ULEAD's DVD Workshop 2.0
Ulead's DVD Workshop 1.0 set the DVD authoring world on fire due to its packed featureset, pro-approach to authoring, AC3 capabilities, and low price point. To their own chagrin, no one in the DVD authoring world was expecting this dark horse to amount to much. Ulead sneaked up from behind and gave everyone pause. Can Ulead do it again with their second-generation of this software? I think they can if they market it aggressively and get this tool into the hands of loyal and vociferous users. While the product is still fresh, and in the vein of Adobe, Sony, Sonic Solutions and other DVD authoring apps being released and with Pinnacle walking away to some extent from the separate authoring app, Ulead hits a very unique niche with their interpretation of how DVD authoring should be done.
Workshop 2.0 offers control over all audio levels, saving editors who didn't pay close attention before their encode or render to avi files [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Many of the DVD tools today have multiple channels of audio, and DVD Workshop is no exception.
The 8 channels of audio seem to be a standard on the sub-1K tools these days, so we'll leave that one more or less to itself. Same for the 32 tracks of sub-titles, as this too, is part of the MPEG spec. However, Ulead's attention to volume control per video track, per MPEG file, and per menu background audio is just short of brilliant. Many is the time when a render ended up hotter or lower than it should have, and some MPEG encoding tools simply don't offer any volume control, and many NLE's have poor audio tools, particularly on the metering side. Or, if you have a wide variety of people working on a project, or media from various sources, using the audio control is a great way to 'normalize' the audio. While it's not a true normalization tool, and provides no meter feedback, it does allow you to compare and adjust volumes of various files. The only thing that could have improved here, is that the tool be a true normalization tool, or provide accurate metering for Full Scale.
The Highlight feature, while not completely unique or original, is very clever in it's implementation. Any graphic may be used as a highlight image regardless of it's source. Workshop will convert it to an overlay image and sniff out an alpha channel or create a transparent area based on the luma value of the image chosen.
DLT support is another great feature, albeit that DLT is not yet affordable for the masses, but I expect to see any number of DLT products at NAB for very reasonable prices, so Ulead can't be that far off. The same can be said for D9 DVD burners as well. Of course, Adobe also introduced this with their Encore product, so expect most of the mid-range priced DVD authoring tools to support these features in the very near future.
Macrovision and CSS encryption are coming on as standard tools as well, Ulead has provided all the tools necessary to make this work. One interesting item of note, by default, Region 7 and 8 are ticked in the DVD Workshop dialogs. This seems to be in error, as Regions 7 and 8 are reserved for special international use. Perhaps this is an engineering oversight. Of course, to use Macrovision in your projects, you'll need to clear a license with the folks at Macrovision and for now, you'll need a DLT device as well.
The ability to composite images directly in the application seems to be an anomaly that wasn't by design, but by happenstance. However, in creating motion menus with the adjustable transparency for anything anywhere on the menu, I was able to create some spectacular composites with just a little effort. Animated lower thirds, animated left thirds, masks, motion buttons with enlarged versions of the motion behind the button that are linked to nothing, wow! This feature is worth the cost of admission in my opinion. Ulead should consider offering text masks and chroma-controlled button masks as well, since this feature is very special and very unique. (Workshop 2.0 does have button masks, and you can build your own masks/frames in a graphics editor. If you have Workshop 2.0, try laying the same image over itself, shrinking the top image down by 75%, and reducing it's transparency by 50%. You'll be stunned. Of course, the ability to import PSD's from Adobe's Photoshop makes for powerful composites and menu creation.
Auto alpha-channel sniffing is pretty powerful, drop a 32 bit file on the Preview Window, and use a 3D animation for a button or graphic. Exporting a 32 bit file from say, Cool 3D Production Studio or 3D Max, and you've got something really sexy. And Workshop 2.0 will sniff out the transparent channel automatically. Maybe render some cool particle effects to drop on for show, and reduce their transparency for sex appeal.
AC-3 Stereo is a standard now, first introduced to the desktop by Sonic Foundry's (now Sony) Soft Encode a few years ago and then first released for NLE's in Sony's Vegas application, Adobe, Sonic Solutions, and other tools followed suit. Ulead did set another mid-priced standard however, by allowing authors to burn additional media to the disc, for instance; a training DVD might also contain Excel, Word, audio, demo executables, etc all on the same disk as the DVD media. It's a quick add to the disk, and offers some significant benefit. One project I tried this on was a home-inventory for a friend. Not only did we have video of all serials and valuables, but we also included a word document and a series of PDF files that could be printed, containing images of what receipts he had for high end video equipment. He's storing it in his bank deposit box in the event of fire.
Slideshows seem to be a necessary evil of all DVD authoring tools. I admit it, I've even used them for my promotional DVD's. However, Ulead throws a new twist in the mix, transitions for all slides. This can be determined on a slide by slide basis, on a project basis, or have Workshop insert random transitions at will. I recommend you not do this. It seems that Workshop always selects the cheeziest transitions for the most intimate photos. I'm sure it's not truly recognizing what transitions are selected, but some of the transitions are pretty ahhh......cheezy. Then again, there are a LOT of transitions to select your favorite. Who am I to suggest 3D cubes between 300 photos is a bad thing?
