Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Affordable DVD Authoring

Recently I've tested a couple of affordable DVD authoring tools. While most non-linear editors include some way to create a DVD, sometimes these built-in applications leave something to be desired. In each of the following examples, you may download and test trial versions of the software before you commit your hard-earned loot.

The first application is the popular Nero 9.0 Suite. On the upside, it's affordable at $79 for the download version. The interface is fairly friendly as well. I didn't need to plow into the help files in order to figure out how to make things go.

There were drawbacks though. During installation, Nero's suite automatically associates every file type it works to its applications. I really hate that. (Fortunately Windows reverted to the original file associations when I un-installed Nero.)

But for me, the deal-breaker for me was the encoder Nero employs for DVD transcoding. In short, it's lousy. Even at the highest quality settings, motion is displayed in odd ways - echoes and motion blurs. There's really no excuse for such a lame encoder today.

The second DVD authoring program I tested was DVD Flick. First off, it's free. Yea. Even better, it supports an incredibly wide range of codecs. (What's a codec?) I'm unaware of any other authoring application that offers such format support. Finall
y, the interface is very intuitive and simple.

Now the downside. DVD Flick can add a DVD menu to your project and there are several templates to choose from. Typically the "first play" menu of a video DVD displays until the user navigates to another menu or plays the feature
selection. But with DVD Flick, the menu displays for a short time and then stops. Pushing "play" will activate the movie but once the menu disappears, such button-pushing is more an act of faith or desperation than deliberate navigation. (If someone knows how to address this problem, please email me and I'll post an update.

That aside, one can elect to author the DVD without a menu. In this case the DVD begins to play automatically after loading into your player.

Finally, DVD Flick did a poor job of encoding Microsoft DV .avi files. This surprised me given its wide range of format support but maybe that will improve with future releases. In any case, I'd give it a try. The application isn't huge and and again, it is free.

That last application I tested was TMPGEnc's Authoring Works 4. Although the corporate name is a bit awkward, this affordable DVD authoring program did a very good job.

At $99 it's pretty affordable. The user interface is easy to follow and it also includes oodles of menu templates that are easy to customize. Most importantly, the quality of transcoding is very good. At it's best setting I was unable to see any artifacts or degradation of the picture.

In this comparison you get what you pay for. And unfortuntately it seems that one of the drawbacks of living in the age of YouTube is that crummy picture quality has become acceptable, even in commerical products.

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