Adaptec DVpics Plus, MGI VideoWave 5.0, Roxio VideoPack 5.0, Veritas RecordNow MAX

With standalone DVD players gradually replacing VHS recorders in the living room, more of us are dabbling with DVD authoring - making DVDs from digital video footage. Armed with a combination CD-RW/DVD-RW drive and four DVD authoring packages to try out, we plugged in a digital camcorder and set about making movies.

Adaptec DVpics Plus

This is the true all-in-one approach to DVD: a three-port FireWire capture card, video-editing program and authoring tool bundled together. As such, it's sure to appeal to anyone who has a digital camcorder but no way to transfer footage to a computer.

The video capture and editing component is a cut-down version of MGI VideoWave 4.0. It lacks advanced features like TimeWarp and Chroma Keying, but is still perfectly capable and easy to use. Its simple storyline approach - just drag and drop edited clips into the right order - is ideal for beginners.

Sonic MyDVD 3.0 is also bundled. This straightforward, if rather limited, authoring tool supports both Mini DVD (DVD content on a CD-R) and DVD formats. You start by designing a title page for your digital video project. The templates are universally cheesy, although you can create your own unique designs. Next, you import the video clips from your hard disk and link them to menu buttons.

DVpics Plus includes a software DVD player, so that every time you burn a Mini DVD project it can be played on any CD-ROM drive. Smart thinking, but it's a pity that VCD (video CD) format isn't supported. There's also no disguising the awkward lack of integration between VideoWave and MyDVD.

MGI VideoWave 5.0

This is precisely why MGI's VideoWave 5.0 package is so appealing. Here, DVD authoring is an integral part of the main program. Simply capture digital video from a camcorder, edit and apply special effects and titles, 'produce' the finished movie in an appropriate format - usually MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 - and burn it straight to a CD-R or DVD-R disc.

VCD, Mini DVD and DVD formats are supported, but not SVCD (super video CD). If you already have a collection of MPEG or AVI clips saved on your hard drive, VideoWave cleverly converts them into the appropriate format on the fly during the production or authoring process.

There are fairly basic options for customising menus. For instance, a button can display any frame from the clip it's linked to, and a background image and soundtrack can be added to liven up the presentation. It's also possible to split clips into shorter chapters to help a standalone DVD player navigate to specific sections. However, this is only achieved by manually scrolling through the movie and hitting the Add Chapter button at roughly the appropriate points - a rather clunky affair.

One worrying point: try as we might - and we experimented with various CD-RW drives as well as the DVD model - we couldn't get VideoWave 5.0 to burn a VCD file successfully. The developer is aware of compatibility problems with some drives and is working towards a fix. As we were preparing this story, Roxio was in the process of acquiring MGI - although the deal had not been finalised.

Roxio VideoPack 5.0

Roxio VideoPack supports VCD, SVCD and DVD but not, surprisingly, Mini DVD. There are no video capture or editing tools, but you can work with video clips in just about any format. Similar to VideoWave 5.0, VideoPack transcodes them for the job in hand during authoring.

We were particularly taken with the virtual disc image feature, which lets you save and play back an entire project from the hard drive before committing it to disc. With blank DVD-R media still costing a packet, it's an eminently sensible way of checking that everything works as it should, particularly navigation between the main menu, submenus and video clips.

In fact, a tree-like menu structure is automatically created as you drag and drop clips, still images and soundtracks into the project window. It's similar to building a hyperlinked Web site: very useful for more complex projects, but overkill if all you want to do is showcase your summer holiday footage.

Animated buttons on the DVD title page play scaled-down versions of the clips to which they link, and the package includes software DVD and VCD players for previewing finished projects on your PC. We found the entire authoring process intuitive, rewarding and as flexible as you could wish for.

Overall, we were very impressed with Roxio VideoPack 5.0. However, at around $1000, it prices itself out of the beginner market.

Veritas RecordNow MAX

You would think that a product claiming an ability to "create video CDs and DVDs" would be capable of authoring proper DVD video. We certainly did, but searched in vain for such a feature on RecordNow MAX. Rather, this Veritas package is an advanced CD and DVD recording utility with a bit of VCD support thrown in as an afterthought.

After some perseverance, we figured out that RecordNow treats a VCD project like a data CD: you simply burn a fully prepared and correctly formatted MPEG-1 video file straight to CD-R - or that's the theory. In practice, the program rejected every file we threw at it, even when we used VideoWave to produce video files that exactly matched the VCD standard. A frustrating business, all for the want of a format conversion utility.

On the upside, it's as easy to burn files to DVD-R/RW media as it is to CD-R/RW. Packet-writing software lets you treat the discs like floppies, which is useful for regular data archival. What you explicitly cannot do, though, is design and author a DVD video project.

Verdict

DVD authoring is an immature market - and it shows. Not one of these software packages performed flawlessly in our tests, and there are no guarantees that they will work with your existing hardware (or indeed that your standalone DVD player will be able to play the resulting discs).

That said, we'd use VideoPack 5.0 for advanced DVD authoring - although it is priced for the professional user. DVpics Plus may lack sophisticated editing and VCD support, but the bundled FireWire "card makes it a sound option for beginners. Overall, though, VideoWave 5.0 wins due to its powerful editing and logical integration of DVD authoring within the program interface. Let's hope that MGI overcomes the VCD problems.

Adaptec DVpics Plus

This true all-in-one approach and ease of use would appeal to beginners, but awkward integration "between software components and the lack of "support for VCD format are drawbacks.

Price: $169.

Phone: (02) 9416 0687.

URL: www.adaptec.com.

MGI VideoWave 5.0

Simplicity and the fact that DVD authoring is an integral part of the main program make VideoWave "an appealing option.

URL: www.mgisoft.com.

Price: $US130.

Roxio VideoPack 5.0

Overall, Roxio's VideoPack 5.0 is an impressive package, but its price will scare off many potential users.

URL: www.roxio.com.

Price: $US500.

Veritas RecordNow MAX

This Veritas package is an advanced CD and DVD recording utility with a bit of VCD support thrown in as an afterthought.

Price: $US39.

URL: www.stompinc.com.

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