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iDVD - black sheep of the iLife suite

For me, iDVD has always been the redheaded stepchild of the iLife suite. While I've used Garageband to make songs, iPhoto to manage photos (until I got Aperture), iWeb to make websites, and iMovie to make movies, until recently I'd never once tried to use iDVD to put together a DVD project. I've spent the past week trying to put together a DVD of our first year in New Zealand to share with our family back in the States, and while the movie's turned out great, getting there has definitely not been half the fun.

Creating the movie itself was somewhat of a chore. Because I haven't yet upgraded to iLife '09, I'm stuck with the much-maligned tinker-toy interface introduced in iMovie '08. I couldn't use iMovie HD instead, because it's not compatible with my hard disk-based camcorder. After several days of wrestling with iMovie '08 to get it to do what I wanted it to do, I finally had a 95-minute project ready.

At "professional quality" in iDVD, that 95-minute project left me with almost a third of the DVD unused, so I decided to add more content, including a slideshow with 300+ pictures and two more short movies in an "extras" menu.

This turned out to be my downfall. Suddenly, iDVD no longer wanted to co-operate with me.
First iDVD claimed I didn't have enough space on the disc, saying it needed 8 GB of space when only 5 GB was free. This resulted in several minutes of me alternately swearing and scratching my head, because neither of those numbers made sense -- the DVD was only 4.2 GB, and the amount of data I was asking it to hold was only 4.02. After about five minutes I realized it was talking about my hard drive and not the DVD -- it was late, I was tired, the sun was in my eyes, et cetera. After moving some stuff to my Firewire drive, including the iMovie project folder (that ominous sound you just heard is foreshadowing), I had more than enough room on my hard disk to complete the project.

Only now, iDVD threw up another error, saying it couldn't find the relevant media. It seems that iDVD isn't smart enough to dynamically look elsewhere for the content it needs. So rather than bother moving the iMovie projects folder back to my hard drive, I just pulled the rendered movies themselves from my Movies folder instead.

Then iDVD gave me another error - this time, I had too many minutes of content on the disc. Apparently, even if you're below the data limit, you can't go over the minute limit. Needless to say, this seems REALLY stupid, but whatever. I gave up on fitting everything I wanted on the disc, and got rid of the extra two movies. If people want to watch them so bad, they can find them on my MobileMe gallery, I said.

And that, right there, is exactly why iDVD bites. Making a 95-minute video only to have it languish on your hard drive because some stupid program doesn't know how to efficiently burn it onto a piece of plastic is so backward, it hurts. It's like trying to ice skate uphill.

And this is the program after years of improvement. I can only imagine what it must have been like to try to use iDVD 2.0. The horror.

As I write this, iDVD is finally doing its thing and burning the movie and slideshow to a disc. Because it's rendering in professional quality, it says it's going to take over five hours to burn the disc, so I will leave it to do its thing overnight as I sleep. But at this point, I fully expect to wake up tomorrow morning and come to find my MacBook Pro has thrown up yet another error message. "Burn failed" it'll say, and it may or may not give me a reason which may or may not make sense, and then I may or may not go full Godzilla on the Manawatu region of New Zealand. We'll see when I wake up.

Later...

I see a disc jutting out of the front of my MacBook Pro. So at least it's done.

No error messages on the screen. But does that mean the burn was actually successful? Time to check.

The burned DVD goes into my PlayStation 3, and I cross my fingers.

The DVD menu comes up. The first thing my wife and I notice, to our early morning chagrin, is the DVD audio is LOUD. For some unknown reason, the audio on the DVD has rendered so loud that we can only have the volume on the TV a couple ticks above zero.

The second thing I notice is the vibrancy of the color. The colors seem to "pop" a lot more on my TV's display when playing the DVD through the PS3 than they did on my MacBook Pro. Reds seem oversaturated, which leads to people kind of looking a bit sunburnt, but I'm willing to live with that.

Despite the LOUD audio and the slightly oversaturated color, I'm pleased with the results. If the process involved hadn't been so incredibly frustrating, this post might have been a paean to iDVD's virtues rather than a condemnation of its many annoyances.

Two things I have learned from this experience:

1. iMovie '08 is a terrible video editing tool. I'm getting iLife '09 or '10 before I try to do anything else with video on my MacBook Pro. The results I got for my movie were great, but I spent more time working around iMovie 08's limitations than I did actually editing the movie.

2. Making a DVD is way more of a pain than just uploading a movie to my MobileMe site, which is what I think I'm going to do next year and from now on. Everyone I know who will actually want to watch our movies has a broadband connection, so it makes less sense for us to shell out money for blank DVD-Rs every year and go through the hassle of mailing them when we visit the States when we can just push a button to upload the thing to MobileMe instead and go do something else for a while.

I'm sure that's why every other aspect of iLife gained improvements in '09 and iDVD just gets stability updates. The agony of making a DVD just isn't worth the effort.

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