For DVD enthusiasts who can’t use Apple’s iDVD because they don’t have an internal SuperDrive, and who don’t want to shell out $999 for Apple’s DVD Studio Pro, there’s now a hardware-and-software DVD-authoring package for the Mac: USB Instant DVD, from ADS Technologies. But while Instant DVD’s hardware MPEG encoder delivers encoding quality and speed, its software components feel like betas.
Instant DVD’s USB-powered MPEG encoder captures and compresses video in one step, which is a huge speed enhancer (FireWire may be the speed standard in DV, but USB has more than enough bandwidth to handle an MPEG-2 capture). For example, it took us a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes to encode, author, and burn a 60-minute Instant DVD project on an 867MHz Power Mac G4. On the other hand, the same project took 3 hours and 50 minutes when we used Apple’s Final Cut Pro to capture the video and iDVD 3 to create the DVD on the same machine. And although the minimum system requirement for encoding with Instant DVD is a 400MHz G4, we also had success with our 800MHz iBook G3.
An added benefit of capturing MPEG-2 material rather than DV is that you can store more of it — this is particularly useful if you have a portable Mac and storage space is at a premium. The hardware encoder gives a quality boost, too, especially at low bit rates. When we compared 4Mbit MPEG-2 streams, DVD Studio Pro’s QuickTime encoder had significantly more artifacts and video noise than Instant DVD’s. Because of this quality difference, some users may even choose to purchase USB Instant DVD as a hardware MPEG encoder for DVD Studio Pro.
You control the hardware encoder with Pixela’s included PixeDV software. In our test-ing, PixeDV sometimes spontaneously quit during captures longer than 20 minutes. It also had an annoying tendency to lose its menu-bar controls whenever we switched between programs, making it necessary to force-quit. On the bright side, though the program is limited — you won’t be able to reorder your clips or add transitions, for example — it does include a helpful trim-only MPEG editor for cutting unwanted sections of video.
Instant DVD also includes Pixela’s CaptyDVD authoring software, which lets you customize backgrounds, text, and buttons. This is fortunate since many of the included templates are shockingly ugly. And while CaptyDVD is a solid performer, there are minor interface bugs, such as poor transla-tion from Japanese and capitalization errors. (ADS is aware of the bugs in both programs and says that new versions should be available from Pixela by the time you read this.)
Macworld’s Buying Advice
USB Instant DVD is a good option for Mac users who have the DVD itch but don’t have iDVD or DVD Studio Pro. The quality of the hardware encoder is a definite plus, and with some software improvements, this package will be a real winner.