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You Oughta Be in Pictures

A sneak preview of the top DVD authoring programs.

Ever wish you could add links to the Internet from the DVDs you author? Or how about a Powerpoint presentation, MP3 files, or even just photos? Adding the content is easy enough with most programs, but finding it is often left up to the viewer’s ingenuity and willingness to poke around on the DVD using their PC. What good is including a PDF Christmas card with your DVD of your family vacation if your friends and family have to have to use Windows Explorer to find it?

Take 1

eDVD (from Sonic) is a third-party application that enables you to link chapters to outside content or other material already on the DVD. In addition to providing links to previously-hidden DVD-ROM content, the program can provide links to any website or web content, provided the DVD is viewed on a PC or television with Internet access.

The app is amazingly simple to use. Once you’ve authored a DVD in another program (say, Nero or Easy Media Creator, or Sonic’s own high-end DVDit Pro) you simply import the VIDEO_TS folder of your already-built project into eDVD. Once there, you navigate through a menu consisting of your DVD’s chapters and add whatever links you desire. Using the program, you can link to just about any content on the Web as well as MP3s, text files, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDF files, and a whole lot more.

One caveat: You will probably need to think ahead when authoring your DVDs and add blank chapters unless you want to overwrite content or confuse the viewer. For example, if you’ve burned your toddler’s photos onto DVD but want to add a link to his website, create a chapter that doesn’t contain anything. Then you can link that chapter to the website address, and when your relatives across the country click the link, they’ll be taken to Junior’s home on the Web.

eDVD retails for $199.

Take 2

If you’re ready to move beyond the DVD authoring software that came with your PC, you might consider switching to Sonic’s DVDit Pro 6. Billed as “The Hollywood standard in DVD creation,” the suite does have a steep learning curve; depending on what you do with it, however, the time spent learning the ropes can be well worth it. The program offers region coding, copy protection, professional subtitle editing, multichannel Dolby digital support, multiple audio and subtitle tracks, complete menu creation, and much more.

Unlike a lot of other DVD authoring programs, DVDit Pro supports virtually any file format–including AVI, MPEG, MPEG-2, Quicktime and Windows Media files. Because of that, transcoding (writing) an image to the hard drive is almost always quicker and easier than with just about any other program. Moreover, because the system also supports a wide array of audio options (including Dolby digital theatre-quality sound) synchronization between audio and video usually comes off without a hitch. The DVD power user can use this program to do just about anything from creating multi-track/multi-language DVDs to ensuring your discs only work on players in the USA and Canada. Moreover, you can write your projects out to DLT (Digital Linear Tape) for professional mastering and distribution.

If you need a powerful DVD authoring program for Windows XP that offers you precision control over every aspect of disc creation, this one should more than fit the bill. Though the price ($399, which also includes a copy of eDVD–the non-pro version is $100 cheaper and doesn’t included eDVD) is a bit off-putting, what you gain in terms of DVD creation power is near-priceless.

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Burning it up

Nowhere in ComputerUser will we suggest, condone, or even excuse copying commercial DVDs for profit. However, we also know how frustrating it can be when your favorite DVD (mine would be the 30th anniversary edition of ‘Schoolhouse Rock’) decides to spontaneously stop working.

Of course, if you’ve made a backup (which is legally your right) you’ll still have access to Rocky, Bill, Interplanet Janet, and all of your other animated friends. unfortunately, none of the commercially-available DVD authoring programs (the afore-mentioned DVDit Pro, Nero, Easy Media Creator, etc.) will allow you to copy most commercially-available DVDs. So what do you do?

There are plenty of DVD decryption programs out there, if you know where to look. My favorite is DVD Decrypter, a handy little freeware program that will allow you to copy just about any copy-protected disc. The software takes advantage of both the VobDec and DeCSS Plus algorithms for decrypting the CSS encryption. DVD Decrypter is also capable of removing the Macrovision scrambling key, as well as the region code during the ripping process, allowing you to watch region-exclusive discs from the UK, Japan, or anywhere else.

Making copies of your favorite DVDs to give away or–even worse–sell to your family, friends, and assorted eBay users is just plain wrong. But making a backup to ensure continual access to what you legally purchased is, by the same token, just plain common sense. Be aware, however, that unless you’re using double-layer DVD the copies will only be half as sharp as the originals.

As it no longer has its own Web site, (the program was banned in Britain) you can find DVD Decrypter via searching Google for “DVD Decrypter.”

Contributing Editor Joe DeRouen writes Windows Advisor monthly for ComputerUser.

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