Ulead's main pitch for its software packages are consumer level image and video novices; users who are getting to grips with digital imaging, both still and motion, who aren't served well enough with the basic packages like Windows Movie Maker, but who at the same time don't want the complexity of a higher-end package of the Premiere style -- not to mention the price point. DVD Movie Factory's pitch is exactly what its title would suggest; it's a package for anyone with some form of existing video who wants to put together DVD titles with at least a little bit of panache -- although more on that later.
With its consumer focus, DVD Movie Factory 4's interface couldn't be much simpler, with plenty of big shiny buttons and a very simple workflow that steps you through DVD creation, from selecting your clips from a variety of sources, editing them as you see fit, creating menu structures and then finally burning them to disc or creating them as hard drive based files for later burning.
If you're upgrading from a previous version of DVD Movie Factory, you'll find a few new features to tempt you. The number of supported formats has been nicely improved, with support for reading all types of discs burnt in consumer DVD recorders perhaps the most significant addition in terms of file support. The editing suite -- referred to by Ulead as its Multi-Trim module, which to be honest sounds more like some kind of bikini procedure to us -- now has quite precise control, including a very simple jog dial and up to 32x search capability through files. You won't become an overnight video maestro with this package, but it is simple enough to get to grips with quickly.
Movie Factory 4 also offers 80 DVD menu templates for quick DVD creation, based around predictable themes, although the actual visual quality of these varies wildly. That's our nice way of saying that some of them look quite good, and some of them should be (in our not-so-humble opinion) be taken out behind the barn and shot. You're not stuck with just templates however, and they are all editable, so it's not all bad. Just get someone to look over your shoulder and offer an opinion before you go for something too glowy, or, for that matter, something with terrible text colours. It'll pay off in the long run.
Ulead offers Movie Factory 4 in two variants. We reviewed the basic version (US$49.99 new, US$34.99 upgrade), but there's also a costlier version with a Disc Creator suffix (US$99.99 new, US$64.99 upgrade) which includes drag and drop CD and DVD burning, as well as Ulead's relatively basic software-based DVD playback software. That puts it more squarely up against packages such as Nero 6, although we're unable to directly compare the basic, burner-less package up against Nero's well-known package -- and it would be unfair to either package to simply glibly support one or the other without testing.
As with any video editing tool, there's a fair amount more to the performance of the product than just the software involved. While the specifications for DVD Movie Factory 4 suggest that a Pentium III 800Mhz with 128MB of RAM will run the software, we'd suggest booking a long holiday while you wait for it to render your eventual movie if that's your system of choice. Hook it up to a more realistically current multimedia system, though, and you'll get better results.
Still, video processing is one task that'll set even the most powerful system a fairly stiff challenge, especially if you decide to get funky with lots of transitions, edits and motion menus, you'll still have to wait a while before your disc even begins burning. We installed Movie Factory 4 on a couple of test systems -- including the Toshiba M40 notebook -- and set DVD Movie Factory 4 some fairly stiff tasks. While output speed will vary entirely depending on what you're rendering and how, we basically found it to be as effective as you'd expect a package in this price range and complexity level to be, with most full discs taking around an hour to render, and then burning quickly -- although clearly that'll depend on the speed of your system and the DVD burner.
Like much of Ulead's software output, Movie Factory 4 isn't a high-end product for power users, and it really doesn't try to be. If you're well au fait with video editing, you'll find it all a bit simplistic, but if you're new to the area and looking for a package that does a good job of hand-holding at a reasonable price, Movie Factory 4 is a decent enough place to start.