Jacks of All Trades
Way back in 1999, CD-burning drives were just beginning to cross into practical price ranges. A video-editing computer was still an expensive and tricky beast to configure and no one thought DVD burners would be inexpensive and widely available anytime soon.

The typical software bundled with a typical circa 1999 CD-R drive was barely enough to burn a data CD or audio CD. Even today, the software packages that come in the box with most CD and DVD burners are not the same as the full-featured premium suites a number of companies offer. The core of this software is still burning discs and the software is usually very good at this. As these packages have gone from simple data burning to also include audio CDs, MP3 ripping and video DVDs, most companies have built more comprehensive packages of applications, or suites. These suites handle all of your needs as far as basic disc authoring is concerned. Let’s investigate some of the features found in a typical disc-authoring suite.

Video Editing
Frequently, the video editing features found in a suite tend to be rather basic, but functional. They’re great if you need to throw a simple, quick project together. They’re no replacement for your beloved copy of Avid, Premiere Pro or Vegas if you’re embarking on a more involved project, but if you’re just cutting up a single-track project and audio needs are simple, you’ll find what you need.

Disc Authoring
Most disc authoring suites support a wide array of disc formats. Most packages burn DVD-video projects and audio CDs to a broad variety of discs, which can include CD-R and DVD-R data discs and burning MP3 discs for use in mobile digital audio players.

When it comes to burning DVD-Video projects, most of the packages include templates for menus, which will help you create your project quickly. Interestingly, Dolby Digital audio encoding has found its way into a large number of these packages, which we applaud. Dolby Digital audio is widely considered to be the ideal format for audio on DVD, since it’s defined as one of the mandatory formats in the DVD standard, yet it doesn’t take excessive amounts of data to encode.

Audio Management
Music management has become an increasingly common feature in disc authoring suites. Most suites now handle a staggering array of formats. MP3 is by far the most common audio format, but a number of other formats have become popular with Internet audio fans. These include the open-source Ogg Vorbis format, Microsoft’s WMA, as well as AAC, which was co-developed with Dolby Laboratories and popularized by Apple.

Almost all of the packages can also rip (extract) CD audio tracks from discs that conform to the CD Digital Audio standard. This allows you to copy the tracks to the format of your choice for your own personal use, such as cataloging music on your hard drive for use with jukebox applications or using your music with portable personal audio players.

Other Features
A number of suites offer data backup and restore features. Like many functions performed by suites, data backup capabilities tend to be on the light side when compared to other dedicated backup utilities. You can create and print basic labels and inserts using the included layout software, but, again, the features are limited compared with a dedicated labeling application.

A disc authoring suite is a software upgrade that is always worth considering. They’re inexpensive, very useful and often surprisingly powerful. If you’re ready to proceed deeper into the world of media creation than that which your basic burning software can handle, it’s time to give a disc authoring suite a careful look. Use the buyer’s guide that appears with this article to help point you in the right direction.

Charles Fulton is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor.

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