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Apple DVD Studio Pro: 
    Professional DVD Authoring on the Mac  (7/2002)

    by Douglas Dixon

DVD Studio Pro Interface
Importing Assets -- Menus and Buttons
Video Tracks - Alternate Streams
Preview and Check - Building a Disc
Professional DVD Authoring

By the end of 2001, DVD authoring had come to the desktop, with DVD burners falling below $1000 towards $500, and accessible DVD authoring tools at around $100. These "personal" authoring tools, like Apple iDVD and Sonic MyDVD and DVDit!, help automate the process of compiling a group of clips into a DVD production. You just drag and drop clip video clips, and the tools can automatically lay them out into menus, apply pre-designed graphical files, convert and compress into DVD media formats, and even burn the project to DVD.

However, these clip and slide show compilations are not able not take full advantage of the more sophisticated capabilities of the DVD-Video format, such as alternate audio and video streams, subtitles, custom button selection graphics, programmable scripting, and playlists.

DVD Studio Pro ( is Apple's full-featured DVD authoring tool ($999 street), which provides support for every feature of the DVD-Video standard while still maintaining a quite accessible interface.


DVD Studio Pro

DVD Studio Pro 1.0 was introduced in January 2001, along with iDVD and the original Apple Power Macs equipped with the SuperDrive DVD recorder. DVD Studio Pro originally ran only under Mac OS 9.2, as did the version 1.2 update, released in January 2002, which added support for external DVD-R/RAM Firewire drives and improved the output of DLT tapes.

DVD Studio Pro version 1.5, introduced in spring 2002, supports both Mac OS X and OS 9, and provides better integration with Final Cut Pro by importing marker points.

DVD Studio Pro supports the full range of DVD-Video features, including:
- Unlimited menus, with up to 36 buttons per menu
- Still or motion menus (buttons and/or backgrounds)
- Interactive buttons and links with custom graphics highlights, from layered Photoshop files
- Buttons over video tracks
- Up to 99 video tracks per project
- Up to 9 different video angles per track, with chapter markers, and multiple stories
- Up to 8 audio streams per track for multi-lingual titles
- Up to 32 subtitle streams per track for multi-lingual titles
- Slide shows with background audio
- Dolby Digital AC-3 format surround-sound audio
- Web links using Apple DVD@CCESS technology for computer playback
- Supports both standard 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen formats.
- Supports both single-sided DVD-5 and dual-layer DVD-9 projects

DVD Studio Pro Interface

The DVD Studio Pro interface is built around a Graphical View window that shows the basic elements used in the DVD design, and can draw lines to show the navigational paths between them. Each element is shown as a folder, or tile, Menu, Track, Slideshow, Track, or Script. Each tile contains a thumbnail image of its contents, plus icons for each type of component it can contain (menu buttons, track subtitles, slideshow slides), with the count of its current contents.


The Project View window at the bottom left of the screen then provides a tabbed interface for each type of element, with a hierarchical folder-like display of each component in the project.

You begin working with DVD Studio Pro by importing assets into the Assets window at the bottom center of the screen. You then can view the assets by type, and use them in your project. DVD Studio Pro keeps track of the asset types and characteristics, and only permits appropriate assets to be used in the different elements of your project.

To create your DVD, you add new tiles for the different types of elements. Then click on each tile icon to open a Container window to add new assets. The tiles also have associated Editor windows to edit Menus, Tracks, Slideshows, and Scripts.

As you view and edit the components of your project, the Property Inspector window along the right side of the screen is updated so you can examine and edit all the properties associated with the current object.

Importing Assets

One major difference between more automated personal DVD authoring tools like iDVD and professional tools like DVD Studio Pro is that the professional tools do not provide built-in conversion of assets to DVD-compatible formats. Instead, the professional tools put you in complete control of preparing the source material, and compressing it as desired for your DVD production.

For video clips, DVD Studio Pro is designed to complement Final Cut Pro, so you can first prepare and segment the individual clips in Final Cut Pro. The DVD Studio Pro product includes a MPEG plug-in for QuickTime that you then can use to convert QuickTime video files to DVD-compliant MPEG-2. This plug-in actually works with any QuickTime-compliant application.

For audio clips, DVD Studio Pro accepts PCM or MPEG 1 Layer 2 audio. The product also includes the Apple A.Pack Dolby AC-3 encoder application for creating full surround-sound DVD audio.

Menus and Buttons

DVD Studio Pro builds menus in a Menu Editor window. You import the background image, define button hot spot regions over the background, assign button selection graphics, and then set the action links for when a button is activated.


For menu graphics and buttons to show selection state, DVD Studio Pro uses layered Photoshop files. You prepare the menu background image in one or more layers, and then add the button graphics (normal, selected, activated) for each button in additional layers. If you are consistent in using the layers and naming conventions it is then a simple matter to assign the layers to the corresponding buttons.

DVD Studio Pro actually provides two different methods of specifying buttons, the Photoshop layer method, with images for each button state, and the standard highlighting method, with a colored outline highlighting the button region.

