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First Impressions: Apple DVD Studio Pro 4

HD DVD authoring on the Mac ... and so much more By Dave Nagel
With all of the great gear announced at this year's NAB convention, held this week in Las Vegas, some of the more significant announcements haven't received nearly the attention they deserve. I number among these Apple's DVD Studio Pro 4, which even Apple itself seemed to want to downplay, focusing instead primarily on Final Cut Pro 5 and Soundtrack Pro. But DVD Studio Pro 4 is a dramatic, if not radical, advancement in authoring, one that will, no doubt, further propel the Mac platform to the forefront of DVD creation.

Because DVD Studio Pro has become one of my favorite programs to work with, and certainly my favorite authoring tool, I took special note of its new capabilities, wondering at first what could possibly be added that would make a significant impact on what was already a great DVD authoring application. After all, the only thing Apple really emphasized about this program--both at the launch event April 17 at the Paris hotel and in face to face sessions with product managers--was that it could author high-definition DVDs using the HD DVD specification. And for me, that, in itself, isn't particularly significant at this point in history for the simple reason that there's nobody to watch the HD DVDs one might author.

But after I had the chance to get closer with DVD Studio Pro 4, what I realized is that there's much more to this program that just HD authoring and encoding, which I cynically dismissed at first as a rather forced attempt by Apple to live up to the company's new tagline: "2005 is the year of high-definition video." As I say, you might be able to author HD DVDs, but, at this point, who will be able to watch them?

Well, to be fair, the new DVD Player software in the soon to be released Mac OS X 10.4 does indeed support HD DVD, so, presumably, Mac users will be a built-in audience from the start. (Hey, just hook optical output from your Mac into you home theater receiver, and you're set. And if you don't have an HD monitor connected to your Mac, just hook the darned thing up to your HDTV with a DVI-to-VGA or DVI-to-component adapter.) But that's a pretty small segment in the overall DVD market, and it's going to be a while before HD DVD becomes a critical component in DVD authoring, even if the consumer in all of us wants it now, now, now!

Obviously the ability to author HD DVDs has a certain initial "wow" factor, but considering it in the light of current market realities, it's not that significant ... yet.

Where I think the new version of DVD Studio Pro is really going to make an impact at ship time is in the enhancements to its core capabilities and refined workflow--which, by the way, weren't bad at all to begin with. There's so much that I'm not even sure where to begin here.

DVD Studio Pro 4's main interface remains consistent
with previous releases. Image courtesy of Apple.

How about a free copy of Qmaster 2, which will allow you to distribute encoding to multiple machines? "But," you say, "I can't afford a cluster of Xserve machines or an Xsan system." Good. Neither can I. With this new capability, you can distribute or offload your encoding tasks to multiple machines on a standard network with free, unlimited client nodes. It works through the new Compressor 2, the encoding suite included with DVD Studio Pro, which itself receives several major, seriously major functionality enhancements.

Among these enhancements is the new optical flow image analysis for retiming, scaling and deinterlacing footage. Why should you care about that? Well, aside from high-quality format conversions, it also adds another little capability that some of you might--just might--be interested in: PAL to NTSC and NTSC to PAL conversion.


Yes, standards conversion capabilities built right in.

And you know what? That's not all Compressor 2 can do. It can also scale HD to SD and encode it at the same time, deinterlace footage without repeating fields and handle encoding jobs automatically through droplets.

Oh, it also now has a Dolby Digital Pro encoder built right in so that you don't have to use separate programs for your audio and video encoding. It can handle up to six channels of audio, including an option to encode automatically based on the number of channels in a file. (Remember, QuickTime 7 can handle multi-channel audio.)

Did I mention all this is included in a $499 DVD authoring package?

Okay, because there's more.

DVD Studio Pro 4 also includes a bunch of little niceties, like customizable keyboard shortcuts and direct import of unrendered Motion 2 project files (along with, of course, reference movies). It also has some more major workflow improvements, like external video device support and real-time HD previews, as well as previews of actual multi-channel audio through the optical audio out port. (Previously 5.1 audio was mixed down to stereo in simulation.)

And, ever so significantly, it also includes greater scripting capabilities, including, but not limited to, the ability to partition GPRMs. Know what that means? It means that instead of having just eight GPRMs to work with, you can divide them up to create up to 128 "little GPRMs." Which means, of course, that you can introduce much more complex scripts into your projects. You can also include jumps to loop points in your menus using scripts.

And, finally, it also includes a VTS editor, which allows you to assign assets to VTS folders manually (as well as automatically) to optimize playback performance.

All this plus the much-touted HD DVD authoring capabilities, plus all of the amazing capabilities found in DVD Studio Pro 2 and 3, and all for $499.

Somebody get me a hanky.

DVD Studio Pro 4 is a serious advancement to an already seriously advanced authoring system. My only regret about seeing it and spending time with it was that I was unable to convince Apple's PR people to give me a pre-release copy to mess around with, even though I asked very nicely. But those people are so kind and good-hearted, not to mention good-looking and smart--especially Cameron, Jerry and Christine--that I'm sure they'll see their way to slipping me some software before long so that I can give you many more details on this impressive software. In the meantime, if you have any questions about DVD Studio Pro, be sure to visit me in the DVD Studio Pro forum at DMN Forums by clicking here.

DVD Studio Pro 4 will ship in May as a part of the Final Cut Studio, which includes Final Cut Pro 5, Motion 2, Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro 4 for $1,299. It will also be available separately for $499. (The upgrade runs $199.) For more information, visit

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Related Keywords:apple dvd studio pro 4, nab 2005, hd dvd authoring, vts, gprm partitioning, scripting

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