February, 2001 | When EMedia reviewed DVD authoring
tools through a series of articles in the spring of 1999,
the available solutions boasted thorough DVD functionality,
but also prohibitive five-digit price tags. Thankfully,
the cost of creating DVD-Video discs has changed dramatically.
While you can still pay a lot for top tools, several products
now deliver all but the most exclusive features without
busting budgets or confusing the process with complicated
With the professional market for uncompromising authoring
systems nearing saturation, today's generation of tools
targets the broader potential of corporate DVD authoring
and range in price from about a hundred dollars to just
less than $1500. Admittedly, if you need features like region
coding, parental control, or copyright protection, these
tools may not cut it. But, for the large majority of corporate
titlesfor training, kiosks, promotions, presentations,
etc.they have most of what you're likely to need for
a lot less money.
Here we review five such DVD authoring tools from Daikin,
Intec, Multimedia Technology Center, Sonic Solutions, and
Spruce Technologies. Two productsSpruce's DVD Virtuoso
and Intec DVDAuthorQuick LE (Light Edition)are feature-
reduced versions of higher-end authoring tools that retain
the user interfaces of their older and pricier siblings.
A third, Sonic's DVDit PE, goes in the other direction by
adding features to the early standard edition of DVDit!
Daikin's ReelDVD is a completely new interface that leverages
most of the power of the company's Scenarist warhorse without
the complexity. And MTC's DVDMotion, which has deep roots
in VideoCD authoring, is a family of three products that
range from a mere $95 to $895.
WHAT YOU GET
Each of these tools is designed to create a DVD-Video disc
image that, when burned onto a DVD disc, will play in a consumer
DVD player. They don't create video assets, but rather format
existing MPEG videos, graphics, and audio for interactive
playback, linking video clips together with menus and buttons
for remote control navigation. DVD discs can also be played
back on a computer with an appropriate DVD player and in either
a DVD-ROM or CD-ROM drive. And while DVD's strict formatting
is less necessary on computers, authoring tools greatly simplify
the process of presenting video-based information in a professional
yet accessible manner.
None of these tools includes video capture or encoding
features within the same software application. However,
some vendorsSpruce (with Canopus) and Sonic (with
Media 100, Matrox, and others)have bundling agreements
with hardware makers that enable them to offer combined
encoding and authoring solutions. Further, many independent
hardware resellers bundle authoring systems themselves in
order to serve their clients. Sonic's DVDit! gets very close
to being a one-stop solution by including a built-in transcoder
for turning AVI or QuickTime files into MPEG; however, it
does not digitize video. Daikin's ReelDVD also can include
a similar transcoder, but it costs an extra $250.
DVDit! is also the only one of the tools we reviewed that
offers simple- button drawing graphic tools which save users
from having to generate menus and buttons in a separate
application (like Adobe Photoshop). Sonic further facilitates
quick authoring by including clip art for use with button
and menu backgrounds. Sonic even automatically creates a
highlight effect, programming a color change when a viewer
activates a button. However, in DVDit! you have no control
of colors or variations in the default highlight.
ReelDVD, DVDVirtuoso, and DVDMotion all require you to
create graphical assets externally, but they do lev- erage
the DVD standard's color mapping option for creating rollover
and button-select effect for when a viewer's cursor either
rolls over or activates a button. Color mapping enables
a consumer DVD player to substitute specific colors within
a frame (for example, a white button will turn red on rollover
then blue on activation) rather than swapping out the entire
full-frame graphics. While conforming to color mapping makes
preparing graphical assets a little more complicated and
restrictive, the result is greater efficiency and speed
on the viewing. Neither DVDit! nor DVDAuthorQuick supports
DVDit! and ReelDVD both can import a variety of graphical
file types, includ- ing bitmap, TIFF, JPEG, flattened Photoshop,
TGA, and others. DVDAuthorQuick supports only bitmaps and
TIFFs, while DVDMotion works only with bitmaps. DVDVirtuoso
can import bitmaps, TIFFs, JPEGs, plus dual-layer Photoshop
files as well, automatically parsing the two layers into
a background and a sub-picture layer, saving you a creation
DON'T BRING ME DOWN
Each of these companies offers multiple authoring tools and,
except for MTC, premium products that cost much more and yield
much higher profit margins than the ones reviewed here. Daikin's
top-flight Scenarist and Sonic's similarly pricey and professional
DVDCreator both have interfaces that are very different from
those found in the affordable tools, while DVDVirtuoso and
DVDAuthorQuick LE use the same interfaces as the higher-end
systems. With that, each vendor faces the dilemma of making
the affordable tools powerful enough to entice, yet not so
rich as to jeopardize their other sales.
