Setup was quick and easy, and a terrific five-part video tutorial made us comfortable with most of the program's major features less than two hours after opening the box. We installed our evaluation copy of Ulead's DVD Workshop 2.0 on a test bed equipped with a 3.2GHz Hyper-Threaded Pentium 4 processor, an Intel 875 chipset, a Plextor PX-708UF external FireWire DVD rewriter, and 1GB of Kingston Hyper-X DDR433 SDRAM. We used a FireWire-attached Pinnacle MovieBox DV module for video capture and burned test output to 8X Verbatim DVD+R media.
One of DVD Workshop 2.0's greatest strengths is its intuitive interface, which divides DVD-authoring projects into a five-step guided work flow: project setup, video capture, editing, menu creation, and output/export. A single screen handles each step, and the interface is smart enough to automatically switch steps if you wish to perform a task out of sequence.
DVD Workshop's content-editing and menu-creation screens do a fine job of shoehorning a lot of functionality into a small space. In addition to a nicely oversized preview window, there's a multipurpose content browser, as well as a tabbed tool area that lets you import and edit menu buttons, text, audio, video, images, and subtitles. DVD Workshop displays video titles in an easy-to-manage scrolling storyboard; selecting any title from the board displays a thumbnail filmstrip that provides access to that title's chapters. The program lacks time-line editing capabilities, but its storyboard implementation is so well integrated with the rest of the program's interface and toolset that you probably won't miss it.
Ulead DVD Workshop 2.0's greatest strength is its stunning selection of advanced menu-creation tools. In addition to an array of good-looking menu-layout templates, motion buttons, motion backgrounds, and 3D menu-text effects, it offers outstanding layering, overlay, transparency, and object-positioning and alignment tools. The program also boasts a menu-creation wizard that automatically populates menus with correctly linked buttons and a unique Playlist function that makes it surprisingly easy to associate each button with a sequence of up to 99 menu selections and video titles.
A wide selection of input options lets you use DVD Workshop 2.0 to capture live footage in both preset and custom formats; import AVI, QuickTime, MPEG, WMV, ASF, and other types of audio files; and even extract content from unencrypted DVD-Video discs. Better yet, every video title can be given 8 discrete audio and 32 subtitle tracks, each of which may be assigned a different language. The program can also convert still images into a video slide show that you can drop onto the storyboard and manipulate like any other video title.
DVD Workshop 2.0's powerful finishing options let you output to a host of formats, including DVD, Video CD, SVCD, and Digital Linear Tape (DLT); you can enable Macrovision, CSS, and region coding; and you can produce dual-layer DVD-9 projects and store ISO disc images and Video_TS folders on either fixed or removable storage devices. The program can also encode stereo Dolby Digital and multichannel Pro Logic soundtracks, and although it can't encode its own 5.1-channel Dolby Digital files, it can import previously created 5.1 audio content and pass it through as part of a finished DVD project.
DVD Workshop 2.0 turned in a speedy performance, comparable to those of other sub-US$500 packages from Ahead and Roxio. On our test bed, Workshop 2.0 took 32 minutes and 43 seconds to burn a Video CD project, including the time it required to transcode a 350MB DivX file to MPEG-1. Its SmartRendering feature made it possible to write our 1GB DVD-Video project to disc in 4 minutes and 49 seconds and to a hard drive folder in a mere 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Unfortunately, unlike most other competing applications, Workshop 2.0 couldn't maintain a preview frame rate greater than a few frames per second when capturing live video.
Our other criticisms are fairly minor, given the program's enormous power and flexibility. Nevertheless, we found it strange that the software lets you specify that an initial First Play video show before the Root Menu is displayed, but there's no other way to disable viewers' navigation controls. We were also vexed that DVD Workshop 2.0 lets you manage the size of your output files by setting bit rates in 1Kbps increments but doesn't provide a fit-to-disc function that would automatically choose the highest-quality bit rate for your project. Finally, we missed a snap-to-grid feature to complement the alignment grids that you can overlay on the program's menu-editing screen.
Ulead offers all of the documentation and support that you'd want and expect for a product of Ulead DVD Workshop 2.0's caliber. Beyond a 130-page, fully indexed printed manual, Ulead's Web site provides very solid support. In addition to regularly updated tips and tutorials, the online Learning Center offers a support board, community forums, downloads, and technical FAQs. Ulead also answers technical questions about its products via e-mail or fax.
Ulead DVD Workshop 2.0
Price: US$495 full version; US$249 upgrade
Distributor: Selected resellers
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