Review: Editor's Choice-Ulead DVD Workshop 2.0
Posted Apr 12, 2004

Synopsis: Is DVD Workshop 2 a worthy successor to its Editor's Choice-winning forerunner? Happily, the answer is an unqualified yes, primarily because of the design flexibility and enhancements incorporated into the new version. Compared to its peers, we found DVD Workshop much more accessible than Adobe Encore, while offering a greater range of design options. Workshop stands up well even if you throw Photoshop and After Effects into the creative mix, especially if you consider development efficiency.

Version 1 of DVD Workshop shipped in June 2002 to a shower of well-deserved praise. Much has happened since then, however, including the introduction of the merged editing/authoring design paradigm by Pinnacle Studio and then Pinnacle Edition, and the entry of the 600-pound gorilla into the DVD authoring market, aka Adobe Encore.

Given these changes, we were curious to see if Workshop 2 (MSRP $495) would prove as impressive as its forerunner. Happily, the answer is an unqualified yes, primarily because of the design flexibility and enhancements incorporated into the new version.

Let's take a quick refresher course in Workshop's interface and functionality and then dive into the new features.

Visually, Workshop is dominated by a large preview window in the middle, with libraries of assets and effects on the bottom left, control tools on the upper left, and a filmstrip for menus and content on the bottom.

The program directs workflow with five tabs on the top left (Start, Capture, Edit, Menu, and Finish), each containing unique sets of context-sensitive tools. The fixed interface prevents the clutter endemic to Adobe Encore with no real negatives. It just works.

Unlike Encore, Workshop can capture video from camcorders and perform modest cutting and trimming, as well as timecode-based and content-based scene detection. This makes Workshop useful for projects like tape conversions that need minimal editing.

In addition to capturing in AVI format, Workshop can also capture directly into MPEG-2 format, speeding the DVD creation process. We tested this capability by capturing a 50-minute file, and Workshop delivered excellent quality and perfect audio synchronization. Workshop can also import the video from non copy-protected DVDs, essentially allowing your DVDs to serve a true archival role.

We'd like to see Ulead change to project-based asset libraries, since Workshop's permanent video libraries quickly become unmanageable. The best approach is to build custom libraries for each project, which you can delete once the project is complete.

After capturing our assets, we moved to the Edit phase. Beyond the cutting and trimming mentioned above, here we performed several critical functions.

First, and typically most important, is identifying chapter points, or key spots in the videos that you want viewers to access directly. In our sales training project, we divided the captured video into multiple files covering major topics like "qualifying the customer" or "handling objections." We designed the menus so that users could directly access each major section.

In addition, we created chapter points at key spots in the discussion to further enhance the viewer's access to the content. Once again, Workshop's timecode and content-based scene detection came in handy, identifying scene changes from the periodic titles that appeared in the video. Encore can't detect scenes, though it can convert markers set in Premiere as chapter points (Workshop can accept markers from editor sibling MediaStudio Pro, but not Premiere).

Within the editing window you can also add audio and subtitle tracks to your content, two key new features in Workshop 2. Both offer significant advantages over the equivalent offering from Encore.

For example, those developing subtitles within the program will find Workshop's alignment controls vastly superior, facilitating consistent text placement throughout the project. Color codes prevent you from overlapping subtitles, and Workshop can display metadata from your source DV footage as a subtitle, an easy way to display the date and time of scenes shot in DV.

Workshop also can export a subtitle track into a text file that contains the content and timecode, font, and text placement information. After translating the content into another language, you can import the new subtitle track, a process which worked perfectly in our tests. Encore has more caption import options, but is more awkward if you're creating subtitles in the program.

On the audio front, we liked Workshop's ability to set volume asset by asset. If you're using content recorded at different times, this provides an easy mechanism to ensure that volumes are consistent. While true volume normalization would have been better, the Workshop approach is much more convenient than Encore's. With no volume control, Encore essentially forces you to normalize volumes in a third-party program.

