"DMF 4's Expanded Menu Design Control Best Reason To Upgrade, But New Concerns"2.5 starson by truegenius
Pros: Near-total control over menu design; nicely guided disk design process; beautiful interface.
Cons: Installation program should remove older versions; tech support is slow.
Summary: While I found Ulead's DVD Movie Factory 4 a very good solution for making polished DVD's, getting there has been a surprisingly bumpy process. I used the previous version of DMF up until this week and DMF 3, from installation to completed disc, has never given me a single day's problem. However, with DMF 4's growth (it is now a 700 MB behemoth, nearly double the space of the previous version) and new features, I wonder if Ulead didn't rush DMF 4 to market just a bit too soon. DMF 4 is still a good solution, but you may want to hold onto DMF 3 a little longer if you don't have to have all the new features version 4 carries.
INSTALLATION - BE CAREFUL
As mentioned, I had DVD Movie Factory 3 installed on my system. I had also downloaded and installed the trial version ("Try Before You Buy" or TBYB) of DMF 4 on my desktop computer, so I had two versions of the software coexisting (they were in different installation directories, though). I went ahead and installed the boxed version of DMF 4 from DVD and received a cautionary message indicating a previous installation was found. But whereas most titles at this point would have simply exited the setup program, Ulead's went on ahead with the installation anyway. This, as it turns out, would be the start of my problems.
Moments later I was stunned when I received the dreaded UAE blue screen ("UAE" meaning Unrecoverable Application Error). This is when the system has encountered a condition it considers so serious it stops, takes a dump (I mean that literally as well as figuratively) and fills your screen with mysterious looking messages only an uber-geek would understand. The system is halted so you have to restart completely, which I did.
When I got the system back up and running I noticed that when I imported an MPEG2 video and used the Jog Bar, a control that lets you click and drag to a part of a video clip you wish to play, it would go back to 0:00:00.00 (to the beginning). Sometimes it wouldn't play at all when the Play button was clicked. I was baffled by what I was seeing. And it didn't matter about the length of the video or what drive it came from (I have a machine with a C and D physical hard drive).
It took a couple of hours of sleuthing and experimentation to figure out what would make the program run as I expected, and it was this - be sure to uninstall ALL old versions of DMF before you install Version 4, and that includes any trial versions of the software, too. Be sure you have a decent amount of virtual memory, with a page size maximum of at least 2 GB specified (Ulead's read-me documentation indicates this is supposed to help speed up rendering also.) I would further recommend you let the installation program run as it is, with the defaults specified to install everything - QuickTime, Windows Media, etc. - even though they may already reside on your system. Apparently if Ulead's installer doesn't get its way the results can be thorny. Ulead should realize that the most likely purchasers of Version 4 of DVD Movie Factory aren't going to be new users, it'll be repeat customers who have Versions 3, 2 or 1. The installer should force an uninstall of any other versions it finds, including trial versions. Perhaps my situation was just a bug in the installer, but it was a bug that cost me at least two hours and not a few worries - not good for a customer.
One other suggestion - if you're running Windows XP (either edition) BE SURE to have System Restore turned on for the hard drive where DMF 4 will reside. This actually saved me.
Ulead, take note - first-time users won't put up with this; they'll take you up on your 30-day, money-back guarantee.
GET THE PATCH
If you do buy DMF 4, be sure to download the update patch to bring it up to version 4.02. The patch gives "Full DVD-R Dual Layer support, with general DVD-Video burning" (according the the web site). Was "full support" not there before, even though it was printed on the box?
Take a look a the 4.02 patch page to see what other issues it resolves at:
The patch is current as of 8/9/05; the date of this writing was 8/25/05, so it was a fairly recent patch.
WELL-DESIGNED PRODUCT OTHERWISE
After you get the program installed, you'll see why DVD Movie Factory is a good product. For those who need handholding, the process of creating a DVD is guided, with new users only having to remember to click "Next" to go from step to step. You can edit your video, add titles (very nicely, too) and transitions, and even test the finished product before you burn it to a disc.
