capsule review

DVD Studio Pro 3.0

At a Glance
  • Apple DVD Studio Pro 3.0

    Macworld Rating

The ability to produce more eye candy with less work -- that just about sums up what's new in DVD Studio Pro 3.0. The latest version of Apple's high-end DVD-authoring program provides gorgeous new design options for DVD developers, and it adds features that reduce DVD development time.

The difference between DVD Studio Pro 1.5's interface and that of version 2.0 was like night and day (   ; December 2003 ). DVD Studio Pro 3 builds on the strengths of version 2. Version 3 brings a variety of improvements that add up to an appealing upgrade -- and they further strengthen DVD Studio Pro's position as the best value in professional DVD-authoring software.

Same Pretty Face

Like version 2, DVD Studio Pro 3 lets you work in any of three operating modes -- Basic, Extended, or Advanced -- depending on your skill level and the complexity of your project. In Basic mode, DVD Studio Pro 3 feels like Apple's iDVD with a graduate degree -- you can use many of the same drag-and-drop techniques to create DVDs, but you have more control over video compression, menu designs, and menu navigation.

In Extended and Advanced modes, you can take advantage of everything that DVD-Video technology allows -- subtitles, alternative video angles and audio tracks, advanced navigation schemes, and more.

Like version 2, DVD Studio Pro 3 demands a fast Mac and a big screen. On a dual-1GHz Power Mac G4 with 1GB of memory, the program was a bit sluggish, and on a 17-inch display, the interface was cramped. A dual-2GHz Power Mac G5 with 2GB of RAM delivered smooth performance, and a 23-inch Apple Cinema HD Display better accommodated the program's many windows and palettes.

The biggest change in DVD Studio Pro's interface is a new Graphical view, which depicts the navigation structure of your DVD. It's similar to the Map feature in iDVD 4, but it does much more. For example, you can print the Graphical view to document your work or to send it to a client for approval.

Visual Feasts

Professional DVDs often have transitions between menus: one menu pushes another off the screen, for example. Creating menu transitions used to be labor-intensive and required Apple's Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects. DVD Studio Pro 3 makes the process a one-click operation. You can choose from 30 transition styles, ranging from a classic cross-dissolve to a spectacular lens flare in which an animated glare of brilliant light separates one menu from the next. You can even assign a different transition to each DVD menu button or specify that one or more buttons not have any transition at all.

Many of version 3's transitions use transparency effects to provide additional glitz; for example, a menu can show through an animated object that's part of the transition. Here's the best part: with surprisingly little effort, you can create transparent transitions yourself. Use Final Cut Pro, After Effects, or Apple's forthcoming Motion to create the transitions' animated elements, and then store them in a specific folder on your hard drive to make them available from within DVD Studio Pro. This is a great way to go beyond DVD Studio Pro 3's built-in transitions. I wouldn't be surprised to see third-party transition collections soon.

Version 3 also lets you add transitions between images in a DVD slide show, and you can even specify a different transition between each image. But this may earn you a summons from the design police (and rightly so).

Some DVD players support jacket pictures, static images that appear when people press the stop button on their DVD players. DVD Studio Pro 3 adds support for jacket pictures, and creating them is as easy as choosing an option from a pop-up menu.

Design and Deliver

As in version 2, you can create DVD menus using DVD Studio Pro's built-in library of attractive themes and button templates, or you can create menus and buttons in Photoshop and then import them. I was pleased to see that DVD Studio Pro 3 is smarter about managing imported graphics. If you alter an existing menu graphic in Photoshop, DVD Studio Pro 3 immediately reflects your changes. In DVD Studio Pro 2, you had to quit and relaunch for changes to appear.

Like version 2, version 3 includes a separate program, Compressor, that encodes video into MPEG-2 format. Compressor 1.2, also included with Final Cut Pro HD, supports a broader range of MPEG-2 formats than earlier Compressor versions. (If you're using DVD Studio Pro 2 and you aren't quite ready to upgrade to version 3, you can download the free Compressor 1.2 update instead.)

On the audio front, there's both good news and bad news. The good news is that DVD Studio Pro 3 supports DTS (Digital Theater Systems) multichannel audio. On the downside, to compress audio in Dolby AC3 format, you must still use Apple's somewhat inscrutable A.Pack utility, which is included with DVD Studio Pro. While A.Pack is great for preparing multichannel audio with surround channels, it's overkill for creating simple, two-channel stereo tracks such as those used in corporate, training, or wedding DVDs. Basic, two-channel AC3 encoding in Compressor or in DVD Studio Pro 3 itself would be a welcome change.

Less Time to Burn

On the workflow front, DVD Studio Pro 3 lets you copy and paste buttons and other elements from one DVD menu to another. I used this feature when I created a train-ing DVD that contained a half-dozen menus, and it saved me many hours of authoring tedium.

DVD Studio Pro can now import iDVD 4 projects, opening the door to some interesting workflow options. You can use iDVD to draft a DVD's content and structure, and then bring that project into DVD Studio Pro to add navigation niceties, subtitles, or other advanced DVD features.

iDVD 4 projects imported accurately in my tests, but because of a minor bug in DVD Studio Pro 3's import function, adding menu transitions to an imported project required a few extra steps. Apple is aware of this bug and will likely address it in a maintenance update.

DVD Studio Pro 3 gives you more ways to create your final product, adding support for rewritable (RW) media. If you insert a rewritable disc that already contains data, version 3 conveniently offers to erase and reuse it. DVD Studio Pro 3 can also burn to DVD+R and DVD+RW media, assuming your burner supports it. (Most of the SuperDrives in Power Mac G5s do.)

My tests uncovered one fairly serious burning issue: discs that you burn with DVD Studio Pro 3 don't play back in OS 9. Apple says that the problem is due to an "optimization" it made in the burning process; the company plans to issue a fix. If your DVDs must play in OS 9, there is a workaround: you can use Roxio's Toast to burn the encoded folders that DVD Studio Pro creates.

Macworld's Buying Advice

If you're contemplating going beyond iDVD -- or if you're still suffering through using DVD Studio Pro 1.X -- don't hesitate to jump to DVD Studio Pro 3.0. Users of version 2 won't get any life-changing productivity gains from version 3, but the new Graphical view and other workflow improvements are welcome. DVD Studio Pro 3's changes deal primarily with design and presentation, and since design and presentation are largely what DVDs are about, these enhancements make this an important upgrade, especially at $199.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Elegant interface
    • Many design and workflow enhancements
    • Can import iDVD 4 projects

    Cons

    • Burned discs don't play in OS 9
    • Separate program required for AC3 audio encoding
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