Workshop also boasts enhanced slideshow capabilities. To create a slideshow, you drag the source images into a frame in the content filmstrip. Workshop then exposes controls for arranging and rotating images, inserting transitions between images and matching slide duration to the background audio track, all capabilities that Encore lacks. Also worth noting is the new Screen Grab feature, useful for those publishers that like to use screenshots as backgrounds for menus.

Menu Creation
Once your assets are prepared, it's time to build your menus, an area where Workshop truly excels. Though Workshop can't match Encore's ability to "round trip" menus back and forth between it and PhotoShop, it can accept layered PSD files as a starting point and offers a wealth of creative options that even the Encore/Photoshop/ After Effects troika can't easily match.

First, however, the basics. Workshop offers three approaches to menu design. Most novices will prefer working with the Menu Wizard, which builds a completely linked title in only two steps. From there, of course, you can customize at will, but if you're in a hurry, this approach can't be beat. Alternatively, you can start with a template, modify it as desired, and do your own asset linking, or start with a clean slate.

From a design standpoint, Workshop offers multiple tools that simplify the production of professional quality titles. New in version 2 is a design grid, which complements Workshop's extensive alignment and sizing tools. We especially like the ability to copy and paste attributes, which makes short work of tasks like ensuring that all thumbnail images are identically sized, which can be very time consuming in other programs (note to Ulead: assign hot keys to copy and paste-attribute functions to streamline design even further).

Other design enhancements are almost too numerous to list. For example, you can easily customize button selection and activation colors, with a great full-screen preview. You can apply image overlays to the menu to change its appearance, and garnish your video thumbnails with frames and overlays. You can import a library of animated objects that complement Workshop's motion menus or motion buttons.

You can rotate all menu elements, enabling tilted motion thumbnails, a first in this class of DVD authoring programs. You can create invisible buttons that don't appear until selected, and auto-activate buttons so they execute upon selection. These are far beyond the basic design capabilities of Studio/Edition, and though a skilled After Effects or Photoshop developer could create most of these, it would take hours, not minutes as with Workshop.

Workshop's new navigational capabilities enhance its use in kiosks and other similarly unattended modes. You can now set menu durations, after which the menu times out and any specified menu item starts playing. You can also loop motion backgrounds, activating menu choices after the specified time-out period. Another new feature is the ability to preview motion buttons and motion menus without rendering, which most programs in the category cannot do.

The only major frustration is the inability to set the order of the buttons in the menu, so users who use the right arrow button to navigate through the menu may jump around unexpectedly. As it turns out, this is one of the functions that Encore performs extremely well.

The Crown Jewel: Playlists
On the other hand, Ulead scooped Adobe by debuting a playlist function that lets you string the playback of multiple assets together, activated by a single button. While this sounds simple enough, the impact is incredibly dramatic.

For example, in our tests, we converted a 55-minute sales training tape into a DVD. There were sections on the normal sales stuff like prospecting, qualifying, presentations, proposals, and getting on your knees and begging for the order. Our first goal was to make the information more accessible, so we created a button that linked to the start of every major section.

Next, with the playlist feature, we created a 15-minute beginner's course that incorporates beginning elements from each major section, and a 15-minute advanced course that skips the basics and focuses on higher level issues. Then we created a five-minute "highlights" reel to act as a quick refresher course.

The only way to accomplish this in Encore, Studio, and Edition would be to cut and paste the segments together in the video editor, and include the completed file on the DVD. Not only does this take more editing time, it converts our 55-minute video to a 90-minute DVD, which means a lower bit rate and thus drops the video quality perceptibly.

The potential uses for playlists are almost endless. Marketing videos could customize presentations for different customer demographics, using many of the same core assets. Corporate communications videos could customize presentations for analysts, trade press, and financial press, again, with little cost in terms of disc real estate.

In contrast, Encore and Edition have the ability to set an "end action" for each video, which automatically directs the viewer to another menu or video. While useful for navigation control, end actions obviously doesn't offer near the same customization opportunities as playlists.

