Why is DVD authoring software so horrible?

 I started to write this article as a usability critique after attempting to use NCH Software’s Express Burn software for DVD authoring. I fumbled about with it trying to memorialize my wife’s recent performance in “Wonderland” at the Bastrop opera house.

I kept insisting to myself that there is no way that any software company would let a UI out that required the user to watch the entire movie in real-time to insert the chapter labels. That’s right. No rewind, no fast forward. If you click too slow, well buster, you are starting over.

My wife finally got it to work and explained to me that “all I had to do” was burn a copy of the DVD as an image to the hard drive, then watch the movie using its unique timeline, dutifully write down each time-stamp when a chapter should start, save that into a file and then import the file into the software. Simple!

It made me want to get a management job at NCH software and fire everyone responsible for this software on my first day.

Update:  Turns out I was a bit hasty in derriding the design choices of this program on this particular element. It looks like it is merely a bug in the software and not the intended functionality (as evidenced in the help file) so I’ll cut them a little slack. However, my point about  this type of software being particularly crashy, freezy, and otherwise annoying stands.

Lowering the bar

Apparently this problem is so systemic that even the reviewers are making excuses for the software vendors.

DVD authoring software is computer system intensive and program shut downs are not uncommon. We looked for software that crashed less frequently and still created great DVD videos.


Abstractions? What Abstractions?

Another area where this class of software seems to underperform is protecting its abstractions. I have to know too freaking much about the DVD formats and options at a technical level to use this software, for example:

  •  The nuanced differences between DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, BD-R, BD-RE, BD-R DL, and BD-RE DL.
  • Whether PAL or NTSC make more sense for my video.
  • Data CD, Movie CD, or Movie on a Data CD?

Granted, some of these answers I know. However, why should I *Have* to?

Couldn’t all of these options be presented in a wizard that asks questions like “Different countries have different DVD formats, so I need to ask: What country will this DVD be used in?” They could even provide an expert mode where the acronym savvy guys who were in the A/V club in high school can get hyper-specific to their heart’s content.

Working Theories

I am working on a theory of why this general class of software is universally horrid and crash prone and my best theories so far are:

* The same buggy OEM software is built into all the major DVD authoring software.
* This is consumer grade software (meaning low priced) to do professional grade tasks. When cost cutting is afoot, it isn’t hard to see who typically feels it first. “Why are we wasting valuable resource on QA when our last three releases of the software didn’t have any major bugs?”


Appeal To Those in the Know

I’ve got to have at least one reader with inside knowledge of software companies that make this type of application. Do you work with this type of software or know someone who does? Am I missing some major reason that no one can create a stable platform to burn a DVD?


12 Responses

  1. Hi,

    I don’t agree with your post about usability of ExpressBurn here… All you have to do to add chapters is to click on the timeline control below the video preview. The video will be “forwarded” right to the point you click and “paused” there. Then you can peacefully “add” chapter point.
    Then you can move on and add other chapters points as much as you like

    The “play” button will play the video from the point you click – it your convenience of viewing video ahead before you decided to add other chapter points

    That’s as simple as it could get. That’s the very basic operation in video editing/authoring. What else could you ask for?

    • That was not my experience. I actually tried what you described which had the effect of executing random actions from hanging the app to zooming in/out on the timeline. After an hour of trying to use that method I gave up.

      • Hi,

        I actually doing support for ExpressBurn myself – So I will try not to be as bias as possible.

        The stability issue as you described in ExpressBurn and on other authoring software on the market can come down to a couple of factors:

        – The DirectShow codecs installed on user machine: You would be surprise on how many “bad” video codecs out there that are installed on your computers. ExpressBurn or other video authoring software will open the video with the whatever DirectShow codec installed and if the codec itself crashes/hange, it bring down the application with it

        – The video files that is actually corrupted: your video files are not as pretty/correct as you may think (truncated, computed frames, headers, etc…) . Video players like VLC can overlook these “hidden” broken points and still play your video file ok. However, an authoring software like Express Burn needs to access the video on precisely frame-by-frame basic – will struggle. And if the codec that you installed failed to “read” the file (hang, crashes) – So does the application

        Express Burn itself has an option to use ffmpeg as the codec. You can turn it on by going to “File > Options > “Use FFMPEG first”
        ffmpeg is known to be more reliable than most of the video codec out there on the market. But believe me, there’s no good enough codec out there that can handle everything thrown at it …

        Hope that help…

        • Thanks. I guess this proves that every problem is an opportunity in disguise. Mad props to the NCH support team for not only finding my complaint out on the net but taking the time to respond to my issue via the unorthodox means of commenting on a blog!

        • Interesting. It does raise an interesting point about the darker side of code-reuse.

          Maybe I should rename this post “When code re-use goes bad,” or “Go ahead and re-invent the wheel if you have a bum wheel”?

  2. HAHAHA.
    Did you even email the tech support guys about your chapter problem?
    I just downloaded Express Burn, added a file, clicked on manage chapters under chapter, and you can click on the time line to jump to any area and add a chapter in. You don’t have to watch the whole movie. LOL.

    If you have a look at their forums etc, you can see that Express Burn borrows the encoders from your computer to convert files for making a video. If you experience crashes doing this, they say you should tick an option in options to use an ffmpeg thing which fixes the crashes.

    After using this software for 10 minutes after I read this post and checked the NCH forums, I have to say that I think this program is much easier to use than the bigger ones like nero etc

    • Thanks for the tip, but after your first response I tried again on 3 different videos to re-confirm my facts. Same result every time. No difference with the FFmpeg option turned on. Clicking on the timeline does absolutely nothing. Right clicking it doesn’t show any jump-to option on the shortcut menu either. What version are you using? I’m on Express Burn Plus 4.26.

      BTW: I checked and the help file claims you can click the timeline like you described, and I CAN do that when just playing it back. However, on the manage chapters dialog it doesn’t seem to work.

      Even if the FFMpeg option worked, it only serves to reinforce my point about having to know the innards of a program to use it. I’m not implying the other packages are any better, in fact I don’t think they are. The point of my article was exploring why this particular type of software is so poorly executed and so full of leaky abstractions.

      • huh, don’t know then.
        Could be the file your using, or the decoders on your computer i guess.
        All i know is it works for me so I’m as happy as a pig playing in mud at the moment.

        Good luck though on getting it sorted.


      • To wrap up this conversation, I think I have gotten to the bottom of the problem and it looks like a pedestrian bug, not a massive design oversight.

        It turns out that going into the manage chapters screen from the right-click menu somehow disables the ability to move around the timeline by clicking on it. However, if I used the pull-down menu to access it the screen works normally. It also appears that opening the screen from the pulldown menu actually fixes it for the rest of the session of using the software, even if you use the shortcut menu.

        I’ve reconfirmed this by trying every combination of using the two after restarting the app and it seems to be easily replicable. Sorry NCH guys, but I’d still like your opinion on the general state of DVD software and why it is so difficult to make it stable.

  3. “I’d still like your opinion on the general state of DVD software and why it is so difficult to make it stable. ”

    Me too..

  4. […] Why is DVD authoring software so horrible? […]

  5. I use Express Burn all the time. Works flawlessly. I love the way it can burn virtually any video file format to DVD eg. mkv, avi, wmv mpg, mp4 to DVD. I use DVD cloner & ripper for ripping but nothing beats Express Burn for putting stuff back on a DVD in vob file format..

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