By Michael Burns | on November 20, 2003
The first thing that hits you about DVD Studio Pro 2 is the big interface improvement. Highly customizable, you have great freedom to choose which windows to display and where they should go. The interface is split into quadrants. A Palette and an Inspector are there for viewing, and making changes to project elements. Quadrants can be resized easily, with other windows shifting to suit, and you can tear off tabs into separate windows. You can save your new configuration, adding it to a list of automatic presets. Clicking any of these makes all the wandering windows leap back into place.
DVD Studio Pro 2 offers three settings for application configuration. Basic follows on from iDVD, Extended introduces more complex functions and the timeline, and Advanced gives access to the full works.
When working in Basic mode you’re shielded from all the difficult decisions, and it’s a good place to start if you have no experience of DVD authoring. Starting with the Basic setup opens a new project window with a palette on the side. This contains an array of media tabs to provide quick access to the assets on your hard disk. Handily, these link automatically into your pictures, movies, and music folders, so if you use the iLife suite of programs (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie), you’ll already have a supply of assets to work with.
Dragging assets from the Palette into the Menu Editor with the mouse button held down causes a pop-up to appear like NLEs such as Final Cut Pro. This is the
Drop Palette and offers a list of contextual functions for building menus. Selecting the required function quickly determines how the asset will be used. For example, assigning a video as a menu’s background creates a motion menu.
The Palette contains templates and styles, including buttons that you can drag onto your menu and full menu layouts. You can use image editors to build more complex menu backgrounds. While Apple’s application doesn’t come close to the Photoshop integration
offered by Adobe Encore DVD, it does let you import 8-bit RGB Photoshop .psd files complete with layers. Layer effects, layer styles, and transfer modes must still be flattened before use in DVD Studio Pro 2.
Another new feature is drop zones – customized areas added to the menu background that allow assets to be
added by drag-&-drop, without the need to leave the application. They can be rotated, positioned, resized, and masked to provide irregular shapes and borders
for assets. These can be motion graphics or still images, but they cannot be linked to other elements in the project.
The Palette features Shapes – pre-built .psd files that can be used as multi-state buttons or drop zones.
A simple toolbar is present in the Basic layout, giving access to font and colour formatting. Text can be changed in the Menu by clicking and typing, and colours used in one part of the menu can be saved as swatches for ensuring later conformity. Using the Palette, toolbar, and the new menu tools, a simple DVD can be built easily using just drag-&-drop and some typing. A simulator button lets you preview the layout and functions, while a Burn button sets the SuperDrive rolling.
When you move to the Advanced and Extended modes, you are given access to the full four quadrants layout. As well as the floating Palette and Inspector, this features an Assets tab, an Outline tab to view the project layout, a Story tab, and the new timeline based Track Editor. Tracks are elements that contain the video, audio, and subtitle streams – and the editor offers a linear view of all the streams your project contains. The Track Editor makes it easy to place chapter markers, or modify markers imported with projects from Apple’s iLife and Final Cut applications (in a similar fashion to Encore DVD’s integration with Adobe products).
Dragging a MPEG-2 movie from the Outline Tab onto the V1 video stream in the track editor is swiftly followed by the matching audio appearing in the A1 stream. DVD Studio Pro 2 automatically adds an audio asset if it has the same filename as a video asset. Due to integrated QuickTime MPEG and audio encoding, any imported files are automatically encoded into MPEG-2 video or AIFF audio files, starting from when you import the asset.
Alignment guides are a new feature of Menu Creation. These yellow lines make it easier to align menu objects with each other, appearing as you move the menu objects around. A Connections tab lets you view all connections between elements at a glance. Scripting, subtitling, and simulation capabilities have all been improved. There is support for mixed-angle tracks – DVD projects that have a single video stream for most of their playing time, but that provide alternate streams in certain sections. This frees up a lot more disc space than the multiple angle method available in previous versions of the application.
Creating slideshows is simple with DVD Studio Pro 2. You just drag a folder of pictures onto a drop zone attached to a button, when in the Slideshow editor. The application automatically imports the files into a slideshow linked to the button. Audio can play over the slides, looping automatically if the music ends first. Alternatively, the Fit To Audio feature ensures that the slides and audio end together.
Slideshows can be converted into tracks to let you add a second audio stream or subtitles, and can be edited
in the Track Editor as normal.
You’ll need a pretty hefty machine to run the software though, as it all comes in at 3.4GB for the average install. When not in Basic mode, DVD Studio Pro is not the most intuitive of applications. In fact, the many new interface features sometimes caused confusion, hiding buttons that could only be found after palettes were moved and certain windows extended. The Slideshow function was a bit quirky when it came to audio and, in some instances, the Assets folders locked up (Apple has now patched this problem).
DVD Studio Pro 2 now has serious competition that doesn’t cost thousands. However, Adobe’s Encore DVD lacks DVD Studio Pro 2’s advanced features. With DVD Studio Pro 2 now costing less than Adobe’s new tool, it’s a much stronger product.