signal loss. And with their included composite and S-video connectors, you can even convert your old home movies from analog to digital and/or send them to your computer through a FireWire input. Both also provide several recording-quality levels, typically allowing from one to two hours of recording time per disc. Because the units use custom chips to do the encoding in real time, the highest quality levels produce output easily equal to the best output you'll get using dedicated transcoding software.

One downside of using an external burner is the limited authoring abilities such units offer. You won't find nearly the range of options that even the most basic authoring software provides, which means you can't configure your DVD to auto-play when it is put into a DVD player or even to restart when it ends. However, most units allow you to add chapter points either while recording or afterward (or both), and you can add titles to the videos on your disc. Moreover, because the operating systems of such devices are typically upgradeable, it won't be surprising to find that ever more features are added to this type of unit.

Also, if you're in the market for a new camcorder, you might look at a model that records directly to DVD, such as the recently announced Hitachi UltraVision Digital DZ-MV350A ($995) and DZ-MV380A ($1,095). Both record MPEG-2 video directly to a DVD-RAM or DVD-R disc, which you can then drop into your computer's DVD drive. Here again, you'll save time on the encoding stage by creating video files that are ready for authoring.

MEDIA MATTERS

Take a look at an ad for DVD media these days, and you'll see dozens of options. What you won't see immediately is whether the medium in question is actually suitable for video or is only able to store data. For example, a recent ad for inexpensive DVD-R blanks mentions that the product is rated “Grade A,” but when pressed, the supplier couldn't explain what that rating represented. One thing is certain: a 50-cent DVD disc of any format is not going to play in many DVD players.

Even among major brands, there are significant compatibility issues. A test reported in the July 2002 issue of Digital Video magazine gave Maxell DVD blanks the highest rating for compatibility among various brands of set-top DVD players. Pioneer, which makes its own media, reported in its tests that its brands were the most compatible. For the most part, you're best off staying with one of the more familiar names in the blank-media market, and you can probably find out from the manufacturer of your hardware what specific brands they recommend.

To complicate matters, just as we were going to press, a consortium of nine major companies has agreed on a spec for a new type of video-disc recording format to be called Blu-ray Disc. This format supports up to 27 GB of data on a single-sided disc. The format is targeted at high-definition images and should start to appear late in the summer of 2003. These discs will not be compatible with existing players.

OUT THE DOOR

Once you've completed your masterpiece, no doubt you'll want to send it out to the world. As with CDs, there are two means of mass producing your disc: replication and duplication. Replication is the process used by Hollywood for commercial DVDs and offers nearly a 100 percent guarantee that your discs will play in any machine. Disc replicators usually require a minimum run of around 1,000, and you can expect to pay about $2,500 for the disc and four-color packaging. Some companies, such as Disc Makers, are starting to offer replication runs for quantities as small as 300.

Duplication is the same process that is used to burn a disc on the desktop. You'll find companies that will do as few as 100 or even 50 discs, but the per-disc price is not cheap, and the discs are no more likely to play than homemade discs.

Until recently, disc manufacturers required a DLT (digital linear tape) as a master, which meant you needed yet another piece of gear to get in the game. Fortunately, most manufacturers now accept DVD-Rs for either type of production job. And don't overlook small-run duplicators such as Microboards' two-drive, manual-loading QD-DVD ($895). The same company's Orbit DVD ($2,495) is an automated loader with a 50-disc capacity. Both units can record DVD-Rs at 45 speed and will also duplicate CDs at 16x. Neither unit will connect to your computer, but Microboards offers other models that add that capability.

EMassociate editorDennis Millerthanks Gary Hall for his help with this article. Chris Armbrustis executive producer and chief technical officer of Marin Digital in Marin, California. You can reach him atinfo@marin-digital.comor throughwww.marin-digital.com.

MANUFACTURER CONTACTS

Adobe Systems tel. (800) 833-6687 or (408) 536-6000; Web www.adobe.com

Apple Computer tel. (408) 996-1010; Web www.apple.com

Canopus tel. (888) 899-EDIT; sales@canopus.com; www.canopus.com

Creative Labs tel. (800) 998-1000 or (408) 428-6600; Web www.creativelabs.com or www.soundblaster.com

Disc Makers tel. (800) 468-9353 or (856) 663-9030; e-mail info@discmakers.com; Web www.discmakers.com

discreet tel. (800) 869-3504; e-mail infoline-support@discreet.com; Web www.discreet.com

Formac tel. (510) 528-9300; e-mail sales@formac.com; Web www.formac.com

Hewlett Packard tel. (800) 752-0900; Web www.hp.com

Hitachi tel. (800) 448-2244 or (914) 631-0600; Web www.hitachi.com

Ligos tel. (415) 249-0100; e-mail sales@ligos.com; Web www.ligos.com

Microboards tel. (800) 646-8881 or (952) 556-1600; e-mail sales@microboards.com; Web www.microboardsproaudio.com

Minnetonka Audio Software tel. (612) 449-6481; e-mail info@minnetonkaaudio; Web www.minnetonkaaudio.com

Philips Consumer Electronics North America tel. (770) 821-2400; Web www.consumer.philips.com

Pinnacle tel. (650) 526-1600; e-mail sales@pinnaclesys.com; Web www.pinnaclesys.com

Pioneer tel. (800) PIONEER; Web www.pioneerelectronics.com

Sonic Solutions tel. (888) SONIC97 or (415) 893-8000; e-mail info@sonic.com; Web www.sonic.com

Sony tel. (877) 865-SONY; Web www.sony.com

Teco (Hungary) tel. 36-1253-0038; Web www.tecoltd.com

ANATOMY OF A DISC

A DVD-Video disc is a maze of files connected by a navigational system that is configured during the authoring process. Here are a number of the most common terms and features relating to DVD creation. Few DVDs use all of these options, but understanding them will help you achieve your creative vision.

