Test Bench: Sonic Solutions DVDit! PE 2.5 DVD Authoring Software

Sonic Solutions is a major player in DVD authoring and has been for some time. Sonic’s professional tools (e.g. Scenarist) have been used to create some of the Hollywood DVDs you’ve watched at home. At the other end, we really enjoy Sonic’s MyDVD, which is one of the easiest DVD authoring apps available for beginners. There’s a lot of territory between beginner and professional, and most of Videomaker’s readers fall into this category. Coming in at $599, Sonic’s DVDit! PE is an affordable application that offers professional features.

Usability

DVDit! PE authors, encodes and burns DVDs. It is a template-driven application that gives you full freedom to arrange and design your DVD anyway you like, freely importing your custom elements and graphics.

Once you get into the app, you’ll find there is quite a bit of depth, including the ability to set end-of-chapter jumps for greater interactivity.

Our biggest criticism for DVDit! concerns usability. For instance, none of the menus can be accessed with common Windows shortcuts. Perhaps the most egregious example, however, is the procedure for adding media (video files, background, button images, etc.) to your project. From your experience with other multimedia apps, you know you need to add media to the bins. But there is no "Add Media" button to be found. And there is no "Import" or "Add" item on any menu anywhere. Only when you right-click in the bin do you find the context menu with the command you need. In other words, the interface for performing one of the most basic functions in the app is hidden. Yes, right-click "Add media" is easy, but it certainly isn’t obvious. And this is just one example we found annoying. Sonic’s introductory authoring app, MyDVD, is eminently usable and fun, so what happened here? We’ve definitely noticed that applications dubbed "professional" tend to be harder to use than consumer products, which may be a part of an unconscious desire to maintain a professional priesthood.

Authoring

Fortunately, DVD authoring is much simpler than editing video, so while DVDit! PE does have usability quirks, it’s really not all that hard to learn. Most every operation is drag-and-drop simple: from adding and resizing buttons to making links to media files. For example, to add a chapter point within a longer media file, you simply double-click the timeline in the movie (but there is no "Insert Chapter Point" button or menu item). Then, to link this chapter point to a button, you drag the yellow chapter point marker to the button and release.

More complex behaviors are also available for greater interactivity. When a chapter is finished playing, it usually automatically plays the next chapter or returns to the main menu. With DVDit! PE, you can specify end of chapter behavior and navigate to any menu, movie or chapter point in the project. This allows you to generate complex forking storylines or even create quizzes that might play back the appropriate review section of a movie when the student gets the wrong answer, and move on to the next question with a correct response.

When we attempted to build an intricately interactive DVD, the program threw a cryptic error and refused to build the disc. Since our quiz disc was overly complex, it was extremely difficult to troubleshoot the problem. The first issue we corrected was that DVDit! PE choked on the 12-bit, 32kHz source audio (which is, unfortunately, the default audio setting on the Sony DV camcorder that the footage was shot with). After up-converting the audio to DVD standard (16-bit, 48kHz), DVDit! PE threw new, mysterious errors. We created another project with what we knew to be valid media and a simpler interactive quiz, but got the same errors. So while DVDit! PE gave us the freedom and tools we wanted to do some highly interactive authoring, in the end we weren’t able to burn a disc from this project. Our more conventional projects were more successful.

Slow Down: Encoding Zone

Encoding with the 2.5 version of DVDit! PE was slow. This is not a criticism in and of itself: if it took overnight for a high-quality render, we’d gladly wait for it. There are very few encoding options exposed to the end user beyond bit rate. The encoder favors clear and sharp images, but this means that smoothness of motion is sacrificed, and pans and fast motion look particularly jumpy and stutter noticeably. As a comparison, we used the Tsunami MPEG Encoder (TMPEGenc.net), which encoded the same material about 10x as fast, gave us a host of encoding options and yielded much smoother and pleasant video. No matter what we tried, we could not get the TMPEGenc video into a DVDit! project (but many other DVD authoring applications we have tried, such as Ulead’s DVD Workshop, liked the TMPEGenc video just fine). Burning the DVDs was uneventful once all of the encoding problems were worked out and the discs we created using a Pioneer DVR-103 and 4.7GB Verbatim discs were broadly compatible with newer DVD players.


Enter the Pro

DVDit! PE was created by a leader in the professional DVD industry and by the same company that makes one of our favorite entry-level authoring application for the PC. Of all the applications we’ve seen that support DLT export (a feature that DVD duplication houses may require), it is the easiest to use. If you do not need this feature, there are many less expensive and easier applications. While there are many good things about this product, we would like to see a few changes to the interface, a better (or at least more flexible and perhaps faster) encoder and wider compatibility with imported video formats. With these improvements, DVDit! PE could be a real contender at this price point.

TECH SPECS

  • System Requirements
  • Platform: PC
  • Operating System: Win 98, 2000, ME or XP
  • Processor Pentium: 350MHz or equivalent
  • RAM: 128MB
  • Hard Disk: 110MB, 4GB for video media
  • Other Hardware: Display card (1024×768 @ 16-bit color)

    CD/DVD writer

STRENGTHS

  • Attractive templates
  • Wide support of DVD features
  • DLT export

WEAKNESSES

  • Usability issues
  • Mediocre encoding
  • Won’t accept pre-encoded MPEG

SUMMARY

  • DVDit! PE has serious potential, but falls short of perfection.

$599

Sonic Solutions

101 Rowland Way

Novato, CA 94945

(415) 893-8000

www.sonic.com

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here