Review: Ulead DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator
Posted May 7, 2004

synopsis: As entry-level DVD authoring and CD burning products make their welcome move from single-application tools to multipurpose powerhouses, each entry ups the ante in one area. With DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator, the first version of Ulead's popular consumer tool to add CD burning, Ulead (www.ulead.com) takes the lead in pared-down but purposeful editing capability with its multitrim feature. It also adds a solid CD burning tool in Burn.Now, continues its strong tradition of pleasing DVD and slideshow authoring, and makes sure all the parts hang together with impressive ease.

When we speak of "convergence" in these parts (and trust me, we at EMedia try to do so as little as possible), we mean something that's simultaneously specific and maddeningly vague. It's specific in the sense that of all the things that might converge (and I have it on good authority that everything that rises must), we are most likely referring to desktop computing and consumer electronics. The two have reportedly been on a collision course for some time now, though the details of the journey—and the place and time of their meeting—seem to change with each step. DVD creation's main contribution to the convergence cause has been the VR format, which was initially developed to allow set-top DVD recorders to set disc parameters on the fly (and immediately after the fact as needed), enabling them to make legal DVDs from live feeds. The +RW Alliance brought VR to the desktop as +VR, and VR capability soon showed up in all the consumer-oriented DVD authoring tools that were designed to work indirectly with set-top recorders (allowing on-disc editing of VR discs), and thus said entry-level tools got into the convergence game.

But there's a more interesting sort of convergence going on with these tools, which makes the old categorization—specifically, grouping them under the umbrella of "entry-level DVD authoring tools"—a poor fit. Tools like Sonic MyDVD 5 Studio Deluxe and the latest to outgrow the title, Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator, are no longer simply DVD tools. Nor are Ahead's Nero or Roxio's Easy Media Creator 7 (née Easy CD) just CD burning products. But as these tools transcend the old categories, they're also defining and rapidly redefining a new species of all-purpose disc creation tools, consumer in orientation but valuable for pros who need to get discs done quickly and cleanly. Each has its own signature strengths.

MyDVD got to simplified DVD creation first, and on that count they're tough to beat, as you might expect, given their dominance in DVD authoring at all levels. Sonic bundles a fine CD recording engine with MyDVD, but in a limited version that pales in comparison to the those offered in Nero and Creator. And it's no surprise that as Ulead beefed up its popular MovieCreator software with CD recording and a DVD player application (as well as specific enhancements to existing capabilities across the board), they've delivered an application that's both rich in versatility and best-of-breed in one particular area: video editing.

Ulead is a company that boasts strong products in both the video editing and DVD authoring spaces (MediaStudio Pro and Video Studio on the NLE side, MovieFactory and the Editor's Choice-winning DVD Workshop [see Ozer review in April EMedia, pp. 31-34] on the DVD side). They also have strong opinions about how to mix NLEs and DVDs on both a prosumer and consumer level. Ulead's direct competition in consumer NLEs is Pinnacle's Studio, which ushered in NLE-DVD convergence (if we can again extend the term) with version 8, offering DVD authoring direct from the timeline. As Ulead product manager Travis White told me (and it was roughly a year ago, so I'm paraphrasing), Ulead considered that approach and rejected it, based on the company's understanding of their users' workflow. I'm on record as a staunch supporter of the Studio approach, at least when significant editing precedes authoring. However, consumer content creation happens at so many levels now—thanks to the ubiquity and cheapness of fast computers, big hard drives, and DVD recorders—there's clearly room for multiple approaches, including automatic movie creation at the low end, ambitious entry-level editing in the Studio/Video Studio zone, and, somewhere in the middle, the mildly ambitious DVD making that prizes attractive, clear menus and doesn't worry a whole lot about editing.

That doesn't mean all your raw footage ends up on DVD, but you also don't want to think about storyboards or timelines. Ulead's Multitrim window, in which users can identify multiple segments of individual clips to retain or discard, has me flat-out convinced that there's a middle ground for non-editors with clips to trim, and that Ulead's way is the flat-out right way to do it. Every other no-frills clip-trimmer has missed the mark, but Ulead has nailed it. Triage We're getting ahead of ourselves here, moving from the general to the specific way too soon.

One of the nice things about DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator is that it takes users along that narrowing path in a logical way. It begins with a sort of triage screen that gives you five options for disc creation (video, slideshow, music, data, and copy), plus Edit Disc, for working with discs previously created in MovieFactory 3, and DVD Player, for software playback of DVD-Video.

DVD Authoring
Fearing the unfamiliar, I naturally started with the MovieFactory I know, the one that makes DVD-Videos. I clicked Create Video Disc, and found myself in mostly familiar territory, with a choice of disc types (DVD-Video, VCD, SVCD, and DVD-VR), two of which (bet you can guess which two) seem pleasantly quaint at this point. Using a facile capture interface, I captured roughly 25 minutes of DV Type-2 video in uncompressed AVI format (default is DVD-compatible MPEG-2, and MF 3 does seem to be pretty good about not recompressing video unnecessarily, but I'm a traditionalist) and the results looked great. Once you've got all the elements you want to use on your hard drive, it's on to the add/edit media window.

