DVD Today News

Apple Shows Off DVD Software in the Big Apple

When Apple (http://www. apple.com) purchased Astarte GmbH‹creator of the popular Mac DVD authoring tool DVDirector‹in April 2000, and immediately placed a gag order on the company¹s employees, it didn¹t take Lieutenant Columbo to figure out that Apple was up to something relating to DVD. Exactly what that something might be, has‹up until Apple¹s MacWorld announcements in January‹been a mystery. During a recent meeting in Apple¹s midtown Manhattan office, EMedia Magazine was able to get the ³skinny² on the new products. Apple has announced new Power Mac G4 systems, which will include Apple¹s new omniwriting SuperDrive, as well as its iDVD mastering software. The system, with its $3,499 price tag, isn¹t targeted for the mainstream consumer market. Its baseline udience is ³prosumers² who desire to replace their aging VHS tape collections with DVDs. The SuperDrive, a Pioneer DVR-103 drive with Apple-customized firmware, supports writing to not only DVD-R (2X), but CD-R (8X) and CD-RW (4X). A firmware upgrade expected later this year will also supply write compatibility with rewritable DVD-RW media. The drive currently supports 4.7GB DVD-R general-use discs.

The bundled software, iDVD, is a simplified DVD mastering application designed for sers who are inexperienced with the DVD authoring process. iDVD allows users to drag-and-drop QuickTime files and pictures into a DVD project, and users can create menus, buttons, and backgrounds using the software¹s supplied themes. Users can also design their own custom interfaces. The software supports up to six ³buttons² on the main menu, and any of the buttons can also be a folder that leads to another six-button menu. iDVD uses a software MPEG-2 encoder and a static compression rate that is hidden from the user. Before burning to a disc, a user can preview a project to test navigation and flow. Up to one hour of video can be stored on a single DVD-R disc. We feel that this gives consumers a realistic option when choosing to output video on DVD as opposed to VHS, where there are issues of lower quality and durability,² says Mike Evangelist, senior product manager of DVD products at Apple.

But Apple¹s emerging DVD strategy ncompasses more than facile hobbyist encodes and burns. Apple has also announced a professional DVD authoring solution, DVD Studio Pro. DVD Studio Pro is, as the name would suggest, designed for professional DVD authors. The software can include every feature that the DVD-Video standard allows. ³DVD Studio Pro is designed for everyone except the upper-crust developers who need extremely low-level access to the DVD spec,² says Evangelist. ³The software is targeted at users that need to create discs such as corporate training DVDs, etc.² The software supports up to 99 video tracks as well as multiple language tracks. DVD content can be customized to include slide shows, still or motion menus from layered PhotoShop files or video clips, and interactive links directly to the Web.

MPEG-2 video is encoded in DVD Studio Pro development using Apple¹s software encoder (the same encoder used by iDVD), which Apple says can achieve up to 2X encoding speed on a 733mHz G4. While DVD Studio Pro may be cutting-edge software, it also requires cutting-edge hardware. Minimum system requirements include a Power Mac G4 with AGP graphics, a DVD-R, DVD-RAM, or DVD-ROM drive (configuration must support Apple DVD Player 2.0 or later), Mac OS 9.0.4 or 9.1, QuickTime 4.1, 128MB RAM, and a 12GB hard drive. The software is available separately at an MSRP of $999.

Apple has also announced that it will sell 4.7GB DVD-R (general use) discs in packs of five for $49.95. While the current market for home DVD recording is small (due, in part, to high prices to date for both drives and media), Apple is attempting to expand the market by offering a comparably low-priced solution. Who knows? Maybe years from now, when recordable DVD drives are standard-issue in new computers, we¹ll all look back and say, ³Apple made it happen.

Stephen Clark Jr.

CES and MacWorld Converge on Desktop DVD--Commentary

by Jeff Sauer

During the first week of January each year, two different trade shows the Consumer Electronics Show and MacWorld‹open their doors to seemingly quite different crowds. However, this year the two shows crossed paths with some exciting news for DVD creation and, ultimately, the DVD industry.