Most limit functionality by simply restricting the use
of assets. For example, each product (except the $95 DVDMotion
CE version) supports multiple chapter points within a video,
though some limit the number of independent MPEG videos
or menus that can be used in a project or disc image. Spruce's
DVDVirtuoso, clearly designed for simply putting a movie
on a DVD disc, is the most restrictive, limiting you to
just one video and 10 menus (the menus can access multiple
chapter points and each other). DVDAuthorQuick LE, ReelDVD,
and DVDit! all have just one "title set", or group of videos,
thereby limiting complex, multitiered navigation.
MTC and Sonic restrict features within a fairly tight
price range. With DVDit!, for example, the extra $500 for
the PE version primarily enables premastering to DLT, the
standard used by DVD replication houses. Pros are quite
likely to pay the extra while the broader market of presenters
and other corporate users will never miss it. The extra
$500 for DVDMotion Pro over SE also offers DLT tape support,
but also more professional features like automated random
playback, dual-layer disc support, and sub-titling.
Spruce and Intec, on the other hand, have greater cost
inequity between the versions reviewed here and higher-priced
tools that use the same interface. That disparity tends
to leave the lower-cost products with overly complicated
interfaces for the simple jobs they are able to do. Both
DVDVirtuoso and DVDAuthorQuick require you to go through
many more steps than should be necessary to create basic
titles with limited assets.
Ultimately, your choice of interface will likely depend
on what type of authoring you'll do now and in the future.
Sharing the same interface of the higher-end products gives
Spruce and Intec a smooth upgrade path to professional functionality.
What you learn now will serve you later should you buy more.
On the other hand, Daikin's ReelDVD has a very different
interface from the company's flagship, Scenarist, enabling
the new workflow to dictate features rather than arbitrary
limits on video streams or menus. DVDit!'s interface is
dramatically different from Sonic's DVDCreator with features
to suit DVD authoring novices.
None of the tools reviewed here includes advanced programming
such as "if-then" logic and general programming parameters,
or parental or regional controls.
DAIKIN'S REELDVD ($980)
Daikin's Scenarist has a reputation for complete control of
the breadth of DVD standard, but also as a complicated tool
that requires training and constant technical support to use.
With ReelDVD, Daikin goes a good way toward changing the second
part while still leveraging its DVD expertise.
ReelDVD's interface has just three main areasthe
storyboard, the track editor, and the Preview windowand
smartly uses the Windows NT Explorer as its asset bin. To
import, you simply drag assets from the Explorer into the
storyboard area. The first video dragged into a new project
is automatically linked to the DVD "First Play", though
you can manually change that, if necessary, by re-dragging
a link from the "First Play" icon to another video or menu.
You drag audio clips from the explorer directly onto the
video clips in the storyboard.
Like Scenarist, ReelDVD's storyboard area has inflexible,
multicolored navigation arrows that can quickly fill up
the viewable area, but Daikin smartly allows you to view
or hide specific types of navigation through a toggle bar
at the top of the interface (for example, you can show only
"Next" commands). That gives ReelDVD a powerful yet manageable
visual overview of your project's flow.
In addition to the "First Play" icon on the storyboard
at the start of each new project, Daikin has also included
similar "Title" and "Menu" icons. Since every DVD player's
remote has "Title" and "Menu" buttons, this helpfully reminds
you to create appropriate links. You can add more menus,
but only one in a project will respond to a remote's "Menu"
Having the Track Editor always open, showing the details
of any highlighted video clip, is a wonderful departure
from other industry tools. The track editor is where most
of the nitty-gritty work of linking elementary MPEG streams
and adding subtitles and chapter marks is done, and dispensing
with the constant opening and closing of a track editor
for each clip is a helpful time-saver. It also offloads
much of the information that might clutter other interface
windows. Similarly, a Preview Window that's always open
but doesn't monopolize the screen is the best of both worlds.
The Preview Windows smoothly resizes itself to a smaller
picture if you enlarge the visible area of the storyboard.
The 1.0 version of ReelDVD was the only product we tested
that did not support the widescreen, 16 x 9 format common
to most DVD movie titles; however, this feature was expected
in ReelDVD version 2.0 before the end of 2000.
While ReelDVD is about the same price as DVDit! PE, it
offers more features and much better project organization.
It may be a little more complicated to learn, but that's
a relative term. ReelDVD isn't that hard to use and offers
room to grow and experiment after you get your feet wet.
Unless you're looking for very basic, dump-a-video-on-a-disc
authoring, ReelDVD is our top choice.
