SurCode Dolby V-Plug review

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SurCode Dolby V-Plug

Audio compression options for DVD authoring have been very limited in the mainstream desktop video market until recently. Can Minnetonka's SurCode AC-3 plug-in for Adobe Premiere meet the growing needs of small-scale DVD producers?

The cleanest and most dynamic audio format a DV movie maker can choose for a DVD project is uncompressed linear PCM sound - essentially making a direct digital copy of the original DV soundtrack. However, uncompressed audio can be a burden for long movies, with audio alone requiring a gigabyte or more of the 4.7GByte destination disc. Also, as MPEG encoders at the consumer level lack the quality of those used for Hollywood releases, many of us are forced to encode our video footage at relatively high data rates which - when combined with uncompressed sound - will result in a combined data rate too high to be played smoothly on some players. Audio compression is an important concern for DVD authoring but, until very recently, compression options have been limited.

The most accessible form of sound compression for DVD is MPEG audio - many MPEG encoders provide a choice of PCM or MPEG audio output options. But while this is fine for PAL DVDs, MPEG audio is not a recognised part of the NTSC DVD standard. Some NTSC players will recognise MPEG audio and play it correctly, but many will simply play the movie mute. Other audio compression formats compliant with the DVD standard are DTS and Dolby AC-3. Licensing restrictions on DTS appear so tight that we don't expect to see an affordable encoding solution any time soon. And, while AC-3 is also tightly controlled by its creator, we're starting to see some decent encoding options appear in the mainstream.
AC-3 encoding has been available to Mac users for some time now, as Apple included a simple software solution, A.Pack, in the DVD SP bundle. Also, while A.Pack allows stereo or 5.1 surround sound encoding, the new breed of affordable software solutions for Windows systems appears to be stereo only.

SurCode Dolby V-Plug works well and delivers very clean AC-3 audio for DVD authoring. For Premiere editors, the benefit of being able to encode directly from the timeline is an obvious one, but we're disappointed at not being able to export MPEG video and AC-3 audio in a single session, and we'd also like to see a stand-alone version with batch encoding capabilities. Our biggest problem with V-Plug is the price, however. While we understand that a big part of the cost is licensing from Dolby, the program still represents poor bangs for bucks when compared with the likes of Apple's A.Pack. Now that AC-3 encoding is becoming more affordable on Windows systems, we'd like to see Minnetonka reduce the price of V-Plug or add surround sound capabilities. If this doesn't happen, the company will almost certainly lose out to competitors, such as Ulead, that are now integrating simple stereo AC-3 encoders into DVD authoring software.

Peter Wells

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



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Final Cut Express
Magix Video Deluxe 2.0 Plus

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