Adobe's DVD creator may be the most straightforward of all the programs in the Adobe Production Studio bundle, but it's no slouch when it comes to creating good-looking work. Encore has all the flexibility offered by the new stretchy interface with its easily adjustable frames, dockable palettes and support for custom workspaces (see Adobe Production Studio overview).
Encore DVD 2.0 comes with a pile of templates and buttons (corporate, education, sports, entertainment, etc.) for both widescreen and 4:3 aspect ratio projects. At times, the rules for creating new files for your DVD layout can seem idiosyncratic - buttons, thumbnails and chapter files require prefixes like (%), (+^) and (+#) - but if the file-naming conventions sound off-putting, don't worry you can sidestep that malarky by using the templates as they are, or as a starting point for your own custom designs. Adding motion buttons, and a motion background to your DVD menu for that extra wow factor can be done relatively quickly too, particularly since software stable mates After Effects and Photoshop are always close to hand.
Laying out the DVD
In Encore 2.0, you import files for your DVD straight into a timeline or slideshow, or you can organise your "assets" in a separate project window. Then it can be pretty much just a question of dragging and dropping your media on to your menu template, giving it some text labels, and then setting a few preset instructions (handled with neat drop down menus) on how you want your menus and media to behave.
There's obviously a monitor for viewing clips and a new flow chart panel that provides a useful overview of your project and how the various media elements relate to each other. The flow chart also helps you spot and fix potential glitches like orphaned files, a menu that is the wrong place, or a timeline that has no relations in the DVD's family tree.
Before outputting you can preview your DVD (using the nice, easy shortcut Ctl+Alt+spacebar) in a simulation DVD player, checking that everything is working as it should do. As well as standard controls that you find on your home remote, there's a useful "execute end action" button that checks that the behaviour at the end of a clip is behaving. Motion elements in your DVD layout need to be rendered first to appear animated, and there's a button to do that on the preview player.
Encore 2.0's support for slideshows is new - this is probably where Adobe Bridge's keyword filing system, using XMP metadata, comes in most handy.
You can get a series of photographs into Encore, add a standard transition (dissolve, wipe, stretch, tumble away, etc), and/or choose from a set of custom pan and zoom effects for your presentation, in minutes. If you have more time you can also add descriptions for each slide, and customise the transitions for individual images. There's also support for an audio track to accompany the slides.
Where the job's not too complex, Encore has a handy text editor for quick formatting, and you can rotate and alter text and other menu items using a new rotate tool. Adobe encourage you to go further with the design by placing a Photoshop within Encore itself, for more complex formatting jobs. Since Encore uses Photoshop's native PSD file format for its menus the two programs integration is close to hinge and bracket.
A new feature in Encore 2.0 is that you can group multiple clips on a single timeline so they play back seamlessly, and there's added automation when creating chapters for your DVDs. There's also excellent support for subtitles in the timeline.
I couldn't end without mentioning Adobe's fun "pick whip" tool. It's like a pointer with a long elastic string attached to designate settings. Think of the way a circus lion tamer picks a ferocious feline. It's used too in Adobe After Effects 7.0 to duplicate arcane programming "expressions," so the metaphor is an apt one if the thought of programming makes you want to run a mile.
In Encore, you can use it, for example, to pick a motion background for your DVD menu. You go to the properties setting for your DVD menu image, click with your mouse on the pick whip's little, swirly icon beside the word "video." Then you pull out this long elastic band right across to your chosen video clip. When the two ends meet, the link to your new clip is updated and in the monitor panel you can see your menu's new background setting. It's easier than chewing gum.