INTEC'S DVDAUTHORQUICK LE
Like the full version of DVDAuthorQuick, the LE version has
no project overview or storyboard beyond a hierarchical, Windows
Explorer-style file tree, which organizes assets by file type
instead of links, as would be more helpful for authoring.
DVD AuthorQuick tries to walk you through the process of building
a DVD title within a succession of "browse for file" dialog
boxes. And for some, that methodwhich requires you have
all assets ready to go and a paper diagram laying out your
navigational linksmay be effective and appealing. But
that's probably not how most amateurs will work. There's little
room for easy trial and error until you've become proficient
with the interface, and that learning process quickly gets
far more complicated than it has to be for the features the
LE version offers.
Since all of these affordable tools target new DVD authors
rather than those familiar with DVD production, it's disappointing
that Intec still plagues users with the arcane jargon of
the DVD specification. While the orderly nature of the interface
is helpful, Intec's prompts requesting Overtures, Video
Title Sets, and Titles through a series of "Browse" dialog
boxes will have new users running for the user manual. Hopefully,
the manual that finally ships with the product (ours was
a prerelease version) will have a glossary of terms.
Once you work through those to determine which dialog
is asking for a video clip and which for a menu background,
you're met with more dialog boxes that take you through
the navigation and links. This is where the lack of a visual
reference hurts most. Pull-down menus work, but they require
more mouse clicks and windows than they should and don't
give much feedback when you're reviewing your work.
On the other hand, at just $399, DVDAuthorQuick LE is
one of the least expensive tools we tested. Its methodology
is unique, but once you get the hang of it, you may probably
be able to turn out simple projects more quickly than any
other product reviewed here. However, if you start working
with a lot of menus, buttons, and links, DVDAuthorQuick
LE will seem more like programming than authoring.
MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY CENTER'S DVDMOTION ($95-$895)
MTC has been building authoring software for years, going
back to VideoCD, CD-i, and beyond. It is not well known because
it is a tiny company with very limited marketing resources,
but it boasts a dedicated client base of satisfied users.
What it offers in the Pro version of its DVDMotion authoring
tool is a product that has a feature list to rival much pricier
products, plus direct tech support access to the product designer
via email should you have problems or suggestions.
The trade-off is an interface that, while effective, has
the look and feel of one person's idiosyncratic approach
to DVD authoring. With literally years of experience, most
of the quirkiness you might expect is gone, but there are
times when the interface seems more logical than truly practical.
For example, DVDMotion offers a very helpful template approach
to authoring different types of projects, walking you through
the steps of making a Video Album, Slide Show, or Looping
Video. However, to edit a template-based project manually,
you need to close and reopen the project in a different
mode. DVDMotion is also somewhat rigid about formats, supporting
only bitmap graphics and specific Windows file extensions.
The three versions of DVDMotion all share the same interface,
with simply limited features in the lower-cost versions.
A large preview window dominates the screen, with an asset
bin and information monitor offering asset properties, authoring
feedback, and helpful hints below. To the right of the main
window is a Tray, which, like a true storyboard with individual
still slides of videos or menus that can be rearranged,
acts as your project overview. There's no way to show links
between assets without opening each, and that limits DVDMotion's
effectiveness and increases complexity a degree for authoring
Given its linear nature, the Tray metaphor will likely
become unwieldy with larger projects that jump between a
variety of video assets; however, it's a better organizational
tool than either DVDit! or DVDAuthorQuick and arguably more
visual than DVDVirtuoso for many more features at a better
The Consumer Edition of DVDMotion is limited to one group
of videos, no chapter marks, and no hierarchical menus,
though it does support basic features like button rollovers.
And, at only $95, it's a great choice if you need an authoring
tool for a few basic projects. For $395, the Standard Edition
adds features like motion menus, multiple language support,
and slide shows with audio. You'll need the Pro version
($895), however, if you want to premaster to DLT tape, create
subtitles, or create random play or looping titles. MTC
also offers a Platinum version, which is the Pro version
with unlimited email and cell phone access to not only technical
support but the product developer himself.
SONIC SOLUTIONS DVDIT! PROFESSIONAL EDITION ($995)
EMedia reviewed the standard edition of DVDit! in May 2000
[Jeff Sauer, pp. 56-58]
and its interface remains much the same. A bin area organizes
unused assets, a menu palette offers an overview of menus
used in a project, and a main viewing area plays back video
assets and supports drag-and-drop linking. It's also where
you place buttons on menu backgrounds. There is no project
overview to speak of and to review linksthe user must
open and highlight each menu, button, and video manually.
