DVD Studio Pro 3 full review

For a long time, professional DVD authoring was beyond the reach of many creatives no matter whether they preferred the Mac OS or Windows. While some designers today can’t even remember a time before Adobe Photoshop, there isn’t anything with a comparable pedigree for DVD authoring. Most companies that used to dominate the landscape not long ago, enforcing sky-high prices for their offerings, are no longer around. Fortunately, that isn’t there is all to it for Mac users. A year after the last major release, Apple has shipped DVD Studio Pro 3 – and might awaken more envy than ever among PC users.

Initially being on its own with the task of providing a DVD-authoring app for the Mac, Apple bolstered its know-how with acquisitions. The company first acquired Astarte’s DVDirector Pro, and then re-branded it as DVD Studio Pro 1.5 for only about one-fifth of its original price. Since version 2, DVD Studio Pro builds upon a remake of a formerly Windows-only application that Apple acquired with Spruce Technologies. If you’re one of those pros who tried their luck with version 1.5, you can be assured that there’s nothing left of that tedious experience any more; version 3 is a joy to work with.

Tweaks and changes
DVD Studio Pro 3 brings more ease-of-use, a polished GUI, some functionality tweaks, and impressive new visual effects. The graphical representation of the DVD structure is finally back as well as the long-awaited support for DVD+R and DVD-RW/+RW media.

Changes under the hood are much more comprehensive than the still familiar look and feel
might suggest. Improved templates and render-free transitions let you quickly design DVDs with an unprecedented level of professional quality. DVD Studio Pro makes use of the Quartz Extreme foundation of Mac OS X, letting users add hardware-accelerated transitions to menus, slideshows and tracks without the need to render them.

Very impressive it is, too. The new Alpha transitions that fade menus, titles and tracks from video channels are based on Quartz Extreme and QuickTime.

On the audio side, DVD Studio Pro supports the import of DTS audio. DTS (Digital Theater System) is a high-quality 5.1 channel audio format, encoding at a variable compression rate with up to 24 bits (instead of 18 bits with Dolby AAC).

Return of the Graphical View
DVD Studio Pro 3 brings back a symbolic representation of the project’s navigation structure called Graphical View, which has been quoted among the top requested features since it disappeared in the previous release. This view lets you quickly perceive the relationships between menus, tracks, slideshows, stories and scripts and thus verify in a snap how the DVD will interact with the user.

DVD Studio Pro 3 brings Compressor 1.2, which now supports HD-to-MPEG encoding, in addition to other codecs already supported by QuickTime.

The default settings assume that you’re compressing video footage. If you try to encode sharp geometric forms, you’ll probably struggle to get crisp, crystal-clear video without annoying compression artifacts. Horizontal and vertical lines (commonly used in alert boxes, pulldown menus, and so on) won’t encode well to a high-quality MPEG-2 video with any of the presets. To improve MPEG-encoding results, Compressor lets you adjust the GOP pattern. This is one of the few features that will remind you that this DVD-authoring suite is still mainly intended for skilled DVD-authoring professionals.

Mind the gap
DVD Studio Pro has strengthened Apple’s position in the world of content creation. Adobe felt committed to taking on a comparable aim on the PC. Adobe Encore DVD 1.5 sells for £452. Users of the Mac-only DVD Studio Pro are eligible for an upgrade to Adobe’s PC-only app for £244, but it’s hard to imagine someone taking this offer seriously into consideration.

Adobe excels whenever it can take advantage of the Adobe imaging model (as in its Creative Suite), and this seems to have been a brilliant strategy so far. Adobe’s first-quarter revenues for fiscal 2004 were $423.3 million, compared with $296.9 million in the same period last year. But in the field of DVD authoring, Adobe is clearly playing catch-up. The company indirectly paid tribute to DVD Studio Pro’s qualities by delivering Encore DVD 1.0 in quite a hurry and based the app on the licensed DVD engine of its rival, Sonic.

Given the brilliant graphics capabilities of Mac OS X, it can prove to be quite challenging for anyone on Windows to bridge the gap to what Quartz Extreme delivers for DVD Studio Pro 3 on the Mac. And Xcode 1.2, Apple’s much-improved integrated development environment, together with gcc 3.3, the now-speedier compiler, contribute to the considerably higher performance of DVD Studio Pro 3.

While DVD Studio Pro 3 excels in speed, A.Pack 1.54, the audio-encoding utility, can manage the batch-processing of only a limited number of jobs, which varies depending on the amount of available memory and the number of audio channels.

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