Although you probably think the same way, Apple has not abandoned iDVD yet; in fact, the new version incorporates some features that will be well received by users of previous versions, some interface improvements and an increase in performance that, as a whole, make it easier to use compared to previous versions.
As usual, Apple has introduced a new set of professional-looking themes (10 new options this time), all of them redesigned with animated elements and hotspots for content. (All of the above themes are also included, so there is more variety than ever.) Like the themes introduced in iDVD 6, each of the new themes works well with both 4: 3 and 16: 9 aspect ratios. An interesting addition is that switching between different themes is also faster compared to previous versions of the product.
iDVD continues to offer a good balance between working with the predefined themes and modifying their elements. You will not have the design flexibility that exists in DVD Studio Pro, but that is what is intended.
iDVD ’08 incorporates a few changes that make it easy to customize DVD menus. The Buttons button is no longer a mixed bag for all operations related to the navigation elements of each theme. Instead you have access to different options in two categories: icons or underlines when a button is selected (and which can be applied separately to each element of the button), as well as the appearance of the buttons themselves (shapes, stylish rectangles, geometric figures, etc.)
The other controls such as label styling and custom preview images are now available in a floating inspector, which seems more convenient and reduces clutter in the main window panes. A solution has also been made to the discrepancy, sometimes somewhat confusing, between the label for the buttons (previously available in the Buttons panel) and the text labels, such as those used for the title of the theme (previously available in the Menu panel). The exception is when trying to re-enter the label text for a button: if the inspector is not visible, a trio of context menus will appear below the text from which you can select the font family, style and size.
Another improvement is related to the Drop Zone Editor. Clicking on the edit button for those zones will adjust the preview pane so that the drop zones can be accessed, thus eliminating the previous floating pane. You can still drag and drop materials over these areas in the theme itself, but in some themes the areas are not always visible. Now they are not only visible but also more accessible. iDVD can import video in any format supported by iMovie; therefore, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video can be imported for burning to DVD.
Professional quality encoding
iDVD still maintains a maximum of two hours for materials used on a standard DVD, but now iDVD ’08 also offers another encoding option: Professional Quality.
The Pro setting uses two-pass variable transfer rate (VBR) encoding, which means that iDVD examines each video frame twice to determine the best amount of compression that can be applied. The highest quality setting uses a single pass VBR encoding. The Pro setting takes more time, of course. I’ve shot a two-hour project in 3 hours and 52 minutes on one of the new 20-inch iMac; with the highest quality option, encoding required 1 hour and 15 minutes.
During my tests, video encoded with the Pro setting had better color quality. The top-quality version looked lightly washed in comparison. Pro encoding also improved the look of photos in slide shows. And speaking of slideshows, now you can add movies too.
All in all, iDVD ’08 is a solid update. Considering that iMovie no longer creates chapter markers for DVDs (allowing viewers to jump to specific parts of a video), it is somewhat disappointing that the behavior of the chapter marks feature in iDVD has not been changed. – Chapter markers can be added, but there are only regular intervals, such as a new chapter every five minutes (iDVD ’08 just worked with movies created in iMovie HD 6).
Even if you prefer to burn your movies to DVD instead of uploading them to a website or YouTube, the truth is that iDVD is not an interesting enough option on its own to tip the balance towards the purchase of the iLife ’08 suite. But considering Apple’s disinterest in the format, it is encouraging to find some improvements in iDVD ’08. The question is, will we see another iDVD in the future? Personally, I hope so.