DVD Movie Factory is the best - and most affordable - DVD packaging software I've ever used. Those of you who have used titles from other manufacturers may want to take a serious look at Ulead now. For one thing, you can download a working trial version of DVD Movie Factory 4 from Ulead's web site, http://www.ulead.com and use it for 30 days. With some of the problems I encountered, I would suggest you do this.
MOVABLE MENU BUTTONS
One thing that was a bit inconvenient was not being able to dynamically move or reshape menu buttons, rewind and fast-forward buttons, or anything else. If I created a background picture, after importing it into Version 3 and placing it under the buttons, I would often have to go back to the graphics program, adjust the picture, and re-import it so it wouldn't be blocked by the buttons. Ulead fans can rejoice - you can now move things around anywhere on the layout. If you want to stack buttons near the left margin, or cascade them diagonally, you can do that. You can also move the labels for each clip where you want also. The page title can be placed anywhere.
As before, you can choose the font you want for the title and video clip labels, but now there's even more flexibility - if you have three clips and you want to have one label in red, another in yellow and the third in green, you can. You can even use three different fonts if you want. The only thing you'll need to remember is that now, when you want all the clip labels on a page to look the same, you may have to make the font or color change multiple times - a small price to pay for the flexibility.
One irritant, though: I notice that Ulead doesn't allow you to change the font for the chapter number labels, nor the "XX/XX" page number labels (at least not that I've been able to figure out). You will need to grab a preformatted menu and modify it if you want the numbers to look a certain way or color. It seems that if Ulead was giving you control over everything else, the menu page numbers would have been simple to throw in.
Lest I forget to say it, you can still create motion menu buttons and add music to your menus like before. Just remember that the longer the video duration you use (you can specify up to 30 seconds) the more space you'll need on your disc. In most cases you'll be fine, but if your video project is pushing 4.7 GB, the size of your menus will be a factor. But with DMF 4 you can now also have background video (yes, you read that right).
The movable menu buttons are probably the main reason anyone would want to migrate from DMF 3 to DMF 4. If you really don't care about being able to resize your buttons or have total control over your layouts, you can stick with DMF 3 without a problem.
One thing that caught my attention when I saw DVD Movie Factory 4 on the shelf was that the box says this version now supports the increasingly popular dual-layer DVD format (8.3 GB). So when you're ready to make that really long video feature, Ulead's program can handle it. But if you have DMF 3, you can download a patch from Ulead's web site that will also provide double-layer support, so don't let that be the reason to abandon DMF 3 if you have it (http://www.ulead.com/tech/dmf/dmf_ftp_dmf3.htm).
IMPRESSIVE MAIN INTERFACE
When you start up DVD Movie Factory 4, you're greeted with a menu that resembles a white, shimmering plastic box in 3D. Your menu options depend on whether you mouse over the DVD icon or the CD icon. From there, you can choose a task, whether it's making a DVD movie or copying a CD. It's simple enough that beginners will get it.
MAKING A VIDEO DVD
Making a DVD hasn't changed substantially from Version 3; you import the clips and can use Ulead's multiple-edit feature to remove commercials and other unwanted sequences. A blue thermometer-bar graphic at the bottom of the screen indicates how much space you have left on your disc, as well as what sort of media you're working on (e.g., "DVD 4.7 GB"). If you want to add chapters, you can do that a couple of different ways - you can elect to set chapters at regular intervals (i.e., every N minutes of video), or you can let DVD Movie Factory find the clip boundaries for you and split the video that way. One thing seems apparent - it looks like Version 4 is faster at marking chapters than Version 3.
DVD Movie Factory actually overlaps another Ulead title, VideoStudio, in functionality. You can do some basic movie editing, including the addition of titling and special effect transitions, on your video. Die-hard control freaks should still opt for the full VideoStudio program for the most control rather than relying on DVD Movie Factory, though, although the distinction is becoming less pronounced.
