The ADS USB Instant DVD MPEG-2 encoder’s initials are enough to fill a bowl of alphabet soup, but the product itself is easy enough to understand. Resembling an external USB modem, the USB Instant DVD device converts analog video to DVD-ready MPEG-2 via a USB port. The conversion happens immediately in the box and you can save the resulting MPEG-2 as movies to your hard drive for editing or burn them straight to DVD. For folks who want to convert their old videotapes to DVD and don’t have a capture solution on their computer, this is a simple and effective solution.
Our review is based on the Version 2.0 software and drivers available on CD-ROM free from ADS. This represents a significant update that we highly recommend. It includes Sonic Solution’s MyDVD 3.5, Ulead VideoStudio 6, an update to the capture wizard and some vastly improved documentation.
What it Claims
The small USB Instant DVD box has analog inputs for S-video (Y/C) and composite connections (RCA), as well as left and right RCA audio. As the video and audio enter the ADS box, the internal hardware converts the video signal to roughly a 5Mbps (DV = 25Mbps) data stream that is then sent to the computer through a USB connection, which has a potential throughput of about 12Mbps. Since this data stream is already at a relatively low rate, there is an almost non-existent risk of frame drops.
At 5Mbps, a blank 4.7GB DVD disc can hold around two hours of video. CD-R media with 650MB to 800MB of storage potential could hold 10 to 13 minutes of video, although VCD and SVCD discs are not always compatible with stand-alone players. The audio, however, is captured through your sound card and not the USB port.
Getting the audio properly set up in Windows was quite a challenge for us and it was tricky to get the levels set correctly. This is a significant issue for less experienced users, to be sure. Documentation was adequate on this issue, but it prevented this product from being plug-n-play. Later in our test, audio issues came up again as we tried to make sure we captured audio in the proper formats (Layer-2 or PCM) for a variety of applications. The Advanced Audio options dialog in the CapWiz was particularly confusing. Ironically, the linked reference page to that dialog was very informative.
We were most curious about the unit’s Record Direct-to-Disc feature. This is actually a MyDVD feature that runs a wizard that captures the video (manually or based on a set duration) and burns the disc. We selected a template for our disc and then went to a capture screen where we set a duration and quality which in our case was the highest ("Best") quality (5Mbps) for a maximum of 85 minutes of video. We also chose to have the video automatically broken up into 10-minute chapters. After an 85-minute capture, 20 minutes to build the disc image and another 85 minutes for the burn (Pioneer DVR-103 drive) we tried out the DVD (DVD-R disc) and found that it was largely compatible, especially in newer stand-alone DVD players. This feature is not as polished as other aspects of MyDVD, and the app threw some errors and warnings at times (e.g. when canceling a capture), but it didn’t crash.
The Direct-to-Disc option was really just a wizard to walk you through what you otherwise could have done manually. We actually preferred, and were more confident using, the manual route, which was only marginally more involved and gave us a lot more freedom.
Editing and Authoring
Once the video is captured, you can use VideoStudio 6 SE (VS6) to add transitions, titles, effects and even simple overlays. It must be noted that MPEG-2 editing requires some pretty serious CPU muscle, which might not be available on non-video centric computers (i.e. ones that don’t have any video capture features) this product is aimed at. VS6 has a simple DVD plug-in that will allow you to burn a DVD, but that is not the strength of this product.
MyDVD is our favorite PC-based, simple DVD authoring application, since it makes it a breeze to create basic chapters with thumbnails and titles. MyDVD does allow some simple trimming, but editing is not this product’s strength. Perhaps the ideal solution is to capture in the CapWiz, edit with VS6 and author the DVD with MyDVD, which we did without problems.
Just Add Water?
Overall, this was a very nice consumer product aimed squarely at folks who want to make DVDs, but do not have, nor want to mess around with, a more traditional video capturing hardware setup (i.e. a capture card). If you already have a capture card or IEEE 1394 card, this product is probably not for you, although you might want to consider the software solutions we reviewed here.
The MyDVD Direct-to-Disc option is about the easiest way to create DVDs, short of a stand-alone living room DVD recorder. But you can also choose to edit your video and author a disc to create a full-fledged, menu driven, random-access-chapter-navigated DVD, just like one from Hollywood.
We also liked the DVD Picture Show, which allowed us to select a large number of still images and convert them to a DVD slide show automatically. The flexibility to work with either method proved to be the real strength of the ADS USB Instant DVD. Just add water? Not quite: you will still need to add your own DVD burner.
Operation System: Windows 98SE, 2000, Me, XP
Hard Disk: 200MB for applications, 1GB recommended for media
Other Hardware Required:
Available USB port (1.0 or better)
Full duplex sound card
DVD or CD burner
Inputs: RCA audio, composite video, S-video
Outputs: RCA audio, composite video, S-video, USB
Cables Included: 6′ USB, RCA to Mini plug A/V
VideoStudio 5.0 SE*
Sound Forge XP
* A free 2.0 upgrade CD-ROM is available from ADS that has VideoStudio 6.0 SE and MyDVD 3.5, in addition to important driver upgrades.
- Easy analog to MPEG-2 capture
- No card to install
- Nice software suite
- MPEG-2 needs CPU horsepower to edit
- Audio setup complexities
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