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DVDirector Re-Directed:
Good News for DVD?

Jeff Sauer

July 2000 | At the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in April, Apple Computer announced that it was purchasing Astarte. And, while there's been no formal announcement, there's little chance that Apple will have much interest in bringing the long-awaited Windows version of DVDirector to market. Even the revenues from the Mac version aren't high enough to mean much for a company of Apple's size. Throw in the Antichrist of Windows and it doesn't take a soothsayer to predict that DVDirector NT won't see the light of shrink-wrap.

The Mac DVDirector is one of the lowest-cost products available for creating intricate DVD titles, and the NT version seemed destined to drive competition and lower prices. So why does its prerelease demise seem like good news?

It's not that the industry doesn't need shaking up. It does. Professional authoring tools are generally far too expensive to encourage extensive DVD development beyond the status quo of service bureaus and Hollywood studios. For DVD to keep its promise of simple yet powerful authoring and play-anywhere titles, creation tools have to reach broader markets than just those willing to spend five digits.

DVDirector is a four-digit product with some clever interface and image processing advantages over competing tools. It does most of what DVD authors need for a price well below applications like Daikin's Scenarist, Sonic's DVD Creator, or Spruce's DVDMaestro. And, DVDirector for Mac, along with Sonic's affordable DVDit!, has already turned the exclusive DVD authoring industry a bit on its side. Spruce continues to reduce prices on its line of DVD authoring tools with improvements to DVDVirtuoso, and even the Godfather of DVD authoring, Daikin, has turned its attention to the lower-cost ReelDVD. DVDirector on NT could have done even more to rile the competition.

Yet even at its best, DVDirector is regrettably not a tool for the mass market and so, perhaps, the release of DVDirector NT would have been anticlimactic. With Spruce and Daikin already offering tools with four-digit pricing, instead of five, DVDirector might have been just another NT authoring package with mild differentiation.

In the big picture, what DVD needs is a champion: one with a marquis name and plenty of muscle to affect markets. DVD also needs an agent of change to rise above the format bickering and market posturing between the competing DVD rewritable camps and get the public interested in making DVD-Videos. To make DVD happen as predicted, the public needs inspiration to create DVD disc as a matter of course for business presentations and promotions, to pass around to friends and family, and to archive video material.

Naturally, it's premature to say Apple is that champion; however, Apple did not buy Astarte simply to add a clever professional DVD authoring application to its product line. In the short term, DVDirector may make a nice tandem with Apple's professional video editor, Final Cut Pro, but Apple is ultimately interested in selling Macintosh computers in large numbers. Astarte engineers can also immediately help that cause by updating Apple's lagging MPEG support in QuickTime. Yet, hopefully, the Astarte acquisition means that Apple sees a business opportunity for DVD-enabled Macs.

Apple certainly has not stated any intentions as to what it will do with its new DVD expertise, and I don't have a crystal ball, but the implication for DVD in the grand scheme of things feels pretty good.

Apple has already introduced iMovie to apparently huge success (although statistics could be deceiving, because huge penetration of a free product doesn't mean people use it). With FireWire in all new Macs and DV codec supported by QuickTime, Apple is finally driving desktop digital video for the masses. Apple has also started to spend mass-market advertising dollars on its desktop video solution and is pushing the desktop publishing analogy hard.

What's more for DVD, Apple has been including DVD-RAM drives in various G4 configurations for several months now. That all adds up to Apple seeing a chance to further its own cause--selling more Macs--with DVD authoring tools for consumers. Don't be surprised to see Astarte engineers working hard on a DVD authoring application that's more a match for iMovie than Final Cut Movie. If that happens, DVD authoring has a major ally.

Sonic Solutions is already having great success with DVDit! and Apple, no doubt, recognizes it. And Sonic gets all the credit for driving the market prices downward, even though its professional DVDCreator may have everything to lose. But, it is time for DVD Video to get a major adrenaline rush, and Apple getting into the game has all the earmarks of just that. Hopefully, Apple's potential involvement will also be enough to make Sonic Solutions, or perhaps some other Windows authoring developer, become a household name.

Astarte's DVDirector development team may be getting the short end of the stick on this one. After all, they've worked hard on DVDirector for NT and were primed to be big fish in the small DVD pond of today. But somehow, I'm betting they don't feel too bad about it. If all goes as planned, those same folks may be big fish in a big pond, and all their efforts educating about and promoting DVD will ultimately pay off handsomely. And, if that's true, it will be good news for DVD indeed.

Jeff Sauer (jeff@dtvgroup.com), columnist for The Moving Picture, is the Director of the DTVGroup, a research and test lab that regularly reviews tools and technology. He is an industry consultant, an independent producer, and a Contributing Editor to New Media Magazine, Video Systems Magazine, Presentations Magazine, and AV Avenue.

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