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Sonic MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 (rev 5.2.2)

PC Magazine, April, 2004 by Don Labriola

Unlike the other suites we review here, MyDVD Studio Deluxe began life as a DVD-authoring system, not a CD-burning application. So it makes sense that this remarkably easy-to-use package has the most polished authoring module and best-performing MPEG encoder in the roundup.

What is surprising is that savvy design and a slick interface don't in this case equate with flexibility. Sonic's DVD creation modules were designed for newbies who want to produce good-looking discs quickly without worrying about what goes on under the hood. These modules meet these goals with aplomb, but more experienced users looking for finer control over their video productions will be discouraged by the program's emphasis on presets, templates, and canned content.

Despite its name, most of MyDVD Studio Deluxe's features are implemented in its RecordNow! Deluxe disc-premastering application. Launching RecordNow displays the suite's top-level menu, which, like a streamlined version of Nero's StartSmart launcher, furnishes access to every function through a task-oriented tabbed menu system. It also displays global Help, Options, and Favorites buttons, as well as a disc icon that (like Roxio's Drag-and-Drop packet-writing utility) lets you copy files to a disc by simply dragging them to the icon from Windows Explorer.

Selecting any RecordNow! task from the menu automatically launches the appropriate component and displays wizardlike instructions and ToolTips that guide you through every step. RecordNow! has a good selection of intuitive audio and data disc creation tools and file backup capabilities that include unlimited MP3 ripping, one-click audio noise reduction, overburning controls, and support for a broad selection of file and disc formats. Disc copying is performed by a simple but easy-to-use module that sets most options automatically but lacks the ability to compress or split sources that are too big to fit on one piece of media.

Authoring tasks are performed by the MyDVD 5.2.2 component, which now has integrated video-editing capabilities. It, too, supports a superior selection of formats and can capture video to MPEG, AVI, WMV, and QuickTime files, import ASF and DivX content, and edit DVD+VR discs created by a set-top DVD recorder.

Most of MyDVD's video and authoring capabilities are designed for ease of use rather than flexibility. Its menu creation, slide show, label design, and storyboard-based video-editing modules are all easy to master, and the program is packed with intuitive drag-and-drop transitions, effects, filters, and titling tools. But it allows only rudimentary editing and lacks basic options like the ability to position menu buttons and titles manually. The program does have advanced features like the ability to edit previously created DVDs and a direct-to-disc video-recording feature, but any function that's likely to confuse new users or complicate the authoring process has been eliminated.

MyDVD did well enough on most of our benchmark tests (for test results and an explanation of how we tested, see the online version of this story at www.pcmag.com), but its Sonic-designed codecs won hands down on our DVD creation tests. Particularly impressive was SmartRendering, which reduces disc image creation time by ensuring that the program renders only those frames that have been edited. Sonic's implementation easily outperformed similar features in other programs, reducing the time to create a 1.2GB DVD disc image to a jaw-dropping 3.5 minutes and consistently producing what was likely the smoothest, most artifact-free MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 output in the roundup.

MyDVD Studio Deluxe also includes Sonic's CinePlayer DVD viewer application and DLA drag-and-drop packet-writing utility. But an upgrade is necessary to add system-level backup capabilities. And unlike with other suites we review here, MyDVD lacks photo and sound-file editors.

Sonic has done a commendable job of designing a novice-friendly digital-media suite that offers just the right combination of performance, simplicity, and one-click operations. We would not recommend it to power users, but if your goal is to produce good-looking output with minimal fuss, you won't find an easier solution.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.