• Price When Reviewed: 297 . 119

  • Pros: Compact yet wide-ranging DVD authoring application that benefits from new interface elements, workflow enhancements and wider MPEG and audio format support.

  • Cons: Even more power hungry than before. Tighter adherence to the DVD specification means that earlier ‘illegal’ projects do not import well.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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Apple’s premier DVD-formation package is now in its third incarnation, bringing new interface elements, workflow enhancements and wider format support to Mac-based DVD authors. The basic method of constructing a DVD remains the same, but the power of the application is in the compact nature of the process.

Professional DVD design houses will have at least two people involved in the various stages of authoring. Encoding
the assets, designing menu elements, building in interactivity, linking the menu to the content and tracks, then preparing the DVD master for replication are all distinct stages that require handover of content and assets, often across a network. With DVD Studio Pro, a sole designer can do all this on one Mac.

At first glance, you can see there are more templates in the palette, but other than that, the interface remains very similar to that of version 2.0. Hidden behind the scenes, however, is the first of the enhancements – the Graphical tab. This provides an extra way, in addition to the Outline tab, to view and rename the elements in your project. Elements of the DVD are viewed as tiles, differentiated by colour for different types. They show a thumbnail of the element, with visual indicators of aspect ratio, transitions, and ‘first play clip’ included, and can display connection lines showing relationships to others.

This tree structure is rather like Shake or Combustion in practice (or Director or Dreamweaver), and like those applications you can zoom or resize the tab to see all or part of the tile layout. The Distribute Objects command from the Arrange menu can space the tiles evenly in the tab, and a floating Macro view is available to show all the tile area in a box. You can flag tiles for later attention, choose to display only specific types of tiles and connections, as well as choose to view the tiles in two sizes using the tab settings pop-up menu.

This tab is useful for more than just organizing your DVD. You should always begin your DVD project with a plan or storyboard – the Graphical tab can make this a simple process, as it offers the ability to print the tile area.

There are big enhancements to workflow in version 3.0, most notably in the area of transitions. These are the short video or motion graphic clips that play when buttons are pressed. Transitions add a sense of dynamism to the menu. You could include transitions in DVD Studio Pro projects before, but version three adds thirty preset Standard and Alpha transitions to use in a similar manner to the pre-built library of templates and buttons. The Alpha transitions are simple video clips supplied by Apple, but you can use material from your main footage to create your own, customized versions by choosing Video Transition from the pop-up menu.

Lost in transition

Standard transitions – such as wipes, zoom, and page curl – will be familiar to anyone used to NLE video-editing. To use these effects you first apply a default transition to the entire menu by using the Transition tab in the Menu inspector. This sets a start frame and end frame for the transition. For example, if transitioning to a video clip, the end frame of the effect would be the first frame of the video clip. The Transition tab allows the user to configure the specific parameters of the effect. Then you can modify the button transitions on an individual basis.

With these capabilities it would be easy to start adding transitions all over the place, but be aware that the video title set (VTS) file that holds the entire DVD menu system cannot be greater than 1GB. Menu transitions can be an irritation if all the user wants to do is get to the content, but their provision is a welcome addition to the array of professional tools in DVD Studio Pro.

Another enhancement is the ability to copy-&-paste menu items such as buttons, drop zones and text objects from one menu to another or within the same menu. All the attributes, links and settings are transferred along with the pasted elements making this a very smooth way to create an extended system of similar menus. In the same way you can now copy text between subtitles or paste text in from another text source. While these are welcome developments, it seems strange that Apple waited so long to implement them.

MPEG-2 format support has been improved for version 3.0. It encompasses all the video resolutions that the DVD specification supports. Compressor 1.2 is included in the package, and it’s now able to encode HD footage to SD formats, while the QuickTime MPEG encoder is added to the system on installation. You can import QuickTime video clips complete with chapter markers from Final Cut Pro HD or Final Cut Express into your project, but in practice this didn’t always go according to plan.

Fine tune

Support for audio formats has been revamped. As well as existing support for AC-3, the application now supports the import and use of DTS for providing 5:1 surround sound. You’ll need an external decoder to preview the DTS files, or burn a DVD to test the sound, as neither the application or Apple DVD player provides native support for the format. AAC format audio files can now be used in your DVD projects, but if you have downloaded files from the iTunes Music Store you have to make sure that your Mac is authorized to play them.

The ability to import iDVD projects now encompasses versions 3.0 and 4.0 of the consumer-targeted DVD authoring environment. However, you still need to have iDVD installed on the same system or use an iDVD 4 Archive project.
Professional DVD authors will be more interested to learn that DVD Studio Pro now adheres to the DVD specification limit of 99 tracks, stories, and slideshows. If you try to import an ‘illegal’ project from a previous version, a warning pops up to state that the entire project could not be imported.

Apple freely admits other problems concerning importing earlier projects, giving advice on limitations and workarounds in the manual – at least help is at hand. Some of the new features are a case of better late than never, but Apple has taken note of user feedback and the strictures of the DVD specification. Notwithstanding Adobe’s forthcoming Encore DVD 1.5, Apple’s application remains the most professional DVD-authoring tool across the creative desktop market.