There are many types of DVD authoring software, from those with very few functions to ones with unlimited possibilities. Your choice depends on how gifted you are with creation.
What better way to describe the thrill of playing a DVD with the latest exploits of your family vacation or the new puppy other than to say: We're going Hollywood at home? Of course there's business uses for a home-made DVD too: promoting a new business or proclaiming a service to potential and existing clients as well. Regardless, producing a DVD isn't something that has to be done for you any more than the days when a professional photographer with a camera or camcorder was needed at a family or business event. The DVD disc authoring programs that are now available describe a wide arc from those designed for professional presentations with the completed content expected to be duplicated onto thousands (or more) discs to that of a single copy featuring the recent visit of the In-law to multiple copies with a slideshow on them for business use. Either way, there's a DVD disc authoring program that will suit your temperament, budget and needs.
Professional Disc Authoring Programs
Professional authoring programs may be useful for mass disc creation, but their features tend to proclaim that the user is King in how s/he will go about using it. These programs include much more functionality and control over audio than consumer models do, and for a good reason: a finished DVD needs its audio to be as professionally mastered and the video being presented. Unsurprisingly, menus and onscreen graphical interfaces are feature-rich, sometime too much so it seems to the casual observer. But those willing to spend the time (and cost) to properly understand the abilities and options the authoring program offers will have little to complain when the disc enters a DVD drive and begins to play.
Adobe Encore CS5/$799 (part of Premiere Pro CS5)/Mac and Windows
A versatile, interactive tool that works with Blu-ray discs as easily as DV and web DVDs (with integrated search capabilities for web DVD titles), the interface features browsable multiple menus that contain the many features available without smothering the user in them. Content from AVCHD cameras can be passed directly through to disc without having to be transcoded (maintaining the original fidelity of the source content), and replicated discs created by Encore can use direct DDP Master support, with the outputted file sent directly to the mastering facility through the internet. Full support for maintaining the fidelity of the standard-definition or high-definition video image is aided by background encoding and the ability to add third-part encoding integration. Cross-Platform support is also an easy and painless task that does not require any type of conversion between Mac and Windows platforms.
DVD Studio Pro 4/$999 (part of Final Cut Studio 7)/Mac
Apple's professional video editing suite may not be intimidating, but it sure does require patience and the willingness to explore in detail the wealth of features available. DVD Studio Pro 4 provides sophisticated tools in a graphical interface that allows you to see all that needs to be done as well as what is being done. Templates are provided for creating DVDs and slideshows with a highly professional look that can be previewed in real-time prior to the disc being burned. The addition of features such as copy protection flags, region coding and others points to the professional, commercial level of the disc that can be created or sent off for replication.
GEAR PRO Mastering Edition 8/$599/Windows
An easy to use interface melds with support for all types of DVDs (single and dual layer) with audio ripping capabilities and artist/track identification built-in. A scripting feature enables automating repetitive tasks as well as calling out the program from external programs. There is also the ability to burn your own "check disc" prior to sending it off to check for problems and possible playability factors. Once done, the finished work can be burned to disc on multiple recorders or sent out for replication via computer or network drive or through the Internet.
Vegas Pro 9/$600/Windows
The program integrates content creation and production with broad format support and a multitude of effect processing for video and audio. A full compliment of editorial tools are placed on a graphical interface that provides both overview and drilled-down looks at the content being worked on. High-definition Blu-ray disc creation is standard, with multiple monitor support clamming for attention while network rendering ties in with multiple computers. The new camcorder formats (XDCAM EX, RED) are also supported.
DVDAfterEdit Standard Edition/$349/Mac
Those expecting fair control over the DVD process with a Mac-based program at this cost won't be disappointed. Besides the expected "Drag and drop" functionality and menu control over the look and "feel" of the DVD, there's the ability to import, replace or remove content from other DVDs, video folders or DVD disc images. A welcome addition is the "Tracer" program for inspecting video folders in order to discern problems affecting the creation chain.
Consumer Disc Authoring Programs
Consumers do not want complicated or involved programs when it comes to creating DVDs of family and friends. The DVD program needs to be intuitive and readily usable; something to turn to and use after a family gathering has been videotaped or for preparing a slideshow for Grandma's visit. The important thing is that the program can "connect" with the user without requiring a learning curve or needing to remember a lot of commands from the last time it was used. Those programs that do that, regardless of their cost, will find themselves used over and over again. This hasn't been lost on the companies providing such DVD programs to consumer either, as the following examples will show.
