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Best DVD authoring software

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Best DVD authoring software
on Jun 12, 2005 at 12:12:54 pm

Im sure this has probably been addressed before but..

I edit videos occasionally using Premiere 6 and until recently have put them back to video tape.

I started putting these to DVD instead using Nero which is fine but if you have two or more files with multiple chapters they all just seem to appear as consecutive chapters on the screen.

What is now required is to be able to have a much more commercial looking DVD where each file appears on an initial title screen and the chapters do not necessarily show or are shown on another screen when this is selected.

What is the best software for doing this?

I was origionally looking at Encore but have seen a couple of bad reviews around the net for this product.

I hope that this post makes soe sort of sense.


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George W.
Re: Best DVD authoring software
on Jun 12, 2005 at 1:51:05 pm

Depends on how "Advanced" you need to be, and whether you want a user-friendly interface, or you need to learn all there is about dvd commands...

Ulead's DVD MovieFactory gives you the Title and Menu's in a Wizard approach. You have a menu of all your Titles, then when you select a Title, it can go to the Title's Chapter menu. It has a builtin mpeg encoder, and some pretty good templates that you can customize by moving thumbnails around and resizing text/thumbnails.

Ulead also offers a more advanced Authoring package called DVD Workshop 2.x (this gets you full menu customization, and you have control over navigation through the use of "Playlists"). Still somewhat user-friendly, but with advanced features like multiple audio tracks and subtitles.

For access to many advanced navigational commands and control, there's MediaChance's DVD LabPro (steeper learning curve, but worth it if you want to learn about DVD Authoring). This program offers many many many Advanced features, and will grow with you as your dvd authoring skills grow. It does not have a builtin encoder, and the burning engine is a little "weak", but it does offer addons for both at a very reasonable cost. You can do just about anything within dvd specs (sans multi-angle) with this program...

All of these have Trial Downloads, so you get the chance to try them to see what makes sense for your workflow...

I'm sure others have their favorites too...


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Alex Alexzander
Re: Best DVD authoring software
on Jun 12, 2005 at 3:02:49 pm

Encore DVD is not horrible software. It just needs a few more basic features is all.

Encore is strongly tied to Photoshop, and uses an odd method of creating menus that is easy if you already understand Photoshop's layer palette. Once you get past that, their method makes it easy to make lots of adjustments.

See this image:

I prefer to work in the way most authoring applications work where I create the subpitcure overlay. I like that method, because it is so easy to work with almost any outside application when making motion menus, and looping menus. Adobe Encore DVD makes things easier when you consider that you have a lot of nice integration with their other applications. However, I like to think of DVD authoring as a completely separate task, that should be done, almost all by itself in a standard sort of way. The benefit to this is that as you switch from one authoring application to the next, you take what you have learned with you.

It's not uncommon for DVD authors to know several authoring applications, and use them when authoring in different situations. I like that my motion assets made for DVD Studio Pro for example, work in DVDLab Pro, because both use the same standard for background and overlay. Sonic's Producer is the same way, so all of these applications can be used with exactly the same preparation.

The other big issue with Encore in my opinion, is the VTS order.

See Image:

Here I have the Project window opened, and I used TFDVDEdit in this image to show how the VTS order is defined in Encore. When you import a track asset in Encore, the first one is always VTS1. The second one is always VTS 2, and so on. Say you are creating a DVD-9 and you want to author two separate episodes each of them 50 minutes in length. This is the perfect candidate for setting a layer break in a dummy track between the two episodes so that the viewer never actually has to visually pass over the layer break. If they watch episode 1 for example, and the layer break is set in the small VTS that is after that episode, then they never see the break. If they watch episode 2, and that starts in the VTS after the layer break, then they again, they never see the layer break.

Now in order to pull that off, you need to be able to say that you want the intro, the montage, the extras, on VTS1, 2, and 3 for example, and episode 1, on VTS4. Then you create VTS 5, add a 2 minute black track and set a layer break in the middle of that track, that being VTS 5. Next, create a VTS6 and add episode 2 to that. Now in your menus, you call upon VTS1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. You never call VTS 5 because it is just there to serve as an island where the layer break will be created.

