Adobe?s new version of its DVD authoring program Encore 2.0 is amongst a raft of new Adobe releases. Steve Turner climbed the learning curve for us and gave it a test drive.
Encore 2.0 is a part of Adobe?s new Production Studio so the box was a very large one, equipped with enough new stuff to keep me learning until? ummmm the next lot comes out!
Now that Premiere has the ability to do DVD creation from the timeline, I actually wondered if I needed Encore at all but on closer inspection the limits are quickly reached ? the two are playing to different markets.
The simple answer is Premiere can do; but Encore does it much better with the main difference being you can import and create your own menu designs ? which of course you will want as a professional DVD author.
Encore for this test was installed as part of the overall Production Studio and no problems here. It does require activation, like Photoshop and Premiere, so keep that in mind when deciding where it will be installed. You have thirty days to do this bit and if you?re like me will leave it to the last day (because it?s a pain frankly). My workstation is not on the net so it?s a phone activation jobbie and that?s about as much fun as phoning Centrelink!
As with Premiere Pro 2, Encore has adopted a new look and layout – and I like the new look. Unlike Premiere, I?m happy to have it on one screen only and the default layout works very well. Should you need or wish to change, then it?s easy to drag and resize with the palettes changing shape and size in relation to each other. But, as I discovered with Premiere, you can unlock them and drag them anywhere on the desktop, so any kind of customised layout is feasible and then can be saved for later recall. At last, Adobe has managed to get the same look across all software products, so it really feels like a proper integrated video/graphics package.
One of the stock menus
What?s new then?
Again like Premiere, I feel that Adobe have managed to kick things up a lot and Encore 2.0 has the feel of a properly finished product. It is very intuitive (measured by the scientific ?do I need to read the manual?? test) and can be as simple or as complicated as you like.
Want to automate chapter points? ? no problem. Run a simple slideshow or have a zillion menus and sub-menus ? it?s all there.
Return of the slideshow
Have you noticed the quiet but relentless return of the dreaded slideshow? It only occurred to me recently (I know ? I?m a bit slow) that one unwelcome spin-off of the digital revolution is the digital slideshow. Just when we thought the projectors were safely buried in a cupboard somewhere, no longer able to bore you into a coma, along came easy to use slideshow creation software. ARGHHH! ? I can feel the will to live slipping away with the thought of thousands of family photos being lined up and played back one by painful one on the big screen.
But if you must, with Encore it?s a piece of cake. Load them into a directory, call them up in Encore and spit them to a timeline (with pan and scan if you wish). You can add narration and music (something soothing to help me sleep thanks) and a whole raft of transitions to make it as tasteless or arty as you wish. Try to keep the numbers down though (about two?s enough).
Just the word ?Flowchart? is normally enough to make me rush to the pub, but for once, it?s not about corporate idiocy but is actually useful. In fact it?s brilliant. Even if you?re really organised and draw diagrams of your DVD menus and links, it?s still hard to keep track while building the project (and it nearly always changes anyway ? unless you?re professionally anal and change the diagrams as well). In Encore, you can now press the switch and there you have it ? a fabulous diagram of your creation and how it all links together. This is worth having.
Adobe has made an add-on called ?Adobe Bridge? that can link all your Adobe related software to what is effectively a central database. Here you can happily organise all your bits and pieces and search for whatever files you need. Personally I can?t really see the use for small projects but perhaps it?s good for organisations working across large networks and where there is a need to have the production files well organised, otherwise Windows Explorer does the job for this little happy editor?
Editing in Encore? kind of
I guess it?s like you can kind of edit in After Effects too, but once you?ve grown used to a proper dedicated NLE (non-linear editor) you probably wouldn?t. It?s possible to lay down multiple video clips on the timeline and this could be useful for authoring video clips that are complete but come from different Premiere projects. You can now mix stills and video in Encore (previously you had to create a video file in Premiere of the stills and import back to Encore). You can add closed captions too, but only if you do an NTSC version. Not much use to the PAL world there ? hopefully that?ll change soon.
Chapter and verse
Automating chapter points may seem daft to a professional author, but if it?s a simple project why not? If you have just a few video clips and can separate them logically, then having the points added automatically makes sense. They can even run over multiple pages for scene selection for instance. If doing manual chapter points then I for one find it way easier to add them in Premiere first, simply because Premiere?s timeline is much better and you can be accurate much faster (thanks to Premiere?s better transport controls). Exporting the points is simply a matter of double clicking them and putting a title into the chapter field.
Very usefully, you can create chapter playlists which basically means you can have differing versions of the same content without having to duplicate the material. This of course means heaps of disc space saved which translates into being able to use a lower compression for higher quality.
What?s on the menu?
One of my favourite things about Adobe stuff is the way changing a file in one piece of software will straight away change it in all the other programs. Change a menu in Photoshop and the change shows in Encore (as it does in Premiere and After Effects too). This is really good for more efficient workflow (and your sanity) and makes for a much more creative production because you will make changes because it?s easier. Adobe calls this ?Dynamic Link? ? I call it good sense.
