iDVD 3, by Apple Computers
Posted: 10-Nov-2003

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: Diane Love Class: MULTIMEDIA

Review systems
iMac 1Ghz G4, 1GB memory, 80 GB hard disk, 1440 x 900 display

Review Project
Turn 3 DV tapes and 100+ digital images of an annual open-air concert into DVDs!

Of all the iLife applications, iDVD may be the least well-known since you don't receive it unless you have a built-in DVD burner. Furthermore while iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie all do tasks which we more or less understand if we deal with the media in question, most of us don't naturally have an understanding of the differences between DV and DVD and what needs to be done to make a DVD from video.

Before using iDVD I really wanted to learn all about it. iDVD comes with a tutorial which initially would not work because of a permission problem on my multi-user iMac. I also wanted to read "iMovie 3 and iDVD The Missing Manual", but as chance would have it, my project reached DVD creation phase before the book was available. With some trepidation, I consulted a few of the help pages and then bravely clicked the iDVD button in iMovie 3

Chapter markers
I had already gathered from the iLife announcements that I would be able to insert chapter markers in iMovie which would then define the navigation in the DVD. I followed the convention I used for naming clips in the original footage and started each chapter marker with a 2 digit number. Unfortunately, if you do this, you find that the numbers appear in the button labels on the DVD menu. You can edit out the numbers in iDVD, but after you've done this once, you'll want to avoid doing it in future.

Project files
After setting up all the chapter markers in iMovie, you can click the "create iDVD project" button. This switches to iDVD and sets up a complete set of DVD menus based on your chapter marks; the appearance of the menus is determined by the default theme. If you then attempt to quit iDVD without saving, you will still end up with a more or less empty iDVD document.

Apple sees fit to place iDVD documents in your Documents folder rather than your Movies folder. Since a single iDVD project may incorporate more than one of your movies, this may be the best solution. However, if you are used to having an iMovie folder containing a project file and a number of media files, you may wonder why there is only a single iDVD document. The answer is of course that it's not really a single document, it just looks like one in the finder. It's really a package, and if you view the package contents you will see that it does have an internal structure.

Editing performance
Once you start exploring in iDVD, you find that there's a lot of latency, or dead time, between your mouse clicks and the observable results. I found about the same latency whether motion menus were turned on or off. Turning off motion has the additional hazard that you may forget to turn on the motion before you burn your DVD - if this happens, the result will be a DVD with static menus. Another cause of confusion during editing is that while a single click suffices on a graphic button, a double click is required to navigate via a button that contains text. A single click on a text button just places the cursor in the text to allow you to edit it. A further single click selects the whole text. No matter how many times you double click in the button at this point, you won't be able to navigate unless you click once outside it and then double click properly inside it.

Taking both these factors together can cause a lot of frustration: you click once on a button and nothing happens because a double click is required, you double click on another button and still nothing happens, this time because of the dead time, so you click a few more times and suddenly all the clicks are actioned, and you end up somewhere in your project several menu pages on from where you wanted to be. It's really surprising to experience these issues with a product from Apple, the usability pioneers.

iDVD 3 introduces more themes while still retaining the themes from previous versions. Overall, I prefer the new collection, but I'm also looking forward to learning how to create my own themes.

The iLife links to iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie work well; iTunes playlists and iPhoto albums both come out in the same order as they do in their respective applications. At one point I had a square hole in a menu that needed a picture. iDVD displayed a label saying "insert a photo or movie here". I couldn't find just the right photo. Suddenly I realized that I could use a movie made from photos instead. I had two possible ways of doing this - via iPhoto and iMovie. I chose iMovie as I wanted to use the Ken Burns effect. Within iMovie, I made a few short movies with half a dozen photos in each and these became the motion menus for that particular DVD.

The bottom line here seems to be that while you can make a DVD from video alone, you can do better if you also have some still photos and music.

Burning performance
The good news is that in burning about 35 DVDs, I did not have a single failure that made me waste a DVD. Burning a DVD is a process involving a number of phases - rendering the menus, encoding the DV footage and finally burning the disk. On my machine, encoding a one hour movie takes about 2 hours and then burning the disk is about 20 minutes. After the first disk, there's an opportunity to insert more disks and burn them without having to encode again. iDVD also has a feature, turned on by default, whereby it tries to encode your footage as a background activity while you tinker with the menus. In an ideal world when you got to the burning stage, the encoding would all be done. For some reason this never happened for me.

My problem with the encoding process was that the time-to-go estimates that iDVD gave were all wrong - too short at the start, too long at the end and totally wrong when the process seemed to hang in the middle for half an hour without changing the time-to-go indication. I cancelled just about every disk I encoded at least once before the actual DVD burn started simply because the process appeared to hang. Every time I cancelled, I was nervous about ending up with a ruined disk, but that never happened.

Apple seems to be on a mission to make DVD creation a natural household activity. It's really amazing that this capability comes for free with a consumer Mac, without further hardware or software being required.

If iDVD were to be judged solely on the end results - you can make DVDs with motion menus with almost no instruction - it's a miracle and deserves way more than 5 mice. If on the other hand, you judge iDVD on usability principles, particularly the frustrating latency in editing and the time reporting when burning, it would be lucky to get any mice at all. Nevertheless, I like the way iDVD encourages you to do more than you set out to do.

- menu navigation is built by iDVD
- live motion buttons
- links to other iLife applications

- latency while working
- bad time estimates while burning

Overall Rating

4.5 out of 5 Mice