After you've added all the video and changed what you want, Ulead lets you try out your project in a mock DVD player. The screen appears to be larger than in Version 3, which is nice.
When, at last, you're ready to burn your project to disc, the final screen lets you specify if you want audio normalizing (taking out the peaks and valleys of especially high and low volume) and the disc title.
One thing I searched for that appeared to have been removed is the amount of available working disc space and the size of the project, expressed in GB. You have to remember to click the "More Details" button to see that. This makes the interface less cluttered, which is probably appreciated by new users who don't want to be overwhelmed with too much information.
It's a nit, but I also was a little surprised at how "flat" the option screens were. You're presented this very impressive fa³ˆe in the main menu, only to be followed up by these dull, flat, gray screens - why not the same bright simulated white plastic the main menu had? Or the simulated, brushed aluminum from Version 3? Far from a deal-breaker; more like a head-scratcher.
I did a test with a 90-minute video I had created from a recorded television show. From when I clicked the Burn button to when the final disc was ejected took about 20 minutes - not too shabby. A second test of the same video with 50 motion menu buttons took quite a bit longer, about two hours. If you want to use motion menus, be prepared to wait - every one of those buttons is like a little movie unto itself, so it takes time.
This last point also underscores the importance of having enough memory. Ulead's box says you can run with 256 MB of RAM (will XP run on less?) but you should really plan on having at least 512 MB.
STRAIGHT-TO-DISC GREAT FOR ARCHIVING
Straight-To-Disc is a holdover feature from Version 3 formerly known as "Direct-To-Disc". It allows you to create a DVD from a video source without using any of your hard drive space. Before, this option appeared only to be available for digital video sources (IEEE 1394 MiniDV camcorders, for example), but with Version 4 it appears they have made it so that any video source, including analog VCR's, can be used. This means those of you with large collections of videotapes now have a convenient way to convert them all to DVD. And with the declining cost of blank DVD's it's a more sensible option than ever.
Here's how it works: you specify the details of your video project - what menus you want to use, how you want chapters to be split up, etc. Then you cue your video source and Ulead starts recording - to your DVD. It uses no hard drive space. When your video source is finished, Ulead finalizes the disc and ejects it.
I think the only thing that prevents me from using this feature is that on some of my videotapes, programs are recorded at different speeds, mixed on the tape. There may be a 1-hour show in SP mode, followed by a 2-hour show in EP (6-hour) mode, followed by (perhaps) a 30-minute show in SP mode again. You'll need to take this into account if you use Straight-To-Disc, but if most of your videotapes are all in 2-hour mode you won't have a problem.
GOOD LABEL CREATOR PROGRAM
There is also a label creation program included, Label@Once. I opened it up and played around with it, for grins. I like the way it handles curved text. It's pretty intuitive and should give beginners no problems.
DISC CREATOR VERSION HAS THE ADDITIONAL GOODIES
DVD Movie Factory 4 comes in two flavors - the original product (about $50 street), and the Disc Creator version (which runs about $99 street). The Disc Creator version includes several other goodies, including an improved Version 2 of their DVD Player software (which includes A/B looping control), and the latest version of Burn.Now, which appears to let you save project layouts (which it couldn't do before). Previous users of DMF can purchase the upgrade program only from Ulead's web site and save a few bucks; go to www.ulead.com for details.
HEAD-SCRATCHERS AND COMPLAINTS
Overall, DMF 4 is a good DVD creation solution. But there have been some things I've observed that have made me wonder why they're there.
The edit window has four ways to move around a video clip (in addition to the standard VCR controls play, rewind, and fast forward). You can drag the jog bar back and forth, or type in a time code on the simulated LCD reasdout. But the new version of DMF 4 now includes two new ways - a simulated thumbwheel and a shuttle tab. The thumbwheel does just what you'd expect, by nudging it left or right you can go forward or backward a few frames. The shuttle tab lets you change the playback rate by 2x, 4x or 8x, in either direction. I'm not sure why all these ways of getting around a video clip are there. They're clever, but are they really necessary?