Movie Edit Pro 16 Plus/130/Windows
The program features a graphical interface with a large viewing window and an easy to relate to video clip holding tray. Plus a whopping 1500+ special effects, cinematic transitions and templates to use. Surround sound mixing is available (5.1), as is multi-cam editing and such animated features as travel routes. HD support for digital camcorders and Blu-ray discs as well. Other new features include object zoom, the ability to select individual audio tracks during a DVD import and 3D real-time animation.
PhotoStory on CD & DVD 9 deluxe/$90/Windows
Nicely (and obviously) designed for the creation of multimedia slideshows, PhotoStory provides high-definition support and the ability to create a slideshow in three minutes: selecting photos and videos from the hard drive, web, memory card or digital camera or camcorder, adding music and text via wizard assistance and then burning it all onto a DVD. Titles and background music is included, as is the ability to export the slideshows to websites like YouTube and Flickr. Blu-ray disc support is also included.
Pinnacle Studio Ultimate Collection/$130/Windows
Designed to provide a complete suite of authoring tools, the Pinnacle Ultimate Collection provides for such advanced effects as green-screens and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. A reworked and simplified interface enables new tools to be employed by the user - such as producing lens flare and other lighting effects and Hollywood-style "particle" effects such as white clouds, bubbly, rain and more. Motion titling and stop motion capture is added to the list, as is image stabilizing and the ability to export movies for Flash, QuickTime and many of the game consoles now being used today. Blu-ray disc support is included and a wide assortment of styles and themes round out, but by no means complete all of the features that are available.
DiscJuggler Professional Edition 6/$50/Windows
Probably the most noticeable feature is the web interface allowing for disc images to be sent a server through a simple web page. The intuitive user interface provides complete control over the disc writing process. Audio support for insert points, variable gap sizes, subcodes and on-the-fly audio stream resynchronization is present, as are embedded robotic control support for autoloader use. Support for CD writers as well as DVD writers, is included as well.
TMPGEnc Authoring Works 4/$100/Windows
Touted as an all-in-one media authoring solution, there's no denying that Authoring Works 4 offers a rich feature set to the user. It is able to produce standard-definition DVDs, high-definition Blu-ray Discs and even DivX-standard DVDs. Interactive menus can be created, subtitles added as desired (good for multiple language executions), and pre-installed templates used. There is also the ability to add Dolby Digital 5.1 surround to the audio. A well thought out graphical menu set enables content to be assembled and outputted with minimal execution, although layering in additions is available and up to the user if desired. A "smart rendering" feature allows outputting to disc without having to re-encode the entire movie file should any changes need to be made after the full rendering has been complete.
iDVD/$79.00 (part of iLife '09)
Designed to enable a DVD to be created within minutes, iDVD provides an automated assistant that only requires choosing a theme for the DVD and the movies or photos desired. The program integrates with the files available on the Mac and also allows for customizing the presentation and adding music from the iTunes music library.
My Autoplay Menu/$20/Windows
The program "builds" a DVD that will automatically play once inserted into a DVD player or computer drive. A simple interface allows for choosing the content to be placed on the disc and can also place content that will start automatically on USB flash drives. Themes and ready-to-use buttons for menu navigation is also included.
ShowBiz DVD 2/$100/Windows
Basic video editing is aided by a graphical storyboard-type view for video sequencing control over movie clips, audio tracks and transitional effects. Video can be taken from the hard drive or directly from a connected digital camcorder or video source being played from the computer's video capture card. Re-editing a completed DVD can also be accomplished (with compatible DVD media).
Corel Digital Studio 2010/$60/Windows
The program combines support for assembling and processing digital media - be that for uploading to Youtube or to an iPod - along with its suite of controls for assembling a DVD. A Media Organizer keeps photos, video and music in one location for easy access, with an Express Edit mode for quick editing of photos and trimming of the "timeline" length of videos. Templates, titles and transitions are available for use as well.
PowerDirector 8 Ultra/$100/Windows
Providing a wealth of editing tools, the Ultra edition can also upscale standard-definition video to high-definition-like quality along with surround sound. Common shooting problems, such as inadequate lighting, extreme backlighting and bad color representation, can be corrected/enhanced for both video and photos. A 16-track timeline and optimizing for hardware decoding enable faster production of home videos.
