This is the second in a series of reviews from me of the new Adobe Creative Suite 4. My first review covered Premiere Pro CS4 and Soundbooth CS4. Premiere Pro exceeded my expectations; Soundbooth CS4 was a good upgrade, but still had some room to grow. What was particularly impressive though, was Adobe's continued integrations of the Creative Suite programs. Common design interface, and the ability to swap metadata and dynamic linking between programs make each program more effective when used together rather than as a standalone program. So, Soundbooth as a solo sound editing program may not be as good as Audition or Sound Forge, but coupled with Premiere Pro, it becomes a much more effective tool. With this in mind, let's take a closer look at Encore CS4, Adobe's DVD creation software. One of the smartest things Adobe has done with this program is package it with Premiere Pro, their video editing software. Encore CS4 works so well with Premiere Pro, that it's hard to imagine it working as well on its own.
Here are a couple highlights of what's NEW in Encore CS4:
One of the best aspects of Encore CS4 is the ability to dynamically link other Adobe programs inside of Encore without having to transcode. In the past, you'd have to transcode (convert) your media inside of Premiere Pro, export it, then import it again inside of Encore; a too-slow process for most people. Now, you can simply click the project file in After Effects, use the standard alt-tab to get to Encore, then just drop it into the Project window for use immediately in your DVD project.
Blu Ray Pop-Up Menus
Another excellent addition to Encore CS4 is the improved ability to create Blu Ray discs, and now you can create “pop-up” menus for Blu Ray Discs. With Blu Ray now the de facto standard for HD DVD's and with prices plummeting for hardware to burn Blu Ray, Encore is poised to become the standard for consumer Blu Ray DVD encoding. No other consumer software package has this feature. You'd have to buy professional ($40,000 +) software to be able to create “pop-up” menus.
HD Flash Export for the Net
Encore CS4 allows you to export your DVD project as a flash .swf file for use in creating a web page which will display your DVD content along with the interactivity you've built into it. You can also create web links and associate them with buttons on your menus. Encore CS4 has a wide range of flash export types, including HD level video which is displayed in the standard .flv format or the newer f4v flash format.
There are other upgrades like export/import of subtitles as a .txt file, dual-layer disc suport and firewire video out for preview on a standard TV screen, but the ones I've listed here are the main improvements.
The Encore Workflow
A couple years ago, I took on a huge DVD creation project when I agreed to make a DVD for a college reunion at my old Theater Dept. There were hundreds of photos, video and audio to include, and while I found Encore 2.0 to be a good program to use, I wish I had Encore CS4. I could have saved hours and hours of work. Which brings me to the main point about Encore CS4: it's much easier to use! I sat down with an outline of the DVD workflow I had written up and 2 hours later I was playing my newly created DVD with motion menus, slide show and audio, on my television. And a half hour after that, I had the same project exported as a flash (.swf) page and was testing it on my website (it worked perfectly). And I only looked at Adobe's new online help (Resource Central) once, when I couldn't figure out how to delete something in the flowchart window.
This is how DVD creation should be. Most people are not going to make complex DVD's with multiple menus, hidden easter eggs and all that. And although you CAN do all of those things with Encore CS4, it's really as simple as drag and drop to create perfectly fine DVD's. If you pre-plan your work by creating a flowchart of your DVD, it's even easier. Let me tell you a little about how it's done.
Basically, when you open Encore CS4, you'll find a similar interface to most of the other Adobe products. There is a window for adding project media, another for previewing it, a third for creating timelines or slide shows and a forth for button/icon routing. The basic workflow is; planning the DVD, assembling the assets, creating the project elements (buttons, menus), specifying the navigation of the DVD, transcoding the assets (making the still images, video and audio compatible with your project settings), previewing and checking your DVD and then finally burning the disc or exporting the project as a DVD image or as a Flash webpage.
