DVD Studio Pro 3, by Apple
Posted: 26-Oct-2004

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: David Arnold Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview
From Apple:

"Technical depth and ease of use make DVD Studio Pro the most complete, flexible and creative tool for DVD authoring professionals. Use DVD Studio Pro 3 to design and build high-impact main event titles, films, sales and marketing presentations, training, wedding and special-event DVDs. It gracefully unites authoring power and design intelligence."

When I first started making DVDs, I of course started with iDVD. iDVD does a good job, but there were some things I wanted to do that just couldn't be done in iDVD, so when a chance came along to get DVD Studio Pro, I got it. I started with version 2 and have since upgraded to the latest version 3 of the program. There is simply no way for me to cover all of DVD Studio's functionality in a simple review, but I will cover two different projects and how well DVD Studio implements these tasks. The first task is a simple format conversion where I archive two episodes of CSI: Miami to DVD, and the second is the creation of a slideshow from some of the pictures I have in iPhoto. Understand that for working with video, the majority of the work is completed prior to ever using DVD Studio. The footage has to be edited and compressed prior to bringing it into DVD Studio. For this review, Final Cut Express 2 was used to edit the video.

Requirements

  • Macintosh computer with a 733MHz or faster PowerPC processor (G4 minimum) and AGP graphics card
  • 8MB of video memory (32MB recommended)
  • Mac OS X v10.3.2
  • QuickTime 6.5 (Comes with DVD Studio Pro)
  • 256MB of RAM (512MB recommended)
  • 20GB available disk space
  • DVD drive required for installation

Reviewed On

  • PowerMac MDD with Dual 1.25 GHz G4 processors
  • GeForce Ti4600 with 128 MB VRAM
  • Mac OS X 10.3.5
  • 1 GB RAM

and

  • Powerbook AL 17" with 1.5 GHz G4
  • Radeon 9700-M with 128 MB VRAM
  • Mac OS X 10.3.5
  • 1 GB RAM


Setup
DVD Studio Pro comes on a single DVD and uses the standard Apple installer program, with options to install DVD Studio Pro, A.Pack Dolby 5.1, Compressor, Pro Application Support, and some other tools. Afterwards, I ran software update to get updates to Apple's Pro Application support, DVD Studio and Compressor. Installation took some time, but was relatively simple and straight forward.

In Use
Before diving into DVD Studio Pro, there are two utility programs that DVD Studio Pro comes with that must be mentioned: Compressor and A. Pack.

Compressor is a standalone program that supports batch encoding of movie files into several different formats. It comes with an extensive list of presets already generated for MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video formats, and a few for AAC, AIFF, and MPEG-1. Additional presets can be added at any time using the tabs at the bottom of the window. Strangely enough, Compressor does not come with a preset for AIFF DVD audio. DVD audio uses 48kHz audio, where CDs use 44.1kHz. I had to add a preset for DVD compatibility, but this was relatively painless. I typically use the High Quality encode preset based on the number of minutes of video I expect to record on the DVD. High Quality is a two-pass Variable Bit Rate (VBR) encode and is the highest quality encode you can get (bit rates can be tweaked for even higher quality, but usually it is hard to differentiate and some DVD players choke on the really high bit rates). I typically set all my footage to export to Compressor to run overnight on the dual processor Mac. It can take several hours to encode 45 minutes of video at the higher quality. Fortunately, Compressor utilizes both processors extensively. I monitored processor activity using a utility program called Menu Meters during an encode, and processor utilization stayed right at 100% on both processors for the entire encode.


Compressor for DVD Studio Pro


A.Pack is an encoder for generating Dolby Digital surround sound channels in AC3 format. Although I've never actually used the surround sound feature (you have to develop the channels separately yourself), I do use A.Pack for encoding my stereo sound. Previously I mentioned that the DVD standard supports 48kHz AIFF audio. This is uncompressed audio and takes up a lot of room on the DVD. Encoding the AIFF into AC3 saves a significant amount of space for video and I cannot tell the difference in quality.


A.Pack Dolby 5.1 Audio Encoder


When first starting DVD Studio Pro, you are asked what type of layout you wish to start with. The three options given are Basic, Extended, and Advanced. Basic is very similar to iDVD, while the other two options expose more of the power of DVD Studio Pro.