HD Movie Maker/$35/Windows
The program's "claim to fame" is that it is designed for burning high-definition Blu-ray discs. Onscreen menus simplify the creation process, with in-program conversion of high-definition video files joined by being able to upgrade standard-definition to HD-like quality. Audio can be extracted from video or converted directly to DVD-compatible audio formats for use. Video properties can be customized prior to burning the DVD.
Easy Video Editor 3.0/$40/Windows
Touted as designed for beginners, Easy Video Editor provides a 3 step process for creating a DVD: importing the video files to be used into its onscreen menu in the order desired, adding effects and transitions to the video and then outputting the video to a DVD. Real-time preview of what will be the final DVD, customized menu creation with automated title and credits and Blu-ray disc burning support is also included.
MyDVD Video Lab 10/$50/Windows
Designed with beginners and those looking to use a DVD authoring program with the most minimal of learning curves, MyDVD Video Lab 10 not only edits and creates movies, but can be used to upload video to YouTube or save web video to the hard drive. Over 30 DVD menu templates, transitions and effects are joined by a step-by-step wizard process to take the user through creating a DVD and then burning it to disc. Built-in music and sound effect creations are also part of the program.
Home Office Disc Authoring Programs
The home office is rapidly growing into a force to reckon with - so why should those looking to author DVDs have to settle for professional programs with features they don't need or extreme hand-holding programs that lack panache. Creating a product video or slideshow presentation of services requires the appearance of expertise if the presentation is to be successful. The home office authoring program provides for this by not coddling the user, while still providing the automation and assistance for getting the job done without having to devote long hours. Combining simple and complex execution together, these programs will aid the home office user in creating the needed professional production.
Free Disc Authoring Programs
When it comes to trying out a new program, it's hard to beat the fact that it's free. These DVD programs provide basic functionality, combined with a user interfaces that compare favorably to those of paid-for programs. Although lacking in special controls and minimizing the number of features, there's no better way to practice making a DVD without having to incur costs the cost for a program.
Like most free software, BurnAware provides basic control over the process of making a DVD (with a more feature-rich version available for purchase). A graphical browser-type interface allows for choosing the type (including Blu-ray) and content the disc will have. However, do not expect many "bells and whistles" while using this program.
Free for non-commercial use, DeepDVD provides a basic suite of features for creating DVDs from video and slideshow content. While not as graphically intuitive as some paid-for programs, a bit of time and effort will result in a DVD presentation that no one will have to apologize for. Audio functionality is also included. A a more feature-rich paid-for version, DeepBurner Pro, is also available ($30).
DVDStyler/Free/Mac and Windows
Providing support for the common video files, DVDStyler surprises with such features as the ability to create interactive menus and scaling of buttons and objects used in the presentation. A graphical interface with "Drag and drop" functionality makes for easy transitions and multi-core processor support speeds up the entire creation process.
DVDs have become ubiquitous for displaying content in the home and anyone who doesn't think they have replaced the VCR for showing off home movies is in the same denial category as the makers of buggy whips once were. The level of expertise of the DVD authoring program may vary - both in price and execution - but all are designed to afford the basic functionality of transferring digital media to a disc that can be watched and enjoyed by everyone.
Sidebar 1: Creating a DVD
While DVD authoring software varies in looks and features, the basic procedure is the same in all cases. The Disc authoring program "connects" to the video and audio files once they are ready to be burned to a disc, modifies them to be compatible with the disc's needed requirements and then "deposits" the files onto the disc so that the player can recognize and play the disc in the expected fashion.
Sidebar 2: Not All DVDs are the Same
This DVD is designed to be burned onto once ("write-once"). It is probably the most compatible blank recordable DVD available.
Similar to DVD-R but able to be reused a large number of times, it is slightly less compatible than DVD-R discs.
Also designed for "write-once" use, this type of blank recordable DVD is highly compatible with DVD stand-alone and computer players (providing they offer support for DVD-R of course, but most do).
Similar to DVD-RW but in the "+" camp, again highly compatible with DVD stand-alone and computer players.
This cartridge-based disc (also non-cartridge now) is used like a hard drive in a computer and is available in both a single 4.7 gigabyte and double-sided 9.4 gigabyte version. It is not compatible with most stand-alone DVD players.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Disc Authoring Software Buyer's Guide
Marshal M. Rosenthal is a technology and consumer electronics freelance writer.