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There's been a major upheaval going on in the professional DVD-authoring market, which culminated in the merger last month of the top two brands, Sonic Solutions and Daikin. All of the hoopla has been due to the static nature of the DVD-Video format. Once your tool can create everything covered in the format, there's not really a lot you can add to it. And there go your upgrade fees. So Apple has decided to grab people's attention with DVD Studio Pro by slashing the price severely. DVD Studio may be priced like a prosumer tool but it looks more like a high-end one - which is not surprising, as it's an updated version of Astarte's DVD Director with a Final Cut Pro-style front end. Menu structure
Getting to grips with the interface, therefore, will be easy if you've experience of high-end solutions - but the DVDit! crowd will feel swamped. DVD Studio's workflow consists of taking your pages and arranging them in a complex menu structure. It then adds buttons to allow users to navigate from menu to menu in order to view video, audio, images and text. There are other elements you can add as well, such as controls to randomly play different elements. This is arranged through the horridly-complex Graphical View screen, where you attach the different menus to each other. Although common in high-end packages, to those new to DVD this approach will seem like designing a complex Web site using a low-end tool. DVD Studio Pro users will also spend a lot of time on the menu screen - the place where you design the static screens. The menu screen's artistic tools are somewhat basic - even Apple admits that it's better to design menus in Adobe Photoshop and import them, layers intact. This also lets you add moving elements by importing video clips, although unfortunately there's no facility to import these clips with layers intact, from say, After Effects, as some other DVD tools can. Overall, DVD Studio's feature set measures up well against more-expensive offerings, even against DVD Fusion, which weighs in at just under three grand. DVD Studio offers up to 99 tracks - and each track can show a scene from up to eight different angles, with eight different audio and 32 different subtitle streams. You can work in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios, PAL or NTSC and create both DVD-5 and -9 discs (though not dual-layer DVD-10 and -18 discs). You can even add CSS copyright control, regional coding and Web links. The package also ships with two importing utilities: A.Pack and the QuickTime MPEG encoder. A.Pack converts audio into Dolby's AC-3 audio format, which works well as long as you have high-quality audio to start with. The MPEG encoder is OK, but doesn't match Ligos' Windows based LSX nor a hardware converter for producing high-quality MPEG-2.