Review: Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5
Posted Jun 27, 2006

The entry-level PC DVD authoring tool field has gotten a little sparser over the last few years, to where three main competitors now vie for the consumer dollar. Roxio's Easy Media Creator 8, Nero 7, and Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5 have managed to survive the twin forces of consolidation--Sonic rolled MyDVD it into Easy Media Creator soon after the Roxio acquisition. Pinnacle's Studio keeps rolling along, but it exists in a somewhat separate universe, being primarily a video editing tool with an entirely different approach to DVD authoring keyed to the video timeline.

To varying degrees, each one of those three products strives to offer a comprehensive toolkit of multiple-source capture, video editing, slideshow creation, and DVD authoring. But they're far from interchangeable, and though Easy Media Creator might be the overall best in show when it comes to letting novices create impressive video and slideshow DVDs, MovieFactory still takes home the prize in one very notable category: the ability to quickly and easily execute multiple, finely tuned edits using its Multitrim function.

For some video producers and hobbyists I know, that feature alone is enough for them to make MovieFactory their go-to software, despite the fact that its slideshow and overall video editing capabilities come up short. (At $49.99, it also lists for $50 less than EMC 8; plus, it doesn't presume to be your utility of choice for every media file on your computer, as does Roxio's tool, meaning it's a whole lot less invasive.)

Multitrim
Multitrim has been a mainstay of MovieFactory since version 3, so let's first look at that. I needed to make a quick DVD of my nephew's first-grade play to pass along to his classmates' parents and grandparents. Nothing fancy expected there, so there was no need to push the editing envelope. Which meant that MovieFactory's multitrim function was the perfect tool to let me get rid of a few seconds of extraneous video here--like the time between the end of the teacher's introduction and the beginning of little Eric's narration of "The Elves and the Shoemaker"—and there—the cast changes between plays—in what amounts to essentially a batch trimming function, removing multiple segments of video within a single clip without having to mess around with scrubbing or other controls.

It also came in handy when I needed to trim some footage shot with a the video recording function of a digital still camera that was tilted on its side, leaving only the properly oriented footage.


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Ulead's Multitrim editing feature

Of course, many of you are eminently capable of doing the same thing just as easily in more advanced tools; the appeal of Multitrim is that it lets you do this kind of edit in such a simple, straightforward software. Ulead hasn't made any changes to the Multitrim function for this version, but frankly, they didn't have to.

What's New
So what is new in MovieFactory 5? A few nice additions to the video editing palette, HD capture for those who are HD ready on the acquisition side, and a lot of not-quite-ready-for-prime-time features on the DVD authoring side. First, Ulead has redesigned the GUI to include a new launcher that's about as straightforward as you could ask for; divided into six main functions that each reveal a number of choices when selected, the launcher makes it easy for novices to figure out exactly what they want to do. Contrasted to EMC's overloaded opener, it's refreshingly uncluttered, letting you select your main task and then drill down to the specifics quickly.

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DVD MovieFactory's new launcher.

Within the video disc function, you'll find the same serviceable Enhance Video toolbox as before, but with a few new features. The auto enhancement feature modifies the brightness, contrast, and hue of your entire clip, doing in one click what often takes a few sliders and a lot of guesswork to accomplish in more advanced tools. The results aren't as refined as in those tools, of course, but again, simplicity is the name of the game here; with this particular video, I wanted people to really see just how red my daughter's hair really is, and the auto enhancement filter accomplished that.


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Enhance Video, before (left) and after (right).

All of the other video-editing tools are merely serviceable—and the slideshow creation barely reaches even that level--but the DVD creation features are considerably more than that. MovieFactory 5 presents you with a wide range of menu templates, including motion menus. My favorite feature is what Ulead calls the Smart Scene Menu, which places a single video window on the menu, but fills it with a different video clip depending on what chapter you have selected. I like motion menus, but having three or four tiny windows-all with video clips playing within-is just too busy for my tastes.

The Smart Scene feature is representative of Ulead's philosophy towards DVD menu creation in general: provide plenty of solid templates, but give the end user final control by making them completely customizable. It's eminently easy to change layouts, text, and backgrounds to create a menu of your liking; of course, you can create unique motion or still backgrounds from the appropriate media assets in your collection. I should add, however, that when Movie Factory 5 calculates how much space your project will take up on a disc, it doesn't figure in the size of the menu, which could make for some serious frustration if you get close to the end of a project only to find that, alas, it won't fit.

HD Support
If anyone from Ulead reads this, they'll likely think that I buried the lead: MovieFactory 5 supports HD video capture and HD DVD creation. But that's the part that's not-quite-ready-for-prime-time. It's good news on the ingest side that if you're shooting with say, with the Sony HVR-A1U or HDR-HC1. But this is primarily an authoring and output tool. With no HD DVD or Blu-ray recorder available at this writing—and few if any likely to get in the hands of consumers buying $49 authoring tools through most of the shelflife of MovieFactory 5--the best you can do is create a DVD image using your high-definition footage and view it on your computer or HDTV (with the right connecting cables). And if you want to build a real HD DVD or Blu-ray image, you'll have to do it elsewhere, in a high-end, steep-learning-curve product like Sonic Scenarist, and then bring the disc image into DVD MovieFactory for burning to disc (not that you'd need to if you had the proper authoring tool).

So the software's bold claim that it's the "first consumer DVD authoring program to offer HD-DVD and Blu-ray DVD support" is more or less an empty boast for the time being.

Minimum System Requirements
• Pentium III 800MHz or AMD Athlon XP 1800+
• 512MB RAM
• Windows 2000 SP4, XP SP2 Home Edition/Professional, XP Media Center Edition, XP Professional x64 Edition
• 900MB hard disk free space for program installation
• DirectX 9.0c , Windows Media 9, Macromedia Flash Player 7 or above
• Windows-compatible sound card
• Windows-compatible display with 1024 x 768 resolution or above
• Windows-compatible AGP or PCI graphics card (overlay support is recommended)

For more information, go to www.ulead.com.