Angles: DVD-Video allows up to nine streams of video to run in parallel. These streams, which are available to the user at the click of a button, can be different views of a scene — for example, footage from different cameras at a concert. The more streams you have, the shorter the disc's total playing time will be.

Asset: An asset is any digital file, whether audio, video, or still graphic, that will be used for the DVD. Depending on the authoring tool, the asset may need to be in a particular format.

Audio formats: DVD-V supports the following audio formats: Dolby Digital (AC-3), MPEG-2, PCM, and DTS (Digital Theater Surround). NTSC players will play AC-3 and PCM audio, while PAL players support PCM or MPEG-2. The other formats are optional.

Audio tracks: There can be up to eight audio tracks (streams) for each video stream. In addition to commentaries and multilanguage dialog, alternate audio tracks could include different story lines, different mixes (for example, stereo and 5.1), and user-selectable soundtracks. Users can switch between the audio tracks on the fly, but there is typically a 1- or 2-second gap when changing the track.

Chapters: Chapters are index points in the video that can be accessed randomly. Each chapter can be a separate video clip, and there can be as many as 99 chapters per video track.

Closed captions: These consist of text of the dialog and a description of the sound effects, generally displayed at the bottom of the screen. Two closed-caption streams per movie are allowed. Most “prosumer” authoring tools support this popular feature.

Menus: Menus are still graphics or video (or animated-motion graphics) linked to buttons and used to select navigation options. As you can with rollover states in Web pages, you can define highlight states for a menu.

MPEG (MPEG-2): The video- (and optionally audio-) compression coding used when files in their native format (AVI, MOV, WAV, and so on) are compressed for use on a DVD.

Multiplex (mux): The process in which the authoring software combines the video, audio, and subpictures into a stream. This stream is then demultiplexed by the DVD player to select the angle, audio track, and subtitle that the user has chosen.

Scripts (command sequences): Used to create more complex levels of interactivity and functionality for a DVD than can be accomplished by simply linking menu buttons to video clips.

Stills: Graphic images used for menus, slide shows, or subpictures.

Subpictures: Graphics or text that overlays the basic video stream. Often used for subtitles, they can be any bitmap image, such as a map or even music notation. DVD movies can have up to 32 subpicture streams.

Title safe: The center 80 percent of the picture that the viewer will see on their TV. If you know your disc won't be used on a set-top player, then it is acceptable to go all the way to the edge with your graphics for titles and buttons. If you are outside of the center 80 percent of the picture, you take the chance that, on TVs, your titles or buttons will not be visible.

TOP 10 AUTHORING TIPS

  1. Always start your DVD with a video, even if it is very short.
  2. Lay out your menus so that movement between buttons is logical. Remember that people may be viewing your DVD on a computer or set-top player.
  3. Don't have too many buttons on your menus; seven or fewer is a good number.
  4. Make sure that your menus are title safe. Most authoring software will have a template to check your work for title safety.
  5. Remember to include a Return to Main button in all menus.
  6. The first (or top) button is often the default button. Make sure the graphic design of your menu and button placement make this obvious to the user.
  7. Add 15 seconds or more of black at the end of your video source material. If your work is being presented at a public concert or screening, you don't want the DVD player's menu screen to pop up immediately after the grand finale of your piece.
  8. View your disc on a computer and on a set-top DVD player so that you aren't surprised by how it looks or sounds.
  9. Media is cheap, so use two types of stock: inexpensive for testing and for use on a DVD drive and best quality for discs that you send out of your studio.
  10. Include a 5.1 and a 2-channel stereo mix so users will be able to hear your work in the best format their systems can provide.

The View Through Windows

By Dennis Miller

PC users can choose from a wide variety of tools.

When it comes to DVD-creation tools, the Windows world excels. You'll find numerous products designed for users at all levels, from entry level to the highest end of the spectrum, including integrated tools that combine all aspects of the process and dedicated software that focuses on only one or two key areas.

Another trend seems to be the appearance of DVD creation utilities in more general-purpose audio software. For example, MPEG-2 transcoding features are now available in Sonic Foundry's Acid Pro 4.0 ($399 packaged; $349 download) and Vegas 4.0 ($699; see Fig. 1), and Acid supports direct burning of multichannel audio onto a DVD using the optional 5.1 Surround Plug-In Pack ($399; see the sidebar “Creating Audio-Only Titles for DVD-Video”).

Keep in mind that familiar names in the CD-burning business, such as Roxio Easy CD Creator 5.x and Nero 5.5, only support burning data onto a DVD; you can't make a video DVD for use in a standalone player with either program. Roxio's newly released Easy CD & DVD Creator 6 (which I'll describe later) includes authoring features and fully supports DVD-Video creation.

INTEGRATED DVD SOFTWARE

Integrated DVD software typically offers all three of the main DVD-creation operations: encoding/transcoding, authoring, and burning. These programs are often aimed at consumers, usually sell for under $100, and are typically used by people who want to transfer movies from either a DV camcorder or an analog source to DVD. Software of this type also works with preexisting audio and video files that you have on your system and is a good place to start your DVD explorations. What's more, because it's often bundled with DVD hardware, the price is right.

In this niche, Sonic Solutions MyDVD 4.0, several products from Pinnacle (including Expression 2.1 and Studio 8.0), and Roxio Easy CD & DVD Creator 6.0 are among the key players. (Sonic Foundry's DVD Architect 1.0 is somewhat different in design.) All of these programs allow you to work your way through the DVD-creation process, from capturing source material (you'll need a FireWire card installed to capture DV, of course) to adding menus and titles to burning your disc. During capturing, the material is encoded directly to MPEG-2 format, which is a huge time-saver, although you get only a few adjustable settings.