DVD Studio Pro supports both still image and motion video menus. Motion menus simply loop a video clip, so they can be used to provide a moving background, or to composite thumbnail video clips in each button location. Video clips used for motion menus need to be composted with all the menu background graphics and buttons.

Menus also can have a timeout action, to start playing the DVD by default if the user does not choose a button.

Video Tracks

Video tracks in DVD Studio Pro can be extremely sophisticated, beginning with multiple audio and subtitle streams (see below). Besides the main video stream, video tracks also can include alternate video angles. These are accessed by pressing the Angle button on a DVD remote control, and can be used to provide multiple views of a music concert.

DVD Studio Pro supports setting chapter markers in a video clip, so the viewer can skip quickly from chapter to chapter. You also can have a menu action jump directly to a marker point within a clip. Even better, you can define a Story, a playlist defined by a list of markers in play in order. In this way, you can burn one copy of a collection of clips to a DVD, and still be able to play multiple different paths through the video.

Alternate Streams

The DVD-Video format provides strong support for multi-lingual titles, with alternate audio tracks, subtitles, and even menus. With DVD Studio Pro, you can provide multiple versions of each menu, add audio streams and subtitles to a video track, and then tag them with an associated language. You can then use the setup menu of a set-top DVD player to specify a desired language, and it will select the associated streams from any DVD you play.

You can also use alternate streams for other purposes. Many movies on DVD provide an audio track with director's commentary, or a soundtrack-only track with no dialog. Similarly, subtitles can be used to add other kinds of textual commentary, or even graphics overlays.

DVD Studio Pro also includes a separate Subtitle Editor application for formatting subtitle text, and synchronize it to the video track. You also can import a subtitle text and time codes from a plain text file.


The DVD format also supports simple programmable logic, with variables, expressions, and logic functions, and the ability to change settings such as the current playback streams. You can create scripts to attach to menus and buttons, to respond to user input, change the default navigation and playback, and even provide random behavior.

DVD Studio Pro provides a Script Editor window for writing script statements. It provides convenient drop-down menus for the available script commands, expressions, variables, and DVD objects.

Preview and Check

As you develop your DVD project, you can play it back using the Preview mode in DVD Studio Pro to check out the visual design and navigation. You also can display a debugging Log window to confirm the current menu or track being played, and even to monitor the execution of scripts.

Besides the Project View window, DVD Studio Pro provides several other tools to verify the overall design and specific details of your project. You can use the Asset Files window to review all the asset files used in the project, and assign files for any undefined assets. You also can generate a text Description list of any specific element, or even the entire project. DVD Studio Pro generates an indented list of all the elements and each of their individual sub-components.

In addition, DVD Studio Pro provides three different kinds of Matrix View windows. The Assets Matrix provides cross-reference of how the available assets are assigned to different tracks. The Jumps Matrix cross-references how jumps and links are assigned to menus and buttons. The Layers Matrix cross-references how layers of Photoshop files are assigned to menus and buttons. If you are consistent in your project design and naming conventions for your assets, these Matrix views can provide a powerful overview of patterns in your project design. Even better, you can interact with these views, and use them to assign and deassign assets and elements.

Building a Disc

Finally, you can build your project and burn it to disc. DVD Studio Pro always first builds the project by combining and multiplexing the assets and elements into a DVD-format folder on hard disk, with the same VIDEO_TS directory and data files that can also be burned to a DVD disc. You can then record your project by burning it to disc, either DVD-R or DVD-RAM.

You also can export your project in order to make multiple copies, either to a DVD image file on hard disk, or to a DLT tape to be sent to a replication facility for manufacturing DVD discs.

Professional DVD Authoring

Apple has done a nice job with DVD Studio Pro to provide the full range of capability of the DVD-Video format without overwhelming you with complexity. The interface moves naturally from elements (tracks, menus) to components (audio and video streams, buttons) to details (default behavior, navigation actions).

DVD Studio Pro also provides a variety of helpful tools for reviewing your design, from the graphical view with different colored lines for navigational links, to asset and matrix views, to a full printout of the design in a text log window.

It provides several views to help you organize your assets, and can keep track of incomplete elements in your design for you to fill in later. It also checks that assets have valid formats for the intended use, and computes the bitrate when building the output disc.

DVD Studio Pro even has more features than described here, including support for slide shows of images with background audio, and web links that open automatically when played on a computer with the Apple DVD@CCESS technology.

However, DVD Studio Pro is a DVD layout and navigational design tool, and not a format converter, so you are responsible for creating all the video and audio clips, slide show images, and menu and button graphics before you start authoring a project. In particular, you must understand the DVD formatting and compression requirements when preparing your material, especially for NTSC or PAL video format or standard or widescreen aspect ratio. You also must be aware of DVD bitrate limitations, especially when combining multiple streams, and also ensure that alternate streams are all prepared in the same format.

If you are ready to step up from iDVD to a more sophisticated DVD authoring tool, then DVD Studio Pro can provide a lot of capability with a well-designed interface.


Apple DVD Studio Pro