Another reason for VTS order even in a DVD-5 is so that I can tell the authoring application I want my longest playing asset to be the last VTS. That way, I have faster access to the other smaller assets because they have less distance to cover when going from menu to asset, and back.

In Encore, you can't adjust this simple property. You will see this come up on Adobe's forums all the time. Many people will have their own reasons for wanting the track layed in a certain order. I think it is important for faster navigation, and setting the layer break where I want it.

In DVDSP for example, like the Project view in Encore DVD, you have an Outline view, and just altering the order of that outline view alters the order the VTSs are muxed into the final DVD. In Encore, the Project view has no such authority. What ever order you imported in, is what you are stuck with. If you want to change that order, you have to start a new project, and be careful as to what order you imported the items.

See my image, I have the Main Title as VTS1, and I should be able to move it to VTS 5, but I cannot.

Another issue is that Encore lacks any kind of scripting, and it is basically the same as Sonic Producer, and Sonic DVDIt, with a better face on it. It does cost little, and it does write to DLT, which DVDIt does not, and it can use AC3 which Sonic DVDit cannot. So it has a couple feature DVDIt does not have, but that's about it. It's not horrible, but it could stand some improvements at the same time. Perhaps Adobe has some improvements around the corner since they showed nothing at NAB.

You have probably read me slamming Encore, and I wanted to say I don't hate the application. I just think it needs a lot of improvements. It does have one thing going for it. Once you master its menu editing, you can make a nice menu with it, and its sister applications like Premiere and After Effects. I just think it is easier to do motion menus the standard way, and those standards also make use of After Effects, and any other compositing application out there.


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Re: Best DVD authoring software
on Jun 18, 2005 at 8:38:19 pm

Hi Alex

Thanks for the interesting info. DVDLab Pro looks worth exploring - I'm a little concerned though that the MediaChance website advises (I'm paraphrasing only slightly) not to use it for commercial discs ... Do you have knowledge / experience of its use to author discs then widely distributed on either pressed discs or DVD-Rs (the situation I'm in for corporate material)?

It would be great to get as much "power" and configurability as possible - alongside discs that will play back on as wide a spectrum of players as possible. Scenarist is out of reach for me on budget I think, and to get DVDStudioPro would mean a new Mac as well - quite an investment. Currenly I have Encore, and have had some jobs done outside (quite an expense, which I'd like to save by keeping in-house.

I would like something better if I can afford it - the ability to write to / use variables should open up some possibilities - but the issue of discs not playing on client players will remain a big one. Is this primarily an authoring software issue, do you think, or is it more to do with the MPEG encoding ...?

I've seen it suggested that REELDVD produces a Scenarist-style layout and very widely-playable discs ... any thoughts?

Thanks / Mike

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Alex Alexzander
Re: Best DVD authoring software
on Jun 18, 2005 at 11:08:58 pm

I have not thrown a DVDLab disc through replication, but I can and will shortly. There are a few people on the DVDLab forum that throw their titles through replication quite often and have done so very successfully. Now as to why the Author of DVDLab Pro has text on his site that says you ought to stick with DVD Studio Pro for professional work, most of us feel that Oscar wrote that in the past, and has been too busy to remove it. I personally no longer think it is true. I did 18 months ago, but I don't feel that way today.

Because of price, DVDLab Pro attracts a lot of kids, and because it offers to demux, and a lot of kids like to demux using alpha and beta software, they tend to run into problems and blame DVDLab Pro. Kids playing with authoring applications without knowing what they are doing are the worst poster-children for an application. In my opinion, they alone give it a bad name. I can take any authoring application and make nothing but coasters from it if I wanted to, and in their cases, if their not dealing with controlled media, that's what they will do.

Real authors that really encode their own footage, will always have less if any problems than kids extracting MPEGs from VOBs of commercial DVDs. The problem is, both of these very different authors currently share the same forums, and so its difficult to get a read on what's real and what isn't real because on the one hand, you have skilled authors using it; sharing experiences, and on another hand, you have users that can't operate Nero trying to make a go of it, and they have a completely different experience to share. Both of these groups share the same forum, and will confuse a passer by. The kids will often have screwed up MPEG streams and they will run around crying all day about how something doesn't work correctly, when in fact, they lack the skill, resources, or both to author correctly.

