Coming from the DVD authoring side (rather than the recording side, like Roxio and Nero), Ulead threw their hat into the ring with DVD Movie Factory 3 Disc Creator, adding a nice CD/DVD recording application. Then there's Sonic Solutions, who arguably invented the consumer DVD authoring category with MyDVD. Nobody touches them on DVD authoring elegance and power in an entry-level tool, and version 5 added the newly acquired RecordNow CD/DVD recording application (in a limited version), a cool new wizard, and modest video editing—clip-trimming and transitions—as well as rock-solid slideshow capabilities. But they couldn't match the jack-of-all-trades razzle-dazzle of Easy Media Creator 7, which had upped the ante in the feature-wealth department.
Sonic says that doesn't matter now, and in at least one respect, they're right. The first, and harder-to-quantify, reason is that Creator and MyDVD play in different markets, sell through different channels, and target and reach different audiences (Roxio used to say it didn't matter because they sold so many more units). But the second reason—in a rather striking recent development—is that Sonic announced plans to acquire Roxio's software division on August 9, with the expectation that the deal will be completed in the fall [see "Sonic Acquires Roxio," p. 7]. Which does kind of render the question moot, although it raises all sorts of other questions, like how the products will co-exist in the Sonic stable and what, if any, cross-pollination may occur in future versions. Like, say, pan and zoom in MyDVD slideshows (unlikely, since MyDVD renders slideshows as MPEG I-Frames, which is good for quality but doesn't allow room for additional effects), or using AuthorScript to ratchet up the DVD authoring power of Easy Media Creator's DVD Builder into at least the respectability zone.
Of course, as long as we're playing Dr. Frankenstein, we might as well throw in Ulead's big preview window and MultiTrim feature; Nero's Recode, CD/DVD Speed, and Wave Editor; and…well, no reason to go down that road. The big news in entry-level DVD authoring right now (besides the intriguing Sonic-Roxio acquisition) is MyDVD Studio Deluxe 6, and its new features are well worth exploring.
Not much has changed in the opening screens of MyDVD. It's still well-organized and easy to navigate to the various functions in five categories, including Audio, Copy, Data, Video, and Tools, with subsections within each. The color scheme seems a little cooler, and within the Video and DVD selections there's an option to upgrade to DVDit!, which gives you some idea of the theoretical upgrade path Sonic has in mind now that DVDit! is available in the Editor's Choice-winning version 5 [see review, August, pp. 38-40].
One of the first things you notice when you try to make a DVD in MyDVD 6 is not so much Roxio's design influence (which you see in the new just-for-beginners task panes) but a feature more reminiscent of Pinnacle's Studio 9 (a wrench-in-the-works DVD contender from the consumer NLE side). The default video-quality/compression option for MyDVD 6 is Fit-to-DVD, which eschews MyDVD's typical bit budget approach (i.e., you have this much space left for your video and audio) with a quality meter that shows the quality level—high, standard, long, or extended, or somewhere in between—you can expect if you burn your DVD at its current length.
Pinnacle takes exactly the same approach with Studio's Diskometer. Manual video quality settings remain the familiar HQ (high-quality, one hour), SP (standard play, two hours), LP (long play, three hours), and EP (extended play, four hours). The only real difference between Fit-to-DVD and the Diskometer is that Pinnacle's version gives you a percentage, and also lets you burn at over 8Mbps, which is too much for most DVD players to handle; as far as I can tell, Sonic saves you from yourself by stopping the bitrate inflation at 8Mbps. MyDVD's double-layer DVD+R DL support—with compatible drives and media—nearly doubles all the durational numbers that correspond to the various quality levels.
Other new features in the DVD and video editing areas include 16:9 support (something Pinnacle also added in the latest version of Studio), writing to DVD+R DL, several new effects and transitions (the offerings are still rather modest in that area, but the new gradient wipes are much appreciated), fading and looping options for sound- track audio, and the ability to apply different styles to different menus, which gives you nice flexibility in theory but can look a little sloppy in practice.
Consumer video fans also will enjoy the new import options, which now include MPEG-4 and DivX. And MyDVD's capture utility still works well. I'm not sure if they've done anything to upgrade the post-capture scene detection capabilities since version 5, but they worked a lot better for me in this round of testing, even if it's still annoying that the detected scenes don't pop up individually in the asset window (letting you know that it's working) as they do in most other tools. Seems like kind of a no-brainer to me.
A final, interesting new feature is the ability to import DVDs created in MyDVD or other applications as MPEG-2 files and work with them within MyDVD. That's another one that everyone seems to be doing these days, but Sonic's implementation certainly ranks high among the competition.