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The New Hollywood Workshop: 2001, a DVD Odyssey (Part 5)

By Eliot Hochberg, May 8, 2001
[updated: October 19, 2001]

This series covers DVD Studio Pro (DVDSP), Apple’s high-end DVD authoring tool. It allows you to create all the menus, interactivity and groovy visuals you want to have available for professional DVD authoring. It is very different from iDVD.

Last time, we looked at the general settings needed for a DVD project. This time, I want to take a detour from my scheduled topic, multi-angle clips, to address an issue that concerns me about DVDSP.

Some users on Apple’s DVDSP message board have revealed a depressing theory regarding DVDSP and its status as a full-fledged DVD authoring suite. They claim that not only is DVDSP “beta” software, but that Apple isn’t providing the kind of support it should for a professional product. I want to discuss the evidence I’ve found on this issue, and draw some conclusions.

As many professional computer users know, it’s always a bit of a risk to use the first version of any software. Will it have bugs? Will it stick around long enough to be worth learning? Hopefully, having a company like Apple behind a piece of software should answer these questions, but there are some facts that can’t be overlooked.

For one, there is at least one major problem with DVDSP, and that is the lack of documentation for the scripting language that DVDSP uses. For a professional program, especially one costing US$1000, this is a glaring error. Thousand-dollar suites from Macromedia and Adobe contain complete documentation – so should those from Apple. And this isn’t counting the problems users have been having with synced audio, multi-angles (as I’ve had) and subtitles. Granted, making DVDs is complicated, but Apple software is supposed to make things easy. There has been very little response from Apple about DVDSP’s bugs. Some users have commented that there hasn’t even been a software update. This is pretty annoying for early adopters.

The unkindest cut of all, however, is a story told on Apple’s Web board regarding customer support. Now, I have contacted Apple through my contacts for some of my support, but they are busy folks, and in fact I got the best answers by calling 1-800-MY-APPLE. But even then, I was told to go to the discussion boards for answers. However, at least one user has claimed hardship due to the cost of Apple’s pay-and-play Pro Support, which costs US$199 per incident for Pro products like DVDSP, Mac OS X Server and Final Cut Pro. They also claimed that one year costs US$2700. I must say, if a program like DVDSP was mature, then by all means Apple should charge for support. But for Version 1.0 of a program, with a company that has US$4 billion in the bank, there should be a little more attention paid to supporting this very exciting product. And if even one pro user falls through the cracks, then Apple is failing, just because there are so few DVDSP users right now.

Based on the input I’ve seen and my own experience, you may want to hold off buying DVDSP until Version 2 comes out. I’ll still be writing these articles, though, for those of you who are trudging through anyway. Hopefully, Apple will wake up and answer all of the problems brought to light with this promising but frustrating first version of its pro DVD package.

Next time we’ll get back on track and take a stab at making a multi-angle track, and see what issues we may encounter there.

Update:

So, now that we have Version 1.1, have these issues been resolved? Yes and no.

Obviously, short of sending every registered user a new manual with a scripting dictionary in it, it would be hard to solve the problem of not including such a tome with the original program. Here’s hoping that there will be an update to the manual that will include more coverage of scripting.

As far as other DVDSP problems go, many have been covered in other updates to these articles, but here's a summary:

It appears as though the issue with markers and audio going out of sync has been fixed, although you still need to use QuickTime Player to export in order to avoid the issue. Final Cut Pro definitely should not be used to export MPEG-2 files. Instead, create a Final Cut Pro project, open it in QuickTime Player and export from there. The good news is that you do not need to export as a standalone file. This means that when you are done editing and compositing in FCP, you do not have to fill your drive with yet another multi-gigabyte file in order to complete your project. QuickTime Player 5 (I have not tested Version 4) seems to be quite happy with FCP reference files. Another nice fallout from this is that it takes far less time to get from raw video to MPEG-2 files, since you don't have to save a multi-gigabyte file to disk first.

Additionally, using Version 1.1 of DVDSP with QuickTime 5 seems to eliminate the issue of having to start with only the basic Mac OS extensions when burning to DVD-R, at least for me. This is still a good strategy, though, if you get errors while burning.

DVDSP 1.1 is not without its problems, however. Every once in a while (it’s hard to say exactly when or why), when going to preview, DVDSP will either drop out of previewing mode, not go in at all, or have previewing errors like freezing and non-responsive remote buttons. These issues all seem to resolve themselves when quitting out of DVDSP, although I think I did have to restart once.

Some users have reported that setting DVDSP’s memory to over 300MB resolves many of these kinds of issues, but I have set the memory even higher (I have 1GB of RAM on my system) and I still get some of these problems. I recommend that you set DVDSP's memory to 300MB if you have enough RAM, as it runs far more efficiently. If you don’t have enough RAM, why?! RAM is still cheap, and is the easiest way to improve performance and your overall computing experience.

I will be working with multiple angles again soon, and will let you know what I find out.

Finally, I will reiterate a problem not directly related to DVDSP – an issue with FireWire and iMovie or FCP. The symptom is iMovie or FCP not recognizing a FireWire camcorder connected to the system. On my Canon Optura Pi, I also notice that the “DV IN” indicator blinks. This appears to be caused by connecting the camcorder to the Mac's FireWire port while iMovie or FCP is starting up or after one of those programs has already been running. This was never an issue until now. The only way I have been able to consistently fix the problem is to shut down the system, unplug the power, wait 30 seconds, and plug back in before restarting. It’s a pain, but it does seem to work. The moral? Hook up your camcorder first, then start up your editing software. This issue may only apply to Apple editing software and Canon camcorders. If you’ve experienced this error, let us know.

The New Hollywood Workshop is dedicated to using Macintosh computers and software to do what the big boys do. Want an example? Go to TheForce.Net and check out “Duality,” a short made completely with Macintosh products.

Eliot Hochberg is a Web developer with over 6 years experience. Apple’s new professional tools are just the ticket for a sole proprietor like Eliot to go to the next level. Right now, he’s seeking DVD duplication services that support DVD Studio Pro. If your company does, let us know. We’ll list you in future articles.

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