Render and Burn
Ulead bolstered their rendering capabilities with support for DLT drives, DVD-9 projects, region coding, CSS encryption, and Macrovision support, all important primarily to Hollywood types (although the demographics who use DVD-9 may change a bit with the introduction of dual-layer media and compatible recorders). Corporate users and event videographers will appreciate the ability to store data files on the DVD, allowing, for example, a training disc to include PDF files of the manuals, or a marketing disc to include product collateral. In both cases, of course, the data files would only be accessible on a computer (not a DVD player).

Ulead's pre-rendering error-detection capabilities could be beefed up a bit; the program doesn't check for buttons without links or unlinked content. It does alert you if buttons overlap, or if subtitles overlap in any of the subtitle streams, but that's about it.

However, Ulead added one absolutely critical feature, a slider bar to the preview window, which lets you slide to the end of a video to test its end action, or see if the selected playlist executes. Ulead also lets you control which assets get recompressed during rendering, and continually updates the amount of disc space required for the assets in the project. Another noteworthy feature is the ability to import and pass through Dolby surround audio and to encode into stereo AC-3.

To test encoding speed, we produced a simple ten-minute project in both Encore and Workshop on a 3.2gHz Hewlett-Packard xw4100 workstation. Encore finished in 10:58, while Workshop completed the job in 9:25.

During our testing, we completed about ten discs with Workshop, using a variety of source formats including DV and MPEG-2 and producing discs up to two hours in length. Not only did Workshop create all discs without error, it didn't crash once during our tests, and this on a computer shared with other programs like Premiere, Encore, Photoshop, Pinnacle Studio, and Sonic Solutions MyDVD. This makes Workshop one of the most stable products ever tested.

Creating our Sales Training DVD
The best way to illustrate the fluid and logical workflow and accessibility of Workshop 2 for the mid-level audience Ulead is targeting is to go step by step through the project we created during the evaluation.

Here goes: First, we captured the video directly into MPEG-2 format to speed the production process. On our 3.2gHz HP xw4100, this proceeded without a hitch. Nothing extraordinary here, so we'll spare you the screen shot.

During the Edit stage, we divided the clip up into general categories like Cold Calling, Qualifying, and Proposals using the Cut Title button in the upper left. We further divided each section into chapter points, using the Add Chapter button, which are represented on the filmstrip on the right. Finally, we created the subtitles shown in the middle of the interface; note the nifty text-placement tools.

In the menu phase, we created the main menu. This links to the Segment menu, that contains all of the sections of the original tape. We also used the playlist function, on the left, to set up beginning, advanced, and highlights presentations, plus a single button to press to see the entire video. To create a playlist, you simply drag the assets into the playlist box, one by one. Similarly, you link the main menu to the segment menu by dragging the segment menu icon from the bottom filmstrip to the "Segment Menu" text.

To link the individual sections into the Segment menu, we simply dragged them from the filmstrip onto the menu, which automatically created the link, and then resized and aligned them using Workshop's excellent alignment tools. The yellow boxes identify the assets that the buttons are linked to. Oops, the box on the upper left tells us that we have an overlapping button.

The Power of 2
Compared to its peers, we found DVD Workshop much more accessible than Adobe Encore, while offering a greater range of design options. Workshop stands up well even if you throw Photoshop and After Effects into the creative mix, especially if you consider development efficiency.

We're definitely fans of the Pinnacle-inspired merged editing/authoring paradigm, though Workshop clearly bests both Encore and Studio in terms of DVD-related creative and navigational options. The fact that neither Pinnacle product offers AC-3 audio output is also a big deterrent for many producers.

Ulead DVD Workshop 2.0

System Requirements:
• 800mHz+ Pentium 3 running Windows 2000/XP
• 128MB RAM (256MB+ recommended)
• 500MB available hard disk space for program installation
• 14GB hard disk space for video capture and conversion
• Microsoft DirectX 9
• DVD-ROM drive
• Real-time preview requires at least Pentium 2.4gHz or equivalent and 512MB RAM