DVD Studio Pro - Basic Layout


DVD Studio Pro - Advanced Layout


You can also customize and save configurations to easily switch between the different layouts. I use a variation on the Advanced configuration spread across two monitors. Note that there are four primary panes in the advanced configuration, and all four of these panes are tied together in one window. If you enlarge one, you shrink another - very handy for rapidly modifying a configuration to check something and then move it back. It should be noted that each of the panes has multiple tabs to bring forth yet more information and options. Each tab in the main window can be torn off into a separate window. Tabs on the inspector and palette windows cannot be torn off.

CSI: Miami Project
To start my format conversion project, I launched DVD Studio and then imported my assets (refer to the lower left pain of the Advanced configuration picture above for a view of the assets pane). I wanted a menu to be able to select which of the two episodes to view, so the first thing I did was start with the title menu (automatically created when starting a project). Apple includes a significant number of themes for menus, including ones from iDVD than can be accessed through the palette window. However, I had something particular in mind, and none of the built in templates fit, so I started from scratch. First I added a background movie (generated previously in Final Cut Express) to loop roughly every 42 seconds, and this also included a soundtrack. You can edit duration, start and end point of the background movie quite easily in DVD Studio Pro without actually editing the track.


Setting up a background video clip on the DVD menu


Next I added the buttons for the movies by simply dragging the video tracks to the menu window and selecting the appropriate option from the contextual menu that pops up. This selection automatically adds the track to the project, associates an audio file (if named the same) and creates the link to play the track when selected.


Dragging a video onto a button


I then customized the buttons by using the supplied Apple button templates to a format I preferred. A drop zone was added to provide a contrasting background for the descriptive text. Next I added descriptive text by dragging text object templates into the window and then heavily customizing them. With the main menu and episode buttons completed, I then added a Fair Use notice at the very beginning of the DVD. This is something that will automatically play when the DVD is inserted into a player. The notice I created is simply a Photoshop file with a display duration set for 10 seconds. You can edit the file in Photoshop by simply right clicking on the asset in the asset pane and selecting Open in Editor. Changes made in Photoshop showed up in DVD Studio as soon as I saved the file. I then linked in the starting sequence from CSI:Miami episodes just to add a little flavor. You can see the flow of the DVD in the Studio Pro Graphical pane.


Viewing the DVD flow in the Graphical pane


The next thing to do was test the project using the built in simulator. You can simulate the whole DVD or just the part you're interested in. I went through this several times to get the look and timing just right. The next thing I did was a project build. This basically puts the project on your hard drive so you can test it using Apple's DVD Player. This didn't take long, and so I used DVD Player's Open VIDEO_TS folder option to test my creation. In this first test, the episodes did not play. I had added some "facial" buttons (aka, buttons that were not linked to anything) to my menu to give a little contrast to the background text. It turns out that the simulator handles buttons with no links just fine, but DVD Player does not like them. I converted these buttons to drop zones and tried again. Everything played fine after that.

The last thing to do was burn the project to a DVD disk. I just clicked on the Burn button in the main toolbar and DVD Studio prompts me for a blank DVD. After inserting a blank DVD disk, the burn started. Because most of the assets were already encoded, the burn didn't take long at all. It only took 35 minutes on a 2X DVD with nearly 1 1/2 hours of video, not including the menu video.

Slideshow Project
To start my slideshow project, I exported three albums from iPhoto in their original resolutions into their own folders. I then imported the containing folder as an asset. Simply dragging all three folders from the asset window to the graphical view added three slideshows. I then picked a template for the main menu from Apple's list. From there, I dragged a representative picture from each of the asset folders to create a link to each slideshow. Selecting each slideshow in the viewer allowed me to pick from a list of transitions for each slideshow and the duration of each slide.


Creating a Slideshow in DVD Studio Pro


When I went to add a soundtrack to the slideshow, it was not obvious to me how to easily import a track from iTunes. At first it did not seem like DVD Studio had any integration with iTunes, so I manually imported the soundtracks using a very long and unnecessary process. I say unnecessary, because I later discovered that DVD Studio Pro has seamless integration with iPhoto, iTunes and iMovie. I simply had missed the tabs that linked to those libraries.

Interface
DVD Studio Pro's interface does take some getting used to, but there are a number of key features that really make using DVD Studio Pro for DVD development a pleasure. The simulator, although not perfect, was a very convenient way to test the entire project or subsets of the project quickly and easily, and it's a simply click away. The graphical bar at the top of the menu that indicated space remaining was also very handy. As usual with an Apple product, it is the little things that you start to notice that really make the program enjoyable to use. For instance, if you drag a video asset to the timeline, DVD Studio Pro automatically adds the associated audio assets to the appropriate track. The ability to drag and drop just about anything on the interface was a big plus (sometimes I forget what a convenience that is until I work on a program in Windows).