DVDit!'s interface is designed for straightforward projects
without the complexity of advanced navigation and, as such,
it eschews a detailed storyboard workflow. That makes DVDit!
an easy way to put video on a discwith some basic
menus and buttonsand have it play, but not too much
more. And with helpful extras like button creation tools
directly in the application and a supply of "themes" for
backgrounds and buttons, DVDit! remains the easiest solution
for simple and affordable DVD authoring.
While the interface hasn't changed much, several features
have been added since our review. Sonic's biggest omission
from that early version, chapter marks, was expected to
be included in the Professional Edition only but has found
its way into both SE and PE versions. To facilitate these
chapter marks, Sonic has added a simple timebar below the
viewing that lets you play or scrub through video clips
and add marks at specific points. DVDit! retains its somewhat-awkward
approach to text and applying text to buttons, but now supports
copying and pasting.
The extra $500 for the Professional Edition buys you just
a few simple yet important additions. Most notably, mastering
to DLT tape, but also 16 x 9 and Dolby Digital audio, are
important for feature movies, and 99 menus rather than 10
The biggest drawback with DVDit! is that the interface
doesn't leave much room to grow, and it's hard to see how
Sonic might add significant features without dramatic change.
On the other hand, the industry is moving downward toward
easier-to-use products at even lower prices, and Sonic has
already announced a new product, My DVD, for about $100,
whose arrival suggests DVDit! will either mature or go away
SPRUCE'S DVDVIRTUOSO ($1495)
DVDVirtuoso is the younger, less-capable sibling of Spruce's
flagship, DVDMaestro, and their mid-range DVDConductor. DVDVirtuoso
uses the same interface as the higher-end tools, and that
doesn't leave much room at the bottom for virtue. As differentiation
from the others, DVDVirtuoso supports just a single video
and two audio tracks; it's clearly aimed at those interested
in simply putting a movie on disc. However, at $1495, it's
the most expensive tool we tested. With fewer features than
the others, the only reason to look at DVDVirtuoso is the
prospect of upgrading later to a higher-priced, more professional
Spruce tool that you won't have to learn from scratch.
DVDMaestro's list-based project overview can arguably
become cumbersome authoring complicated projects with dozens
of assets and navigation links, but that's not a problem
with DVDVirtuoso's simpler projects. It presents all the
assets, menus, buttons, and navigation in a straightforward
color-coded list, with easily seen empty holes where connections
are missing. Unfortunately, the rest of the interface is
more complicated for such basic authoring.
Multiple and redundant "panes" for asset management crowd
your desktop space with little benefit in such simple DVD
projects. Spruce's User Manual, admittedly an almost straight
copy of the DVDMaestro and DVDConductor manuals, gets to
Chapter Five before even broaching how you import the one
video and two audio assets as supported in Virtuoso. The
interface supports drag-and-drop into an asset bin, but
then requires you to open the movie icon in the separate
project window, which in turn opens the Track Editor where
you can again drag-and-drop your media. These multiple steps
are legacies of early Maestro software and hinder this level
While DVDVirtuoso supports just one video track, it is
capable of including up to 99 chapter points and 10 menus
of links. It's possible, therefore, to edit several video
clips together in a video editing application, then break
them up with chapter points in Virtuoso. Yet Virtuoso is
clearly targeting those users with just a single movie that
just needs to be burned to disc; however, there are easier
and more affordable products that achieve the same.
Even Spruce is hedging its bets on Virtuoso. Its Spruce
Up! (about $200) should be available by the time you read
this with a very different interface for simpler DVD projects.
With its arrival, the quest for the market-making corporate
DVD authoring tool will continue. As will the ongoing, broader
question of whether that market, once made, will establish
DVD as a viable video business publishing tool.
Companies Mentioned in This Article
Daikin U.S. Comtec Laboratories
999 Grant Avenue, Novato, CA 94945; 415/893-7800; Fax 415/893-7807;
INTEC America, Inc.
1010 El Camino Real, Suite 370, Menlo Park, CA 94025;
650/327-9402; Fax 650/328-4183; http://www.inteca.com
Multimedia Technology Center
194 Ferncliff Road, Mohawk, NY 13407; 315/866-4639; Fax
101 Rowland Way, Novato, CA 94945; 888/766-4248, 415/893-8000;
Fax 415/893-8008; http://www.sonic.com
Spruce Technologies, Inc.
1054 S. DeAnza Boulevard, Suite 200, San Jose, CA 95129;
888/255-6734, 408/861-2200; Fax 408/863-9701; http://www.spruce-tech.com