These programs offer helpful features such as Expression's scene detection, which automatically adds index points to your captured footage so you can find your way through the various scenes, and MyDVD's ability to automatically add chapter points while capturing. You can add music tracks, menus, and titles, and style templates are included to get you started. Output formats for these programs include DVD, VCD (video data on a CD), and SVCD; of all the integrated DVD software packages available for Windows, only Easy CD & DVD Creator can burn audio CDs.

Sonic Solutions MyDVD 4.0 ($79). MyDVD's Direct-to-DVD feature is a simple way to create a complete disc in just a few steps (see Fig. 2). First configure the program for your hardware and temporary data-storage location, then pick a menu and output medium. Also change the recording quality (Good, Better, or Best) and menu style if needed. Press the Start Capturing button, and you are on your way: MyDVD will capture the source video to your hard drive and then burn the disc without user input. You can burn multiple discs (up to 99) in one session, though of course you will have to feed your DVD drive a new blank after each burn is completed.

When you add existing files from your hard drive in any of the supported formats (MOV, AVI, WMA, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2), MyDVD will automatically add a button to your project for each new clip. You won't find a large number of authoring features, but you can add chapter points to your discs either manually or automatically while capturing or after. You can also select whether all the clips on a disc will play in succession or whether the player will stop after each clip and display a menu.

The program allows you to use your own bitmaps for buttons that link to the start of a video clip but not for chapter points within a clip, and you can perform simple edits to a clip (such as changing its start and end time) using the dedicated Trimmer window.

MyDVD includes a basic but useful video editor (titled Showbiz) that can save files in several common formats, including WMV, MOV, AVI, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2. Among its features are a number of real-time transitions and effects, an interface that toggles between a timeline and a storyboard, and the ability to output to an external DV device. Showbiz integrates well with the authoring side of the program and is a nice enhancement to it.

Pinnacle Expression 2.1 ($49). Expression is the entry point into Pinnacle's large line of DVD-creation tools. It's shorter on authoring tools than the other software in this group but allows you to make DVDs with more than a bit of style and personality.

The Expression interface is largely graphics based and consists of three main work areas: one for capturing and importing video and other assets, one for previewing your project and choosing menu styles, and the third for burning the disc (see Fig. 3). There's no timeline on which you can lay out your video clips visually; instead, you use the Edit Video Dialog box to arrange the clips in a playlist format. This dialog is also where you can trim or rename clips or add still images that you want to use for a slide show. You can set the duration for every image in the slide show, add transitions between images, or even force the duration of the slide show to fit a preexisting audio file that you have imported. You can also edit your images in various ways, such as rotating, mirroring, or color-correcting them.

When you're ready to burn your disc, click on the Settings button, and you'll see a screen where you can pick one of three default transcode settings (Automatic, Best, or Good) or manually enter a bit rate between 2,000 and 8,000 Mbps. Expression's Disc Meter tells you how much time will remain on the type of disc you have chosen (DVD, VCD, or SVCD) and updates as you change your settings. After burning, you can use the included label-marker program, which will automatically add the names of the graphic and text elements of your DVD project to the label.

Other Pinnacle software. Among the other programs in the extended Expression family are Studio 8.0 ($199) and Studio Deluxe ($299), which includes a combo analog-video and FireWire card. These bundles offer ever more video-editing features, which is not surprising, given Pinnacle's major position in the video world. The Studio series provides features such as preset transitions, fast- and slow-motion effects, and sophisticated titling options. On the audio side, both programs allow you to rip audio data from a CD and import MP3 files for use as background music.

Pinnacle's software-only tool set tops out with Edition DV ($699), which is a high-end video editor that includes a direct-to-DVD option. Pinnacle's Impression DVD-Pro authoring program (which I will describe shortly) is part of the Edition DV bundle.

Roxio Easy CD & DVD Creator 6.0 ($79). Brand new to market, Roxio's latest release expands on the features of its CD-only predecessor and now supports both data and video DVDs. The software's DVD-authoring features are found in an application called DVDBuilder, which is one of a number of programs included in the bundle. (Creator Classic, the newest version of the original Easy CD Creator application, has also undergone a major overhaul.)

Like the other programs in this group, Easy CD & DVD Creator can encode video from a camcorder directly to MPEG-2 format, but it can also import images from a digital camera or scanner. Each time you start capture or import a file from your hard drive, a new video clip, complete with a menu button, is added to the project window (see Fig. 4).

It's easy to reorder your clips by dragging them to new positions, and you can start or end each clip with a transition by assigning it one of a number of preset transitions that you'll find in the Transition Library. (Transition times are set as 1, 3, and 5 seconds.) Adding audio to a video clip is also a snap: just right-click on the clip and select Attach Audio. You can also replace any existing audio using the same menu option. This is especially handy because the preset menu styles come complete with their own canned music, which you'll probably want to replace.

Easy CD & DVD Creator doesn't allow you to pick a directory when you save a project; instead, it uses the default capture directory that you specify in your Preferences. And some of its modular windows (such as the Import Files screen) seem to disappear at unexpected times; a Window or View menu option would be useful. But overall, the program offers major enhancements over the previous version and includes all the tools you'll need to complete a wide range of projects.

Sonic Foundry DVD Architect 1.0 (in Vegas+DVD bundle, $999 packaged, $699 download). Another integrated program, DVD Architect 1.0 is very different from the three I've just discussed. You can only buy DVD Architect in a bundle with Sonic Foundry's video editor, Vegas, and the application supports transcoding and burning but not capture. (A capture utility is included with Vegas.) The two programs run separately but play well together. For example, you can set chapter points on the Vegas timeline that can be read in DVD Architect.

