Test Bench: Sonic MyDVD 5 Studio Deluxe

Sonic Solutions claims that MyDVD is the "world’s leading DVD creation software." If by "leading" they mean "installed on the most computers" then we don’t doubt the veracity of this statement. MyDVD comes bundled with many DVD burners we’ve reviewed and comes installed on many DVD computer turnkeys from anyone but Apple. Informally, we’ve found MyDVD to be one of our favorite entry-level authoring apps. In this review, we’ll take a longer look at the product and try to help you determine if an upgrade from the free version you may already own is worth the price.

The Basics

There are some advantages to working at Videomaker. One is that we frequently get products before they ship to the public at large. The MyDVD 5.0 disc we received is a good example. While it did not have the complete box or manual, Sonic assured us that it was a finished product. We did experience a couple of installation anomalies (it wanted to uninstall Creator 6) with our disc that should not be in the final shipping version.

At first glance, MyDVD version 5 does not look any different from the 4.5 release. Encoding happens automatically in MyDVD, so there really isn’t anything to think about. The encoding quality is good, but it skews towards the sharp side (instead of smoother motion). It is extremely fast, exceeding real time on many of our faster machines (2.8GHz CPUs). One option is to capture directly to MPEG over the FireWire connection. This is a very nice option for those of us with libraries full of edited home movies. During capture, you can adjust the quality of the encoding, but if you import non-MPEG video files (e.g. DV video), you can only adjust the encoding in terms of quality versus time. When given this choice, in our opinion, you should always go for the maximum quality and just plan to wait a long time for the best possible video encoding.

MyDVD 5 also includes an integrated, storyboard-based video-editing module. One feature we especially liked was scene detection, which can automatically break a single video file up into any number of virtual clips, based on the time/date stamp for DV video or utilizing optical analysis for video without such information. We could easily trim and rearrange video clips, insert transitions, add titles and use a few simple filters.

Menu Design

Menu design involves inserting video into the included templates. As with most templates, some are decent and some are cheesy, depending on your tastes. Sonic includes 27 still and 10 motion templates, so there is quite a lot to work with. Templates can be customized somewhat with any background or button frame you want, in addition to selecting text style and color. You cannot adjust the layout, text or button positions. It was a very simple matter to set button thumbnails and perform basic in/out trims of clips. Motion buttons always start with the first frame of the video, however. Motion menus and buttons need rendering before you can preview them.

Our biggest complaint with MyDVD 4.5 was with setting chapter points. The new version addresses this with a basic and effective chapter point dialog. We also used (and liked) the scene detection feature to automatically subdivide the movie into chapters.

Slideshows

Creating a slideshow from your digital images with your own background music is about as easy as it could be. We clicked the Slideshow button, navigated to a folder of our images (which could be browsed visually), set the duration for each slide, picked a transition, selected some music and clicked OK. The resulting show was simple and attractive.

Direct-to-Disc

As with a number of other applications, MyDVD can transfer video directly (more or less) from your DV camcorder to disc. It is as simple as clicking a button, but the process does not happen in real time. This is mostly because the DVD needs a constant stream of data during a burn, and the capture/encode process is just too delicate to meet this need. In order to burn an hour-long tape to DVD, you’ll need at least two and a half hours of time, start to finish. But, as we mentioned, it is one click simple. Still, since normal authoring is so easy, we would just as soon skip the Direct-to-Disc feature and use MyDVD in the default authoring mode.


RecordNow!

While traditional disc burning packages have been adding more media-centric modules to their burning suites, Sonic is adding more advanced burning capabilities to MyDVD. Called RecordNow! Deluxe 6.5, MyDVD’s disc burning utility is based on Veritas’ proven disc creation engine.

OpenDVD vs. DVD+VR

OpenDVD is what Sonic calls its re-authorable disc format. This means that you can change menus on a rewritable disc without recapturing the project, reauthoring and reburning. This gives you the same functionality as the standardized DVD+VR process now in other applications. We haven’t found re-editable discs to be that useful, but you may.

First Burn

By a healthy margin, MyDVD 5 is the easiest and fastest DVD authoring software we’ve seen (and we’ve seen ’em all). The competition in the $50-$100 DVD authoring software category is fierce, but when you consider the total package (including RecordNow! 6.5 and stereo AC3 encoding), $79 is a pretty good deal. If you just want to burn a disc and be done with it, MyDVD is the way to go.

TECH SPECS

Version: 5.0.0 (build 87386)

Platform: PC

Operating System: Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP

Processor: PIII 600MHz

RAM: 128MB

Hard Disk: 5GB

Additional Requirements: disc burner

Extra Software: Record Now! 6.5, CinePlayer

Demo Version: n/a (at press time)

Upgrade: $50

STRENGTHS

  • Easy disc authoring
  • Fast encoding

WEAKNESSES

  • Mediocre templates
  • Cannot adjust layout

SUMMARY

If you just want to burn a disc and be done with it, MyDVD is the way to go.

$79

Sonic Solutions

101 Rowland Way

Novato, CA 94945

(415) 893-8000

www.sonic.com

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