Over the last few years, two programs have raised the bar for entry-level video and DVD creation: Pinnacle Studio 8 and Roxio Easy Media Creator. Both products have gone through some changes since those releases—Studio has entered the "Studio Plus" era, and Creator 7 works for Sonic now. But it was those two releases that changed the stakes of the game: Studio 8, by pioneering DVD menu creation from the timeline and (in version 9) importing pro-style cleaning effects like auto color correction from higher-end stablemate Edition; and Creator 7, by revolutionizing consumer media creation application design with unprecedented integration of a wide range of tasks.
Creator 7's influence has been more noticeable; all the top products in the field seem to have "8-in-1" or "9-in-1" offerings these days, particularly those with Roxio-like roots (i.e., products that debuted as CD recording tools). Nero is the most prominent. I don't find Nero's multitask implementation as smooth as Roxio's, but there's no denying its market impact; its surprisingly strong showing in EventDV's Reader's Choice Awards DVD Authoring category (at this writing, it's running fourth behind pro contenders Apple DVD Studio Pro, Adobe Encore DVD, and Ulead DVD Workshop) demonstrates its appeal in the videography market for DVD creation. What's more, Nero isn't really worried about competing with Roxio these days; they've carved out a sizeable portion of the DVD burner bundling market, and have placed most of their emphasis on advancing their Nero Digital AVC.
What's most interesting to me about Nero's performance in the Reader's Choice voting is what it tells me about DVD authoring for those in the videography community who read EventDV: namely, that the sophistication and specialization they're looking for in camcorders, NLEs, and compositing/effects tools doesn't match up directly with their DVD ambitions. Which makes a lot of sense: not all projects warrant complex DVD navigation in the way they demand polished video; for many clients—even those who expect their videos to look as good as TV broadcasts or movies—DVD bells and whistles just get in the way. In many cases, advanced DVD navigation is a premium option that the client didn't pay for, and when the package calls for a simple menu, why not use a simpler and more straightforward tool? And why not use a tool that does a lot more than author DVDs—copy and back them up, for example—and costs a lot less than the dedicated tools?
We've seen the appeal of iLife in the Mac world, and though there isn't such an obvious, built-in solution on the Windows side, Roxio's Creator 7 was the first product to stake a reasonable "iLife for Windows" claim. The problem with that claim, for our purposes, was the program's dreary DVD implementation. Creator 7 set a new standard for versatility and strength in a variety of areas, but proved a frustrating finisher if your DVD project didn't fit into its strange and confining menu structure.
Which left the door wide open for an all-purpose tool to finish the DVD job better, and counter with other individual strengths. Nero 6 Ultra provides one alternative, with its ace in the hole being its Nero Digital codec support (how powerful that ace will prove depends on the company's success in seeding the CE market with Nero Digital playback support); Cyberlink's just-released "9-in-one" PowerDirector 4 is another option.
Then there's NTI's CD & DVD-Maker 7, a new full-step upgrade that—like Roxio and Nero—has deep roots in CD recording, but has recently flowered into an all-purpose media importer/exporter. It has a nice video editor in HomeVideo-Maker, though it can't match Roxio for the consumer video editing prowess of VideoWave—but you're probably getting your video editing done somewhere else anyway. It doesn't boast any groundbreaking codec support like Nero Digital, but its backup chops, thanks to the inclusion of NTI's Backup Now! Deluxe 3, are the best in the business. (Unfortunately, you only get a 30-day trial of Backup Now! Deluxe, but the built-in backup features are good too.) It's got a cool just-for-fun automatic video editor (of course, if you're a commercial videographer, you probably want to steer clear of automatic video editing unless you're looking to get bounced out of the business fast), a photo slideshow editor, NTI's venerable Wave Editor audio tool (a longtime favorite of mine), and DVD, VCD, and Super VCD authoring capabilities as well. It's also as stable and robust as they come.
Those familiar with earlier CD & DVD-Maker versions will notice that NTI has changed the color scheme: they've switched from Georgia Tech Yellow to Carolina Blue as the dominant hue in the opening navigational screen. But the general idea remains the same: click on any icon on the circle (your choices are Data, Video, Photo, Backup, Copy, and Audio) to reveal a pop-up menu with a variety of options within each category (except for Copy, which takes you directly to the disc copying screen).
Audio has some nice options like Wave Editor, for trimming, changing the volume, and applying various effects and filters to existing WAV files on your hard drive; this utility compares well to Nero's own Wave Editor. Live Audio is a very usable A/D conversion and recording tool for capturing and burning audio from vinyl via Line-In or live performance via your PC's microphone jack. Unfortunately, you can't control levels, record to your hard drive, or chop up your captured audio into tracks either manually or automatically before burning, which limits its effectiveness and makes it a poor match for Roxio's Sound Editor.
Backup accesses CD & DVD-Maker's backup functions, both file/folder and disc image, including multidisc spanning; Data and Copy take you, predictably, to data recording and bit-for-bit disc-copying functions. The most interesting capability found behind the Photo icon is "Create a Cinematic Slideshow." Like "Create a Cinematic Video," the slideshow tool licenses muvee AutoProducer technology to commandeer slideshow creation and automate pacing and style. You add the pictures, select the music, and choose the style, and the application does the rest. As ever, I'm amazed by the underlying muvee technology, but I question its applicability to anything but consumer use. Another shortcoming of this utility, compared to other slideshow tools, is that you have to wait for it to render an MPEG file before you can preview any of it.
