dvd today feature
Let's Get Simple:
Corporate-Friendly DVD Authoring
EMedia Magazine, October 2000
Copyright © Online
VD has promised to
bring video to the corporate mainstream, but until recently most
DVD authoring systems have been far too pricey to make any serious
With those high prices, the majority
of DVD authoring remained the domain of service bureaus encoding
Hollywood movies and only the occasional corporate project. Now,
much lower-cost authoring, software, led by Sonic Solutions' $500,
overtly simple DVDit!, along with the success of DVD consumer
players, has started to capture the attention of the business
By now, Sonic has sold more than 150,000
copies of DVDit!, though more than 60 percent of those sales have
likely come through bundling arrangements with Sonic's technology
and business partners. Competitors argue that many of those copies
aren't being used and that the software is so simple that users
can't complete any real projects. Nonetheless, the attention Sonic
has received speaks for itself. If nothing else, DVDit! has raised
awareness of the DVD format, its capabilities, and how easy it
can be to incorporate high-quality video in presentations, training,
sales demos, and other business communications.
Unfortunately, low-priced authoring tools
can only take DVD part of the way to widespread acceptance. DVD-R
burners are still prohibitively priced for almost all of the business
sectors targeted by low-cost DVD authoring solutions. The DVD-RAM
triumvirate of Matsushita, Toshiba, and Hitachi is only starting
to deliver product that rises above format bickering, and RAM
media manufacturers have yet to produce discs that will play in
a consumer DVD player. (Even DVD-R can't make that claim without
exception.) Meanwhile, DVD authoring companies are promoting DVD
on CD-ROM as the simplest way to use video today, yet compliance
between CD-R discs and DVD players also remains elusive, since
most DVD players regard any CD-R as an audio disc. Meanwhile,
the Internet and World Wide Web have clearly established themselves
as the distribution method of choice for many types of information,
including media-rich content.
Yet the trend toward lower-cost software
is clear, as is the growing interest from the business community,
particularly as the high-end authoring system market has demonstrably
flattened. Many industry insiders believe the technical shortcomings
will be resolved within a few months, and encouraged by this prognosis,
companies are aggressively pursuing market share. Not only is
Sonic working on new version of DVDit!, Spruce is about to release
an even lower-cost solution that could give Sonic a serious challenge.
Multimedia Technology Center quietly offers authoring tools that
run $75-$3,000 for products that all build compliant disc images,
and Daikinmaker of the first professional authoring tool,
Scenaristhas re-focused its development efforts on a much
IT'S ABOUT USING VIDEO
While DVDit! has become the poster child
for lower-cost DVD authoring, the trend actually started a year
before DVDit! arrived in the marketplace. Astarte's DVDirector and,
a few months later, Spruce's DVDVirtuosoa lower-cost and feature-reduced
version of the company's professional-grade DVDMaestroboth
took prices well under five digits in hopes of courting the elusive
corporate market. Yet while the new price points represented a significant
step downward, market growth remained incremental as best. Prices
were still high for software and these products still didn't give
users an easy way to use video assets.
With DVDit!, Sonic Solutions realized
that a large portion of the possible DVD titles didn't need many
of the features that make DVD so powerful, programming-rich, and
expensive. James Manning, product manager for DVDit!, points out
that "multiple angles, advanced programming navigation, parental
controls, and even multiple language subtitles are all features
that are typically reserved for a small number of higher-profile
titles and projects. A lot of people just want to put some high-quality
video on a disc." After that, they can use digital video data
in any number of applications, including presentations, training,
and the like. But Sonic also saw the price for that had to be
much lower still than something in the thousands and priced DVDit!
at $500, going even lower for the LE (Light Edition) version bundled
with many capture cards and video editing systems, but not sold
Moreover, Sonic recognized that the timeline
and flowchart interfaces of the professional authoring systems,
including the company's own DVDCreator, required technical know-how
beyond the learning ambitions of a large potential market. The
response to DVDit! suggests that Sonic has struck a chord with
a combination of simplicity and features to create DVD disc images.
Manning references a panel on which he
recently spoke that exemplifies the new market. "The room was
packed with people who already understood the concept of DVD,
maybe just because they had seen discs at Blockbuster or somewhere.
