Roxio VideoPack 5
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Roxio VideoPack 5
We've been waiting a long time for the launch of VideoPack 5 and, in the current excitement over affordable DVD creation, we fully expected to see standards set in the prosumer market. Seemingly, though, even the strongest of pedigree lines can occasionally turn out a runt.
CeQuadrat's VideoPack 4 has established itself as something of a legend for VideoCD authoring. It wasn't the easiest program to use, but its comprehensive feature set for creating rich, menu-driven VideoCDs with video, slideshows and CD audio elements made it a must-have application. This was helped further when CeQuadrat integrated virtually the entire program into its keenly-priced CD burning package, WinOnCD 3.7, as a 'VCD Extended Editor'. In addition, WinOnCD 3.7's Photo Album interface, and version 3.8's Music Album feature, used the VCD 2.0 standard in new and exciting ways, making them some of the most innovative programs we've ever seen.
When VideoPack 5 was first announced on CeQuadrat's website over 18 months ago, we thought all our Christmases and birthdays had come at once. Here was an authoring tool that could be used to create menu-driven VCDs, Super VCDs and DVDs and - given the pedigree - was almost sure to be comprehensive and creative in its approach. It has taken until now for the program to be released. This is, in part, due to shake-ups at CeQuadrat - the company was bought by Adaptec, and then Adaptec's software division was spun off as a new entity called Roxio. It's also very likely that Roxio had been holding back on VideoPack 5 until affordable DVD writers became available. After such an extended gestation period, we were expecting something very special.
First impressions Launching VideoPack 5 presents the user with a simple choice - do you want to make a VCD, SVCD or DVD? VideoCDs (VCDs) are based around MPEG- 1 video which - depending on the quality of source footage and the MPEG encoder used - can look as good as VHS. Super VCD is again CD-based, but uses MPEG-2 compression for video. Results are good, but not quite up to the standard of DVD, due to a lower vertical resolution - PAL SVCD video is encoded at 480 x 576, rather than DVD's resolution of 720 x 576. The interface is much like that of WinOnCD 3.8, with identical icons and terminology, but the thumbnail display is new, and the project's structure of menus and media files is more neatly organised.
Video can be imported in any format recognised by Windows MediaPlayer and used immediately in the construction of VCD, SVCD and DVD projects. Once finished, VideoPack creates MPEG video files to the correct standard for the disc format chosen. The integrated encoder is provided by Ligos and works quickly, but gives results of only average quality. DVD creation within Roxio's program can be a fluid process. Menu buttons are automatically created by the program itself, allowing a reasonable sense of freedom in layout and sequence of media elements. While the authoring process can be intuitive, the program itself isn't. Toolbar icons are far from self-explanatory, and many important menus and tools are difficult to locate at first.
Highlighting a video element in the Navigation Editor window calls up a graphic representation in the Editor window. The editor shows video as a series of still images, with each frame clearly numbered according to timecode. Beneath that is a graphic interface depicting a filmstrip and film projector. The projector carries zoom in/out icons, to show, more or less, footage on the film strip, plus a play button to preview video in a separate pop-up window.
The projector can be dragged left or right to jump backwards or forwards through the video - and the same can be achieved by dragging a small icon on the filmstrip graphic. In each case, every still image on the strip turns into a moving image. Alternatively, single-clicking the reel icons makes the strip of images jump a small way back or forwards through the clip (though this is neither accurate, nor consistent). Red flags at each side of the film strip can be dragged in and out to change a clip's start-point and end-point. Blue flags - for chapter-stops, which let the viewer jump through a clip from point to point - can be applied to specific frames using a toolbar icon (and taken off using another). Sadly, chapter- stops can't be applied to video during real-time playback with sound, making it difficult to make qualitative judgements about their positioning.
Having applied multiple chapter points to a clip, however, those points can't be assigned to a parent menu as buttons or links. Although this only appears to affect VCD and SVCD discs made with VideoPack, it means that the only real solution for creating a scene-selection menu and chapter sequence that works as it should is to create each chapter as a separate video file, and have them all set to play back-to-back. This will, however, result in pauses between chapters as the player accesses each new file.
Adding to our frustration, multiple instances of the same video were recognised by VideoPack as additional data, greatly bumping up the amount of information that it had to burn to disc. When working with AVI files, source material was encoded again and again for each chapter stop burned in its entirety to disc. Roxio told us that this wouldn't happen if we worked with ready-made MPEG-2 files - a statement we at first thought to be false. Using DVD-compliant MPEG-2 files (that don't require further rendering) gives the impression that VideoPack is doing the same thing - the program's disc size indicator increases as each instance of a video is added. However, the final disc image shows that the file has only been written to disc once, so the sum total of material is far smaller than VideoPack would have you believe.
VideoPack 5 has no integrated preview function for testing discs prior to burning. The recommended procedure is to create a disc image (which can be anything up to 4.7GByte in size) and load it into a virtual drive that is installed along with the main program. Once loaded, the disc image behaves much like a real CD or DVD disc in a real drive, and can be accessed by whatever software players are installed on the system.
VideoPack 5 was tested with two DVD writers - a Pioneer A03 DVD-R/DVD- RW drive (review, August 2001, p30), and Ricoh's MP5120A DVD+RW drive (review this issue, p26). The program recognised the Pioneer drive without any problems, happily using it to burn CD and DVD-based projects. However, it was unable to recognise the Ricoh as a writer at all. Roxio informs us that support for this drive will be included in the first service pack. Given that Pinnacle and Ulead both promise DVD+RW support in low-end authoring packages (reviews, this issue, p36 and p44), lack of support for this drive is odd, considering Roxio's expertise in CD writing software.
VCDs and DVDs were played back on a Yelo 800 DVD without a hitch. Menus based around a still back-ground and animated buttons looked good, and video encoded using the Ligos plug-in was reasonable at DVD quality, though quite poor for VCD. As always, we recommend choosing MPEG encoders carefully and preparing all media in advance. SVCDs loaded well and menu structures were recognised correctly by the Yelo DVD player. Unfortunately, menu screens were squashed between two large black bars - similar to a letterboxed widescreen movie. Video and slide-show elements looked fine, however.
VideoPack 5 is a hugely disappointing product, and not up to the high standard we've come to expect from the CeQuadrat team. But, regardless of the developer, we'd have been no less frustrated by its awkward interface, clumsy handling of chapter stops and poor documentation. VideoPack sits in an uncomfortable middle ground between entry-level and low-end professional software. New beginners' programs from Pinnacle and Ulead sell for under £50. They are extremely basic, but we don't feel that VideoPack's £350 price-tag is justified when it offers few additional features. Roxio needs to cut the price of VideoPack massively to compete at consumer level, where the volume sales will be. But, even if it did so, the program just isn't suitable for novices (or experts come to that!), and needs to have decent wizards added to streamline the authoring process for all users. Management tools for chapter stops and scene selection require attention, as does support for DVD+RW drives, such as the Ricoh.
But, if the program has any hope of selling at £350, it should have all these things, plus a comprehensive toolkit for prosumer use, including support for multiple audio tracks, multiple video angles, subtitles and web links. For professionals, an extra add-on package could include CSS and Macrovision copy protection, regional coding and DLT support. As it stands, VideoPack 5 isn't going to satisfy anyone, and Roxio has a huge amount of work to do if it's not to be completely passed over by the new generation of DVD authors.
For the full review, see the December 2001 issue of Computer Video.