iDVD Diary, Part 3: Preview, Burn, and Play

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Previously in the iDVD Diary series: Jason Snell took a tour of the iDVD interface and tried to figure out how the applicaton worked; he then wrestled with importing his magnum opus from iMovie and enhancing it with the iDVD Slideshow feature. Once his project was complete, it was time to burn the DVD.

Once my iDVD project was put together, it was time for me to preview it. That's a simple process in iDVD, mostly because there's a big blue Preview button in the tool bar just calling out to be clicked on.

When you click on that button, your interface experience changes. Your iDVD window transforms into a live preview of what you'd see on a home DVD player, and a small remote control approximating that home DVD player's remote control appears next to the preview. Now you can navigate through the iDVD project just as you would if you were playing your movie at home.

I previewed the entire project and it worked like a charm. I could click through the slide shows, view the movies -- the works. And so, with a little bit of trepidation and a whole lot of excitement, I broke out one of the $10 Apple-banded DVD-R discs that came with the 733MHz Power Mac G4 and burned my first DVD.

Burning a DVD is a momentous thing, but it sure didn't feel like it. I clicked on the Burn DVD button in the bottom-right corner of the iDVD interface, and off it went.

I had filled my DVD project up with almost an hour of video, with only four minutes and 51 seconds left on iDVD's free-space indicator. About two and a half hours later the burn finished and I had a brand-new DVD.

Playing on a Mac

Once I had finished burning the DVD, it was time for the first test: putting the DVD back into the G4's SuperDrive and trying to view it using the Apple DVD Player software. I inserted the disc, opened DVD Player, clicked on Play, and crossed my fingers.

It played like a charm. My DVD's main menu came up, and I was able to move into all the different folders of the project with ease. I played part of my vacation video, and it looked fantastic -- DVD quality for sure.

Then I clicked back, selected one of my slide shows, and moved through the pictures one by one using the DVD Player remote control. They all looked good. Things were going swimmingly so far. Then I pressed the Menu button to get back up to the DVD main menu . . . .

And that's when things fell apart. Apple DVD Player wouldn't go back to the main menu, and I was trapped in the slide show. I went to the first slide -- nothing happened. The last slide -- nothing. I finally ejected the DVD entirely, and then re-inserted it . . . and the DVD Player popped up right where I had left off, within the slide show. I was in an endless DVD loop.

Frustrated, I moved the disc over to my usual system at work -- a PowerBook G3 with a DVD drive. Again, it worked like a charm until I got into the slide show.

With a heavy heart I ejected the DVD and waited until I got home that night. Would this bug appear on the DVD player attached to my TV set at home, or was it limited to Apple's own DVD-playing software?

Playing on a Home DVD Player

As soon as I got home, I dashed to my Panasonic DVD player and popped in my iDVD disc. My main menu popped up and I discovered an entirely different problem from the one I found by playing the disc in a DVD-ROM drive.

I could only see the title "K 2000" -- the initial "U" is off the left side of the screen. Many of you out there with video backgrounds know there's a simple explanation for this: most TV sets out there don't show all of the picture information in a video signal. There's a whole area of space along the outside border of a video image that's considered "unsafe" in much the same way as colors that aren't in the "Web-safe" palette. You can use non-Web-safe colors, but you can't count on every monitor to display them properly. Likewise, you can put stuff out in the non-TV-safe area of a picture, but don't count on it to be visible on every TV set out there.

But here's the thing: iDVD comes with a TV Safe mode, where it draws a big red box inside your iDVD project that defines where safe becomes unsafe. And all of iDVD's titling features quite rightly align to the TV safe boundary, not the edge of the screen.

And yet, despite iDVD's assurances that my title was TV safe, it doesn't display properly on my TV set. That's pretty sad. Note to self: the next time you do an iDVD project, insert a few spaces at the beginning of your titles, so your text begins a comfortable distance from the "TV safe" border.

Aside from this interface ugliness, the iDVD worked perfectly on my DVD player. I could enter in and out of slide shows at will (I'll chalk the Slideshow bug up to an iDVD incompatibility with Apple's DVD player.) A lot of my slide show photos were low-quality JPEG images that didn't look so great on my computer screen, but on the TV set they looked beautiful. The lower resolution of the TV set really hid the flaws of the images. The pictures that were stills directly from my Sony camcorder's still-image mode looked the best, probably because they were generated by a device that's designed to create output for a TV screen.

My videos also played well, and at high quality. I'm a veteran of writing VideoCDs -- the lower-quality MPEG-1 movies you can burn onto a CD-ROM disc using software such as Roxio's Toast Titanium -- and it was clear from the first frame of my vacation video just how superior DVD and MPEG-2 are to VCD and MPEG-1. My days of making VCDs are over forever.

Final Thoughts

iDVD is an impressive product because it makes the complicated task of authoring DVD disc interfaces quite easy. However, it's not without its flaws -- especially in the Slideshow mode, which caused me agonizing crashes on the authoring end and bizarre incompatibilities on the playback end.

As nicely as my final iDVD turned out, however, I do want to point out some features that it's lacking. Topping my list is the absence of the ability to take multiple video files and create a single movie with multiple chapters. My vacation video project was actually seven different iMovie projects; if I had wanted to import those project files into iDVD, I would have had to create a different button for each movie, and viewers would have had to select the next item after viewing the previous chapter.

That's not very user-friendly, so I exported all of my projects out to my DV camcorder, and then made a new iMovie project and imported the entire movie as a single project. The result was a single movie I could drop on iDVD, but I'd lost all the chapter breaks of my video. It would be really nice to be able to skip ahead to the York chapter of the movie without having to fast-forward through Bath, Avebury, Blenheim, and the Cotswolds.

In conclusion, I'd say that I feel about iDVD a bit like I do about iMovie: iDVD is a remarkably easy-to-use product, and Apple deserves kudos for that. But like the first version of iMovie, it's buggy and doesn't quite live up to my expectations. My hope is that, as it did with iMovie, Apple will end up releasing a second version of iDVD that addresses the major flaws that exist in version 1.0.

Have questions about iDVD? Ask them in our Digital Video forum.

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