Hardware MPEG encoders are traditionally expensive non-options for consumers looking to convert their home movies and old VHS tapes to DVD quickly and efficiently. Digitizing compressed files and converting them to MPEG can yield terribly artifacted results, and bringing files in uncompressed to convert to MPEG takes up a whole lot of hard drive space (which can be very expensive).
ADS Tech has come up with an inexpensive USB 2.0 hardware encoder, editing, and authoring solution for the home user, but the first question one has to ask is "can an inexpensive decoder still do the job?" And the answer we'll give you with regards to ADS Tech's Instant DVD is, yes it can–for hobbyist videographers who want a quick and easy way to make DVDs, that is.
Versatile and Affordable
The thought of a hardware MPEG encoder, editing, and DVD authoring solution for under $200 can make you giddy. The breakout box is sleek, and has a really cool and modern design. On the back is a complete set of analog inputs and outputs including S-video, composite, and 1/8th inch stereo in-out jacks for audio. The front has a full set of RCA composite inputs, and a FireWire port.
Digitizing through the unit was easy and intuitive. The CapWiz uses a similar interface to most digitizing modules in editing packages. There are simple instructions to guide even inexperienced users through the process.
muvee autoProducer was a pretty cool addition to the package. If you want to make a music video from your home movies, and don't know your down-beats from your up-beats or your time-signature from your key-signature, then this could be a cool solution for you. It's actually pretty amazing that with just a few mouse clicks, you can add video, audio and transitions to your video. Then, the software analyzes the audio and creates the cuts and transitions to the beat of the music you select. One of the best parts of this multi-software solution is definitely Ulead DVD MovieFactory 2 SE. Although it has some limitations (compared to its big brother), it's nice to see a tried-and-true piece of software made available to the home user in this package.
Can you say real-time? Encoding and burning to DVD in real time used to be reserved for those expensive DVD+/-R decks that I'm sure only people like Bill Gates could afford (without raising the eyebrow of his spouse). But with Instant DVD, you don't have to wait while your software transcodes the video to MPEG-2 for burning to DVD; it all happens in real-time, which is a fantastic bonus that many high-end DVD authoring systems cannot provide.
Upon first setting up Instant DVD, the first thought that comes to mind is "10 pounds of stuff in a five pound bag." Although the installation goes somewhat smoothly, there should have been an all-in-one structure for the start menu. Instead of finding every software package in the ADS Tech folder on the Start menu, you must remember where the Installation procedure placed each separate software package.
The editing software included (VideoStudio 7 SE and muvee autoProducer) seemed anemic. muvee autoProducer had a limitation of three clips that you may use before upgrading to the next level license. Although a company should try to market its upgraded package by putting limitations on bundle licensing, such a low limitation may be more frustrating and defeat the purpose of offering the software with the package. Video-Studio 7 SE seemed glitchy, and contained a few mystery errors that were difficult to troubleshoot. You may find yourself unable to predict what may crash the software (although full crashes are rare but not non-existent, and what crashes it one time may not crash it the next). The software (since priced for the home user) should be more intuitive, and easy to navigate. The interface, although pretty, could use some work. An annoyance is that if you use the FireWire port on the breakout box, there is no deck control. Maybe ADS should consider implementing this feature in the next version of the package.
Not Complete, But Worth the Price
The quality of the encoding is amazing for the price. The hardware encoder and real-time burning alone are well worth the price for this product. With that in mind, however, you shouldn't consider this package a complete solution. The video editing and scattered start menu installation problems are rather frustrating. The software included in this package should be looked at as a starting point and not as a final solution. When combined with other editing packages, this could be a very powerful solution for the hobbyist or the person looking at breaking into the DVD dubbing industry.
Operating System Win 98 SE, Me, 2000 or XP
Processor Pentium III 800MHz or Athlon / Duron
Additional Requirements CD-recordable or DVD-recordable drive, 500MB hard drive space for software installation, At least 4GB hard drive space for video capture
Inputs USB 2.0, S-video, composite video, stereo audio (3.5mm mini jack)
Outputs USB 2.0, S-video, composite video, stereo audio (3.5mm mini jack)
Bundled Software Ulead DVD MovieFactory 2 SE, VideoStudio 7 SE, muvee autoProducer DVD SE
- Real-time encoding
- Bundled software tends to crash the system
- Install procedures could be more intuitive
A good low-cost solution for real-time DVD authoring with a few bugs left to work out.
Ty Audronis is a producer, editor, animator, and consultant for film and video specializing in visual effects.
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