Integration Now, Integration Forever?
Posted Dec 30, 2003

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.

That demand suggests that the "consumer-level" functionality for direct-to-disc, or at least quick to disc, authoring might well serve a need for offloading or archiving raw footage, transferring digital dailies, or supporting preliminary review and approval. Unfortunately, while that's a feature of several consumer products— including AVerMedia DVD EZMaker, MedioStream's neoDVD Studio, Sonic's MyDVD, and Ulead's DVD Movie Factory—it's not something you're likely to find in higher-end products, even from companies like Sonic and Ulead that have both consumer and professional authoring products.

Professional Workflow
A few consumer and prosumer editing applications follow the more traditional workflow and take users all the way from editing to DVD within the same application. VideoWave, the former MGI consumer application now also sold by Roxio, is one, although the integration with authoring is somewhat uneven depending on which editing mode you use. In the "Power Edition," for example, the editing interface awkwardly morphs into an authoring mode; it doesn't take the edited movie with it. Instead, an edited video must be finished to the hard drive and then manually opened again for authoring. Aside from leveraging a few common interface conventions, it's really not much different than having two separate applications.

Ulead Systems, a maker of both editing and authoring products, integrates the consumer-level Video Studio and professional-oriented Media Studio Pro more effectively with a bundled LE version of its DVD Movie Factory, a template-based authoring application. In both editing tools, DVD authoring appears as a File menu output option right beside printing to tape and publishing to a Web file format. When the DVD Movie Factory wizard opens, the assembled movie from the editing timeline automatically appears ready to be dragged into a menu. From there, the authoring wizard makes creating a simple menu and burning to disc feel scarcely more involved than fine-tuning encoding settings for Web distribution. It's a good example of a workflow that makes DVD as natural as printing to tape.

Unfortunately, Ulead doesn't yet add the obvious step of importing chapter marks from the editor. You can create chapters, but not while you're editing and thinking about your storyline. Rather, you have to open Movie Factory and do so in a separate interface. Still, while Ulead's authoring options are few, its streamlined manner makes for an effective solution. In fact, other editors, including Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer (licensing Sonic's AuthorScript), and Pinnacle Liquid Edition offer direct export options to simply burn a timeline sequence straight to disc. They don't necessarily even have menu creation, so the video will simply start in a DVD player as a First Play. It's a modern "print-to."

Pinnacle Systems currently takes direct integration between editing and authoring the furthest. With a feature first introduced in its consumer-oriented Studio editing product, Pinnacle supports menu creation and authoring directly from the video editing timeline interface. That approach now has migrated upward into Pinnacle's professional line of Liquid editing systems, including the standalone Edition.

Admittedly, authoring in an editing interface may be a counter-intuitive and confusing notion, forcing the inherently non-linear authoring process into a linear timeline. However, at least for uncomplicated authoring projects, there are some distinct advantages to Pinnacle's approach. The most obvious is leveraging any media assets from the video-editing bin and project, allowing for immediate testing of various clips as motion menu backgrounds or turning a video frame into a still menu background. Also, the tool sets for titling, graphics overlay, and in-frame positioning don't change. Naturally, a video editing timeline is also likely to be far more robust than an authoring track timeline for syncing multiple audio and video clips together and creating and using chapter marks.

Less is More
While the integration of editing and authoring into one application has theoretical flair, the more involved or complex an authoring project is, the more difficult it becomes to squeeze features elegantly into an interface ultimately designed for something else, like video editing. But sharing information between individual editing and authoring applications can be equally advantageous to an efficient DVD production workflow.

For example, Adobe, Apple, and Avid (with Sonic's AuthorScript) all can create chapter marks during editing that are recognized by separate editing and authoring products (Premiere Pro to Encore and Final Cut Pro to DVD Studio Pro respectively) and that's a valuable level of integration in and of itself. The caveat is that the information goes only to a specific authoring application; there is no industry standard for moving meta-data between unrelated applications.