The simulated LCD readout is actually a bit harder to read than in DMF 3 - the numerals are now gray rather than the bright green they were before. The time code needs to be easy to see - always - even for beginners. They need to go back to green or a brighter color for those numerals.
If you click through the Start menu, you'll see a program in the Ulead DMF folder called DiskRecorder 2.1. If you fire it up, you'll see DMF, but a very pared down, "SE"-style version of the program. Why is this there? The interface is visually inferior and it doesn't provide any functionality the main (white) interface doesn't already give you. Let's not waste disk space here.
With Ulead, in creating their own non-standard interface, I've also noticed that some keystroke combinations you'd expect to work, don't. For example, if you're editing a title and you press Ctrl A to select all the text, it doesn't select all the text, it does nothing. Or if you're in the middle of a line of text and you want to delete everything after the cursor and you press Shift End, it won't select everything to the right of the cursor. In the menu design mode, you can't click and drag to select two or more objects and modify or delete them as a set or do anything else. I think any software company that veers from Windows standards is on shaky ground. Watch for stuff like this when using DMF or any other Ulead product.
I tried producing a 90-minute DVD video last night and I notice that the video picture is narrow - there are two vertical black bars on either side of the video when I play it using DVD player software. (It's like a vertical version of a 16:9 letterbox.) It appears the aspect ratio has been altered, but why?
As I've already mentioned at length, the installation program needs a little work. Good impressions of a program start with the installation.
CHECK THE ULEAD FORUMS FIRST
An increasing number of software companies are now hosting conference boards or forums to allow users to ask questions, exchange ideas, etc. Ulead has their own, found off the Technical Support page of their web site. You are more likely to get a quicker response to a question from a Ulead forum than you would if you sent a question directly to Ulead's Tech Support department (and there is a link to do this, but you have to hunt for it).
The problem I had with the video jog bar, I sent to Ulead's Tech Support department. There was no acknowledgment that the note was received, no tracking number or anything. The same question, posted in the Ulead forums, had a response within a couple of hours.
Be aware that if you have a bug-type issue, about all you may be able to do is send it off to Ulead and wait. But be sure that you have a bona fide bug. There are literally millions of configurations of hardware and software out there, and no two systems are exactly alike. If you're thinking of buying DMF 4 create yourself a login name for the forums and just look around.
But I must scold Ulead for not being more responsive more quickly. The company should at least have some kind of acknowledgment for all issues e-mailed to them. And then they should get at the business of finding solutions to issues (or at least generating suggestions for things a user could try) as quickly as possible.
Ulead's DVD Movie Factory 4 is a very good DVD burning software application for the street price of $50 ($100 for the Disc Creator version). I would say "excellent" but I'm reserving that judgment because of the concerns I've had installing DMF 4 and using it. Ulead's apparently slow tech support response hasn't helped, either (I have received no response on the jog bar issue even though I've resolved it).
In terms of quality, DMF 3 is a better program, but DMF 3's limitations have been addressed very nicely in DMF 4. If you want more control over your menus (placement, video, etc.), that would be the best reason to move up to DMF 4; that, in fact, is the only real reason I would suggest upgrading (and if you do, remember to download that Version 4.02 patch).
With the Version 3 patch from Ulead's web site (http://www.ulead.com/tech/dmf/dmf_ftp_dmf3.htm), though, you can burn double-layer DVD's with DMF 3 and continue to use it. So if you're happy with menu control the way you have it already, or you're a beginner not just to Ulead and video editing, but to computers in general, stick with DMF 3, unless you just HAVE to have the latest. And wait for DMF 5, which I dearly hope will contain no unpleasant surprises like I experienced this time.
Yes, but mainly if you're experienced with Windows XP and DVD creation. Total beginners should probably stick with either VideoStudio's built-in DVD creation or another vendor's solution.