Also under Video is DVD Fit, a serviceable feature for anyone who's sitting on DVD-9s that they want to make into DVD-5s. It doesn't unravel CSS or remove any sort of copy protection found on commercial DVD releases, but it does the legal part of the 9-to-5 job as well as you'd hope.
Video and DVD
Of course, most of what we're interested in here is video editing and DVD creation—and most of us can even boil that down to the DVD side. In addition to the fun-but-frivolous auto-production Cinematic stuff (which is a wonderful consumer feature that all consumer tools should license), you've got all the essential elements of basic video post-production here: capture, storyboard, clip-trimming, DVD menu creation, and multiformat/medium export. The main HomeVideo interface is navigated through three tabs: Capture, Edit, and Create.
Within Capture you get scene detection and capture duration options; you can also use the capture interface to rip CD-Audio tracks for use in your video. Tested on a 2.4Ghz Pentium 4 Sony VAIO with a Sony Handycam DHC-40, capture went smoothly, with nary a dropped frame in the resulting DV-AVI file even though I had numerous applications (Word, Outlook Express, and Ulead's PhotoImpact) running simultaneously. If you choose to detect scenes by content, you'll have to crank it well beyond the default sensitivity setting to get it to detect any scenes unless you've done a lot of cheesy on-camera fades or left unseemly gaps in your original footage.
Once you've captured your clips, click the Edit tab to enter the storyboard video editing interface. Here you can use scrubbers to split and trim your clips; adjust brightness, hue, contrast, saturation, and speed (all very accessible); and also restore your original settings if you don't like an effect you've added. Under the Effects tab, you can rotate and crop your image and add goofy filters—affable fun and games stuff, but no cleaning or functional image enhancement effects like, say, reducing video noise you might have added by adjusting the brightness on a too-dark clip.
HomeVideo-Maker has a nice selection of transitions, and many, such as the slides and "Special" transitions, can be reversed or otherwise modestly customized. You can increase or decrease the duration of your transitions as well. HomeVideo-Maker also has an easy-to-use, basic title creator that gives you control over style, font, and size, then lets you apply text effects as well.
The Export tab within the Edit window lets you create output files in a variety of formats, including AVI (for saving to your hard drive), DV (for writing back to tape), VHS (for analog output if your PC is so-equipped), and email (for creating compressed WMV or QT files with frame size, quality, and email program choices).
All, essentially, consumer stuff that's limiting but nicely presented, usable, and well-organized. Almost certainly less than what you need if you're producing video for business or commercial purposes. That's par for the course with an application called HomeMovie, but it still leaves hope for finding something more applicable in the DVD creation interface (say, if you imported a DV file edited in and exported from another NLE). To outstrip some of the other basic DVD tools—Roxio being a prime case-in-point with its mandatory tiny, filmstrip-style chapter menus—all it needs to do is let you create something simple that doesn't stand in the way of a user trying to navigate the video.
What you get, as it turns out, is just that. Chapter menus are where they should be: good-sized thumbnails, with room for titles. You get DVD+R DL support too, which will be increasingly important in 2005, and apparently support for the latest recorders and media—the software had no trouble burning to my state-of-the-art Memorex 16X or the latest Verbatim and Ritek media.
Within the DVD interface, you can also do animated menus, with complete control over the loop time. In general, if what you're looking for is basic video editing, slideshow creation, DVD authoring, and CD/DVD recording capabilities (or even just the last three) in a $69-$99 tool, my current recommendation remains Ulead MovieFactory Disc Creator 3.5 (version 4 coming soon); I like its DVD authoring interface the best (nobody can touch its playlist functionality, for one), and all the other elements are rock-solid.
But CD & DVD-Maker 7 does better than Movie Factory on one significant count: complete control (up to 60 seconds) over animated menu loop time (MF restricts you to 10, 20, or 30). That's one fantastic feature. It doesn't make CD & DVD-Maker best in its class, but if you're looking for a consumer media creation tool or just something to make DVD authoring easy and animated menus are a must-have feature, CD & DVD-Maker 7 is the easy-authoring alternative for you.
• 900MHz+ Pentium 3 PC with 256MB RAM running Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP
• 1024x768, 16-bit or better graphics card
• 500MB HDD space for installation (10GB free space for DVD copying or authoring)
As video production pros, most of us aren't in the market for consumer media creation tools. But that doesn't account for the oft-noted pro appeal of iLife on the Mac side, and suggests that many Windows users might find uses for a comparable jack-of-all-trades tool. NTI's CD & DVD-Maker 7 aims to be just such a tool, and it outstrips leading all-things-to-some-people competitor Roxio on the DVD authoring side, where videographers looking for a quick and clean DVD finish may need such a tool most. Much of the emphasis here is on automatic movie creation (courtesy of muvee), which is an excellent call for NTI's consumer audience but of little more than busman's-holiday interest to event video pros.
For more information, contact: Newtech Infosystems www.ntius.com