Adobe, with offerings spanning editing, paint, vector graphics, compositing, Web design, authoring, and more, has been working toward integrating its products for several years, and its Encore DVD is a great beneficiary of that initiative. The result is that for whatever native faults Encore DVD may have, it aggressively leverages other Adobe applications and, thus, the already acquired expertise of users. That's a huge advantage when it comes to saving time.

Encore's tightest integration tie is with Photoshop, having been built on Photoshop's methodology and code [see Sauer review, September 2003, pp. 47-49], although interestingly, Adobe isn't the first company to leverage Photoshop. Both Pinnacle Impression and Apple DVD Studio Pro have been importing Photoshop layers for several years. But obviously, Adobe has a distinct advantage in owning and understanding Photoshop's engine, plus Encore does far more than read layers.

Adobe's success with Photoshop and Encore ought to be a wake-up call to companies like Ulead that also have graphics design applications to draw on. Indeed, there's plenty of untapped integration in, for example, building DVD authoring templates in graphics tools, automating color mapping, visualizing text and graphics for rectangular pixels, and utilizing the entire array of design tools available in a dedicated graphics application. Apple has done an amazing job adding features to make visual menu design easy in DVD Studio Pro 2, but if you ever need to move beyond templates you'll probably end up back in a graphics tool.

Boomerang
While Adobe's integration of Encore and Photoshop is impressive for leveraging features and capabilities, the real success comes from something most other integration dances around: a two-way workflow, sometimes called round-tripping.

Conveniences like having media files open automatically or recognizing chapter markings eliminate steps along the way to creating a disc. They even do some important handholding for novices. But dealing with the inevitable changes, adjustments, and corrections that are a part of almost every production job and subsequent client approval is where integration really pays dividends. Even consumer DVD's backwards approach to creating discs teaches that projects don't have to follow a traditional, linear path to be successful.

Encore's integration with Photoshop allows you to return to Photoshop to update menus, backgrounds, buttons, or text at any time during the authoring process, and as times as it takes. Files are automatically updated, so it's an organic process. You never have to delete elements and lose work in order to make changes. You're always moving forward. Similarly, although the integration with Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects is less overt than with Photoshop, Encore can open media files from those applications that contain project metadata. If more edits or adjustments are needed, those files can go back to Premiere Pro or After Effects and be opened as complete projects. When saved again, they are automatically updated in Encore.

Of course, that's the biggest benefit to Pinnacle's approach of having editing and authoring in the same application. It is the perfect example of two-way integration because all capabilities are always available. The shortcoming, as even Pinnacle would acknowledge, is that the combination doesn't lend itself well to advanced navigation, multiple menus, and intricate DVD programming.

But that takes us back to just getting the job done. Pinnacle's timeline-based authoring makes sense if a project is as straightforward as the majority of authoring projects. Adobe's combination of direct burning from Premiere Pro and easy back and forth between Premiere Pro, Encore, Photoshop, and AE serves a broader range of needs. But neither is appropriate for the most advanced authoring tasks. And of course, neither is appropriate if you're already using a different editing solution.

To solve that problem, the industry really has to move forward together and begin leveraging a common metadata format, perhaps AAF, so that unrelated applications can experience the same efficient workflow as integrated ones. That, however, may be a large step forward, and one that vendors are unwilling to take as they advance their own (single-vendor, multiple-application) integrated solutions.

On the other hand, it was only a couple of years ago that consumer-level applications radically changed the face of authoring, dropped prices by more than two orders of magnitude and began to address the real goal of DVD authoring rather than the technology behind it. With consumer and modest prosumer authoring products getting more robust all the time, it wouldn't be such a surprise to see more interesting and ambitious solutions emerging at the next level.

Companies Mentioned in this Article
Adobe Systems, www.adobe.com
Apple Computer, www.apple.com
AVerMedia, www.avermedia.com
Avid Technology, www.avid.com
Mediostream, www.mediostream.com
Panasonic Corporation, www.panasonic.com
Philips Electronics, www.philips.com
Pinnacle Systems www.pinnaclesys.com
Pioneer Electronics, www.pioneerelectronics.com 
Roxio, www.roxio.com
Sonic Solutions, www.sonic.com
Ulead Systems, www.ulead.com