Something I didn't like at first was that the interface doesn't follow the normal interface guidelines - the interface text is much smaller and the application itself follows a grey theme. In addition, the interface felt cluttered with all the tabs and the enormous amount of options on the inspector palette. However, the interface tended to grow on me over time. There are usually three or four ways to accomplish any particular task and this allows you to work in the way that is best suited for your workflow. The initial annoyance I had with the overwhelming interface (in advanced mode) rapidly went away. As I learned the product, I learned that any conceivable option was at most two clicks away. This greatly enhanced my workflow.

DVD Studio Pro is an application designed for professionals, but with a little diligence in learning the interface, it's quite easy for the hobbyist as well. This review barely begins to scratch the surface of all the features available in DVD Studio Pro. Just a sampling of things I did not cover; integration with Motion, integration with LiveType, webaccess capabilities, user restrictions, color control, adding custom menu templates, layered menus and much, much more. For those considering upgrading from DVD Studio Pro 2 to DVD Studio Pro 3, here is a list of some of the features introduced in DVD Studio Pro 3:

  • Transitions for Menus and Slideshows

    Automatically create transitions for menus and slideshows. Transitions are used to smoothly blend between menus and slides using a variety of effects. Access 30 adjustable transitions with a couple of clicks. Preview transitions without rendering.

  • Alpha Transitions

    Customize transitions to fit the project with Alpha transitions.

  • Integration with Motion and LiveType

    Use Motion and LiveType projects directly in DVD Studio Pro 3 and preview them without rendering. Edit and modify with the "Open in Editor" command for roundtrip editing.

  • Compressor Improvements

    Encode directly from HD to MPEG-2 with Compressor for maximum quality. Compressor also adds support for MPEG-1.

  • DTS Audio Support

    Use DTS files (48kHz, mono to 5.1 surround) in addition to Dolby Digital surround.

  • Jacket Picture Support

    Allow a DVD player to display a graphic to represent your DVD when in stop mode, as opposed to a generic graphic generated by the player.

  • Better Photoshop Integration

    Edit layered Photoshop files using the "Open in Editor" command.

  • Graphical Project View

    See the flow of a project and create a printable map of the DVD. Display the entire list of elements at a glance using the outline view.

  • Expanded Media Support

    Expanded media support includes DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, and DDP 2.0 and 2.1.


Summary
DVD Studio Pro 3 is an incredibly powerful program for authoring DVDs. Using the program to create DVDs from video recorded from VHS or Tivo, creating slideshows, and creating original DVDs has led me through some extensive exercises in DVD Studio Pro. This experience has led me to appreciate the sheer power that Apple has included in a relatively affordable program (comparable competitors run from $1000.00 and up). Some of the things that I learned to appreciate were: the ease of testing with the simulator, the graphical view for complex projects, the ability to define durations for video tracks (thus isolating the particular segment desired for a menu), the multiple ways to accomplish tasks, the amount of options available, and the flexibility of the included encoding tools (Compressor and A.Pack). There are a few issues with the program that I experienced. One of the issues I ran into was that Compressor does not include a preset for encoding DV audio to DVD standard 48kHz AIFF format (the only format that A.Pack recognizes). It's not hard to create, but since it does include presets for CD AIFF audio (44.1kHz), why couldn't Apple add one for DVD standard audio? In addition, it would be nice if A.Pack could be included in the Compressor program.

I would like to note that in spite of the amount of time I've used this program (by my count, I've created 48 DVDs using DVD Studio Pro) that I've probably utilized only about 60% of the programs functionality. I've not tried any of the scripting functions to create interactive DVDs, nor have I tried to incorporate any of the WebAccess functionality. There is also support for sophisticated layer menus, multiple languages, subtitles, multiple angles, transitions, color overlays and much more.

I have no reservations about recommending this software to anyone who needs to create DVDs and is looking for a little more functionality than iDVD provides. However, there IS a learning curve and the user must be willing to spend some time learning the program. The interface is intimidating at first given the sheer number of options, but completing the included tutorial and utilizing the reference manual (real hardcopies!) enhances the learning experience.

Pros

  • Incredibly Flexible
  • Easy to use (for a Professional level program)
  • Compressor encoding is outstanding

Cons

  • Compressor and A.Pack are separate programs
  • Built in simulator doesn't catch all the problems with a DVD


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice