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The Moving Picture - Build Your Own DVD

Jeff Sauer

July 2001 | What would you do with a DVD authoring engine?

I'm not talking about an authoring application or what kind of DVDs you'd create. I'm asking what you can imagine putting in a new DVD application or new type of DVD application if you had access to the core engine that runs behind the user interface. I'm talking about leveraging the smarts of a DVD authoring system that constructs a compliant image to play in simple consumer DVD players.

So, what could be done with a DVD authoring engine? Would you want a new application that would be easier to use? Or one that was more powerful? Or offered a better combination of ease-of-use and power than anything yet available? Or would it be something completely different? Spruce Technologies would like to hear the answer, too, and has the core engine ready for the asking to anyone with a good idea.

Unlike its competitors, all of Spruce's DVD authoring products are built on a single core, cleverly dubbed SpruceCore. From the very straightforward SpruceUp to Spruce's DVDMaestro flagship, each front end plugs into SpruceCore, unlocking different features to coincide with the capabilities of the respective interface. While other companies may have several DVD authoring products, they are almost invariably built from the ground up. Naturally, there is shared expertise, and possibly even common lines of code, but, in almost every case, the interface is inseparable from the core engine that drives it.

Spruce's component architecture makes it possible to open this core engine to other applications and interface designers. And at NAB 2001 in April, Spruce announced it will offer SpruceCore as a licensable SDK (Software Development Kit) to be known as SASI, or Spruce Automation Server Interface. With SASI, Spruce is literally offering other companies and interface designers an opportunity to build their own DVD authoring applications, possibly even ones that would compete with Spruce's own family of products.

But why would Spruce want to open itself to potentially more competition? In short, the answer is to expand DVD authoring and remain a part of it.

don't i know you?

Like several other companies we'll get to in a minute, Spruce knows that the industry already has several DVD authoring tools, ranging from the very simple to use to the more complex and more powerful. Inexpensive tools like Sonic's DVDit!, Spruce's Spruce Up, and now Apple's iDVD have made creating a rudimentary DVD-Video very simple. They've hidden the technical wizardry from users and phrases like "Video Objects," "Color Mapping," "First Play," and "Title Manager" and are rapidly becoming mere haunting memories of harder times for anyone without a virtual degree in DVD.

Of course, there are already powerful tools, too, like Sonic's (née-Daikin's) Scenarist, DVDCreator, and Spruce's DVDMaestro that can take full advantage of the DVD standard with an abundance of Color Mapping, VOBs, and VTMs and plenty of power, too. There are also several corporate-level tools–like Sonic's ReelDVD, MTC's DVD Motion, Apple's DVD Studio Pro, and Spruce's DVDConductor and DVDVirtuoso–that offer a balance between ease-of-use and features, and cost considerably less than their high-end counterparts (as well as appreciably more than the entry-level set). Naturally, there's something to quibble about–especially for we critics–in each one of those tools. However, in the big picture, a lot of ground has already been covered.

Putting the DV back in DVD

For DVD authoring to reach the next level, the entire process has to be more integrated with creating videos. Apple knows this and is heavily promoting a solution with FireWire input, editing DV video in iMovie or the more professional Final Cut Pro, then authoring and burning to DVD with iDVD or DVD Studio and the SuperDrive. All the applications are on one system and work together. Compaq has tried to do the same on Windows, bundling Pinnacle Systems' StudioDV, DVDit!, and the Pioneer DVR-A03 burner.

Yet, that's only part of the way toward true facility. Imagine if iDVD opened within iMovie as an export module? Or, what if you could create your chapter marks and motion menus in Final Cut, before going to DVD Studio Pro? While Apple has yet to make any announcements, it is likely working in that direction. And so are other companies. For example, Pinnacle Systems purchased Minerva's Impression and has announced its first offspring: a simple tool called Express that incorporates video capture and output to a DVD disc in one application.

Naturally, there are more difficulties in integrating the more intricate DVD functions with video editing. It's no small matter that, excepting Impression's old timeline interface, the workflows are inherently different. Yet, it's not prohibitive. And think about DVD authoring combined with Web page design and creating truly Enhanced DVDs.

To their credit, Spruce realizes that its expertise doesn't extend to solving these problems and marketing the result. By licensing SpruceCore, they are searching for partnerships with interface designers with expertise in video editing and building other tools that could integrate DVD authoring functionality.

So, what will you do with your DVD authoring engine?

Jeff Sauer (jeff@dtvgroup.com), columist for The Moving Picture, is the director of 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 letters@onlineinc.com.

Copyright 2002, Online, Inc.
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