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DVD authoring is not nearly as complex as video editing, or at least it shouldn’t be. While it used to be informative to look at individual features supported in early DVD products, professional-level applications all tend to support the same standardized features nowadays. So it is with the second version of Ulead’s DVD Workshop: as far as DVD features go, it has what Encore and DVD Studio Pro have, but not more. What sets DVD Workshop apart is that it is also comprehensive in the authoring process, from capture to menu design to burning the disc.
A few of the features you might look for in a serious DVD authoring application include stereo Dolby Digital encoding, MPEG encoding, and support for DLT drives and dual-layer DVD burners. You might need subtitles and multiple audio tracks for other languages or director’s comments, too. DVD Workshop 2 has all of these features, but then again, so does the competition.
DVD Workshop’s user interface is somewhat flashy and distracting for our tastes. In a professional product, we prefer a more austere and business-like layout. You can’t customize DVD Workshop’s interface, but you also aren’t likely to lose a window behind other interface elements either. You will, however, find yourself repeatedly clicking back and forth between objects on your DVD menu and then selecting the item that you want to adjust in the Properties window. You end up doing a lot of extra clicking, since you can’t display all of the properties at the same time. Another example is saving your project by clicking the Save icon, since there isn’t a File menu. This icon disappears when you go to the Finish step, so you have to back up a step to save.
Media management is also somewhat clunky. The media bin is already populated with Ulead template graphics, backgrounds and other images when you start your project. This might be nice for beginners, but we find most of our projects already cluttered enough without all of this extra stuff. Worse, when you start a new project, the old project’s media will still be hanging about until you manually remove it.
While the interface for project management is less than serious, the menu design tools are really outstanding. The large preview window, great text tools and alignment aids make this our favorite all-in-one DVD menu design tool. To get you started, Ulead includes a host of 100% customizable templates.
We liked the ease with which you can create chapters, chapter thumbnails and play lists. Button routing is automatic, but there isn’t a way to override this if you want (or need) to. When you switch over to the final preview of your disc, any motion menus play back in real time without rendering.
One of the best improvements (with the 2.2 update) is the PhotoImpact plugin. PhotoImpact is Ulead’s image editor, and while it is not a substitute for Photoshop for pre-press, it is a very capable and powerful graphics package. Perhaps the best reason to recommend PhotoImpact is that it is much easier to use. Photoshop’s layers can be confusing and hard to understand, while PhotoImpact’s object metaphor is easy. When you want to edit a button, you just click on it and edit. The integration with DVD Workshop really makes Ulead’s solution an ideal menu design tool.
We did experience some anomalies while using the product which would not have been nearly as traumatic if the application had trapped the errors and accurately reported the cause to us. For example, we used an attractive PAL motion menu background in one of our NTSC projects. DVD Workshop did not complain or warn us that this was a bad idea, but instead merely threw a generic error during the disc building process, which didn’t help us. Of course, this is a case of user error, but better error trapping, better error messages and a better disc verification process would have helped.
Pro or save $200
Ulead also has an Express version of DVD Workshop that is basically the same except that there are some professional features missing, such as DVD-9 support. If you aren’t going to need to translate your program into more that two other languages, for example, you can save yourself $200 and go with the Express version (see Ulead’s Web site for specific limitations).
DVD Workshop 2 needs a little work on the user interface, especially the project management tools, and better error trapping, but it supports everything the DVD spec offers. As an inclusive design environment from capture to burn, DVD Workshop is the easiest professional-level DVD authoring tool around.
D. Eric Franks is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.
Operating System: Windows 2000/XP
Processor: PIII 800MHz or equivalent
Hard Disk: 500MB
Other: DVD-ROM drive, disc burner, DirectX 9
Audio Encoding: PCM, MPEG, stereo Dolby Digital
Output Formats: DVD-5, DVD-9, miniDVD, SVCD, VCD, DLT
Demo Version: 30-day trial, 67MB
Printed Manual: 72 pages
DVD Workshop 2 is an easy to use, all-inclusive DVD designing and authoring tool.