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The New Hollywood Workshop: Multi-function menus

By Eliot Hochberg (eliot@high-mountain.com), May 14, 2003

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This week’s column covers creating menus that are to be used for extras in a feature-style DVD such as the one discussed in this series, “The Bad Father.” On this disc, there are Japanese subtitles, two commentary tracks, storyboards, and an Easter egg. My client and I wanted to have all of these elements appear in the same menu; so to come up with a satisfactory solution, I reviewed a number of mainstream DVDs.

When I reviewed these DVDs to see how their menu systems worked, I found a number of different styles. Low-end Disney and Warner Bros. discs were the least impressive. They use standardized menuing systems that, while effective, force you to go through many menus to get to a particular setting. The Disney ones were the worst for this by far. On the other hand, I found that MGM discs were consistently high quality. When subtitles and commentary are available, MGM DVDs have a menuing system that works as follows; the menu defaults to the currently selected subtitle option and you can navigate to the commentary or dubbing language of choice, or select a subtitle language. When you select your subtitle language, the menu then highlights the current audio selection, which you can then confirm or change. This usually brings you to either the play menu, or it plays the movie from where you left off. It’s important to note that using the DVD remote’s Subtitle or Audio buttons does not go to the selection menu, but instead lets the user make changes through the DVD player’s native menu system.

Using the MGM DVDs as my model, my first idea was to have a menu that would show the user which elements were selected by having a highlight appear by default when the user went to the Extras menu. This meant having Photoshop layered menus that would have different defaults depending on variables set through scripting. Although at various preview stages the coding seemed to work, there was in fact no chance that my coding would work using DVD Studio Pro because (as of this writing) there is a glitch with the return function (at least in version 1.5.1). The return function is what allows the DVD player to go to a menu while you are playing the video. The idea I had was to be watching the video, hit the Subtitle button on your remote, and reach the Extras menu which would show through highlights which functions were active; but without a return function that works properly, there was no way to reliably do this.

Because the return function does not work in DVD Studio Pro 1.5.1, I had to work around this limitation in order to emulate the desired Extras menu style. First, when viewing the video, you use the DVD remote buttons to change the subtitle and audio while the video is playing, without going to an authored menu. This is the fastest and most convenient method to change function while viewing. If you want to select the subtitle or audio track before you begin, the disc is set up to default to no subtitles and the original audio. Selecting a subtitle choice causes the screen to update to the default audio selected, and selecting audio then shows the default subtitle selected. The main difference here is that no matter what, entering the Extras menu resets the subtitles and audio to the default. This is not the preferred way to have this menu work, but since the return function doesn’t work, which appears to affect the way that the current subtitle and audio track data is tracked, this is the only way I have found to get this to work consistently. I’d love to hear from anyone who has gotten these functions to work without having to go outside of DVD Studio Pro to do it.

This brings up an important point; there is software out there for the PC which allows access to DVD functions that DVD Studio Pro does not. It is possible to solve the return function in this way. However, as of the time this disc was authored, there was no definitive description of how to fix the return issue with this other software. Being on a deadline, I didn’t have the time to experiment.

The bottom line, though, is that the DVD Studio Pro software appears to have a working return function. The return function is a default button in the menu creation system of DVD Studio Pro. But it is only through extensive testing or use of advanced features that a professional author would discover this issue. Someone could author a disc and think that it works properly, only to find that a basic function doesn’t work – I wonder how many users ended up with unhappy clients because of discs that were replicated but didn’t have this function working as intended. At this stage, I couldn’t find out if this bug has been squashed in DVD Studio Pro 2.0 without actually authoring a disc. Whenever I have declared this bug on Apple’s message boards, my post seems to disappear.

I hold software to high standards and until this issue is fixed it’s my feeling that DVD Studio Pro can’t really be called professional software. At best, it is beta software since it lacks so fundamental a feature. That issue notwithstanding, I was able to get a menuing system that the client approved of, and was able to put out the disc. Every cloud has a silver lining of sorts, it seems.

Next week: fun and games with Easter eggs!

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

Eliot Hochberg is a Web developer with over seven 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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