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G4 733 and iDVD
months of waiting, DVD authoring is now here at affordable prices. Rather
going against the grain, Apple was quick to adopt DVD-R, but only offers
a burner in its most expensive flagship system.
With Apple's current
focus on DV editing, it's only natural that the company should be an
early adopter of new-generation DVD-R technology. DVD writers can now
be bought on their own at pretty reasonable prices. There's the Panasonic
DVD Burner, costing £500-£550; or the more pricey £650
Pioneer A03 drive. Apple has opted to install the Pioneer A03 in its
system, as have some makers of Windows PCs but, while DVD-R-ready Windows
systems sell at very keen prices (in the case of Packard Bell's offering,
as low as £1,500), Apple has chosen to make the drive an incentive
to buy its most powerful (and most expensive) 733MHz system.
The PowerMac uses Apple's now familiar graphite casing, which is very
cleverly designed to give ultra easy access to the machine's innards.
As for power, Apple seems confident that its 733MHz processor will give
the current range of blisteringly fast Pentium and Athlon processors
a good run for their money - even those with speeds well exceeding 1GHz.
The installed NVIDIA GeForce 2 MX graphics card is a nice bonus - gamers
are sure to approve - but will serve well for serious usage up to and
including 3D modelling applications. Add to that 256MByte of PC133 SDRAM,
and a 60GByte ATA66 hard drive, and the machine has all the makings
of an excellent workhorse. It's well connected too, with two six-pin
FireWire ports, two USB sockets, and a standard VGA port for monitors,
plus a proprietary powered connection for Apple's LCD Studio monitors.
There's also a built-in 56Kps modem, a Gigabit Ethernet connection and
a slot for an optional wireless networking card.
Apple calls the installer burner an ÔApple SuperDrive', but it
is, in fact, a version of the Pioneer AO3 drive. The system also comes
with a simple DVD authoring program, iDVD, intended to work alongside
Apple's excellent entry-level video editing program, iMovie 2. As the
DVD burner can write to CD and CD-RW as well, the machine also comes
pre-installed with iTunes - an application for turning MP3, AIFF and
WAV files into audio CDs, for playing CDs, and for transferring songs
to MP3 players. CD writing with the installed Pioneer drive was fast,
with 76 minutes of music being burned to CD in only 11 minutes. As for
other CD burning software, we found that Ahead's Nero Max was unable
to identify the Pioneer as a CD writer, but that Roxio's Toast 5 Platinum
worked like a charm.
On yer marks...
There's no doubt that this system has a lot of power under the hood,
but our main interest is how well that power is used for video editing
and DVD creation. In Apple's higher end video editing program, Final
Cut Pro 2, rendering times proved to be quite reasonable, with 10-second
cross dissolves and a 10-second mirror effect each rendering in around
Final Cut Pro 2 allows projects to be exported as DVD-compliant MPEG-2
files. This functionality is provided as a plugin installed with DVD
Studio Pro, rather than as an exclusive feature of Final Cut Pro itself.
Annoyingly, all effects, transitions and titles need to be rendered
by FCP 2 as full-quality DV before an MPEG can be made. Once that's
done, however, export is very speedy - we exported a 43-minute video
as MPEG-2 at 8Mbits per second, and found the process took around 94
minutes. We also take our hats off to Apple for its MPEG encoder software,
which did an excellent job in keeping up the quality of the image and
iDVD accompanies iMovie as standard with the 733 PowerMac. It's a very
simple program designed for authoring simple DVDs featuring video and
slideshows. We were surprised that it wouldn't allow us to use any of
the MPEG files created with Final Cut Pro, and so we set about making
more with iMovie 2. As we'd expected, MPEG exporting from iMovie 2 is
a beautifully simple process. The Export Movie dialogue box now features
an ÔExport for iDVD' option - making it a one-step process to
create compatible files. There are no options allowing users to customise
settings or change the data-rate of files, the only choice is to export
or cancel. Encoding was even faster than with Final Cut Pro, with a
one-minute DV file encoding in almost exactly one minute. We figured
this had to be some kind of record for a software MPEG encoder, but
were made suspicious by the fact that the clips had been given a standard
QuickTime MOV extension. Closer investigation showed that the exported
files were actually DV files, not MPEG, and encoding would be done later
by iDVD itself.
iDVD is the easiest authoring program we've seen. In part, that may
be down to the fact that there's not much to it, but we're certain that
even the greenest of novices will hit the ground running. Unlike its
big brother, DVD Studio Pro, iDVD is a simple drag-and-drop affair,
and the interface is visual and self-explanatory. The program occupies
a small, self-contained window, displaying the DVD's first menu. Beneath
the menu display is a set of five buttons - Theme, Folder, Slideshow,
Preview and Burn DVD. There's also a small indicator showing how much
space is left in the DVD project - iDVD will only allow up to 60 minutes
of video to be written to a single disc.
The PowerMac 733 is a very impressive machine, and its DVD authoring
potential is sure to have many Mac enthusiasts drooling. But, as with
many things Apple, this is far from the most cost-effective solution,
and we very much doubt that Apple will convert many video enthusiasts
from the ways of Windows by offering its entry-level DVD authoring tools
only on its most expensive system. Things aren't helped much by the
fact that iDVD isn't yet available to buy as a stand-alone program for
those buying a DVD-R drive for an existing Mac.
Pricing aside, we feel that the 'SuperDrive' and supplied software do
provide a good way in to DVD authoring. What's missing from the suite
of tools - perhaps most importantly - is the ability for users to set
chapter markers within long videos. As it stands, all video clips used
within iDVD are self contained, and send the viewer back to the menu
once they've finished playing. This removes much of the non-linear appeal
of DVD - which is sure to be the one aspect that users - and viewers
- require most.
For the full review,
see the August 2001 issue of Computer Video.
Reviewed in August's
Apple DVD Studio Pro 1.1
Apple G4 733 and iDVD
Packard Bell Video Dre@m
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