Ulead’s DVD Workshop 2

Ulead’s DVD Workshop 2

Byline: Jeff Sauer

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked. Prices on just about everything in our lives go up all the time. But that’s hardly the trend in digital video over the last several years, especially with DVD authoring products. In fact, nowhere has the bottom fallen out of “professional” prices more than with DVD creation tools, which about five years ago started at $10,000 and now are in the hundreds. But, raising the price is just what Ulead has done with its new version of DVD Workshop 2.

The new DVD Workshop Version 2 lists for $495, about $200 more than previous versions, and on the surface that’s a bold move to say the least. But, it’s easy to see where Ulead is going. Today’s prominent professionally-oriented DVD authoring products – Apple’s DVD Studio Pro and Adobe’s Encore, as well as Sonic’s ReelDVD – sell for roughly $600-700. Ulead, which essentially broke into DVD authoring about three years ago by way of its video editing software (Video Studio and Media Studio Pro) and with modest, “accessible” capabilities, thinks DVD Workshop has matured enough to join them.

DVD Workshop 2 now supports professional features, starting with DVD’s 8 audio and 32 subtitle tracks and a subtitle editor. There’s full 16:9 support, region coding, parental control, Dolby Digital (stereo only on output) support, CSS encryption and Macrovision copy protection, DLT and DVD-9 support, as well as better design tools. Feature for feature, Ulead is now essentially playing in the same game as those more expensive tools. But, $495 is a little bit below the others and that’s probably good. DVD Workshop has matured, but still hasn’t shed all its consumer origins.

DVD Workshop 2 still looks much like the previous versions, with a single authoring and previewing window dominating much of the interface. Five tabs across the top left of the interface walk you through Start (choosing between VCD, SVCD, or DVD and saving a project name), Capture, Edit (clip editing, as well as grouping audio, video and subtitle tracks and building slideshows) , Menu creation, and Finish (burning). Like many authoring products, there’s a library window on the left for organizing your assets.

The Capture feature, designed to take raw footage straight from a DV camcorder – and now also MVMicro, WMV, and VOB files off existing DVD discs – to disc, has only minor practical use for professionals, save quick off-loading of raw footage for archive or digital dailies. In fact, Workshop can burn directly to disc from capture with no authoring at all and that feature has some business appeal for recording and distributing presentations and conferences. But, Capture is really more a legacy of Ulead’s initial consumer focus and there’s no reason for Ulead to remove it. Realizing that most pros will probably start with files on disc, as you move through the interface Workshop automatically jumps straight from “Start” to “Edit” and that’s where you import video files into the library.

The “Edit” tab is where you move media files from the library into the “Content Window,” an effective linear storyboard for the video clips you’ll use in a project. There’s a First Play placeholder there that you can use or not as you choose for programming a video to play before Main Menu. On rental DVDs this is commonly the FBI Warning, although it could be anything from an advertisement, 10-second company promo, or an entire movie that would just play when loaded into a DVD player.

“Edit” is also where you can trim clips, split clips, and set chapter points. When you do create chapter marks they appear one after another in a second vertical storyboard-like window positioned on the right side of the interface. Thumbnails for both clips and chapter points are create automatically, but can be easily changed.

Workshop supports DVD’s 8 audios tracks per video clip, and has capable features for trimming audio clips to match video, matching audio duration to video, setting audio levels, and even audio fade in/out. Those are a nice features courtesy of Ulead’s editing software, but it’s a real shame Ulead hasn’t borrow a timeline interface for doing them. As it is, you’re left with an unnecessary series of mouse clicks rather than a familiar and efficient methodology. The same is true of Workshop’s new subtitle editor. It’s a tedious task in any application, but Ulead could do a lot better job eliminating awkward movement between your mouse and keyboard to make its subtitle editor far more efficient.

Under the “Menu” tab, Ulead has followed a nice industry trend toward offering both fast and easy templates for building menus fast and the ability to build menus from scratch using your own graphics. There’s even a third method, a Wizard, to essentially build menus for you. And, even if you start with Ulead’s stock templates, you can reposition buttons as necessary, with a helpful semi-transparent grid for aligning elements, and that’s proven to be an important feature for Apple and Adobe. Ulead now even supports DVD color-mapping, although it’s in a simplified form that should help those unfamiliar with this esoteric, yet powerful DVD feature.

“Menu” also has a few advanced navigation features, like the ability to create a Playlist of clips or actions that can be launched by just one button, and you can specify which button on a menu is the default selection. On the other hand, Workshop does not support any end action post commands, or GPRM/SPRM oriented logic, and that keeps it a step between Encore and DVD Studio Pro 2.

Overall, Workshop’s interface takes a different approach than either of those two and that is either a plus or minus depending on your experience building DVDs. Experienced users made find the five tab, methodical approach simplistic and bulky. But those tabs, as well as storyboards for clips and chapters and the multiple ways to create menus, should help novices do professional work.

I am always disappointed when applications don’t follow traditional Windows conversion, as Workshop does not. After all, if you’ve worked with just about any other computer program, you know to go to the File menu for basic commands like New, Open, Save, Save As, etc. Undo, Redo, and Preferences or “Settings” should be up under an Edit menu, too. Workshop, of course, has those functions (and does use some conversional keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl+S, Ctrl+Z, etc.) , but they’re not where you’d expect and thus you unnecessarily need to learn new conventions and, in this case, cryptic little icons. Worse, in Workshop those icons are spread around the interface.

I could also grumble about the somewhat unconventional use of single and double clicks. And, the extremely diminutive physical size of some of the interface elements make otherwise straightforward tasks like Marking In/out points or moving between clips to view chapter points something like playing a frustrating video game. I think I have pretty good eyes and eye-hand coordination, but this isn’t the right place to need to show it off.

Still, many of Workshops caveats are the type that fade with familiarity and use. It’s more important that Ulead has bolstered the application with most of the features professionals need to have. The bottom line is that DVD Workshop 2 is maturing and, with it, moving more firmly into the professional category of DVD authoring software. Unfortunately, the price is higher now than it was, but that may serve to catch more attention. Existing users will sure not be happy about the sizeable upgrade cost, but they will be pleased with the new feature set.

BOTTOM LINE

Company: Broadcast Pix, Inc. Burlington, MA; (781) 221-2144 www.broadcastpix.com

Product: Broadcast Pix Studio

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Demographic: Small to medium market TV stations, corporate, government, religious, and educational broadcasters

Price: Around $20,000, depending on configuration

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