DVD Architect's main work area, called the Workspace, is where you drag the media assets for your DVD (see Fig. 5). There's a host of tools for laying out and aligning menus and buttons, and you have extensive control over how the screen will look when the disc is loaded into a DVD player. Simulating playback is easy using the Preview screen, where you'll find a virtual remote control. When you're ready to burn the DVD, hit the Prepare button, and DVD Architect will alert you to any errors or problems with your files.

Although DVD Architect's interface is very graphical, it doesn't give you quite the flexibility of a timeline-based, dedicated authoring application such as Pinnacle's Impression DVD-Pro. For example, DVD Architect lets you associate an audio track with your video tracks, but you can't manually align the audio track with any arbitrary point in the video. You would be wise to prepare all your source materials elsewhere, then import everything into the program.

DVD Architect can transcode video files in a number of different formats to MPEG-2, but maximum bit rate is the only adjustable setting. If you want more options for fine-tuning transcoding jobs, you can use the MainConcept Professional MPEG Plug-In included with Vegas. That will be a good resource if your video assets are varied or if you want to customize your settings.

TRANSCODING SOFTWARE

A dedicated transcoding program is the right tool for the professional who wants it all. Among this group are Ligos LSX-MPEG 2.0, Canopus Procoder 1.2, Heuris MPEG Power Professional (MPP) 2.5, and Pegasys's TMPGEnc Plus 2.5. TMPGEnc is available only as a standalone application. LSX-MPEG is available in a standalone version and separately as a plug-in for Adobe Premiere. The same version of Procoder will work either standalone or as a Premiere plug-in. MPP runs standalone or as a plug-in for QuickTime on both the PC and Mac.

In this group, you'll find a vast range of parameters to tweak every aspect of the transcoding process. From common settings such as bit rate to the most esoteric settings imaginable, almost nothing has been left out. Fortunately, templates are also included for many types of jobs; one of them will probably be a good starting point for your projects.

Procoder and MPP both include excellent printed documentation — some of the best I've seen. LSX-MPEG only offers a help file, though it is extensive and covers nearly every aspect of the program, and TMPGEnc offers context-sensitive help through an included HTML file. Procoder, MPP, and TMPGEnc have a batch-encoding feature that allows you to transcode large numbers of files, even if you're using different file formats for input or are converting to different types of output. LSX-MPEG can take advantage of Premiere's batch capabilities when running as a plug-in.

Because transcoding time can be extensive, I ran a test to compare the speeds of these four programs. I intended to use a full-size (720 × 480 pixels) 5-minute DV-encoded AVI file (just over 2 GB) consisting of an abstract animation with music, but MPP crashed when I attempted to transcode the audio and video in the same pass. (Heuris reports that it uses QuickTime for its DV transcoding under Windows and that there are known problems with that aspect of the program.)

I rerendered the animation without music and loaded it into each program. At first I planned to use the default DVD NTSC presets, but it turns out that the default settings were quite varied: Procoder, LSX-MPEG, and Heuris use different constant bit rates (CBR); TMPGEnc uses a variable bit rate as the default. The programs also have different default audio settings, which range from 224 to 384 Kbps. In order to level the playing field, I set each program to use a CBR of 6,000 and left all other parameters at their default. (The tests were run on a dual-processor 1 GHz system with 1 GB RAM, running Windows 2000.)

MPP finished first at 5 minutes (all times are rounded to the nearest minute), followed by LSX-MPEG at 11 minutes, Procoder at 16 minutes, and TMPGEnc at 23 minutes. There were slight variations in the output when I viewed it on my monitor — Procoder's colors seemed a bit richer than the others, and motion in the LSX-MPEG seemed a bit smoother — but overall, there was very little difference.

Running at a higher bit rate or a two-pass setting (or both) will obviously ramp up the transcoding time dramatically. For example, I loaded a DV-encoded 30-minute animation into TMPGEnc and raised all its settings to the maximum; the job took 17 hours to complete. Be prepared to spend lots of time waiting for your job to run if you choose any of the programs' best-quality settings.

Heuris MPEG Power Professional 2.5 ($999). MPP is a standalone application that does one thing — transcoding — and it does it well. The package includes a disc full of tutorials to get you going and extensive printed documentation that describes each parameter.

The MPP interface consists of multiple screens, each containing a variety of parameters (see Fig. 6). After picking a Base Template, you'll spend most of your time in the Edit Settings dialog, where you can modify default settings and save your changes as new presets. You can also assign preferences for many of the program's operations, such as picking the file extensions it will use for video and audio files, whether you want to view all templates at start up, and how often the program should search for updates.

You can get the best output by performing an analysis pass prior to the final transcoding. If you use the Auto Analyze option, MPP analyzes the video material, then performs the transcoding automatically. But if you choose Analysis only, you can tweak the analysis file prior to performing the transcoding. In either case, the separate analysis pass improves on standard two-pass variable bit-rate transcoding by making fine adjustments to the transcoding parameters that handle scene changes or other variations in the original video material (or so the company claims). You can also improve the quality of your output by raising the bit rate in the MPEG2 Fields template well above the default 5,000 Kbps setting.

MPP can make files in the VOB format that are ready to burn directly. There's no authoring available, but this is still handy for making quick prototypes and checking discs before committing, for example, to a large replication run.

Ligos LSX-MPEG. Ligos has been in the vanguard of transcoding on the Windows platform for some time and updates its tools on a regular basis. Currently available are the standalone encoder, LSX-MPEG Encoder 3.5 ($79), and the plug-in, LSX-MPEG 2.01 ($129) for Adobe Premiere. Both are available only as downloads, and the Help file is the only documentation.

Like Procoder, LSX-MPEG 2.01 runs directly from within Premiere, which means you don't have to prerender your video project as an AVI file before transcoding. The newly released version 2.01 offers more settings and runs more quickly than previous versions and is even better integrated with Premiere. For example, you can assign markers in Premiere that will be used by LSX-MPEG for placing I-frames that help the transcoder deal with fast scene changes and cuts.

