Let me start by stating the obvious: the only reason to consider a $79.99 consumer authoring program is if offers functionality that your current authoring program doesn't provide. In the case of Ulead DVD Movie Factory, that would probably be Blu-ray authoring, HD DVD authoring, or both.
Considering that none of the authoring software videographers generally tend to use—Apple DVD Studio Pro (which has limited and sometimes-problematic HD DVD, at this writing), Adobe Encore DVD (which will do Blu-ray, but not HD DVD, when the new version ships this summer), Sony DVD Architect (no word on either HD format as yet, but non-Sony-friendly HD DVD hardly seems likely) and Roxio DVDit (Blu-ray only)—can produce discs in both formats, DVD MovieFactory's capabilities vis a vis the next-generation formats is at least worth investigating, if you need to produce HD discs now.
As it turns out, MovieFactory 6 does a credible job with both, but there are some limitations of the respective formats and some workflow issues that are worth knowing up front. (See Right Here, Right Now: Authoring and Burning HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc, for more details on other HD disc authoring options.)
Let's start with Blu-ray. Like all consumer-oriented Blu-ray authoring programs, MovieFactory produces BDAV discs, which means no menus on the player; it's comparable to the DVD±VR format developed for set-top DVD burners, which was built for on-the-fly DVD creation without the graphical, customized DVD menus we associate with computer-based authoring. If you've ever done "instant" DVD production for sports or stage events, you've probably worked with the DVD±VR format, and BDAV has the same kind of utility in the Blu-ray world, minus some compatibility concerns as described below.
To create a BDAV disc in DVD MovieFactory, you choose your videos in a business-like preview and file selection window that's custom for each player. I used the Samsung BDP-1000 my tests, which worked fine, and the video looks great.
However, not all Blu-ray players support BDAV (the Pansonic DMP-BD10, for example, does not), while the Sony BDP-S1 will not even play BD-R (Blu-ray recordable) or BD-RE (rewritable) discs until a planned update hits the streets sometime in 2007 (http://esupport.sony.com/perl/news-item.pl?mdl=BDPS1&news_id=163&mdl=BDPS1). Just for the record, Sonic's Roxio DVDit creates Blu-ray discs in BDMV format (the more flexible "computer" authoring format) that won't play on the Samsung using current firmware revisions, but will play on the Panasonic. Clearly, if you're going to produce Blu-ray discs for clients, you're going to have to actively control the playback environment.
The flip side of menu-less BDAV disc-production should have been extreme ease of authoring; you simply load your target files and press the proverbial burn button. Turns out that the former was more complicated than the latter. To be specific, MovieFactory appeared to transcode most of the test files produced in Premiere Pro to a different format, and wouldn't load files without audio, which I found strange.
I also had some cropping or scaling issues with files that I imported, rather than captured fresh in MovieFactory, though all originally captured HDV files displayed at full resolution. Budget plenty of time to work through these workflow issues, and consider writing back to tape from your video editor, and recapturing in MovieFactory, rather than outputting HDV files from your editor, and take this to mean that if you're looking for a "quick-fix" solution for clients who are demanding Blu-ray now, it's thornier than you might expect.
Note that you produce your Blu-ray Discs in an applet (left) separate from the main MovieFactory authoring program that lacks features from the main program like slideshow production. The program also can't re-encode video footage to fit it on disc; it simply burns whatever files you've successfully imported into the program. Fortunately, you can trim videos in the Blu-ray interface if required to fit your project to disc.
Using the Pioneer BDR-101A and Verbatim BD-R and BD-RE media, I successfully created Blu-ray discs with no coasters, and all played on the Samsung player. However, I couldn't record in real time to the Blu-ray Disc, trying on two different computers, a 3.0GHz Core 2 Duo-based Dell Precision 390 and a dual-processor, Quad-Core HP xw8400 workstation. This felt like a media/burner issue, as another product that I tried, CyberLink's PowerProducer, failed at this exercise as well.
One interesting tidbit about the Pioneer recorder is that the only "certified" media was TDK. I found this out too late in the process and couldn't get TDK media in to try. Verbatim was fine for all non-real time uses, and I used them each multiple times. I captured a 20-minute segment of video and burned it to Blu-ray; after pressing the Burn button, it took 24:56 (min:sec) to produce the Blu-ray disc on the HP 8400.
MovieFactory 6 offers more flexibility on the HD DVD side. You author DVD-R and HD DVD discs in the same application, which means slideshows, menus, the whole ball of wax. DVD MovieFactory has some very innovative and attractive menus, with HD templates and audio and video menus, though navigation is all sequential, which means menus and chapter menus, but no branching. Again, when producing HD DVD discs, the program won't encode video to fit, so you're in charge of trimming video to fit on the disc.
Which neatly brings up the issue that at this writing, there are virtually no HD DVD burners available (the first internal, PC-based burner from Toshiba shipped only in "sample" quantities in February). Instead, as with Pinnacle Studio, you burn your HD DVD productions to single- or dual-layer DVD±Recordable or RW discs, though Studio can re-encode to fit to disc. HD DVD burning works well, but is presented in a confusing manner.
Specifically, to create an HD DVD disc (left), you have to select an HD DVD project, which shows the 15/30GB planned capacity of these devices in the capacity meter. You're in charge of limiting content to 4.7GB (single-layer) or 8.5GB (dual-layer) because you're burning to old-school DVD, and must select your legacy DVD recorder (as opposed to a phantom HD DVD recorder) as the target.
It's not rocket science, but it took a call to tech support for me to figure out how to make it work. Once up and running, the disc burned and played normally on my Toshiba HD1 player, complete with 1080i videos and menus. For projects under 40 minutes, it does a very good job.
So what's the net/net on HD disc authoring in DVD MovieFactory? MovieFactory is the best choice I've seen if you want to produce both Blu-ray and HD DVD. If you need menus on your Blu-ray discs, Roxio DVDit Pro HD is a better choice, but costs a bunch more and has its own player-related issues.
Jan Ozer is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics and the author of Adobe Digital Video How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques with Adobe Production Studio published by Peachpit Press.