My goal was to make a disc that combined some trimmed video footage and several slideshows, and I found myself organizing both types of content in this window. You don't actually work on your assets in this window; you just arrange them there. We'll get to the slideshow stuff later.

With video, you have three choices: multitrim, join/separate, and enhance. I checked out multitrim first, and as I may have hinted earlier, was mighty impressed. Multitrim is the distilled essence of what non-editors need to get out of editing: not just start and endpoints, but multiple start and endpoints within the same clip presented with apt simplicity and clarity. MF 3 achieves this with a familiar scrubber/slider control, self-explanatory (and also familiar) bookends for start and end, and a big preview window with all the play, stop, fast-forward, and rewind capabilities you'd expect, plus separate play buttons for complete and extracted video.

You can also multitrim in two ways, selecting either the video you want to keep or the content you want to cut. For more precise movement through the clip, users can input the time to the hundredth of a second to pinpoint spots for in and out points.

Once you've trimmed your clips, it's time to move on to the Enhance Video window, where you can add transitions, titles, and alternative audio tracks. The options are pretty sparse here. The Transition palette is reasonably well populated, and you can set duration, which separates the over-automated from the fairly flexible. But you don't get any motion in your titles.

You can set relative levels for the audio tracks you add (vis a vis each other and the original audio that accompanies the video), but there are apparently no controls for fading the additional audio in or out or applying it to only a portion of a particular clip. Ulead has all this technology on hand (you can find it in other Ulead applications), so what they've left in and what they've left out are definitely decisions based in part on differentiating MF 3 from VideoStudio, and also on their sense of the different expectations of each tool's users.

But it will be interesting to see how MF 3 plays against Media Creator 7, which features the full version of VideoWave for video editing. VideoWave and VideoStudio both offer more editing features than you'll find here. Ulead is betting that's overkill for this niche; time will tell.

From trimming and enhancing it's on to chapter creation, which you can do in several ways, either making each clip a chapter, or adding chapters at points within a clip, such as at detected scene changes or regular, user-set time intervals. Once you've got your chapters set, check Create Menu, and proceed to the menu screen. There you choose among preset templates or create your own, or—most likely—choose a preset template and customize it to your heart's desire, adding background music, a background image, a background video clip, and title and button text.

If you have a multipage menu (MF3 will create one automatically if you choose a template that allows for, say, three chapter buttons per page, and your project has four or more buttons), you can select different images, video, audio, etc. for each page. Then it's on to preview and, if you're satisfied, burn. The key new option in the burn window is adding the project file to the disc, which allows you to re-open it for editing later on. The most obvious application of this is editing and re-burning to a rewritable disc.

For those of us who don't really use rewritable media, but do use our PCs for all manner of work and personal tasks that prevent us from always keeping our media assets handy, it's a tremendous advantage to be able to re-open a project from a finished disc and not worry about tracking down stray photos or video clips. To paraphrase a Roxio rep in a recent visit to EMedia, "We don't expect our users to be well-organized."

Nearly as familiar as all this video-oriented DVD stuff is probably the one thing that these entry-level DVD tools (well, the multifaceted products formerly known as "entry-level DVD tools") do better than anyone: slideshows. Where is it easier to dump a bunch of image files in a spacious GUI, sequence them to your liking, insert automatic transitions, add music, and automatically time the refreshing of the slides so they fit with the duration of the music?

Granted, synching each refresh to the beat or other elements of a song requires work you'll have to do elsewhere, as will cropping photos to fit the screen. But DVD slideshows offer tremendous payback for minimal work, and that's a combination that goes a long way.

Multiple DVD authoring projects went smoothly on two test PCs, and rendered video and effects and produced discs with impressive speed. I tested MF 3 on a brand new 3.06gHz Pentium 4 HT Gateway with 512MB RAM and a 2.4gHz Sony VAIO, and recorded multiple Verbatim discs (DVD-R and DVD+R) on two 4X Memorex recorders, both external.

Burning CDs
Burning CDs is pretty ho-hum these days, but what's most emphatically non-ho-hum is when your favorite DVD creation software adds CD recording to its bag of tricks and enables you to do all the types of disc creation you like within a single tool with proven personal appeal. And MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator's Burn.Now is nothing if not appealing. We've seen endless versions of drag-and-drop, Explorer-like CD creation, and the fact is they're all better than the MP3 player skin-like approaches, so it's nice to see Ulead going in that direction.

Disc burning is straightforward and well-integrated, not too flashy, but Burn.Now does everything you'd expect in a disc burning tool for both CDs and DVDs. (We also used Verbatim media, 4X DVD±R and 52X CD-R in the Burn.Now tests, with great success.) It's a welcome addition to MovieFactory and one that keeps it in a strong position in the all-in-one disc creation sweepstakes.

System Requirements:
• Pentium 3 800mHz+ or AMD Athlon 800mHz+ running Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP
• 256MB RAM (512MB+ recommended)
• 400MB available HDD space for program installation • DirectX 9.0+ driver
• Windows-compatible sound card
• Windows-compatible display with at least 800x600 resolution (1024x768 recommended)