Test Bench:Apple iLife Media Suite

$0 – $50

Apple

1 Infinite Loop

Cupertino, CA 95014

(800) MY-APPLE

www.apple.com

We’ve been talking up iDVD since it first came out. Other than a few minor stability problems, iDVD 2 was our favorite entry-level DVD authoring app. So we were excited to get our hands on the iLife suite for complete multimedia disc authoring, which may be the ultimate package for casual homemade entertainment in the 21st century.

iMovie 3

We initially started out with the intention of reviewing iDVD 3 solo as a DVD authoring app. Like almost all other entry-level authoring apps, we figured it would capture, trim, author and burn DVDs. It doesn’t. Instead, to author a DVD, you need to consider the iLife suite to be the total DVD authoring package. While we weren’t surprised that iDVD 3 wouldn’t capture and edit video, we were surprised that we couldn’t add chapter marks to our DVD, but instead had to use iMovie. This is less than intuitive and required a visit to the Help file to figure it out. MPEG encoding begins automatically and proceeds in the background while you author your DVD. Any changes will require that the movie be re-rendered.

DVD Templates

Your entire DVD is automatically laid out for you as soon as you export your movie from iMovie. You could burn your DVD at this point and be done with it. The templates all have a first screen with a play button and a scene button that will take you to a submenu with the various chapters, based on the number of markers you dropped in iMovie.

iDVD 3’s templates are lovely, professional and easy to browse and apply. Many have slick motion backgrounds in a coordinated theme, complete with music. Buttons on the menus are motion buttons by default and it is very easy to select the section of the movie that you’d like to use as a moving thumbnail with a slider.

Customizing Menus

Menu items can be positioned anywhere on the screen, although you’ll first have to turn off the Snap to Grid feature. If you don’t, iDVD will teasingly allow you to drag your menu items anywhere you want, but will then gently slide them back to their original position, as if connected by elastic. Text can be modified with a slow double-click, but repositioning text requires that you select Custom from a drop down list. Menu frames, backgrounds and music can all be adjusted fairly easily, but detailed customization is not a strength of this version of iDVD.

Encode and Burn

In most DVD authoring reviews, we talk about encoding and burning at this point, but you’ll recall that the encoding has been taking place in the background while we were designing our disc and it is most likely done by now. There were no encoder settings to adjust at any time. On our dual-CPU 1.25GHz G4, encoding was very fast, somewhere around 18fps. So, if you spend an enjoyable hour authoring your DVD, a 30-minute movie will be ready to burn when you are. The quality of the encoding was excellent.

When our movie was ready, we loaded a blank Verbatim DVD into the tray and we clicked the Burn button. The button opened with a cute little animated transition to a radiation icon. It pulsed slowly for a while and then flashed more insistently for a few seconds. Then the Burn button iris closed. No messages popped up and, since we couldn’t see the indicator lights on the front of the burner, we had no idea what had just happened. We clicked Burn again, with the same non-result. After consulting the Help, it turns out that you need to click the Burn button twice to burn a DVD. What we suppose is happening is that the designers mean for the gently pulsing button to say "Are you sure you want to burn?" and then you click it again to actually burn.

While an ugly text message with these words on it would ruin the lovely design of the interface, an explicit message would have been much more straightforward and clear.

The Apple DVD SuperDrive (Pioneer DVD-R/RW) is a standard option on all Macs and is required for iDVD. An external burner will not work.

Slide Shows

Like other aspects of iDVD 3, you can’t just populate the media bin by browsing for a folder or dragging media from the finder into the bin. It was possible to drag a bunch of images to the DVD workspace itself to automatically create a slide show. But the best way is to run iPhoto 2 and organize and import images that way. Once this is done, you can go in and change specific durations of slides and navigation. One really nifty feature is that iDVD will include the hi-res originals in a data folder on the DVD so that you can access those from a computer.

Lovely and Bewildering

iDVD is still one of the easiest authoring applications available on any platform, but this is largely because of automatic layout and customization options. We did find ourselves consulting the excellent Help (and the fine Tutorial) on 4-5 occasions in order to perform very basic tasks (e.g. chapter marks, positioning text, clicking the "Burn" button twice). For DVD authoring, iDVD 3 is very easy to use, but not all that intuitive to learn.

In the end, we grew to love the iLife media suite, despite its clever little design quirks. Instead of using a jack-of-all-trades (but master-of-none) DVD authoring app to capture-edit-author-burn, Apple uses the right tool for the right job.

TECH SPECS

Platform: Mac

CPU: PowerPC G3 or G4

OS: Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later

RAM: 256MB

Hard Disk: 2GB

Optical Drive: Apple SuperDrive (required)

Applications: iDVD 3, iMovie 3, iPhoto 2 and iTunes 4

Demo Version: not available

Upgrade: $20

STRENGTHS

  • Coordinated media suite
  • Hi-res images of slide show
  • Lovely templates

    WEAKNESSES

  • Too clever UI
  • Requires SuperDrive

    SUMMARY
    iDVD 3 is easy to use, but not that easy to learn. Still, the suite produces beautiful DVDs.

  • Videomaker
    The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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