What they wanted to hear was that it's cheap and it's easy to
THE MAX FOR THE MINIMUM
Even at its low price, DVDit! SE (Standard
Edition) has its shortcomings. It has very limited video tracks
and menus, is incapable of producing chapter marks, offers no project
overview, and is hampered by somewhat awkward text tools. However,
the product's six-figure sales volumes prove there is still a market
opportunity and Sonic has now hedged its bet with a "Professional
Edition (PE)," which costs twice as much, but adds several features.
The most glaring omission in DVDit! SE
is the lack of chapter marks, and Sonic dramatically accelerated
the development and release of DVDit! PE mainly to offer that
feature. "We learned that people understood the basic navigation
of DVD discs and wanted that ability as a basic feature. We had
to leave out some of the features we'd have liked in the first
version of PE in order to get chapter marks to our users more
quickly," admits Manning. He goes on to say Sonic will add those
other features very soon in a free upgrade.
Sonic's competitors are, not surprisingly,
more critical of DVDit!, citing the testimonials of users who
have expressed disappointment at the functionality limitations
and usability of the program. Spruce Technologies and Daikin both
offer products that they suggest are a step up for users who are
dissatisfied with the shortcomings of DVDit!.
Spruce's Pete Challinger says that Spruce
heard from several users of DVDit! who find they really need something
more. "What we've seen is that users like event and wedding videographers
are starting to look at DVD now that prices are within their reach,
but they need a little more than what DVDit! offers. Our DVDVirtuoso
is a good solution for them." Challinger admits, however, that
at $1,499, DVDVirtuoso is not a mass-market tool. It uses the
same capable interface and engine as their higher-end DVDConductor
and DVDMaestro, and reduces the price and learning curve by limiting
the number of video and audio tracks and menus, and eliminating
support for multi-angle and multiple audio authoring.
Similarly, Daikin has turned most of
its research and development away from Scenarist, its high-end
entry, and shifted its focus to ReelDVD, which should be selling
for less than $2,000 by fourth-quarter 2000. It uses the very
mature core engine of Scenarist, but removes many of the features
and some of the complexity. Karen Birnie of Daikin notes that
the tricky part about reducing features to achieve lower prices
is that "entry-level buyers still want high-end functionality."
Consequently, Daikin has elected to keep some of the higher-end
tool's more popular featurescapabilities omitted by other
on-the-cheap offerings. Birnie says, "ReelDVD is the only product
in the price range that offers motion menus, up to three languages,
and up to three different subtitles in a project."
Birnie is incorrect on one of those points.
Multimedia Technology Center is a tiny company that has been producing
authoring software for years going back to the VideoCD and CD-i
formats. Their most expensive DVD authoring product, DVDMotion
Pro, is $3,500, but DVDMotion SE and DVDMotion CE are $300 and
$75, respectively and both the Pro and the $300 SE versions support
motion menus . Rick Hallock of MTC says, "I may be crazy to add
all the features I do at those prices, but I don't have the marketing
budgets these other companies do." And while MTC's sales volumes
to end-users remain small, Philips has bundled over 150,000 copies
of DVDMotion CE with their DVD players.
Sonic's competitors also say quietly
that they're very pleased that DVDit! has helped broaden the DVD
authoring market. Of course, they would all be happier if they
had Sonic's market share and installed base. As Spruce's Challinger
says, "All the publicity of DVDit! has increased awareness and
market knowledge and that helps us."
SPRUCING UP THE COMPETITION
The first company to challenge Sonic's low-end
market dominance head on appears to be Spruce Technologies. While
they've yet to admit it publicly, they've been carefully studying
the success and failures of DVDit! in order to develop their own
mass-market authoring tool, rumored to be called Spruce Up. While
specific features remain sketchy at this time (a formal announcement
should come by mid-October), Spruce has enlisted former Adobe personnel
to help design an interface with very broad appeal and usability.
Stephen Inoue, product manager for the
future product, admits that he is using the same core engine as
drives Spruce's professional products. "I'm sure Sonic leverages
the expertise they've gained from the higher-end tools, but they
really built DVDit! from the ground up with a new code base. I
have free access to the core engine from DVDMaestro." By using
the same core engine as their other products, Spruce will immediately
have a QA advantage because they've already done, for example,
player compatibility testing and other industry compliance for
the professional tools.
