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REVIEW: ULEAD'S DVD WORKSHOP

September 9, 2002
REVIEW: ULEAD'S DVD WORKSHOP

Ulead Systems

20000 Mariner Ave, Suite #200

Torrance, CA 90503

Phone: 310-896-6388

Fax-310-896-6389

PRODUCT: DVD Workshop

PRICING: $299

WEB SITE: www.ulead.com

The Consumer Electronics Association reported that one-third of all US households own a standalone DVD player, and nearly three-quarters of those who don't, plan on buying one within the next year. It's not hard to see that VHS is going the way of cassette tapes, and soon DVD will be the main format for dubbing. With this in mind, I was looking for an authoring program that would produce professional results, yet be easy to learn. Ulead's new DVD Workshop fit the bill.

Maybe it's just me, but previous DVD authoring solutions have seemed harder to use. Yes, they were drag-and-drop, but getting a final DVD that would play in most players was difficult. DVD Workshop's guided workflow made the DVD authoring process simple enough for me to wrap my brain around, and the results were outstanding.

DVD Workshop has some pretty cool features for both prosumer and professional use. Prosumer features would include: automated capture functions such as scene detection for convenient capturing; encoding templates to insure two, four or six hours will fit on a 4GB DVD disc; and allowing you to capture over 4GB of continuous video in the FAT32 file architecture. Most professionals aren't going to use automated scene capture or FAT 32 files, but they will certainly use some of the professional features.

The professional features are impressive: constant and variable bit-rate encoding, both with field-based compression to help ensure smooth playback; the ability to import non-compliant video for automatic, high-quality transcoding and verification that all project elements comply with DVD/VCD/SVCD specifications before burning; navigation controls, so titles repeat or jump to another target title or menu after playing; nice effects such as wrap, neon, emboss, and 3D; and a media library for efficient organization.

DVD Workshop supports many file formats. For video, it can import MPEG-1, MPEG-2, AVI, and QuickTime files. Image files include BMP, GIF, JPG, JP2, JPC, PNG, TGA, and TIF. Audio files are your standard MPEG audio, WAV and MP3.

You can export to DVD, miniDVD, VCD, and SVCD movie titles. There are four ways to get your data in and out of DVD Workshop. You can use 1394 FireWire cards with your digital camcorder; analog capture cards and other devices; USB capture devices for your PC cameras; or DVD-R/RW, DVD+RW, CD-R/RW drives.

Why was I interested in investing in this product? It seemed to me that a notebook computer with a built-in DVD (at double the resolution of VHS) would give a much more impressive video presentation to my potential customers. As you might guess, my first project was a DVD demo presentation for my production company. Let me tell you about it. The DVD Workshop's workflow is divided into five sections: Start, Capture, Edit, Menu, and Finish. In the start section, I created a new project, and moved on.

The capture tab is for capturing video from a camera, and since my video clips were already on my drives, I skipped this section. Keep in mind that I shoot Beta SP and edit it in uncompressed form on a machine using a Pinnacle Targa 3000 board. I was happy to find that the huge uncompressed files weren't a problem for DVD Workshop. They imported, played back and were automatically transcoded later into the MPEG-2 format.

I moved on to the edit tab, inserted my demo clips and trimmed them to their proper lengths. For my single clips, that's all I had to do. For the longer clips that contained several different segments, I inserted chapter points during playback.

Next came the menu tab, which allowed me to easily create sophisticated scene-selection menus. It was a simple drag-and-drop for all three of my menus. Most everything was drag-and-drop for button, scene frames, and text creation.

I then selected frames from my video to serve as the representative thumbnail images for my video clips in the menu. I added music, linked it all together and presto… a DVD, ready to test.

Speaking of music. If I could add anything to this software package, it would be the ability to individually control the audio volume of the different clips. Some of my audio tracks were at different levels, and the only remedy was to adjust them in another program and then re-import them. I would like to see the ability of DVD Workshop to use Wavelab or Pro Tools as a plug-in.

The finish tab allowed me to simulate my final masterpiece on a virtual DVD player. The simulation was a good idea, and I found out that I had missed a couple of links. I selected the edit tab and quickly went back and fixed them.

When I saw that everything played correctly, I saved my project as a disc image so that I could quickly re-burn it at any time. DVD Workshop allows you to drag any object, video, image or entire menu into the media library to be saved as a template for later projects. Now, when I want to add samples of my new work to my demo, the template will already be made.

The disk image took awhile to encode as DVD Workshop had to transcode all of my uncompressed files into MPEG-2. I was glad that I had first been able to simulate my DVD, and fix the errors, before making the image and the burn.

Ulead's DVD Workshop is a professional, yet easy-to-use product. It lets you grab video from digital or analog sources, build dynamic, still or motion menus, and use the latest DVD and CD burners to produce DVD, VCD and SVCD titles that will playback on set-top players and PCs.