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eDVD 4 from Sonic Solutions

eDVD 4 from Sonic Solutions
A CreativeCOW Product Review


Dr. James Manz reviews eDVD 4 from Sonic Solutions

Dr. James Manz MD Dr. James Manz MD

©2006 James Manz, MD and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Article Focus:
In this article, Dr. James Manz gives an overview and review of Sonics' latest upgrade of eDVD to version 4. This is a major upgrade that brings “Hollywood-level” capabilities of adding ROM content to DVD video to just about anyone who authors discs.


Adding web links and ROM content is not a 'new concept'. Options to do some web linking were available a few years ago with Pinnacle's Impression Pro (formerly of Minerva) and with entry level applications like SpruceUp (formerly of Spruce Technologies). However, the link options were limited, and generally only possible when dvd content was burned to a CD--'mini-DVDs'. eDVD was originally an option for ROM enhancement of titles for owners of Sonic's Mac authoring products (Fusion and Creator). At the time, finished products would only work on PC's--so none of the solutions were widely used. Apple's DVD Studio Pro uses DVD@ccess for web and file linking. Although it is much more robust than previous options, it functions best on a relatively 'current' Mac, and has had sporadic success on the PC platform.

eDVD was split away from its Mac ties, and became eDVD 3--the first stand alone offering for dvd video enhancement that was essentially authoring application independent, based on a widely used software interface, and actually worked on both platforms.

As reliable as eDVD 3 was, it really was only a 'taste' of what was possible. Enter eDVD 4, a major upgrade that allows for nearly limitless file linking, and giving the 'average joe' nearly the same potential for ROM enhancement previously only seen on major Hollywood titles. While eDVD 3 was limited to PDF, web linking, and a handful of image file types; eDVD 4 now allows one to link to just about any file type or executable imaginable. Since the workflow is very similar between eDVD 3 & 4, I refer one to Alex Alexzander's excellent review/tutorial of eDVD 3 last year. I hope to expand on that, and highlight the improvements:

Getting Started
As with eDVD 3, version 4 is a PC only application--that by no means its usefulness is limited to one platform. DVD Studio Pro and iDVD projects (as well as just about any application that can create a dvd-video compliant VIDEO_TS folder) will work just fine, even-though the video content was created on a Mac. In fact, one really doesn't even need a VIDEO_TS folder at all, as long as you know what title set and chapter your links are connected to--but more on that later.

On launching eDVD 4, the start up process is a bit different than in the past, with four steps used to create a new project. The first step involves selecting a new project, and defining the name of the project and what folder you want to put it in. It's important you specify a folder and not the root of the drive, or the application will not work properly.

You then either decide to select a VIDEO_TS folder from a previously authored project, or to build your eDVD project without one (again, more on that later).



Step two involves selecting the Interactual Player skin the viewer of your dvd will see when they play your disc. There are 10 skins to choose from with the option to purchase the eDVD skin builder to customize your own.


Step three gives you the option to choose a screen display size for your Interactual Player. There are two fullscreen and two widescreen options to pick from.


The fourth and final step gives you the option to choose one of two stock splash screens for auto-install that viewers of your disc will see if they don't have the Interactual Player installed on their PC computers (the auto-launch is not available when the disc is viewed on a Mac). You can make your own customized background by creating a 400x500 JPEG image and placing it into the following folder:

Program Files/Sonic/eDVD/Interactual/InstallerGraphics/

When you select the browse button, your customized graphic will be available as a choice.





The eDVD 4 interface is very similar to eDVD 3 but more streamlined, and less cluttered. The video preview window is only present after you start the video simulation, and the window can be freely positioned where you want it (if you close the preview window and reopen, it will open in its original default screen position).




The project information pane is displayed only when you select the 'change project settings button'. You can change just about everything, except the project video. eDVD does not update itself to a newly selected VIDEO_TS folder, so changing it won't result in your ability to simulate and navigate through the new video.


The working interface is very similar to eDVD 3, except with expanded capabilities. The biggest changes are the added file types* (highlighted) that can be linked, and the ability to test the links directly adjacent to the link in question.


