With all the buzz about Apple’s new hardware products, it’s easy to forget that Apple is also a software company. Final Cut Pro is probably the best-known member of Apple’s family of post production applications that includes LiveType, Cinema Tools, Soundtrack, Motion and Shake.
+ Workflow enhancements
+ Professional Templates and graphics
+ Batch encoding of MPEG-2 and surround AAC
+ Extensive support for DVD specification
+ All standard writable DVD video formats supported
– No filmstrip view in track editor
– No audio level controls or audio fade options
– No DVD-Audio format
The Score: A very well designed application that streamlines complex DVD authoring chores while providing a very extensive set of options for authoring.
The recent upgrade of Apple’s DVD-Video authoring application, DVD Studio Pro 3, brings new features and new levels of integration. With considerations towards workflow efficiency and a rich set of features, Apple has raised the stakes for professional DVD authoring on the Mac.
DVD Studio Pro 3 (DVDSP3) sports three customizable layouts. The main windows are the menu editor, the track editor, the Assets tab, the Palette and a graphical project overview. The product also includes two stand-alone compression applications.
The Palette has a collection of templates, styles and graphics that can be used in projects. The prebuilt interfaces are suitable for a variety of professional projects including industrial, wedding and entertainment titles for film, video and music producers.
The Menu Editor is where you arrange the buttons, text, background images and video clips that create the user interface for your DVD. In some cases, multiple tasks can be accomplished in a single step. For example, holding the mouse button while dragging a graphic yields a context-sensitive “Drop Palette,” or menu, where you can select options such as creating a button or simultaneously creating a button and a track and linking the two. Graphical elements can be placed in drop zones to build a composite image for the menu background. Buttons and drop zone graphics can be resized.
The Assets tab is simply a listing of graphics, video clips and audio that has been imported into the current project. Audio clips can be added to your project via the Assets tab or pulled from the iTunes library via the Palette. Apple Motion projects can also be imported and used for animated menu graphics or Alpha Transitions.
The bundled A.Pack application encodes PCM audio into AC-3 with channel configurations up to 5.1. The Compressor program supports batch processing of video into several MPEG formats, including MPEG-2 with one and two pass encoding. Compressor encodes HD video sources directly into MPEG-2 and stereo AC-3 audio with bit rates up to 256 kbps.
Audio can be imported into DVDSP3 from MPEG-1 Layer 2, AC-3, DTS, WAV and AIF sources. Note that DVDSP3 does not provide a means for encoding DTS audio but it can be integrated in projects.
DVDSP3 imports MPEG-1, MPEG-2, D1 and QuickTime video formats. Several new features are aimed at integrating DVDSP3 with Apple and third party applications. For example, DVDSP3 can work directly with layered Photoshop files, it can import iDVD4 projects and chapter markers are read from Final Cut Pro/Express and iMovie.
Alternate languages are supported with up to 32 subtitle streams and up to eight audio streams. The “stories” feature provides alternative sequences for your video clips. This could be used for alternate endings or selective scene skipping by the viewer. DVDSP3 is compatible with PAL and NTSC video standards and supports up to nine video angles. It also supports dual layer discs.
Slideshows can be created with up to 99 still images. The durations of each image can be set globally or on a per-slide basis. Individual slide durations can be automatically set so the length of a group matches the length of an audio track.
DVDSP3 supports writing to DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW. Professional authoring formats, such as Data Description Protocol (DDP 2.0 and 2.1) and Cutting Master Format (CMF 1.0) can be written to DLT or hard drive. Copy protection is supported through APS, which requires a license from Macrovision and CSS, which is applied by licensed replicators.
Thirty adjustable transitions are available for menus jumps, buttons, slides and still images in a timeline. Graphics can be customized through direct launching of Motion and Photoshop. Alpha Transitions, a new feature in version 3, add the use of video clips to the transition options. The compositing engine can preview transitions without an extra rendering step.
I set out to create a film score demo reel using segments from my two commercial DVDs and a few short films I’ve scored. I used DVDSP3 on a 1 GHz G4 Dual with 1.5 GB of RAM and OS 10.3.7. The audio came from Pro Tools sessions created on my HD|1 system and Logic Pro 7. The video clips were prepared in iMovie and Final Cut Pro 3 (FCP) and saved as QuickTime or MPEG-2.
The menus are very easy to set up especially with the Apple supplied templates. The film-themed backgrounds and pre-made buttons saved me the trouble of trying to be something I’m not – a graphic artist. I found it handy to be able to type text directly into the background of the menu and directly onto buttons.
My Demo reel became more complex as I added sub-menus for specific types of projects and a slide show with biographical information. The Graphical View is helpful for visualizing the hierarchy of menus and relationships between menus and tracks (and the graph can be printed). I also found the graphical view was the easiest way to navigate the project while I worked on different sections. Follow the tree, click on a menu or double click on a track and it comes up in the menu editor.
Occasionally I hear complaints from people about the lack of a second button on Apple’s factory supplied mouse. A second mouse button could, for example, put a contextual menu on the screen where you are pointing. DVDSP3 answers this call to a certain extent through the Drop Palette. Once I set the preference for the Drop Palette to appear faster, and got used to holding the mouse button, I found this feature to be a real time saver.
Aside from the standard dissolves, wipes and fades, DVDSP3 also has transitions that fade through color, a water splash effect and a generous assortment of spinning, flipping, melting and zooming effects. The new Alpha Transitions feature adds some nice eye candy. One of my favorites was a short clip of scratchy old film that makes a perfect lead in for a classic film title. I found that judicious use of transitions made my project look far more professional.
I wanted to test the menu navigation before burning a DVD. After dealing with video editors that require rendering with each little change, it’s a pleasure to see that you can see moving graphics and transitions in the Simulator without the extra step of rendering.
The DVD-Video format allows surround audio only in compressed formats. I used the bundled A.Pack utility program to encode my surround stems into AC-3. My source files were 24-bit, 48 kHz WAV and DVDSP3 supports up to 5.1 channels of 24-bit, 48 kHz AC-3. I fed the five stems of the 75-minute score into A.Pack and had a five-channel surround AC-3 file in no time at all.
While the DVD-Video specification does not allow for surround mixes in PCM formats, it is possible to incorporate stereo PCM with sample rates as high as 24-bit/96 kHz. I took advantage of this to sweeten a slide show with a dropped-in section of high-resolution audio from Logic Pro.
Unfortunately, Apple does not include any DVD-A authoring features in DVD Studio Pro.
DVDSP3 is not intended to replace the audio and video editing features of programs like FCP and Logic but you can trim audio and video to an extent. There are restrictions to keep in mind. For example, video trimming is restricted to Group of Pictures, or GOP boundaries.
I feel that a bit more attention could be given to the features and information in the track editor. For example, the ability to fade audio streams in and out would avoid a lot of outside editing. It would also be nice to be able to set a level for an audio stream, at least when PCM audio is involved.
The video display in the track timeline is an opaque blob with a single thumbnail image at the beginning and a solid color indicating the length of the video. The inclusion of a filmstrip view such as found in Logic Pro and FCP would be a big help in placing subtitles and audio clips.
Apple has taken the user-friendly interface to a new level with the addition of contextual Drop Palettes. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to work much more quickly than I would have otherwise.
Apple’s extensive support for the DVD video specification and the ability to create professional authoring formats make DVDSP3 well suited to professional applications. Considering the rich visual features, the batch encoding and the ease of use, I have to say that Apple has come up with a winning solution at a great price.