In a reverse of the normal workflow, you can create Menus in Encore that are Photoshop files with the normal layering and these can be edited in Photoshop if you want to. The buttons, text and images are stored as Photoshop .psd layers. To continue the connectivity of the Adobe products they?ve made the tools the same ? very nice for young players.
Speaking of Menus, you can see the final output on your external monitor via your Firewire cable which is very useful (so you don?t have to burn a DVD to see it didn?t work). Now you can also rotate menu items for the first time ? not all menu designers want a level playing field.
There?s a raft of new royalty free menus, buttons, and a zillion styles but they really only appeal to those not messing with the crayons in Photoshop ? good but limited and not really for professional use (because you?d look a right twerp if your menu?s the same as someone else?s). You could start by taking them to Photoshop and making them your very own though.
The sounding board
Audio gets a kick with support for DTS (6.1) and it automatically conforms the audio to the output standard. Then there?s also the ability to add audio to menus simply by dragging and dropping.
All in all I like this software. Encore 2.0 seems much more user-friendly which translates into greater creativity and therefore more fun (always a requirement). Better efficiency also means the ability to create deeper and more complicated DVDs than before (which equals better income, another requirement). It?s the great computer ?what if?? theory. You progressively ask ?what if I do this? – then I can add that etc?. If the software is easy to use, and Encore certainly is, then you?ll ask more ?what if?s? than the frustrating ?what the @#%$?!
But wait, there?s more? a second opinion
I?m no master in the DVD world so I asked Brett Howe from Channel Seven for his thoughts. Brett?s a highly talented senior graphic artist and also produces a program called ?Control Freaks? (shown in a billion countries and even available on your mobile!)
My first response, when I heard that there was a new ENCORE version due for release was ?At Last?. Adobe did OK with version 1 of Encore, but like any new application, it had its issues. The thing that really attracted me to Encore was the Photoshop integration. Photoshop is a staple of today?s design professionals, and anything that works with Photoshop, works with me!
Face To Face: the new user interface is welcome, as a ?neat desktop? makes for an efficient workspace. I just wish I could apply this theory to my physical workspace, which currently resembles a junkyard. Speaking of workspaces, let?s get straight to the flow chart interface. For some reason, Adobe avoided this kind of working environment in version 1. For us creative types, anything visual is going to make our job easier, and it just makes a whole lot more sense. Using the ?Pickwhip? tool from After Effects, to set your navigations is a breeze. Go with the flow I say!
On The Slide – it seems like Adobe has decided they want to sell this package to the consumer market, by including a slide show. There?s not much more to say about this. It may be used from time to time for EPK?s (Electronic Press Kits), but I don?t give it much value.
The Next Chapter: chaptering seems to have been improved. Automated chapter points can be added, not sure why, but manual chapter point tools are simple and straightforward… or back? then forward again if you like.
On the Line: support for multiple assets on the same timeline is a great addition. I have become accustomed to planning all my assets well in advance, but I always seem to forget something. Having the option to insert or trim elements on the timeline could be a big time saver.
DAT?s the Truth: for most professional jobs, your clients will want your projects mastered to a dat tape format called DLT (digital linear tape). I didn?t have a DLT hooked up to my test machine, but past versions of Encore had issues recognising the hardware on some configurations. We can only hope that these issues have been sorted out. I?m sure we?ll see other options soon, with larger capacity storage on the horizon, like Sony?s Blue-Ray, and the HD DVD format. It?s interesting to note that there is no support for any HD formats in ENCORE 2.0. Maybe we?ll see these as an update?
It?s A Wrap: Encore 2.0 is the next step in the evolution of a package, which will no doubt continue to expand and improve. This is where I add my wish list?
1. I?d like to see an encoding option that does a standards conversion. Or even better, how about a ?Convert Project To NTSC? and vice versa. Business is global these days, and it does my head in re-authoring for both TV standards. I guess the HD formats will make this point moot soon anyway.
2. Anybody who has used Photoshop for their menu design will have endured the joys of ?Encore Marking?. The thrilling job of labelling their layers and layer sets, so that Encore can recognise their buttons. Enough with the (+)(-). How about a little Photoshop integration, with some right click options for Button, Overlay etc.
3. If you don?t have a DLT, or can?t hire one, there is a serious lack of options. Somebody needs to take the initiative and create a new format for integrating copy protection. I?m no boffin, but I?m sure there?s somebody out there who can make a CSS-tagged, Macrovision-enabled disc image. Please!
4. Hyperlinks. I know there?s software available to add internet links in Encore, and links aren?t part of the ?DVD Specification?, but we live in a multi-media world now, and hyperlinks on DVDs just makes sense.
All in all, Encore 2.0 delivers. It has evolved from a slightly clumsy, and clunky DVD tool, to a more robust, feature rich, and most importantly, professional DVD Authoring Package. This is due mostly thanks to the Flow Chart workspace. Add to this the options that the Adobe Production Studio offers and most jobs should be a joy! And that?s the way it should be for creative professionals.
Value for money
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The overall package
The assumption that you're on the internet on your workstation