capsule review

DVD Studio Pro 2.0

At a Glance
  • Apple DVD Studio Pro 2.0

    Macworld Rating

Those sounds you've been hearing are professional DVD developers popping champagne corks to celebrate the arrival of DVD Studio Pro 2.0, a major upgrade to Apple's high-end DVD-authoring software.

Like iDVD, DVD Studio Pro lets you create and burn DVDs containing video, audio, and photos. But unlike iDVD, it supports multiple language tracks, subtitles, Dolby audio encoding, complex navigation menus, and other advanced features. When DVD Studio Pro debuted in 2001 with these goodies, it was the only sub-$1,000 professional authoring program available. Now it's the only one available for less than $500.

Alas, version 1.5's power was trapped behind an awkward, inefficient interface (   ; August 2002 ). With version 2, Apple has given DVD Studio Pro a magnificent makeover that streamlines and simplifies advanced DVD authoring. Add a beautiful new interface, a thorough 600-page manual, and a 50 percent price cut, and you have software worth celebrating -- despite some flaws.

Big in Every Way

The program demands a fast Mac -- Apple recommends a 733MHz or faster G4, but 1GHz is a more realistic minimum, and a dual-processor machine is ideal. On our dual-1GHz G4, the program performed well but was occasionally sluggish. Version 2 also calls for Mac OS X 10.2.6 and QuickTime 6.3.

DVD Studio Pro 2 demands a lot of screen real estate. On a display resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels, the interface feels cramped and some windows are cut off.

Then there's disk space. Apple says version 2 requires 20GB, but the software itself uses only a tenth of that. The rest is needed to store the MPEG-2 clips and other files the program creates as you work. If your startup drive is low on space, have DVD Studio Pro 2 store these files on another drive.

Choose Your Interface

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All three modes provide access to dozens of menu and button templates. Using the new Menu Editor window, you can design menus within DVD Studio Pro 2, taking advantage of rulers, alignment guides, and other layout aids. In previous versions, you had to create menu and button graphics in Photoshop and then import them. You can still work that way in version 2, but I built menus in a fraction of the time in the Menu Editor.

In basic mode, DVD Studio Pro 2 works much like iDVD. You drag movies into the Menu Editor window to add them to your project and create buttons for them. A palette next to the window provides access to menu templates, button styles, and your iTunes and iPhoto libraries.

In its extended and advanced modes, the interface grows to include a Track Editor window, where you can set and adjust DVD chapter markers (you can also import markers from Final Cut or iMovie projects), create subtitles, trim and work with video clips, add alternative-language audio tracks, and more (see "DVD Timeline").

In previous versions, working with markers and subtitles was cumbersome and confusing; now it's efficient and intuitive.

The extended and advanced modes also provide access to the program's scripting features, which let you add smarts to a title, such as menu buttons that change color depending on which clips have already played. And a script made with DVD Studio Pro 2's proprietary scripting language could query a DVD player to determine its language setting, and then play back the appropriate audio track or subtitles.

Scripting is still not for the faint of code, but DVD Studio Pro 2's revamped scripting environment makes it more approachable -- if you're careful. I found that if our scripts contained a programming error, DVD Studio Pro 2 often crashed when I previewed my work.

As I worked on a 90-minute training DVD containing numerous menus and nearly 100 chapters, I came to love the new keyboard shortcuts and the context-sensitive shortcut menus that lurk behind almost everything on screen. I also liked the way I could perform common tasks -- such as linking a button to a specific chapter -- in several different ways.

Working with Assets

DVD Studio Pro 2's approach to importing and managing assets also makes authoring more efficient. In previous versions, you couldn't import video until you'd encoded it into MPEG-2 format. You can still encode video before importing if you like, but you can also import a movie and have DVD Studio Pro 2 encode it as you work, just as iDVD does. However, the program slows down when background encoding is on.

DVD Studio Pro 2 also includes a new MPEG-2 encoder that supports variable-bit-rate encoding and delivers sharper video at lower bit rates than its predecessors did. You also get Compressor, the fine but somewhat funky encoding program included with Final Cut Pro 4 (   , September 2003).

Simulating and Burning

Previewing menus and video tracks was unreliable in previous DVD Studio Pro versions, but it's much better in version 2. A new Simulator window displays accurate previews and can be configured to simulate different language and display settings. Some users on Apple's discussion boards have reported problems with unreliable previewing, but aside from the script-crashing bug, previewing worked reliably for me.

DVD Studio Pro 2 provides several new burning and mastering features. Among the most noteworthy is support for the Cutting Master Format when you're burning to authoring media (the kind used by specialized authoring drives such as Pioneer's DVRS-201). This lets you burn replication masters containing copy-protection information.

Macworld's Buying Advice

DVD Studio Pro 2.0 is a spectacular update, but we recommend that veteran users ease into the new version of the program. By all means, buy the upgrade and start learning to use it. But as with any major upgrade, don't switch to it in the middle of a project, and don't make your first DVD Studio Pro 2 project a complex one that has a very tight deadline. If you're new to pro DVD authoring and you have sophisticated hardware, you shouldn't hesitate to buy DVD Studio Pro 2. You probably won't encounter the program's most serious problems if you create relatively simple projects, and by the time you start to use this version's most-advanced features, Apple will likely have released updates that fix its flaws.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Excellent MPEG-2 encoding
    • Thoughtful feature refinements throughout
    • Elegant, scalable interface
    • Thorough documentation

    Cons

    • Occasionally sluggish performance
    • Some bugs
    • Demanding system and display requirements
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