I was able to easily import a project from Premiere Pro CS4 and add it as a timeline for my DVD test. Still pix, music and another video (different format) were imported by double-clicking in the project window (you can set your workspace to pre-sets or create your own and save it). Menu creation was particularly easy using Photoshop, as Encore CS4 accepts .psd format (you can dynamically link the media from Photoshop just like you can with Premiere Pro).
Encore CS4 comes with a very large assortment of media for use in your DVD menu creation. You can choose from different styles (corporate, tech, etc) and tweak them even further if you like. Creating buttons (navigation points for your DVD) is as easy as right-clicking and choosing “create as button”. You can actually use button icons or practically any image. I used the title of my video as a clickable button along with the standard “play” to start the main movie playing.
Navigation of the DVD is probably where you'll spend most of your time. Encore CS4 provides a variety of ways to connect your DVD elements with each other. I chose the “workflow” window, which provides you with a visual image of how your DVD is structured. Once I had my media in place, I could use the “pick-whip” from one of the button properties in the menu on the right side of the screen and drag it to the media I wanted it to be associated with in the workflow window. You could also connect it with the same media in the Project window or by using the drop down menus in the properties window if you like. I found the workflow window method to be easiest and most intuitive, as it updated immediately and I could see how all of the project elements were connected.
Once I had the DVD navigation laid out, I previewed the DVD and saw that I needed to tweak the elements a bit more. Back in Photoshop, I fixed some text, and when I came back to Encore CS4, it was immediately updated. How cool is that? Encore CS4 has an excellent “check your DVD” function which you can access either via the standard Windows drop-down menu or through right-clicking. You can run a check of your DVD, or choose what elements you want to examine. Encore CS4 then feeds you a list of what might be missing in your project (a common one is forgetting to set your end action on a button or video). You then double click that element and it pops up for you to fix.
Once the entire project is free of problems, you are now ready to export the DVD project. Encore CS4 gives you the options of transcoding the media and burning to a disc immediately, creating an image of the DVD (for later burning), creating a “Master Disc” (writes to digital liner tape) or exporting to Flash for a website. My project was just under 2 gigs in size with about 25 jpgs, two videos in different formats and mp3 audio. It took about 20 minutes to transcode the media and then burn to a disc (20x speed). I was using a quad core processor on a Windows XP SP3 computer with medium-level hardware. This is a much, much faster rate than any I've had with Encore in the past. I think Adobe has done a great job of updating Encore to work with quad core cpu's. Also, in several hours of work I didn't have a single crash or program freeze.
Adobe has done a great job with Encore CS4. I found the interface much improved from previous versions. The program was easy to use and produced excellent results in a very short time. I didn't get a chance to test the HD and Blu Ray functions of Encore CS4, but from everything else I've worked with in Encore CS4, it's a nifty upgrade that's got my imagination going. I'd really like to try my hand at re-creating some of the DVD menus from movies in my own collection.
By unifying their product lineup for the Creative Suite CS4, Adobe has created programs that work so well together you really need the entire Suite to work with. The fact that Encore CS4 is bundled with Premiere Pro CS4 is a smart idea. Once you finish with a project in Premiere Pro it is so easy to link it to a DVD project in Encore. And with Encore being so easy to use, the combination of the two is a real winner. And I've only scratched the surface of what Encore CS4 can do.
Highly recommended software. If you want to create quality DVDs, this is the program for you.
Note: Adobe has converted to an online help system that is very useful. You can find tutorials, a good manual (in pdf format) and decent community help. They've also created a nice “Adobe TV” site where you can access videos and tutorials (mostly from Lynda.com, a great fee-based tutorial site). Can't help wishing there was a published manual. Perhaps it's just me, but I like having a manual on the desk in front of me as I'm learning. Switching from screen to screen is okay, but not as good as using the manual. On the other hand, the search function for the online help is superb.
Plus, Renderosity's Adobe Photoshop Forum is a good place to look for help in creating layered menus for Encore CS4.
Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 $799.00 (USD)
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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