Test Bench:Dazzle DVD Complete

$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. It starts each project 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 and will allow 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, the entire DVD generates automatically and is ready for previewing.

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. DVD Complete uses the Main Concept encoder and while it doesn’t expose you to all aspects of the encoder, 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 the ease with which we could create a DVD in a very short period of time, 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 and, 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 the 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 and 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 the standard Pioneer DVR-103. The discs we created were compatible* with the stand-alone players in our lab, with higher data rate discs (> 6Mbps) sometimes stuttering. 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 hand-written notes, DVD Complete makes normal discs seem like cake without icing and turns a great gift into a "How’d you do that?" marvel.

TECH SPECS

System Requirements

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:

1024×768 @ 24-bit color Display card

CD/DVD burner

Features:

Wizard: Yes

Templates: 20

Audio: MPEG-1 LII (separate)

* NOTE: DVD compatibility depends on such diverse variables as the data rate of the disc and the quality of the blank media used. Over the last year, Videomaker has developed a suite of test players that we consider to be representative of what might be found in a typical household and that have also proven to be generally compatible with home burned DVDs.

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.
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