* PDF files were the only documents that could be linked previously. The document option now includes .doc, .txt, .wpd, and .rtf. Image file links include web supported formats--.jpeg, .png, and .gif. Other image formats like .psd, .bmp, .tif, etc. would be linked using the 'open file' option. The file would be opened by their respective associated program.

Virtually any file can be linked with the 'open file' option. The ability for the viewer to ultimately see or use the file would depend on whether or not their system has the appropriate associated program to open it. The graphic below is a representation of what the viewer might see if it does not:


The options for Link Target and DVD Action are unchanged.

The configuration for URL links and on-disc web links has changed, giving you more control over the browser window attributes, position, and behavior. Flash files and ondisc web links would use the 'Open HTML', and should have the 'Copy all files and subfolders in this location' checked.


If unselected, the link will ultimately not play properly from your final disc. Using the 'Check Link' button will launch the Flash file or web page even if you have forgotten to enable the option, because it uses the actual file and folder from your hard drive. Unfortunately it can lead you to believe all is right, but when you format your project, the necessary files will be missing and it won't work on your completed disc.

It's always best to do a complete build of your project, and go through a formal simulation of all of your links before finishing.

The simulation is done using the eDVD image folder contents, so it should behave just like your final disc would. If you have forgotten to include the needed folders, or have made incorrect file associations, you will be able to pick up the errors before formatting.


The process of mastering your eDVD enhanced disc is unchanged, but there are two exceptions that require mastering on a Mac for the links to work properly. Linking to folders and Mac executables require the formatting and mastering to be done with an application like Toast on an Apple computer to preserve the resource forks required for the links to function properly. All the rest of the links can be created and mastered on a PC and work as expected on a Mac. The image folder eDVD creates needs to be imported onto the Apple computer without corruption of the folders content. Using MacDrive on a PC to read and write to Mac formatted removable hard drives does not work. You need a PC formatted drive that can be read by the Mac to transfer the folder. The image folder is imported from the removable hard drive onto the Mac, and Toast is used to master the disc.

In Toast, the option for data disc is selected, and under the advanced tab, DVD-ROM (UDF). You would import your AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders as you typically would.


The contents of the eDVD image folder are then imported.


DVD Studio Pro can also be used to format and output to a recordable disc or to DLT. By selecting the format tab in DVD Studio Pro (versions 3 and beyond), a pop-up box gives the user the option to direct DVD Studio Pro to the folder containing the ROM content. One simply enables the option for adding DVD-ROM data, and clicking on the “choose” button to direct DVD Studio Pro to the eDVD 4 image folder.

"Nit-Picky"
To avoid ending on a sour note, I thought I would list the things I found I didn't like, or at least thought could be improved. They are more or less nuisances than major issues or drawbacks.

The InterActual Player allows for access to the ROM content but does not directly provide the ability to view DVD-video--you need an appropriate decoder already installed on your machine. eDVD utilizes the decoder on your system for video simulation during project creation. Unfortunately some decoders work better than others with eDVD, and if you have more than one decoder on the same machine, you may run into conflicts. I initially had a problem with eDVD shutting down during video preview that ultimately turned out to be a conflict with my decoder. I had an older version of Sonic's Cineplayer and WinDVD. After uninstalling both applications and installing the latest version of Sonic's Cineplayer I had no more issues.

There is no ability to set up a default preference folder for project creation. If you are like me and don't like building repetitively to your boot drive, you will have to browse and reassign the folder with each new project.

If you are also like me and tend to save multiple versions of your project (so if you do a lot of changes and find out you want to revert to an earlier state), you do not have the option to 'save as'. It's easy enough to fix or change things that not having that feature isn't a killer, but there are times that reverting to an earlier state is nice.

You are allowed to open the project settings and change just about everything that you set up when you first created the project. You are even allowed to change the VIDEO_TS folder. This would lead you to believe that after changing it, the Chapter Name listing would update to reflect the new titles and chapters. That is not the case, and can lead to confusion or mistakes.

When selecting the DVD Action “play”, you will be confronted with a warning screen. It's nice to know, but once you've seen it a couple of hundred times you wish there was a way to disable it's appearance.

