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Apple DVD Studio Pro 1.5 Review

Unless you make your living producing DVD’s you may be asking, “Why in the world would I pay over $900 for this software when I can use iDVD for free?” And let’s face it, iDVD is an amazingly well thought out and easy to use program for DVD authoring.

Making the move up
After having produced a number of DVD projects some of its limitations motivated me to ante up for a more professional solution. The two most notable features that drove me to DVD SP were its support of chapter markers, and the variable bit rate MPEG encoding. Chapter markers enable me to produce longer form DVD content while still providing the end user access to the various scenes or sections individually. This gives similar functionality to what you find in major motion picture releases. The variable bit rate export allows me to push the quantity of content to higher levels while still maintaining fine control over quality levels. In addition, DVD SP comes with APack, a program for AC-3 encoding of audio, which greatly reduces the size of audio files with very minimal sonic degradation, further allowing me to maximize the 4.7 gig limits of my DVD-R Superdrive.

But wait, there’s more!
Those two (really three) features alone were worth the price of admission to me. But I got a lot more. Now I can do elaborate custom menus, where I can design all the content in Photoshop and very specifically control navigation features and different types of interactivity. For example, if I want I can set a menu so that the text for a selected item turns yellow, while a frame around its image turns orange. Then I can choose two different colors for them upon activation. Sound frivolous? Maybe, but when these items are set atop a complex background image it can be nice to have the flexibility to control colors so things remain legible in all states of operation. I can even have items move about the screen when selected! Then there is multi-language support, subtitling, region codes, copy protection, and if one wants there are some very in depth scripting tools available. Want to set up a menu button so activation plays a short movie and then presents the user with a choice between two other unique menus, which in turn lead to the same or different content on the disc? All this and more are a snap with DVD SP.

This immense power and flexibility does come at somewhat of a price in terms of the user interface though. The program is very easy to understand, and not complex at all. What can be complex, however, is the DVD creation process. In iDVD a lot of small decisions are made for you that you normally don’t have to think about. These must all be specifically set in DVD SP. For example, what do you want to happen when a particular movie finishes? In iDVD there is no choice. You are taken back to the menu where you selected it. In DVD SP you can make anything happen. Want to go to slide #47 of the 66 slides in your slide show? No problem, but you do have to decide what you want. Navigation among buttons is another issue. There is at least a default for these, but it’s nice that one can dictate the path a user will take through them by using the different cursor controls on a DVD remote. All of these little details need to be dealt with before authoring your DVD, which can take time, especially compared to the “no-brainer” approach of using iDVD. Additionally DVD SP requires you to create all your content from scratch, including buttons, images, links, graphics, etc. Anything that you want the user to see on the DVD will have to be generated by you, whether that’s the movies themselves (obviously) or the menus and navigation icons. These can take some time and expertise to build so be sure you are prepared for that investment before you buy.

In the end…
Assuming you are willing to put the time and energy in to taking your DVD’s to a higher level of production you will love the flexibility and power of DVD Studio Pro. Ultimately, you can make the end user’s experience with your DVD so much more fluid and compelling; you’ll be glad you made the jump.

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