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Integration Now, Integration Forever?
Posted Dec 30, 2003 - September 2005 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 3 next »

Is the current trend of integrating video editing and DVD authoring the wave of the future or a passing ripple? Is treating DVD authoring as anything other than than a serious, self-contained discipline something that professional users should take seriously? And among current options, what works, what doesn't, and in what situations?

What's DVD besides another distribution format? A deliverable to give to a client or ship across the country? A print-to-disc after editing? In a very real way, DVDs are the digital-age update to printing-to-tape, and creating them should be as natural and direct as exporting to tape. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming trend today is for editing system/software makers to "integrate" with some sort of authoring solution, giving video editors a way to finish to disc as well as to tape.

That "integration" is a promising idea for those hesitant to learn a new discipline and DVD interface but still wanting to take advantage of the latest output options. However, for all the "+DVD" and "complete" solutions advertised, there are fewer examples of elegant edit-to-author workflows than you might think. While a few software makers do offer truly innovative editing-to-DVD products, "integration" is a spin word. Awkwardly, a lot of "integration" claims mean little more than putting two installation discs in a single retail package.

Of course, it's also kind of a loaded question: is DVD simply an up-to-date print-to-tape alternative, or a different animal entirely? DVD can merely take tape's place, but thoughtfully designed menus, navigation, and interactivity can also add an entirely new creative dimension to distributed video, offering customization, extra features, and style. Quality authoring work can be done a lot more efficiently with serious effort and capable, dedicated tools.

Whether real or perceived, is this trend of integrating editing and authoring the wave of the future or a passing ripple? Is treating DVD authoring as anything other than a serious, self-contained discipline something that professional users should take, well, seriously? Naturally, the answer is that both approaches to building DVDs make sense, depending on the individual user, project needs, and the anticipated audiences. The real questions are: what works, what doesn't, and in which situations?

Roots of Integration
It's easy to assume that increasing integration between editing and authoring means less professionalism with less attention to the authoring itself. After all, DV editors and DVD authors, like NLEs and DVD tools, were once things apart. Yet that presumption of diminished professionalism was also the contention when compositing capabilities began to appear in editing interfaces. Now, rather than drawing less attention to the craft, compositing is more prevalent than ever. Since minor compositing work no longer requires a special expert or interface, it's easier to include more complicated layering in otherwise straightforward video projects. That, in turn, only drives the higher end of compositing work and the makers of dedicated compositing tools to search for new looks and new features to stay ahead. The general expectation that layering and motion graphics ought to be included keeps all levels of compositers working.

That's likely to be the case with integrated DVD authoring capability as well, with more interest in DVD resulting in increased demand at all levels. So far, though, most of the blurring of editing and authoring in a single application happens at the consumer end of DVD creation and isn't directly applicable to more advanced video making and distribution. Still, where most professional editing products do little more than bundle a separate authoring application, there is plenty to be learned from consumer-oriented approaches. When the goal is getting video onto a disc efficiently and intuitively, there's hardly a better focus group for ease-of-use than impatient consumers.

Consumer DVD authoring tools actually make editing a feature of authoring rather than vice versa. While that may seem backwards to professionals, DVD authoring is now positioned as the possible answer to the decade-old quest to captivate the home video market: to find something to do with those "hours of home movie footage." After years of trying, video capture cards and consumer video editing applications have never really lived up to expectations because no matter how accessible an editing interface is to learn and use, video editing is ultimately a hard, time-consuming task. Ultimately, editing loses impatient users before they ever have a chance to experience success.

DVD authoring applications, on the other hand, take footage of birthday parties, recitals, vacations, and graduations directly from camcorders and burn them to disc, giving home videographers an accessible way to compile captured memories that is about as uncomplicated as assembling a photo album. As in that family photo album, scenes can simply be grouped by event and fronted by handsome DVD menus. Users are essentially freed from the rigors of actually editing to tell their story. Adding editing to authoring, rather than vice versa, allows ambitious users to do more, removing outtakes and shooting mistakes, without making these clean-up tasks the the focus. Several consumer DVD applications now have modest clip trimming to do just that.

Roxio's DVD Builder (a built-in feature of Easy CD & DVD Creator 6) is one application that goes beyond just simple clip trimming, supporting the appending of multiple clips together. In addition to the capture, menu creation, and burning features of just about every consumer DVD application, DVD Builder has what are essentially video editing storyboards posing as a project and menu/sub-menu organization. Adding multiple media files to the same storyboard appends those clips together, complete with a selection of transitions for users who want them. Cleverly, it's editing masquerading as clips sorting. Many consumers may ignore it, but that makes the editing integration all the smarter and un-intimidating for novices.

None of that functionality fits into the traditional "edit first, author second" workflow of more advanced DVD creation, and even Roxio's camera-to-disc facility and simplicity aren't particularly helpful for polished video productions. Nonetheless, there already exists a robust market of professionals using otherwise consumer targeted hardware recorders—like Panasonic's DMR-E20 and DMR-E100, Philips' DVDR985, and Pioneer's DVR-7000—simply to get video to disc quickly. This past spring Pioneer introduced the PRV-LX1, a hardware recorder with similar facility but also an attention to professional needs and features, to a very warm reception.

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