Each time you browse to select your eDVD link content, you are taken by default to the eDVD Projects folder in your “My Documents” folder on your boot drive. Again, it would be nice that after the first link is made, eDVD 'remembered' where you got it; or you have the option to define by default where you will store your ROM content in preparation for your project. I tend to not like cycling a lot of files and folders on my boot drive, and personally would like to be able to designate a different location.

A nice bonus is the inclusion of a 'light' version of RecordNow for mastering your discs. Unfortunately, it's a more watered down version than the one included with eDVD 3. I frequently output ROM enhanced projects from DVD Studio Pro to an image file. The prior version of RecordNow allowed for burning discs from image files, the newer version requires you to “upgrade” your application. I guess if it's free, one shouldn't complain (but I uninstalled the 'new' version and reloaded my old one).

Conclusions:
I really liked the initial release of this application, but was left wanting more. There were any number of Hollywood discs with far more advanced features than the handful of options available with eDVD 3. This upgrade is a major one, and gives the user the ability to create simple to very complex ROM enhanced titles. One's imagination is really the only limit, since you can link just about anything to your dvd video. It does take some careful preplanning, but the fundamental elements for setting up your dvd video ahead of time are easy once you understand the concepts.

The application is a combination of the best of all worlds--powerful features, easy to learn, and authoring application independent. It is backwards compatible with prior eDVD 3 projects, so no fear on uninstalling a prior version. The ability to customize the viewing experience is a big plus. There are ten skins to choose from, including a 'wedding skin'. For $49.95, there is an accessory available that will allow you to further customize the skins to your liking--including adding your own logo. In addition, you can create your own install splash screen. The little extras help to make your final product stand out from the rest, and it takes very little effort.

As you become familiar with the application, it is easy to create your own 'eDVD template'--you don't even need to use an actual VIDEO_TS folder to build and create the ROM content. If you have a 'stock' DVD video set up (like a wedding or event video) that also has 'stock' ROM content (i.e. high resolution wedding photos, web links to your business, etc.); then one has the ability to create a streamlined process of adding ROM content. Assuming one uses the same steps, menus, and order of content when creating the DVD video; then, the chapter and title set connections for the ROM links shouldn't vary from project to project. Because of that, you really don't need to output to a VIDEO_TS folder and import into eDVD 4 each time you make a new disc. You would only need to do it the first time, so you can find which titleset/chapter mark is associated with your particular ROM content. Future ROM content builds with eDVD 4 can just have the ROM content exchanged. eDVD 4 doesn't 'care' whether or not the video content has changed; you just need to make sure that the title set/chapter marks haven't changed. The actual VIDEO_TS folder is only needed if you want to emulate and check your links (which you would want to do with the first build to be sure). Once you are confident of the links, you really only need to output the changed ROM content for a new project. In fact, you don't even need a VIDEO_TS folder at all ( a 'no VIDEO_TS project'), as long as you know where the particular titleset/chapter marks are.

eDVD 4 can be used to enhance almost any disc. Corporate training DVD's can have links to PDF files, actual PowerPoint presentations, intranet links within the organization for additional information, etc. Event videographers can have links to their website, high resolution photographs, HD clips or samples, and much more. It's now easy to add ROM content to your titles, and if you're like me, you find more and more ways to do so with each project. It not only separates your work from the 'rest of the herd', but will also prepare you for the next generation HD discs, which will ultimately allow for even wider options of adding enhanced content.

Alex Alexzander with his review of version 3 left me little room to rate this program higher. This is a solid application, that in my opinion is a major upgrade from version 3. There is virtually no limit to the amount or types of ROM content that one can add to their DVD video titles. However, there are a few quirks that prevent me from giving it a full “5 COWS”.

Rating: 4.5/5 COWS (if I could assign 4.8567 I would, but I'm left with half COW increments).




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Comments

Re: eDVD 4 from Sonic Solutions
by Javier Valledor
Just wondering what people are using now that eDVD is no longer available? or can you purchase a download from somewher?

many Thanks

Javier


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