Now, there are things you should know prior to buying DVDLab Pro since you plan on going so directly into replication. DVDLab Pro is a great authoring application. That's all it does. It doesn't even have a place for you to add ROM content or to output to DLT for replication. In fact, you should use a $29 application called CopyToDVD to burn your DVDLab Pro project to DVD-R.

Other applications have all of those functions built right in, where as DVDLab Pro focuses on being a great authoring application. You must extend it using 3rd party applications. Now I bet this sounds kind of crazy to you, and I understand that completely. I love the idea, but many will not.

A little background

DVD Studio Pro used to have a difficult time creating DVD-9s for replication. Many users reported no problems at all, while a large percentage reported nothing but problems. This hit or miss caused many to look for a 3rd party way to do the pre-mastering, because the features DVD Studio Pro has are so good, they didn't want to scrap the entire authoring application just because of this one setback.

Now, this problem got worse, and better at the same time. As new features of DVD Studio Pro came out, you had to ask yourself, should you upgrade, and get that new feature, because if you do, how will know if by doing so you wont end up in a situation where your DVD-9s don't work again. You see, because new updates can make changes to both the pre-mastering ability, and the feature set at the same time, it made it that much harder to depend on the application overall. Fixing one bug might after all introduce another. This caused me to wish that authoring and pre-mastering be separate jobs for two separate applications. Let the authoring application do great authoring, and let another application do great pre-mastering.

This is how DVDLab Pro works. It does the authoring. It builds the project to the hard drive. You can use a snap in application (CopyToDVD) so that going from authoring to DVD-R media is just as seamless as every other DVD authoring application. That adds $29 to the price tag. I use the TMPGEnc encoder, pretty much just to get from Linear PCM to AC3 in the timeline of DVDLab. DVDLab doesn't have an encoder. Now, most Non-Linear Editors do, so its not a problem.

There are tons of 3rd party encoders, and many have their own preference on what the best encoder is. So if you are using Pinnacle Liquid Edition for example, you can output directly from Pinnacle to MPEG2 (video), and WAV (PCM) from the timeline. You now have all that you need to successful author in Lab Pro. However, if you want to compress the PCM audio to AC3, that's where another 3rd party application comes into play. That's what I am talking about when I say I use the TMPGEnc encoder. That snaps into DVDLab Pro, and so right in the assets tab of DVDLab Pro, I can compress PCM to AC3. That's $39 to $79 depending on the features you want from the TMPGEnc encoder.

Now, say you want to go to Dual Layer. Well, you have the build files after all, so take your pick. You could use Nero, or CopyToDVD, or any other application that formats a VIDEO_TS folder to a DVD+R DL disc. I like to use Gear Pro Mastering Edition, which is $399. The reason for this is, I can set a precise layer break in Gear, and I can use that to make a Double Layer DVD+R, or my DLTs for replication. In addition to that, I have all the other features Gear offers. One of which is going from DLT tape image to DVD-R. A handy feature to have. I can also use Gear to copy DVDs and CDs, and so many other great things. Gear is a great application to have anyway, so I don't mind the cost at all.

What about adding that PCFriendly ROM content you see on professional Hollywood DVDs? That you can do with Sonic's eDVD. That also works with the build files. That is your VIDEO_TS folder. eDVD is just $199.

So as you can see, DVDLab Pro is the foundation. You edit with your editor. You encode with your encoder. You author with DVDLab Pro. You output with CopyToDVD or any DVD burning application you like. You pre-master with Gear, or for DVD-5 titles, just turn those into your replicator. Most all of them will gladly take a DVD-R for DVD-5.

I hope I have given you a very fair view of what Lab Pro is like. Now, moving along to the rest of the question.

My thought on Sonic's ReelDVD is that no one has done a good enough job reviewing it to really tell it like it is, and I have not played with it. I have some second hand word of mouth, that it authors all your tracks and menus into one video title set. If that works for you, grab it. I'll ask Sonic for a copy some time in the future, and do a really hardcore review of it at that time. Everything I have seen on the free web is just paragraphs of useless information. A good review is needed. One that doesn't care how long it takes to explore the application and articulate its ability or lack there of. So I reserve judgment until that time.

