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Jim Harvey reviews Sonic Foundry DVD Architect Ver. 1.0c

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Jim Harvey reviews Sonic Foundry DVD Architect Ver. 1.0c
A Creative COW "Real World" Product Review


Jim Harvey reviews DVD Architect

Jim Harvey Jim Harvey
JHV Digital
New York, USA

© 2003 Jim Harvey and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Article Focus:
In the past, when Jim Harvey's clients requested a dvd, he always sent his finished work out for someone else create the dvd. It just seemed there were too many problems, too many questions until he discovered Sonic Foundry's Vegas + DVD. Now it's "Need a DVD? Great. No problem with DVD Architect."

Vegas + DVDI've always sent out my finished work to have a DVD made for customers who requested it, but I have also always kept abreast of the “burn it yourself" threads that can be found almost anywhere. In reading and researching, it seemed that there were all kinds of problems that people were having when attempting to burn their own DVD's. The problems appeared to intensify when the user wanted to add more creative touches to the disc such as chapters, sub menus, scene files and background music and graphics.

The information was conflicting as well. “Use THIS program”, “Mux your audio”, “Convert your files with this or that”. It was a whirlwind of confusion and conflict. To read all the advice left me knowing one thing, I would continue to send out my footage and have someone ELSE do the work.

Then something happened that changed my opinion and my way of working. First, I found (or should say “rediscovered”) Sonic Foundry's Vegas 4.0. (read my Cow review elsewhere on this site). It was so powerful and flexible that I simply stopped using my “other” NLE altogether. Using Vegas 4.0 gave me almost everything that I needed to do my work. It interfaced perfectly with my compositing work in AE and sucked in any manner of file that I threw at it. But the REAL treat was the DVD Architect 1.0 that came with Vegas 4.0+DVD.

The first thing I did was to print out the manual and read it twice. It seemed that such a simple program couldn't possible deliver the quality DVD that I was paying for from outside vendors.

WRONG WRONG WRONG! I played around with the program and set up a simple DVD menu that had the stock background theme ( there are several themes that accompany the program, you can pick and choose the style that you like or create your own). I tested the completed project on the computer and it seemed to work just fine. Of course, I didn't have a DVD burner to really see if this would output as well to disk as it was on my monitor. Well off to the local Computer Store to buy an internal burner. Everyone raved about the Panasonic AO-5, but naturally, no one had it in stock. I decided on a Sony DRU-510A internal burner. I liked the fact that it would handle +/-R +/- RW and CD. Based on conversations with others, I picked up a box of 10 +R DVD blanks. These 4.7 Gig blanks are allegedly compatible with the largest number of DVD players out there so I figured I'd see how they fared.

I took the compilation that I had assembled in DVD Architect and following the directions to the letter, proceeded to burn an 8 minute montage that I was working on for a customer. I had converted the avi file to mpeg-2 in Vegas so there was only the audio to convert. The entire burn process took a little less than 15 minutes. I took the ejected DVD from the burner and popped it into my DVD player, hit the PLAY key and sat back expecting to be disappointed (after all, this simply COULDN'T work as well as I'd want it to). The screen lit up with the montage filling the entire 54” diagonal big screen and it looked amazing! The audio was clear, and coming from both speakers, the stereo separation worked perfectly and the picture was crisp and clean with no judder, or jiggle. Solid as a rock!

This was too good to be true, so I busied myself creating a disk with sub-menus and chapters. It took a little bit of reading and some dithering around to get myself thinking properly, but all in all, the manual was quite well written and got me through the rough spots. There could be a little more clarity on some parts of the manual in terms of layout etc. but all in all, reading the manual was a wise investment of my time.

So on to the chapter project:

I assembled about 45 minutes of footage that I had of the New York Motorcycle show that I had shot for a client. I replaced the background with a still photo he liked and created several mpeg-2's of the footage that I had used in his presentation. To that I added a sub-menu and some scene files that could be accessed independent of the main video. Chapter markers were added to see if I could get to them while the video was playing on the deck. I invested a couple of hours setting everything up and double and triple checking myself. The process does get faster once you get your head around the system.

As you can see in figure 1, the standard theme is just a gradient blue screen. To this you can add your movie or chapter clips.

Figure 1



The main menu screen. Clips can be dragged & dropped onto the menu screen. The clip names will display under the thumbnail, or you can manually edit the clip name.


In the second example (figure 2) you can see that I changed the background of the menu by adding a jpg file that was relevant to the project.

Figure 2



In this example, I removed the clip names and just arranged them around the background image. The main menu title (in this example, “City Customs” can be linked to a file or simply left as a title. Any font may be used.

If you look at the screenshot, you can see that the layout is nicely arranged so that you can see the clips available as well as the explorer for you to select the folder that you want to work from. You can arrange this in several different ways to reflect your particular style of working and organization.

If you drag and drop a clip on the menu, and then highlight it, you can work with the different properties such as adding or changing text, sizing the thumbnail, using a frame around the thumbnail or even animating the thumbnail to play the video it represents. You can also choose which frame is displayed on the thumbnail.

If you click on the “scene selection" text (which I added as a sub-menu item) you are taken to the scene selection sub-menu. Here you can add different scenes, out takes, behind the scenes video and the like. All of this is very straightforward and quite simple to accomplish.


As you can see in figure 3, you have again, your choice of using thumb-nails or text to link to the scenes that you want to include on the DVD. By using the ability to totally customize the screen and the included items in terms of size and appearance, you can build an exceptional menu based DVD that will rival anything that you can get from an outside vendor.


Figure 3



Notice that you can choose from the menu at the right exactly how you want to display the thumbnail link. The links on the left side of the menu are text and images, while the links on the right of the menu are simple text links.




At any time you can preview your work by pressing the preview button at the top of the menu bar. This opens a screen that will play the DVD as if it were already burned. A small remote comes up and allows you to test all the links and functions. A really nice feature.

Once you have all your clips arranged the way you'd like and you are ready to create your DVD, you can click File>Optimize DVD and a window will open that will tell you what clips if any need to be rendered or converted. If the file does not need to be re-compressed, there will be a green check mark next to it (see figure 4). If re-compression is necessary, a yellow diamond will display, and if you force re-compression on an already compliant file, then a red diamond will display. This is a fast and foolproof way to check your project before you complete the process. By making sure that your files are already compliant, you can cut the burn time dramatically.

Figure 4



Files that need re-compression display with a Yellow Diamond. Compliant files have a green check mark that indicates no re-compression is necessary (mpeg-2 files)

I think that Sonic Foundry has really hit a home run with this package. DVD Architect works right out of the box. There is a very short learning curve (although I imagine that the more you work with this program the more tricks you'll discover). The output is as professional as you could want with none of the craziness that others would have you believe is a part of DVD authoring.

The interface is simple and effective. The manual, while I'd like to see a little more depth and some more sophisticated themes available, is readable and informative.

But the bottom line is that DVD Architect fulfills its mission and allows beginner or expert to construct a professional DVD presentation with a minimum of hassle and headache.

Cow Rating:

Add some more sophisticated themes, and a little more depth to the manual and you'd have 5 cows easily.
For what it is, 4 1/2 cows and a MUST BUY Rating!



Jim Harvey
JHV Digital



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