Inoue also boasts that while he's had
some heated debates internally about cutting into DVDVirtuoso's
market, he won't be feature-crippling his product in order simply
to slice the market. "Most companies, including Sonic, have intentionally
limited features on lower-end products to keep their high-end
tools more valuable." By contrast, he says, "I'm going to let
the interface and usability drive the feature list." Inoue believes
that "a little cannibalization of DVDVirtuoso sales in the short
term is okay if it means an advantage in the long term."
Rather than having multiple versions
of Spruce Up, for example, a Lite or Professional addition with
fewer or added features, Inoue will bank on just a single product.
He plans to offer a free trial version on the Web and subsequently
sell a single full-featured tool that will grow over time. "We
won't have any theme packs or templates as Sonic does. I don't
think users want those games." Inoue goes on to hint at professional
features like NTSC safe zones and layout control for titling,
auto scene indexing for chapter marks and navigation, use of video
stills as buttons and backgrounds, and clip trimming from within
While specific pricing won't be announced
until the middle of October, Inoue suggests that Spruce Up will
be priced low enough to allow a single source to make an impulse
buying decision. That's a somewhat evasive number, but many consumer
electronic marketers consider $200 to be that limit. If Spruce
goes that low, and if Spruce Up lives up to promises, DVD authoring
may reach many more users indeed. And, then, if DVD burners reach
CD-R price points
THE BURN'S THE RUB
Unfortunately, even if Spruce Up or one of
the other products becomes the killer app for DVD authoring, the
industry still faces the problem of users being unable to create
physical discs that play in a consumer DVD player. Since CD-ROM's
success beyond application software derived directly from the ubiquity
of CD-R, and the fluid, replication-independent publishing models
it engendered, DVD-R's mass market viability is an essential component
of a thriving DVD authoring market that extends beyond Hollywood
and service bureaus. The least expensive DVD burner is Pioneer's
$5,400 DVR-S201 and blank media is still about $50 per disc, not
at all low enough to be add-on purchases for a $500 piece of software.
Worse, while some industry pundits predict a $1,000 burner from
Pioneer some time next year, they're currently back-ordered some
three months on shipments of the S201 and, therefore, may take their
time bringing lower-cost products to market.
The DVD-RAM triad has been promising
the ability to create discs that will play in consumer DVD players,
but that feature is not yet available. Panasonic, Hitachi, and
Toshiba (all makers of DVD-RAM drives) say that all of their future
DVD players starting some time this fall will have additional
functionality to read DVD-RAM discs. However, DVD players currently
in the market will never be able to read these discs.
In lieu of a viable writable DVD option,
some DVD authoring vendors are strongly promoting so-called "DVD
on CD-ROM," or burning a DVD disc image and compliant file structure
onto a CD-R disc. Any computer DVD-ROM should handily be able
to play a CD-R, but DVD players can only play CD-Rs as audio discs.
Manufacturers argue that most corporate projects have limited
distribution to targeted users and the twenty minutes of MPEG-2
or hour of MPEG-1 that fits onto a CD-ROM is often enough.
According to Spruce director of marketing
Joe Shike, "Most corporate DVD projects today never go to mastering
anyway. If they burn DVDs, they'll make 10-15, maybe even 50 copies
for limited distribution and never send a master." With such targeted
distribution, the player is not likely to be an unknown, and CD-ROMs
are often fine.
James Manning of Sonic agrees. "I don't
see the DVD-R issue as being the stumbling block anymore. We're
still not talking about mom and dad or grandma, but there are
plenty of professionals out there making money" and DVD on CD-ROM
is an effective method.
WHAT ABOUT THE WEB?
Visit Sonic's Web site (http://www.sonic.com)
and the first thing you'll discover is the company heralding itself
as follows: "Where DVD Meets the Internet." Yet even at $500, DVDit!
is more expensive and ultimately less capable than HTML programming
tools like Macromedia's Dreamweaver or Adobe's GoLive. And if corporate
video projects are limited to computer players because of CD-ROM
distribution, the Internet may offer an alternative to DVD authoring
altogether, especially over broad intranet bandwidths.
