Ever since Apple brought FireWire to the Mac and introduced its iMovie video-editing software, the Macintosh has been at the forefront of the digital-video revolution. But one piece of the puzzle was missing: the ability to output digital video to DVD, the most popular digital video-playback format around. With the introduction of iDVD--and the just-released DVD Studio Pro, Apple's $999 pro-level product--Apple's digital-video story is finally complete. But for all its promise, iDVD is rife with bugs and quirks that keep it from being a pleasure to use.
If you've ever seen a DVD, you know why Apple had to provide special authoring software to go with the DVD-burning hardware on the new 733MHz Power Mac G4. DVDs are more complex than videotapes, with interfaces that have selectable items and clickable buttons for playing movies, enabling special features, and viewing other information. Video files must be compressed into the MPEG-2 format before being written to a DVD (iDVD does this automatically).
iDVD eases the authoring process with a simple drag-and-drop, button-based interface. The main window contains a preview of what you'll see on the current screen of your DVD. At the bottom is a tool bar with buttons you use to add items to the interface. To add a movie, simply drag its file from the Finder; a button representing the movie will appear in the DVD interface. However, you can't create movies with multiple chapters or stitch individual movie files into a single movie. While you can drag buttons to reorder them, you can't move them from their predefined locations on the screen. And each iDVD screen can contain only six items (although you can create subfolders if you want to add more).
Likewise, it's easy to create collections of still images by clicking on the Slideshow button. Unfortunately, when I dragged 50 JPEG images into the Slideshow window, some appeared out of sequence. You can reorder only one item at a time in this window; worse, the program quit repeatedly when I tried to edit my slide show.
Preview and Burn
When you're ready to see how your DVD will behave, click on the Preview button; the iDVD window turns into a simulated DVD-player environment, complete with a floating palette that emulates a TV remote control. Once you're satisfied with your project, click on the Burn DVD button. A helpful gauge shows how much space is left on a disc. (iDVD can write only about one hour of video to each disc.)
The program took about two and a half hours to burn my nearfull disc, and the end result was impressive but slightly quirky. When I viewed the disc using Apple's DVD Player software, I could not exit to a menu from any of my slide shows. On my Panasonic home DVD player, the slide shows worked fine, but the titles' left edges were cut off--despite assurances from iDVD that the buttons and text were within the screen's "TV Safe" zone.
Macworld's Buying Advice
iDVD makes the complicated task of creating DVDs impressively easy, but it's far from perfect. If you're thinking about buying a new Power Mac G4 just to get iDVD, beware: you can make it work, but not without a good deal of frustration.Sneak Peek: Use iDVD's Preview command to see how your final product will behave.