When you're ready to export your Premiere movie to MPEG-2 format, load the LSX-MPEG DVD Assets NTSC preset and click on the Advanced Settings. There you'll find a tabbed interface that provides access to the transcoder's numerous settings (see Fig. 7). The first screen, labeled Bit Rate, is where you set either a constant or variable bit rate and specify minimum, maximum, and average rates. The Audio tab has only a single setting that allows you to change the bit rate from 64 to 384 Kbps. The Input tab lets you apply one of four filters to your video source material, and the Detect tab is where you can enable scene detection. Other tabs include Motion Vectors and Group of Pictures, but those parameters are probably best left untouched.

Sections at the top and bottom of the interface, which are accessible regardless of which tab you are in, contain other important parameters. For example, you can raise the Motion Estimation setting if you are transcoding a high-speed animation with significant changes between frames, and you can change the output format from NTSC to PAL. You can also pick a different output type (VCD and SVCD, for example) if your material is not headed for a DVD.

As noted above, LSX-MPEG runs very quickly at its default settings and produces excellent output. Tweaking its settings to produce best-quality results raises the transcoding time significantly, but that's an acceptable trade-off.

Canopus Procoder 1.2 ($699). Procoder is a powerful toolkit that offers many different features for the media professional. More than just an MPEG transcoder, it can transcode uncompressed AVI or QuickTime files to DV format (among others) and is also useful for preparing files for Internet delivery. You can also convert from NTSC to PAL (or vice versa) and can adjust the frame rate or aspect ratio of your video sources.

Procoder offers its basic functions in a single work area and provides access to more advanced options in other screens (see Fig. 8). That's nice for beginners because it avoids exposing them to parameters that won't be needed for many simple jobs. If you do tweak the advanced parameters, you can save your settings in Droplets, which are, in effect, “self-running” presets onto which you drag and drop your source material. After dropping, the Droplets begin to run automatically. Droplets can live on the Windows Desktop, so you don't even have to start the program to run them.

Procoder includes a number of filters that you can apply while transcoding. For example, there's one that limits your video materials to colors that are “legal” for TV broadcast and another that optimizes material shot on film for use on videotape (many video-editing programs, including Premiere and Vegas, supply similar tools). There are also audio filters for lowpass filtering, normalizing, and adjusting the volume of your sources. An excellent text by Ben Waggoner, Video Compression Concepts, is included in the package. The text offers explanations on nearly every topic related to compression and also gives numerous suggestions on various aspects of video production.

Pegasys TMPGEnc Plus 2.51 ($48). Well outside the commercial mainstream is Pegasys Inc.'s inexpensive TMPGEnc Plus. According to the manufacturer, the fully working free version has been downloaded more than two million times. The free version will only transcode MPEG-2 files for 30 days, but that might give you enough time to decide whether you really want to stay in the DVD game. The commercial version, available boxed and as a download, has no time constraints.

TMPGEnc Plus's feature set is as extensive as any you'll find in this roundup (see Fig. 9). If you consider yourself a transcoding master, you'll be pleased to find esoteric options such as the ability to adjust the type of cosine transform the program uses during transcoding. There's a wizard to walk you through nearly any transcoding job, and you can customize the program in numerous ways, such as tweaking it to take best advantage of your host computing environment.

Although you wouldn't expect a dedicated transcoding program to have extensive audio features, TMPGEnc Plus offers more than most and even allows you to add fade-ins or -outs to your audio files. It also offers a large number of versatile video filters that you'll use if, for example, you want to color correct or adjust the brightness or contrast of your video material.

The batch-encoding feature is very easy to use once you've saved the various projects you wish to run sequentially, and you can even output a video file as a sequence of still graphic images, a feature more often found in video-editing software.

Overall, TMPGEnc is an exceptionally good value and may be all the transcoder you'll ever need.

AUTHORING SOFTWARE

When you're ready to step up from the software that was bundled with your DVD hardware, you'll want to find a dedicated authoring program that will give you the features professionals need. In this group, Sonic Solutions ReelDVD 3.03 and Pinnacle's Impression DVD-Pro 2.2.1 are two of the best. Either of these will allow you to make great looking DVDs with enough buttons and menus to keep even the most dedicated interactive couch potato happy.

Both ReelDVD and Impression DVD-Pro support nearly the full range of features described by the DVD spec. They allow use of up to 8 audio streams and 32 subtitle streams in each DVD title, along with unlimited still or animated menus, submenus, and more. ReelDVD supports only one video track (the maximum allowed by the DVD spec is nine), and Impression DVD-Pro is limited to two. (Multiple tracks can be used, for example, to give the viewer multiple camera angles, but they eat up bandwidth quickly.) Both programs offer a timeline interface, so it's easy to drop in chapter markers wherever you need them. Creating navigation links in ReelDVD is a bit easier than in Impression, however, which doesn't offer a storyboard area where you can see all your assets at once.

Neither program has an auto-insert chapter-point feature, which you will find both on low-end integrated applications and on many dedicated hardware units. That is a handy option when you want the viewer to be able to skip through your video in increments of, say, one or two minutes. Be aware that both programs also use a hardware dongle for copy protection.

If you've scanned in a large number of photographs or other images and want to make interactive slide shows, perhaps with your own music, either program will be suitable. You can also make DVDs that replay upon completion. Impression can load DV-encoded AVI files, which saves you the time-consuming step of transcoding first, and either program will write data suitable for CD-R, DVD-R, and DLT drives. Impression also allows you to embed Web links directly into the video stream, and ReelDVD supports HTML data in the ROM (or “DVD Others”) zone on your disc.

