iDVD 5

Is iDVD 5 the prestidigitator of the iLife ’05 suite? Like a world-class magician, iDVD’s 15 new themes hold your attention—by spinning and sliding your photos and movies around the screen. But behind the scenes, the DVD-creation program employs a few new tricks that give it more power than I expected to see.

More Kindling for the Fire

The most notable improvement in the previous version, iDVD 4, was the ability to burn as much as two hours of movies and photos to a disc, depending on the encoding preset (Best Quality or Best Performance). Version 5 has the same encoding options, but you’re not limited to burning to DVD-R media. iDVD 5 can burn directly to DVD+R, as well as the rewriteable DVD-RW and DVD+RW formats, if you have a late-model SuperDrive (go here for a list of compatible models).

But the best news is that, finally, iDVD no longer requires a built-in SuperDrive to burn discs (but for direct burning from iDVD, this remains Apple’s only officially supported method). Now iDVD provides a sensible workaround for people who use external disc burners: Save As Disc Image. This feature takes your project through the normal disc-burning process but wraps it up as a disc image that can be burned successfully from the Finder, or Roxio’s Toast 6 Titanium (I used the latter in my tests).

Like iMovie HD, iDVD 5 supports HDV and 16:9 (wide-screen) DV—sort of. Until the standards bodies finish duking it out over an HD-DVD specification, iDVD won’t be able to burn HD-quality video. However, iDVD converts any HD footage you bring in from iMovie HD (or Final Cut Pro HD) to 16:9 DV so that it will play correctly on wide-screen TVs. iDVD also imports AVI video, which many digital still cameras’ movie modes produce.

Instant DVD

Another signature new feature in iDVD 5 is the program’s ability to do all the work for you. If you just need to dump video from a DV tape onto a DVD (for example, to assemble the film dailies a director needs to review before the next shooting day), then OneStep DVD can rewind the tape in a connected camcorder, import the footage, and burn it to a disc. The resulting disc doesn’t include a menu or any navigation—when you insert it into a DVD player, the movie immediately begins to play.

Magician’s Assistant

In general, iDVD 5 feels a bit sprightlier, and it’s more graceful and helpful during the DVD-creation process. You can look at the Map view horizontally or vertically, zoom in or out, and use the small disclosure triangles to hide or show branches of a project. You can’t reorganize a project in the map—a feature I’d like to see—but you can apply themes to menus and add new menus and slide shows without leaving the map.

Other niceties abound. For example, the Burn Progress window is much more informative, presenting all of the steps and indicating where you are in the process. And as iDVD renders your menus and movie footage, it displays a small preview.

Animated Themes

The new themes make for some snazzy visuals, such as the expanding, flying flowers of Anime Pop. With animated drop zones, you can drag and drop a movie or photo directly onto a theme. But if you’re not keen on trying to drop media onto moving targets, you can stop the animation by clicking on the Motion button. Then you can use the new Motion playhead to advance the animation and make each zone visible in turn. Or for a simpler approach, double-click on a drop zone to open the Drop Zone Editor, where you can add media into orderly columns.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

You probably wouldn’t buy the iLife ’05 suite for iDVD 5 alone, but as a complement to iMovie HD, the program is a solid—if incremental—improvement on the last version. If you burn mul-tiple versions of your projects, just the ability to burn onto rewriteable DVD media will probably earn back your investment within a short period of time. And Apple has certainly set the stage for the near future, when HD-DVD media will allow us to watch HD movies on our enormous HD televisions.

Similar to iMovie HD’s Magic Movie feature, iDVD 5’s OneStep DVD feature grabs video from your camcorder, encodes it, and burns it to a DVD.

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