DVD Studio Pro

Continuing its aggressive march into the world of video and DVD production, Apple recently introduced DVD Studio Pro, a high-end DVD-authoring package capable of producing sophisticated DVD-video titles. Aimed squarely at the professional DVD-authoring market, DVD Studio Pro provides all the tools you need to create everything from corporate presentations to commercial-quality DVDs. While DVD authoring may not be a widespread “killer app”, DVD Studio Pro is good enough to help reinforce Apple’s sturdy position in the video and film production world. Though DVD Studio has its quirks, I was very pleased to find that version 1.0 is a solid product, and definitely usable for almost any authoring task. There are many different kinds of DVDs ranging from DVD Video (the video discs that you rent at your local video store) to data-packed DVD-ROMs that you stick into your computer. DVD Studio Pro is strictly for authoring DVD Video discs. Before you can start any authoring, however, you must prepare your source media. DVD video must be in MPEG-2 format with the associated audio stored separately as AIFF or AC3 files. The DVD Studio Pro application itself offers no video production, editing, or media- conversion functions. However, the installer does provide a new MPEG-2 QuickTime codec. As long as you’re using QuickTime Pro, you can convert any QuickTime movie to MPEG-2 simply by choosing the MPEG-2 codec when you export from your editing app. If you already have an edited QuickTime file, then you can re-compress it by opening it in the QuickTime Player and exporting it using the MPEG-2 codec. In our tests, MPEG-2 conversion was roughly twice as fast using the QuickTime Player as it was when rendering from Final Cut Pro. Bandwidth workaround
The MPEG-2 codec creates two files, an MPEG-2 video file and an audio file in AIFF format. Because of bandwidth limitations in the DVD Video spec, you may find that you need to convert your audio to AC3 to get it to play in sync with your video. The included Apple A.Pack application can perform the compression, and also allows you to use multiple channels to create a 5.1 surround-sound mix. Once you’ve got your audio and video in the right formats, you’ll want to build your menu pages and any associated still images using Adobe Photoshop. Though you can use any paint program that outputs TIFF or Photoshop files, Apple has done such a good job with its Photoshop compatibility that it’s not worth using anything else. DVD Studio Pro recognizes everything from multiple layers to unrendered type. Only after you’ve prepared all of your media are you actually ready to start wiring together a DVD. DVD Studio Pro presents a fairly simple interface composed of a large window that displays a flowchart-like view of your project, an Assets window that helps you keep track of all of your media elements, and an Inspector window that can set parameters, create links, and assign imported assets. A DVD is composed of several types of components. Menu components can use either a still image or movie as a background, and provide the interface through which users will navigate the disc. Tracks contain video and audio, and can be divided into chapters to facilitate non-linear playback, while Slide Shows can contain a series of still images that advance as a slide show. Finally, Scripts allow the creation of complex interactivity using a simple scripting language. To create any of these components you simply click on the appropriate button at the bottom of DVD Studio Pro’s main window. This creates a small tile in the Graphical Display that represents that component. You can then attach any appropriate media to that tile, and configure its parameters using the Inspector. Holistic approach
Most components are related to other components – a menu might link to a Track or another menu, for example – and such links are indicated by simple flowchart lines that connect different tiles. If you’ve ever used a visual programming-language or database application, such as Double Helix, you’ll feel right at home in DVD Studio. Each tile also has a number of customizable parameters that let you control how the navigation buttons on the user’s remote control will function at any given time. Other parameters include looping controls and options that let you specify branching and playback order. Authoring in DVD Studio Pro is very straightforward and deceptively simple. Using nothing more than the basic options, you can create very complex projects. For more refined control, the scripting language is simple to use and well-implemented. Full support for CSS and Macrovision encryption are provided, as are region controls for specifying where your DVD can be played. Apple also includes a very good subtitling tool for creating subtitle tracks that can be applied from within DVD Studio Pro. At any time, you can press the preview button to preview an individual track or component, or to preview your disc from its beginning – what the user would see when they first hit Play. The preview feature actually runs the video and audio through your computer’s DVD playback hardware, so you can see what your images will look like as video. My complaints with the authoring environment are few. It would be nice if the application notified you when an external asset has been altered, à la Adobe After Effects. Also frustrating was the lack of a zoom mode in the Graphical view. With a lot of tiles, your project can quickly use up all of your screen space – a problem that could be easily remedied with a zoom facility. When your project is completed, the Build command will multiplex your video and audio into the appropriate DVD Video format and output the data to a VIDEO_TS folder on your hard drive. DVD Studio Pro can automatically dump this folder to a DLT tape drive, or to Apple’s new SuperDrive. Or, if your duplication facility supports it, you can simply deliver the folder on a hard drive. Our only complaint with output was that, on one or two occasions, the resulting output did not play as well as it did in the program’s preview mode. This problem was correctable by recompressing our video with a different bit-rate, but it would have been nice to see the trouble before building. Note that, with Apple’s DVD Player 2.5, you can play your files from your hard drive and see exactly how they’ll look and play from a DVD.

OUR VERDICT

DVD Studio Pro is a first-rate authoring system. Though we found one or two minor quirks, it was easy to work around them. No matter what your project, DVD Studio Pro will provide a robust, powerful environment for authoring.

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