Both applications offer resizable preview windows, and both include a separate software DVD player. Combined, these give you several opportunities to see what your disc will look like before you burn it.

Sonic Solutions ReelDVD 3.03 ($999). The simplicity of ReelDVD's interface belies the power of its tools for authoring complex projects. The single screen splits into four resizable panes: the Storyboard, Track window, Preview window, and Explorer window. The Storyboard is where you drag assets, then connect icons to create navigation paths through your disc. It's simple to create a looping DVD that automatically restarts at the end or to create menu options that allow the user to jump directly to chapter points within a movie clip. The program is also well-suited for highly complex projects containing slide shows, motion menus, multiple soundtracks, and more.

ReelDVD's strength is in the clarity of its layout and the logic of its operation. Every video clip you import into the program is represented in the Storyboard as a Track. Each Track has an associated icon containing the four Command Links (Next, Previous, Return, and Command) that define the Track's role in the scheme of things (see Fig. 10). Connect one Track's Next link to some other Track's Previous link, and the DVD player will play the second clip automatically if there's no user intervention and will jump to the second clip if the user presses the Next button on the remote while the first Track is playing. There are also icons for designating what Track will play when the disc is first inserted into the player, what Tracks will be designated as the Title and Menu tracks, and more.

Below the Storyboard is ReelDVD's Track window, which offers a timeline for aligning music and video. An integrated subtitle editor lets you type captions directly over the Timeline where you want them to appear. There's no Undo command, and you can't start playback from anywhere but the beginning of a project, which can be troublesome even with a short video. But you can quickly move through the Timeline and insert any number of chapter points, then move among them freely to locate the spot you need.

The Preview window lets you preview your disc before moving to the burning stage, but I wasn't able to get my audio tracks to play back when previewing. (Sonic is currently looking into this problem.) ReelDVD also ships with a copy of Sonic's CinePlayer, which you can use to play DVDs or VOB files on your computer.

Pinnacle Impression DVD-Pro 2.2.1 ($399). Impression DVD-Pro is somewhat more consumer oriented than ReelDVD and comes with a large collection of sample menu images. It also offers features that evidence its connection to the video-editing side of the Pinnacle family, such as the ability to change the size of the thumbnails that represent your video clips or the option to split clips on the Timeline. DVD-Pro supports DV-encoded AVI files (but not uncompressed AVI files), and you can burn discs directly from the program.

You import assets into Impression using the Import Assets option in the right-mouse menu or by dragging files from the Windows Desktop directly into the program's Assets Library (see Fig. 11). The Library is split into three tabbed sections (Clips, Menu, and Images), which helps you organize the different types of media you'll use in a project.

Impression's navigation options come in two main categories: Button links trigger certain actions by the user, and Go To Links specify what action should occur when a video clip ends. Creating a Button link is simple: drag a still image or video clip to the Menu track on the Timeline, then drag the images that you want to use as buttons onto the menu image. The menu will appear in the Preview window, and you just right-click on any button to access its Properties dialog, then set the action you want the button to have. Creating a Go To Link is just as easy and involves dragging any video clip in the Timeline to the Go To arrow (which appears at the end of every clip) of another clip.

The Preview window shows the title-safe area and a grid as overlays and is used both for design purposes and for simulating playback. Control-dragging in the Timeline scrubs the video in the Preview window, making it easy to locate exact spots where you might want, say, a new chapter point. Unfortunately, the audio does not scrub along with the video.

The program also requires that all video tracks have the same number of audio tracks — if you have more than one track on any video track, you'll have to create some bogus audio files to add to the other video tracks.

Impression wins the prize for the manual with the smallest type; to my aging eyes, it was nearly impossible to read. Fortunately, the online help is extensive and gives detailed information about every aspect of the program.

WINDOWS DEVELOPERS

Adobe Systems tel. (800) 833-6687 or (408) 536-6000; Web www.adobe.com

Canopus tel. (888) 899-EDIT; sales@canopus.com; www.canopus.com

Ego Systems tel. (408) 519-5774; e-mail ussales@egosys.net; Web www.esi-pro.com

Heuris tel. (800) 923-9232, ext. 203, or (314) 534-1514, ext. 203; e-mail sales@heuris.com; Web www.heuris.com

Ligos tel. (415) 249-0100; e-mail sales@ligos.com; Web www.ligos.com

Pegasys e-mail sales-e@pegasys-inc.com; Web www.pegasys-inc.com

Pinnacle tel. (650) 526-1600; e-mail sales@pinnaclesys.com; Web www.pinnaclesys.com

Pioneer Web www.pioneerelectronics.com

Roxio tel. (408) 957-7274; e-mail sales@roxio.com; Web www.roxio.com

Sonic Foundry tel. (800) 577-6642; e-mail customerservice@sonicfoundry.com; Web www.sonicfoundry.com

Sonic Solutions tel. (888) SONIC97 or (415) 893-8000; e-mail info@sonic.com; Web www.sonic.com

Power Tools for the Mac

By Dennis Miller with Chris Armbrust

Two integrated DVD programs from Apple lead the way.

Mac 7 have for some time had the opportunity to buy systems with internal DVD burners, including new SuperDrives that burn DVDs at up to 4x speed. However, there are few authoring tools for the platform. Two products from Apple dominate the Mac DVD market, and we'll focus on those. Apple's iDVD 3, which is part of the company's iLife suite, is a powerful yet easy-to-use tool on the lower end of the spectrum, and Apple's DVD Studio Pro 1.5.2 is the reigning king of the hill.