Rick Hallock of MTC agrees that some
sophisticated users may indeed be enticed away from DVD in its
current state, but he maintains nonetheless that DVD authoring
is the easiest way to use video for the average corporate presenter.
"There's some truth to [the HTML alternative], but it's problematic.
If you have a newer PC, it will work pretty well, but if you have
an older PC you might have problems, and WebDVD went nowhere.
The person that DVDMotion CE is designed for doesn't know anything
about HTML programming. With DVDMotion, they can use video with
no technical knowledge. It's very difficult to imagine that with
Manning of Sonic agrees. "You can do
a presentation in HTML with video in it, but it's very hard for
someone to go out and buy a product that can do that easily. The
beauty of DVDit! is that it's all so easy, you can have the player
built in, and it's all there."
A DVD FUTURE
Since DVD player sales into the home market
have surpassed nearly all expectation, DVD player compatibility
remains the elusive dream of DVD authoring companies and the lingering
barrier to the emergence of a true consumer mass market. Each of
the companies sees a day when their tools go hand in hand with DVD
players and ultimately replace VCRs.
Stuart Gold of Shadow and Light Productions
is a DVD developer who sees it both ways. "The stopper is that
users can't treat DVD like a VHS tape. If they burn a disc it
can't necessarily go in a player and just play. On the other hand,
there are solutions available today, and my clients are amazed
at what they can get for video quality even on a CD-ROM." The
fact that DVD authoring hasn't yet reached true consumer levels
leaves Gold some breathing room to offer a service that his clients
can't provide for themselves.
Of course, Sonic Solutions, Spruce, MTC,
Daikin, and others are trying to change that.
The company that's missing amid the current
DVD buzz is Astarte, the one that helped set the prices tumbling
in the first place. This spring, Astarte was purchased by Apple
Computer, and both its DVDirector for Mac and a beta Windows Version
were abruptly removed from the market. Apple has made no comment
about its plans for Astarte's assets, but current speculation suggests
Off-the-record comments point, first,
to Apple using Astarte's MPEG expertise simply to bring QuickTime's
MPEG support up-to-date. Second, speculation abounds that Apple,
whose interest in software is to help sell computers in high volume,
will eventually release a very affordable DVD authoring tool of
its own to strengthen both its Final Cut and free iMovie video
editing software. Apple already supports DVD-RAM in some high-end
G4 configurations, and DVD authoring would be a natural progression
for its video-oriented products.
Mentioned in This Article
Adobe Systems, Inc.
345 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA 95110-2704; 408/536-6000; Fax 408/536-6799;
Apple Computer, Inc.
One Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; 888/295-0648, 408/996-1010;
Fax 800/505-0171; http://www.apple.com
Daikin U.S. Comtec Laboratories
999 Grant Avenue, Novato, CA 94945; 415/893-7800; Fax 415/893-7807;
Hitachi America, Ltd.
2000 Sierra Point Parkway, Brisbane, CA 94005-1835; 650/589-8300;
Fax 650/244-7647; http://www.hitachi.com
600 Townsend Street, Suite 310W, San Francisco, CA 94103; 800/326-2128,
415/252-2000; Fax 415/626-0554; http://www.macromedia.com
MultiMedia Technology Center (MTC)
435 North Main Street, Herkimer, NY 13350; 315/866-4639; Fax
Panasonic Industrial Company
Computer Components Group, 1600 McCandless Drive, Milpitas,
CA 95035; 408/945-5600; Fax 408/262-4214; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Pioneer New Media Technologies,
Optical Division, 2265 E. 220th Street, Long Beach, CA 90810;
800/444-6784, 310/952-2111; Fax 310/952-2990; http://www.pioneerusa.com
Sonic Solutions, Inc.
101 Rowland Way, Suite 110, Novato, CA 94945; 415/893-8000;
Fax 415/893-8008; email@example.com;
Spruce Technologies, Inc.
1054 South De Anza Boulevard, Suite 200, San Jose, CA 95129;
408/863-9700; Fax 408/863-9701; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Toshiba America Electronic Components
9775 Toledo Way, Irvine, CA 92618; 949/455-2000; Fax 949/859-3963;
Jeff Sauer (email@example.com)
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 NewMedia
Magazine, Video Systems Magazine, Presentations
Magazine, and AV Avenue.
Comments? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.