Apple DVD Studio Pro 2 test and review

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Apple DVD Studio Pro 2

Last year, Apple's DVD Studio Pro was the most professionally-featured DVD authoring program at the price on any system. Now, with V2, DVD SP is less than half the original price, and shaping up to be at least twice as good!

We've had something of a love/hate relationship with Apple DVD Studio Pro. While the program offered the same professional DVD authoring features that cost many thousands of pounds elsewhere, its interface was cold, clumsy and often infuriating. Simple jobs such as setting overlay colours for buttons had to be done again and again for each individual menu. There was no means of setting chapter markers during video playback, and the program had no menu-design tools of its own - being totally dependent on external image editors such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel PhotoPaint (which was later bundled with Studio Pro).

Subtitles also had to be created in an external editor - and the editor couldn't import MPEG files, so subtitles had to be cued up to audio only, or the movie had to be remade as a QuickTime file. On top of all this, the user interface was dominated by drop-down menus - very daunting to the newcomer, and confusing for anyone trying to tell where they are in a project.

Two big changes have happened with DVD Studio Pro, however. First, earlier in the year, the price was cut by more than a half - from £830 to under £400. Then, in September, version 2 came out - and this, it turns out, is far more than a simple features upgrade. In its original incarnation, DVD Studio Pro was a rebadged version of Astarte's DVdirector - a program that was selling for US$5,400 before the company was bought up by Apple. That program now appears to have been dumped altogether in favour of authoring software originating from another acquisition - Spruce. When Apple bought Spruce, we figured that the purchase had been made to acquire the company's high-end MPEG encoding hardware. Thankfully, it's now clear that the software development team has been kept working, too. But DVD Studio Pro 2 is much more than a port of the Maestro program from Windows to Mac - a lot of work has gone into the interface to make the learning curve as gentle as possible, and it's had a facelift to bring it into line with the aesthetics of Final Cut Pro and iDVD.

When we voiced our complaints about DVD Studio Pro 1.x and it's annoyingly stifling interface, our criticisms were dismissed by some Mac users as ignorant, with some even declaring that DVD Studio Pro was a glorious textbook example of the 'Mac way of doing things'. We're delighted to see that Apple didn't share that view.

Dumping the DVdirector-based Mk1 in favour of a more visual and intuitive program is a great move, and one that's sure to attract ever more DVD authors over to the Mac platform, even with the arrival of new Windows offerings from Adobe and others. Sure, there's some room for improvement - some users may still want more extensive effects for menu design, for example - but authoring a professional DVD can now be completed in a fraction of the time and at far less cost than it took using the old program, and there's much less need to flit from one application to another. We're sure that newcomers moving up from iDVD (as well as video professionals already familiar with timeline-based editing software) will find themselves right at home with DVD SP 2 from the very first minute. This is an outstanding example of how creative software should be - and possibly the very best video program on the Mac.

Peter Wells

Read the full review in December 2003's Computer Video magazine.



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Apple DVD Studio Pro 2

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