Two other integrated programs are sold in conjunction with add-on hardware. Capty DVD is part of ADS's USB Instant DVD for Mac bundle ($499), which includes an analog-video capture device. Formac's devideon x.2 ($399) is included with a Pioneer A05 DVD-R/RW burner for those who don't have an internal SuperDrive. Both offer various levels of authoring support. The ADS capture device is analog only, so if you have a DV camcorder, you're better off capturing over a FireWire input using Apple's iMovie. However, if you have analog-video source material (for example, VHS tapes), and you don't have a DV camcorder through which you can pass the signal for conversion to digital, then USB Instant DVD could come in handy.

There are also a few dedicated transcoding programs for the Mac, such as Heuris MPP 2.5 (described in “The View Through Windows” on p. 62), Innobits BitVice 1.2 ($297), and discreet's cleaner 6 software. The ever-popular Roxio Toast 5 Titanium ($99) includes an MPEG-transcoding feature that allows you to create files you can burn on DVD. Hardware-based solutions from Sonic Solutions are also an option, though beyond the scope of this article.

Apple iDVD 3 (in iLife bundle, $49). Apple's iDVD 3 is an efficient and easy-to-use tool for authoring and burning DVDs. You can use it to quickly and easily create basic DVDs with multiple levels of menus and access to multiple videos or videos with chapter markers (see Fig. 1). It is well integrated with the other members of the iLife suite, such as iMovie, where you capture video from an external source and add chapter markers that appear in iDVD. When you export your iMovie to iDVD, iDVD will automatically generate a menu or set of menus, depending on the number of chapters you've defined (up to a maximum of 36). You can then change the menu theme using any of the 36 predefined Themes, some of which allow you to have chapter thumbnails and motion backgrounds. You can also save your customized theme settings as favorites.

You can use QuickTime files created in Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro in your iDVD projects. (Apple recommends against using Final Cut's “self-contained” QuickTime option when exporting.) Movies can be exported in DV-encoded QuickTime format (which, like all DV-encoded video, has a fixed compression ratio of 5:1) or as uncompressed QuickTime files if you want to retain maximum quality. And if you intend to make a DVD that plays in its entirety, with no user input, just combine all your video clips into a single Final Cut project; individual clips that are loaded into iDVD will each have their own menu, and the player will stop after each clip plays and display all the menus.

The underlying rendering engine in iDVD transcodes video and audio in the background while you work. By the time you have your menus and buttons looking the way you want, the transcoding task will probably be completed. (A status bar shows you how much time remains.) Video transcoding is preset at either 8 Mbps, which nets around 60 minutes of playing time, or 5.5 Mbps for about 90 minutes. Encoding at 8 Mbps creates very clean video but could cause discs to skip or stutter when played from DVD-R on some set-top players and on slower computers. The 5.5 Mbps rate generates fair-quality video, slightly better than VHS. Audio encoding is PCM only, which, though very high quality, leaves less room for your video.

The included templates, accessible through the Themes icon at the bottom of the screen, are adequate, but a little more variety in style would have been useful. Fortunately, you can use your own pictures or video as backgrounds for your DVD menus.

IDVD only works with an internal Apple SuperDrive and requires a G4 running OS X. Also, there's no way to export directly from iMovie 3 to older versions of iDVD (you can export to QuickTime, then load those files), so it's best to stay current with all versions of the various tools you'll be using.

Apple DVD Studio Pro 1.5.2 ($999). Towering above the other players in the Mac DVD world is Apple's own DVD Studio Pro 1.5.2. This top-of-the-line authoring software is a robust tool for making professional-looking DVDs and is packaged with a number of useful applications, such as QuickTime Pro, BIAS Peak DV for audio editing, A.Pack for Dolby 5.1 audio compression, and even a subtitle editor. DVD Studio Pro integrates nicely with Apple's professional video editor Final Cut Pro. For example, you can set chapter or compression markers in Final Cut Pro that will be imported by DVD Studio Pro. (Compression markers guide the transcoder in dealing with areas of your video that could otherwise be problematic.) It also offers the most comprehensive support for the DVD spec of any program in this or the Windows-software roundup.

DVD Studio Pro is organized into four separate work areas: the Graphical Overview, the Property Inspector, the Project View, and the Asset container (see Fig. 2). There are dedicated menus for performing many of the most common authoring tasks, such as defining a startup action and setting markers.

You bring assets into the program by using the Import command or dragging them directly into the Asset container from the Finder. Next, you drag the audio or video clip onto the Graphical Overview, and a small icon (called the Track Tile) appears on the screen. On the Track Tile, you'll see additional icons that are used to perform various tasks. For example, click on the Audio icon to open the track's Audio Stream container, where you can add, remove, or name an audio stream. (You can also add an audio stream by dragging the audio file from the Asset screen and dropping it onto a Track Tile.) The Track Tile also provides access to the Angles container, which is used to add multiple camera angles to the track, as well as containers for markers, subtitles, and more.

You create navigation links by assigning Jump commands to an asset (see Fig. 3). DVD Studio Pro assists in this task by showing you every available destination for a particular asset in that asset's Action Menu — just open the Menu and select the target you want. Given the large number of assets you can have in a project (markers, scripts, menus, and so on), it's very useful to have everything available in a single screen.

Among DVD Studio Pro's high-end tools is a scripting feature that you can use to make complex navigation paths. (See the sidebar “DVD Studio Profiles” for some examples of how scripts are being used.) The program also allows you to add CSS copy protection to your project and create links on your DVD title that activate Web pages. Though DVD-R drives don't support the CSS feature, it's useful if you are sending a DLT tape or hard drive off to a commercial manufacturer for replication.

DVD Studio Pro's Story feature offers some very creative options for interactivity. For example, perhaps you're making a video of a live performance of your band. You could allow the DVD to play the show in its entirety, or you could use the Story feature to piece together several different sequences of songs. If the concert was taped using multiple cameras, you could create a disc that allowed the viewer to choose which camera angle they wanted. In addition, you can create a DVD that has a commentary track and up to eight soundtracks: viewers could, for example, choose light, classical-sounding music if they wanted a casual tone or something you've provided in the minor mode to add formality or a somber quality to the viewing experience.