Now, for a bit of speculation. Sonic charges a lot more for DVD Producer than ReelDVD, and I use Producer. I really like Producer. It's like a Jr. DVD Studio Pro, without scripting capabilities. It feels like a more functional face on the DVDit Engine if you ask me. Let me break that down.

DVDit! is a $299 application. It does MPEG2/WAV(PCM) audio. No DLT functions. DVDIt has a strange way of doing menus, which is a lot like how Encore DVD does their menus. Rather than an overlay, you have these elements that together create the subpicture. In my opinion, its great for the beginner, lousy for the pro.

Encore DVD is a $349 application. It is based on DVDit, so it has the clunky feel of menu design that DVDit has, but it also adds AC3 audio, and DLT functions, which DVDit does not have.

Here comes the mud...

Then Comes Sonic DVD Producer, which I believe is $1,199 and up depending on encoder. This is a lot like Encore DVD and DVDit, but the menu design uses standard principles. A background and overlay. That is my preferred way to make a DVD menu. It has AC3, and DLT functions. Producer can also use Sonic's encore cards making it a real-time solution. The funny thing is, Encore has a slightly better presentation then Producer. But, the menu process in Producer wins it for me. Id rather author in Producer then Encore. No doubt about it for me.

Switching platforms for a second, we go to DVD Studio Pro. $499, and you get a lot of bang for the buck. Too many features to begin to mention here. This application does almost everything. It has one big setback though. All of it is done via an abstraction layer to make the application easy to use. It's very hard to discount DVD Studio Pro. It's feature-set is just that good. You can create conditional navigation, and interactivity through the use of scripting. It support PCM, AC3, and DTS. It comes with its own encoders with the exception of DTS. It has the best simulator I have ever used, and that makes learning to script a lot easier. As a result, you can take yourself pretty far with DVD Studio Pro. I've been using it for years, and I'll likely keep on using it for years to come.

DVD Studio Pro takes you so far into the pro area, that soon you find out that you want to go even further, but all the applications that are better start in the multi thousand dollar range.

Oddly enough, this is where the $199 DVDLab Pro comes in. You have access to placing your menus where you want them. Not so in DVDSP or any of the above mentioned applications. None of the above application give you access to the PGCs pre- and post-commands either, which is far more effective for conditional scripting. Its as if someone decided to make Scenarist Jr for $199. It doesn't make sense, but that's what it is. It doesn't have the built in encoders, or the DLT writing abilities. But then I like those separate for all the reasons I already mentioned. There is a very light abstraction layer to DVDLab, and you can modify it at will or even exclude it all together. It can be quite easy to use if used to do basic things, but it can grow with you as you decide to get more creative with it.

Which authoring application to use is a hard question to answer. It really depends on you. I know editors for example that love iDVD. I like it too for a lot of good reasons. They have DVD Studio Pro, but basically use it like iDVD. They just want the more templates. Some will never script, so much of DVD Studio Pro's true power is wasted on said users.

For many Sonic Producer is perfection. Easy to learn, and easy to use, yet it has real-time abilities, and uses standards in menu creation. A great all around authoring application that lets creative people focus on being creative, and not authoring gurus.

Others want to do all kinds of crazy things that just can't be done. They blame the authoring applications when really most of the issues are just the limitation of the DVD spec itself, just like my walking on water goes against basic physics. I'd love to walk on water, but I want waste any roaming charges calling God and giving the all mighty an earful for this limitation. Still others will waste time getting upset with what can't be done. Still, some applications and people are so creative together, that they can find a good middle-ground.

So the question is a good one. Not one I can answer. If the vendor offers a free trial, why not take them up on it, and join a forum and ask questions. See what fits the bill for you. You want to go to replication, so look for good layer break, and DLT support. Talk to those that replicate, and ask them what issues they face. No matter what you choose today, you'll change your mind later anyway. Why do suppose so many authors know so many authoring applications? We keep looking for something better. There are no mistakes. Just good choices and later, even better and more informed choices.


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