First, at CES although it was hidden away in the 1394/FireWire technology pavilion rather than a bold company booth Compaq demonstrated a newly announced bundle that will create a complete home video DVD authoring station. The MyMovieSTUDIO Presario 7000 will feature Intel Pentium 4 processors (starting at 1.3gHz) and will include Pinnacle System¹s StudioDV video editing software with FireWire capture card, Sonic Solution¹s DVDit! DVD authoring software, and Pioneer¹s new DVR-103 DVD-R/CD-RW burner.

While each of these products will be available individually, Compaq is going beyond a simple boxing of parts. Naturally, Compaq will include complete manuals for each separate software package, but also wisely plans to include a unified QuickStart manual that walks the user through the complete process of moving video from the camcorder to a DVD disc. It will show how to capture and edit video in StudioDV, teach how the resulting file can be converted to MPEG video and authored with DVDit!, then burned to DVD disc image in the Pioneer drive to create a disc that will play in consumer DVD players. Best of all, Compaq¹s price for an entire system starts at $2,399, lower than the price of the components sold separately.

At his opening keynote to the MacWorld faithful just a few days later, Steve Jobs announced that in an ³industry first,² Apple would be bundling the same Pioneer drive in the top 733mHz version of its new G4 computer. Jobs calls it the Apple ³SuperDrive² for its ability to create both DVD-R, CD-R, and CD-RW discs, but it¹s the same Pioneer DVR-103 announced by Compaq for its Presario. An anonymous Apple public relations representative rationalized that the ³industry first² was that Apple hadn¹t ever bundled such a drive before; however, competing speculation suggests that Apple¹s anticipated February release would beat Compaq¹s March release to market. Apple¹s configured price will be $3,499.

Yet, Steve Jobs is never one to let a few details stand in the way of a good line, and in this case neither should we. What Apple and Compaq are doing is really quite extraordinary for DVD creation and adoption. Compaq has assembled independent parts while Apple has built and bundled native Mac applications, integrated with the operating systems. Apple has also gone one step further by offering certified blank DVD media to consumers for just $10 each.

For Apple, the video capturing and editing software piece will be either its very popular consumer iMovie II or the professional Final Cut Pro, both existing tools. The DVD authoring solution, however, is brand new. iDVD is a direct result of Apple¹s acquisition of Astarte, former makers of DVDirector, last spring and pairs Astarte¹s significant DVD expertise with Apple¹s interface design skills. The result is a very straightforward, drag-and-drop interface targeting home video users, but with a very powerful DVD engine in the background. Unfortunately, at this initial release, iDVD will be bundled free with the SuperDrive-enabled G4 733mHz but not available for separate download or purchase. However, that will likely change over time.

Even better for professionals, Apple hasn¹t restricted Astarte¹s engineers to lowest common denominator authoring tools, and has announced DVD Studio Pro ($995), the effective rebirth of Astarte¹s DVDirector for Macintosh. Combined with Final Cut Pro and the SuperDrive burner, DVD Studio Pro completes a sub-$5,500 professional DVD authoring system that includes Apple¹s most powerful desktop computer.

Ultimately, you can take your pick of Windows or Mac. With these announcements and Pioneer¹s new affordable burner, both Compaq and Apple are reaching something of a perceived Holy Grail of the home video market and are opening the door to personal DVD creation. There¹s no question of the success of DVD players in this country for movie rentals, but home DVD burning and distribution of personal video have the potential to exponentially increase the use of the format, both at home and in business.

The Driver¹s House Rules:Putting the Brakes on Automobile DVD

As almost anyone who undertakes a daily drive to work will tell you, drivers that chat away on a wireless phone while attempting to navigate the ever-chaotic roads are annoying, to say the least. One can only imagine the reaction to a driver that, while cruising down a turnpike, can¹t seem to keep his eyes from the dash-mounted LCD DVD player as the passenger watches The Matrix.

Sounds like traffic¹s worst nightmare? Well, as automobile-mounted DVD players are beginning to hit the mainstream, this could soon become a reality. Fortunately, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has expressed concern regarding the safe installation and use of video devices in automobiles. The CEA has issued guidelines that state if an LCD panel or video monitor is used in an automobile for the viewing of television or video‹including DVD‹then it should only be used when the vehicle is in ³park² or when the parking brake is set. The other option they offer is to mount the monitor where it is not in view of the driver, but solely for rear-seat entertainment, which would be permissible to use when the vehicle is moving. The CEA maintains that operating devices used for navigation, observation, or system control would also be permissible while driving.

