Dazzle DVD Creation Station 200 review and test

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Dazzle DVD Creation Station 200

A few years back, Dazzle made a splash in the desktop video world with its Digital Video Creator - an external video capture box that encoded video to VCD-compliant MPEG-1 in real-time. The quality it offered was reasonably good, novices didn't have to open up their PCs to install it, and real-time capture was a huge bonus at a time when MPEG encoding software was scarce, expensive, and slow.
But, the appearance of recordable DVD in the mainstream means that video enthusiasts have lost interest in VCD, and are now looking for high-quality MPEG-2 encoding solutions rather than just MPEG-1. Just about every DV editing program for Windows comes with integrated encoding software for DVD, but the quality of encoded footage can vary greatly, and rendering times can be slow depending on the speed of the system's processor and the encoding settings chosen.
As with Dazzle's MPEG-1 capture devices, DVD Creation Station 200 connects to the host Windows PC via USB, and captures audio and video through analogue inputs on the external box - composite video, S-video and L/R phono sockets. Usefully, the box has slots for memory cards most commonly used with camcorders and digital cameras - Compact Flash, SD Card, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, and Smart Media. Bundled software includes four of Dazzle's own programs - OnDVD for creating DVD-based slideshows; Photo Editor; MovieStar basic video editing; and a lite version of Dazzle's DVD Complete for authoring.

Although DVD Creation Station 200 delivers excellent video quality at conservative bit-rates, the bundle as a whole seems rather weak. For a start, we'd like to see the option to capture video as elementary streams, rather than have the linear PCM audio multiplexed with MPEG video. The DCS200 device should be better integrated with MovieStar - with more control over MPEG bit-rates and audio parameters. It would also be good to see the capture device work from within DVD Complete.
MovieStar has enormous potential, but in places it's poorly implemented. The trimming tools are ingenious, and the timeline layout should lend itself to some rather complex cutting capabilities, but Dazzle needs to provide support for insert editing and audio splitting for it to be really worthwhile. Some decent control over video effects should also be on the things-to-do list. We'd also like to be able to encode for the web directly from the timeline and save the resulting files on the system's hard drive. Further bonus points would be won if DVD Complete were able to work directly from MovieStar project files.
The bundled version of DVD Complete is too limited, and is further let down by its inability to capture from the DCS200 device or import raw MPEG captures made with Test Utility. Upgrading to the Deluxe version costs only US$29, however, and we think it's well worth the price. Still, including the full Deluxe version in the bundle in the first place would have made the package far more appealing.
MPEG encoding isn't a nightmare any more, as software encoders are plentiful and computer systems are extremely powerful. There is a place for hardware encoders - particularly for users making long projects or turning round lots of movies on a regular basis. These people tend to exist in the prosumer market, however, and the DVD Creation Station is not being targeted at them.

Peter Wells

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


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