When Adobe announced a new DVD authoring tool this past April, it rightly attracted a lot of interest. After all, just about anyone currently making polished DVD titles already uses Adobe's industry-standard imaging tool, Photoshop, for DVD menu design, if not Illustrator, Premiere, and After Effects as well. The simple idea that Encore DVD would directly integrate with Photoshop, sharing and swapping files and features and thus dynamically leveraging both assets and expertise, was reason enough to make Encore a product with great potential and one to be taken very seriously.
Now, it's time for a closer look. With the arrival of a press beta pre-release version of Encore, we had an opportunity to dig into the details and explore Encore's capabilities and workflow more directly. What's behind that Adobe-style Property Inspector and tool palette? What does mixing with—indeed, relying on—Photoshop really feel like? What about built-in design tools for fast and easy title creation?
In a very real way, Adobe would have had to do a very bad job integrating with Photoshop to dull Encore's pre-release luster, and that clearly has not happened. Familiar Adobe interface conventions, drag-and-drop menu and button creation, and a solid back-end DVD engine licensed from Sonic all give Encore plenty to recommend it. However, Encore is a first-generation product and that invariably means curiosities. More to the point, while Encore is successful in many ways, it's not as easy to use as consumer-oriented tools, nor as capable as top professional DVD authoring applications. But the real question remains: is it right for you?
Consumer versus Pro
Roughly speaking, DVD authoring applications generally take one of two different approaches to building DVD projects. Consumer-oriented products, as well as some business-oriented tools like Ulead DVD Movie Workshop and Sonic DVDit!, focus on the visual creation of menus. Their main interface is effectively the main menu itself, onto which you'll drop media clips to create buttons and links. Most use templates to automatically position buttons and generate picture icons for buttons in order to make authoring as straightforward and painless as possible. While projects with multiple menus and numerous assets may be possible with these products, that's usually not their focus, nor their strength.
Contrarily, the more professional approach takes a bigger picture view of building projects, centering around a project organization view, such as Sonic Scenarist's infamous flowchart or Sonic Producer's List and Palette Windows, thus availing authors of more creative, navigational, and programming options. Secondary windows drill down to create individual menus and media asset timelines. Navigational links are often created manually.
Adobe Encore, built on the same DVD back-end engine as Sonic Producer, ultimately takes this latter approach. Therefore, its workflow should appeal to professionals with potentially more complicated, media and navigation-rich projects. But it does risk a level of inaccessibility for DVD novices. That's not to say that new users will be lost, and there is much to recommend Encore even if you've never authored a disc before. However, Encore will ask you to learn a thing or two about making a DVD title. It's easy enough to use once you've mastered its conventions, but keep in mind that consumer ease-of-use is not the focus.