Although the exact percentage of consumers who prefer to watch a DVD from a bucket seat as opposed to a Lazy Boy recliner is not available, it seems unlikely that we¹ll see many drivers watching DVDs in their driveways (unless they really miss those bygone drive-in movie days). But the CEA insists that that¹s the only way to go. What¹s more, many manufacturers have expressed safety concerns similar to the CEA¹s, and therefore include instructions and warnings with the devices they sell. Eclipse (by Fujitsu Ten), for one, has incorporated a number of safety measures into its video devices. According to Sheryll Siazon of Eclipse, ³No moving picture, movies, and animation, are displayed in the driver¹s viewing area.² Eclipse has also included a mechanism that is connected to the vehicle¹s parking brake, and will prohibit the DVD device (if located in the front of the vehicle) from being used unless the brake is applied.

Panasonic has launched its first in-dash DVD Audio/Video player, the CQ-DVR909U, with the following warning:

This unit must not be installed where the video monitor is visible to the driver to avoid risk of serious injury or possible violation of laws. The driver must not operate the color LCD monitor and/or watch videos while driving. Operating the color LCD monitor and/or watching movies while driving may lead to carelessness and cause an accident. Keep the unit at an appropriate sound level. Driving with the sound at a level that prevents you from hearing sounds outside and around the vehicle may cause an accident.

Andy Marken, president of Marken Communications, a PR firm representing clients including Panasonic, sees where the CEA is coming from. ³I have a GPS display system in my new car and I personally find it most distracting,² says Marken. ³Maybe I can¹t multitask enough, but I find it difficult to watch the screen and drive responsibly on city streets.

In the quest to reduce distraction and increase safety, Panasonic, as well as a number of other manufacturers of DVD video devices, offers headphones for the rear-seat occupants and a separate sound system allowing front-seat passengers to listen to the radio.

Most monitors are mounted on the ceiling of the car, and the units either fold down or are stationary screens. Questions have arisen regarding the distraction level to other drivers on the road, and some car manufacturers have taken the whole safety issue to new extremes.

Mercedes-Benz locates viewing monitors in the back of the front-seat headrests, allowing rear-seat passengers to view films comfortably but decreasing distraction to other drivers. The company¹s S55 AMG Advanced Mobile Media, however, is a car so packed with technology that a techno-savvy professional may never need to set foot in the office again. From the comfort of the driver¹s seat, one can send faxes, make telephone calls, email, surf the Internet on a built-in PC, and hold video conferences via a small camera in the PC workstation.

Other cars including the Nissan Quest Minivan, the Oldsmobile Profile Sports Sedan, and the Buick Regal Cielo concept car offer a DVD-Video player as a factory-installed add-on option, and it is standard with the Volvo S80 Executive Package. The move to include DVD seems justified as sales of mobile DVD video devices continue to rise. According to Alpine marketing vice president Stephen Witt, an estimated 50,000 units of Alpine¹s car DVD player were sold in 2000 and that number is expected to jump to 250,000 in 2001.

Competition among DVD-Video makers is increasing as well. Pioneer, Clarion, Eclipse, Audiovox, Accele, Panasonic, and Alpine have joined the ranks of vendors offering DVD-Video players for the car. Kenwood is expected to ship two models in early 2001, and Blaupunkt and Sherwood are also considering releasing units of their own. Visteon Corporation has announced plans to work in conjunction with General Motors Corporation to offer the first family of vehicles featuring DVD rear-seat entertainment systems. Visteon expects these units to be available in early 2001.

The growth of the vendor pool and the dramatic price drops of portable DVD and DLP displays suggest that dash-mounted DVDs may become standard equipment in the years to come. However wise the suggestions of the CEA for limiting the use of that equipment, though, it seems that any practical restrictions will have to be targeted at manufacturers, as it is unlikely that simple recommendations will suffice to regulate consumer activities in the seemingly inviolable refuge of the American car. ‹Kinley Levak

 

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