DVD Studio Pro 4:

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
By Adam Bertocci

The average consumer will never need anything more than iDVD, Apple’s basic comes-with-the-computer DVD authoring software. Yes, the default themes are obnoxious, but the program is surprisingly intuitive. Still, there comes a time when you need a little more power, the tools to customize your DVD to your specifications. For professional design and authoring, the Mac community’s longstanding four-hundred-pound gorilla has been DVD Studio Pro.

The software has grown up with the Mac as it’s gone from crazy outsider to mainstay of the film and video post-production world, and version 4 promises the best results. The power is certainly there, but a sadly clunkier interface may mean that only high-end professionals will like the program, whereas older versions were more suitable for the nebulous ‘prosumer’ market.

Integration with Final Cut Pro has improved; Apple’s new suite of post-production applications aims to have editing, scoring, sound design, motion graphics and DVD production all working together at once in a multitasking environment, which some may find refreshing and very Maclike, and others, used to the still somewhat linear world of moviemaking, may have trouble adjusting to. Still, the notion is intriguing. DVD Studio Pro and Final Cut Pro work together through the bridge of Compressor, a sort of expanded set of options for when the old Export window just doesn’t give you enough control.

And it’s not to say that control is bad, but the Macintosh philosophy has always been about keeping things easy and simple, letting the computer iron out the details that Windows users were used to. Not only does DVD Studio Pro 4’s feature set boggle the mind, but the interface has a curiously dark, unMaclike feel, with lots of buttons and meters your correspondent feels afraid to touch.

Speaking of buttons, version 4 offers a lot of in-software options to make buttons, lots of different shapes and text choices and shadings… Clicking through the tabs on the palette, I was glad to have all the options, but wouldn’t you be building these in Photoshop or After Effects anyway, with the rest of the menu? Am I needlessly overconforming to the old mindset, or is there a certain amount of overcrowding the box at the expense of smooth functionality?

To Apple’s credit, some things about DVD Studio Pro have become easier; I appreciated being able to just drag my movie file into the application and have it encode for me in the background, just like iDVD, without being forced to jump through hoops if I wasn’t comfortable. And flipping back and forth between standard definition and the new high-definition standard, just like the new Final Cut Pro, is a breeze.

Perhaps an analogy is in order. iDVD is like living in a small farm town, and the old DVD Studio Pro was like living in a city, but not a huge city-Columbia, South Carolina, perhaps, or Evanston, Illinois. There were big buildings and a highway, but nothing frightening. It is thus disconcertingly fitting that one of the new version’s default themes is New York City’s Times Square at night. Lots of bright lights, but for a tourist, it’s hard to get around.