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Test Bench:Dazzle DVD Complete Deluxe DVD Authoring Software

Test Bench:Dazzle DVD Complete Deluxe DVD Authoring Software

Dazzle DVD Complete Deluxe DVD Authoring Software

$100
SCM Microsystems
47211 Bayside Parkway
Fremont, CA 94538
(888) 212-8045
www.dazzle.com

At an interesting price point - somewhat more expensive than limited entry-level DVD authoring applications, but significantly less expensive than even the cheapest full-featured app - Dazzle's DVD Complete covers everything from capture to burn and a little more. For aspiring DVD artists who need all but the most advanced features, DVD Complete strikes an excellent balance between disc customization and ease of use.

Automagical Wizards
DVD Complete is a template-based authoring app that also allows extensive DVD customization. Each project starts with a DVD wizard that allows you to select the complexity of your project. You can elect to create a Quick DVD, which is the equivalent of the simplest DVD applications, allowing you to author a disc in about 10 minutes. Or, you can select a more involved project, including motion menus and first-play splash screens. In addition, you can replace any element with your own custom graphics and text. At the end of the wizard, DVD Complete generates your project automatically and prepares previews.

DVD Complete encodes your media files when you import your video into the project, so you have to wait after you select each individual file. Of course, you'll have to wait for MPEG encoding at some point in any DVD project, but most applications wait until the end and encode all of the files at once. While DVD Complete doesn't expose you to all aspects of the Main Concept MPEG encoder that it utilizes, you do see the most important parameters. We were very pleased with the clarity and smoothness of the video at the highest quality VBR (variable bit rate) setting and were amazed at the speed, which was 81 percent of real time. Granted, this is on a dual 1800+ AMD machine, but still, it is significantly faster than many other encoders on the same computer.

Restrictions
While we really liked the templates and both the ease and the speed with which we could create a DVD, there were some limitations. For example, movies were automatically placed into the template at the location where DVD Complete demanded. You can only line up text left-center-right and top-middle-bottom. Also, although DVD Complete wisely includes title-safe and action-safe grids, the left and right alignment options often mask on a television, rendering them unusable. One cost of automatic generation is that if you want to add more movies to your project later, the entire DVD regenerates from scratch and you lose all changes that you have made. We also found that the Undo feature didn't work - we assume that this was a bug.

Freedoms
Despite the inherent limitations of any template-driven app, DVD Complete really is a very open design tool that allows extensive customization. We were especially impressed with the no-nonsense user interface, which elegantly exposed tools, buttons and properties panels without crowding the main workspace. Each object (e.g. a button) on a menu has a full list of properties, giving you immediate access to anything that you can possibly modify. The entire workspace was completely customizable, right down to which buttons you'd like to see (and which you don't) on the toolbar. While the manual is light at just 42 pages, the onscreen help is quite good.

Menus: Motion and Music
Menus are the main features of any DVD, and DVD Complete offers 20 attractive templates. Image thumbnails are automatically generated from the source video and selecting a custom frame to use as a button is as easy as scrubbing. You can create motion menus (i.e. buttons that play a little preview of the movie) by changing the motion property of a button from Still to Motion and selecting the first frame to be played. All menus can have music playing in the background, which sets the duration of the video on the motion button. In an otherwise well-designed application, the process for getting your own music into a menu is a bit of a manual workaround, but it is covered in the Help file and not difficult to achieve. We'd like to see an Import Music command in the next version.

DVD Burning
Burning a disc was as uneventful as it should be, and although an "Invalid Disc" message made us nervous, every disc we burned was a success. Our hardware was a standard Pioneer DVR-103. The discs we created were compatible* with the stand-alone players in our lab, with the only warning being that some players we attempted to play stuttered with higher data rate (over 6Mbps) discs we created using generic lower-quality media. It is ultimately up to the author to decide the balance between quality, data rate and compatibility.

Project Polish
From capture to burn, DVD Complete has it all, and then some, including automatic slide show creation. The "complete" in DVD Complete means coordinated templates that automatically generate disc labels, CD jewel-case inserts and DVD jackets. The templates are not an afterthought by any means, and are instead very professionally and attractively designed.

We printed some discs using a Primera SignaturePro CD/DVD printer ($1,895 MSRP) on Tuff-Coat printable CD-Rs (approx. 75 cents each; DVD-Rs approx. $7.50 each). The quality of the finish was truly excellent, which you might expect from a 2,400 dpi printer. Homemade DVDs make great gifts. While it is doubtful that people will complain when you present them with a silver disc in a plain jewel case with a hand-written label, the SignaturePro makes normal discs seem like cake without icing and turns a great gift into a "How'd you do that?" marvel.

Even if your finished discs are just hand-labeled, DVD Complete gives you the power to create very polished DVD presentations. Ease of use and an well designed interface make this a good choice for anyone wanting to make DVDs.

TECH SPECS
Platform: PC
Operation System: 98SE, 2000, Me, XP
Processor: 500MHz (700MHz recommended)
RAM: 128MB
Hard Disk: 250MB (Installation), 3GB/hour for your media
Other Hardware: 1024x768 @ 24-bit color, Display card, CD/DVD burner
Wizard: Yes
Templates: 20
Audio: MPEG-1 LII (separate)

STRENGTHS

  • Elegant user interface
  • Wonderful wizards, terrific templates
  • Thoughtful helps and hints
  • Quality MPEG encoding

    WEAKNESSES

  • Faulty Undo function
  • Can't freely reposition menu elements

    SUMMARY
    Wizards and templates are only the beginning of this complete authoring app.

  • D. Eric
    Franks
    Thu, 10/02/2003 - 12:00am