DVD Studio Pro provides transcoding services by means of the included MPEG encoder, which will also appear under QuickTime Pro and Final Cut Pro when DVD Studio Pro is installed. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of adjustable parameters; bit rate is one of the few. If you plan to get serious about creating projects that use a wide range of source materials, you might consider buying a dedicated transcoder, such as Innobits BitVice.

Other tools in the DVD Studio Pro bundle complement the authoring application and extend your content-development options significantly. For audio encoding, the included A.Pack software supports AC-3 compression for Dolby Surround with up to 5.1 channels. A.Pack also supports audio intended for both DVD-Video and DVD-Audio and offers numerous rates up to a maximum of 640 Kbps. Corel Photo-Paint 10 will come in handy for touching up scans or for processing graphic images, and BIAS Peak DV 3.0 is included in case you don't have a stereo audio editor that you're satisfied with. Peak DV is a somewhat scaled back version of BIAS's best-selling Peak 3.0: it supports audio only up to 16-bit, 48 kHz, for example, but it has a vast number of editing features and can import both QuickTime and DV-encoded video.

There are a few areas where DVD Studio Pro falls short. Its manual is less than comprehensive, and its burning features are not as robust as, for example, Roxio Toast Titanium's. It also allows you to create projects that contain more than 99 tracks and therefore won't play in any DVD player. (You do get a warning when you try to “build” the project.)

With extensive support from an active user community and several third-party books exploring its every detail, you'll certainly be able to find your way through this rich and feature-laden software.

DVD STUDIO PROFILES

Apple's DVD Studio Pro 1.5.2 is being used by a wide range of content developers and has an extensive user base. We spoke with some DVD professionals who use the software and asked them to comment on its features.

STUDIO PRO LOOPS

George Fifield, curator of video at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and founder and director of the Boston CyberArts Festival, uses DVD Studio Pro to make the DVDs that screen in the museum's Media room. Fifield, who runs Mac OS 9 on his G4, uses a Media 100 video-editing system, which outputs QuickTime movie files. He uses the DVD Studio Pro MPEG encoder that is installed with DVD Studio Pro, though he wishes that it had more comprehensive settings.

“I use DVD Studio Pro to create DVDs that run 24/7 in a loop. I like that the program gives me several different ways to accomplish my goals. For example, though you can use a Jump command to make a single clip loop indefinitely, the clip will freeze for a few seconds when it ends before restarting. As a simple work-around, I just make multiple copies of the clip on the Graphical Overview and set each clip to Jump to the next. That way, the clips play in sequence nearly instantaneously.”

Fifield's background is in video, and he appreciates the fact that you don't need to be an authoring professional to achieve good results with DVD Studio Pro. “Like any piece of software, it takes time to learn all the ins and outs of the program. But I found that the learning curve for the types of things we need to do was not bad at all.”

STAY RELEVANT

Jim Swaffield, a New York filmmaker whose company Relevant (www.relevant-nyc.com) creates music videos for Jive Records, Def Jam, Warner Brothers, and others, is excited about the creative potential of DVD and feels that tools like DVD Studio Pro are helping that creativity to evolve. Swaffield uses DVD Studio Pro's scripting feature to make DVDs that randomly play different sequences of tracks each time they are viewed. “Imagine putting on an audio CD and hearing live versions of all the songs one day, then studio recordings the next, or hearing only the fast songs one time and only the slow songs the next. We can do things like that with some fairly simple scripting in DVD Studio Pro, and I think it makes the final product much more enjoyable to the viewer.”

The interactivity of DVD is also a major attraction for Swaffield. “DVD Studio Pro allows me to combine still images, audio, and video in many different ways, and I can pass on lots of control to the user” (see Fig. A). He is also impressed by the program's active users community, which is filled with people who want to help it evolve.

Swaffield is working to convince record companies that they should be more concerned about the delivery medium of their artists' work. “The days of the audio-only 12-track CD are numbered. Artists need to be thinking not only about what an album sounds like, but about how it will be ‘experienced’ by the listener. I see new forms of media evolving in the future, and DVD, because it is so interactive, will be a great means by which artists can make their statement without restricting themselves to preexisting forms or packaging.”

IN THE MITTEL

Mike Mittelman is founder and publisher of Aspect, a new DVD-only magazine that focuses on new media (www.aspectmag.com). Among Mittelman's main interests is the documentation of live-performance art. Artists supply Mittelman with preedited video with audio, and he adds a second audio track that includes commentary about the works.

Mittelman uses DVD Studio Pro's scripting feature to create a structure wherein viewers can start the video with or without commentary or switch between the two options while the disc plays. “There's a slight gap when the user switches audio tracks, but I account for that when I edit the audio.” He also likes the control DVD Studio Pro gives him over the visual elements of a DVD. “I like to do creative things with menus and buttons that use multiple Photoshop Layers. For example, I can use different Layers for different button states (highlighted, activated, and normal). When I import a Photoshop file, DVD Studio Pro's Matrix screen displays all the button states along the left axis and all the layers along the right axis, which makes it really easy to make associations between the two.”

Mittelman thinks DVD Studio Pro's Preview feature still needs work because it doesn't give an accurate enough representation of how the DVD will look. “Things like looping video in a motion menu may not work properly in Preview mode.” Conversely, things that work in Preview mode might not work when burned onto a disc. “I highly recommend that you use the Build function to create DVD files on your hard drive, then simulate playback with Apple's DVD Player.” Still, Mittelman feels that DVD Studio Pro is the best tool for his application and expects it to become still more powerful in the coming years.
Dennis Miller

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