Forced First Play is a great feature. It prevents a viewer from fast forwarding important information like say....a copyright video. A long first play can become exceptionally irritating if it's not entertaining, so use caution if you instruct Workshop to create a forced first play. I know I get exceptionally irritated at some of the Hollywood DVD's that have 10 minutes of first play commercials, and you can't fast forward through them. Some videos require this, more kudos to Ulead for offering authors the choice.
One of my biggest gripes with Workshop 1.0 was that in order to see a motion menu with motion, you had to render the menu in the Finish step. Irritating, time consuming, and sometimes even buggy, Ulead got it right with this version. No matter where you are in the authoring process, just press PLAY on the preview transport, and you'll see motion menus with motion buttons, no rendering, no waiting. If you are fortunate enough to own a Matrox Parhelia card, you'll see full motion menus on an external monitor as well. Even widescreen videos will play from the Title list with no rendering.
Speaking of rendering, this is where Workshop 2.0 stumbles, or potentially does so. While Workshop can ingest .wmv, .mov, .avi, and .mpg files, I highly recommend users do their encoding in a different encoding tool for best results. The encode quality is not bad per se, but in comparison to Sony or Adobe's versions of the Main Concept encoder, or to Cinemacraft's encoder, there is definitely room for improvement. I'd suggest this encoder was top notch by last year's standards but the bar has been significantly raised this past year by Main Concept and other encoders. However, if the imported video is in MPEG format, Workshop will not recompress any compliant file, so it remains as pristine as you created it in the first place. Workshop 2.0 will do a fairly good encode, don't get me wrong. But having a higher quality encoder certainly won't hurt. Audio files are easily replaced as well, and you can even import 5.1 files if you author audio in Vegas, Audition, or other 5.1 supporting tool with AC-3 output capability. DVD Workshop 2.0 can also decode 5.1 files during preview. One nice feature is if you have a hardware device like ADS's Instant DVD, you can output a firewire stream to the hardware device, and capture via the device which will encode your avi to mpeg on the fly, using hardware, and Workshop will capture that stream, giving users a higher than average quality of encode. Hardware still beats software for quality, and is real time. Kudos to Ulead for making this possible in a pro-sumer tool.
If you have a multi-disc burner, DVD Workshop 2.0 can be instructed to create as many discs as you'd like, just like a print quantity feature on a word processing application. No more long nights of getting up every 20 minutes to change out discs. Further, an ISO file can be created to use for multiple sessions. I was able to successfully share this over my network and burn 2 discs at once, although Ulead says this isn't the reason it's there.
Burning a project to disk is now a one-button function. Choose or create a template for the burn, and you are ready to roll. Creating templates is easier with 2.0, you don't need to speak "Ulead jargon" to decipher hidden code words like 1.3 had. It's a simple matter to save a template for burning that you'd like to use in the future. It seems that the product managers at Ulead have really examined what's going on in the nomenclature of various applications, and have tried to fit their unique tools in to those naming conventions.
All in all, I'd say Ulead gives users more than expected for their money in this new rev. Using the application for long periods of time, I did experience one crash with a 600 file slideshow that had transitions and a lot of various media types in the project. Granted I was somewhat trying to force a crash, but couldn't repeat the crash using the same files later. Perhaps it was related to my hardware, perhaps not. As mentioned, I couldn't repro the error, so I'd say the product is stable under fire. One place this product could benefit, would be from an auto-save feature, or crash recovery feature. Add audio normalization to it, (granted, no other app offers this either) the latest and greatest MPEG encoding tools, some preprocessing tools, and I think they'd have most everything anyone could ask for. Workshop 2.0 is definitely fairly fast to learn, but there are many tips and tricks buried in the app that the owners manual doesn't begin to uncover. Their speed guide that comes in the box is very useful, as is media from our favorite stock footage provider, ARTBEATS.
Ulead really stepped up to the pump with this one, and it will be interesting at NAB 2004 to see how many companies have modified their tools to accommodate some of the challenges Ulead brought to the table with this release. Given some of the big names Ulead has been displaying in their advertising, it's clear they aren't taking prisoners with the release of this application. Now quit reading and go edit something!,
Douglas Spotted Eagle,
Sundance Media Group/VASST instructor
Ulead DVD Workshop 2.0
$495.00 retail, upgrade from 1.0-$249.00 Competitive upgrades available. http://www.ulead.com
20,000 Mariner Ave., Suite 200
Torrance, CA 90503
ph (310) 896-6388
4 out of 5 Videogeeks
Strengths: Great feature set, totally real-time, Playlists, compositing, works with all file types, LOTS of great templates, stock footage, button images, etc.
Weaknesses: Mid-quality encoding tools, no auto-save, weak documentation.
Source: ©2004 Douglas Spotted Eagle
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