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ENCODING TO DVD

DVD set top boxes (STB) are selling like never before and videographers are bombarded with articles and ads for the latest "make your own" hardware and software. Forum groups are flooded with questions on compatibility, compression quality and how to fit long pieces on 4.7 GB disks.
In months past I have burned a lot of video to DVD and to CD. It is a relatively simple process, given the required hardware and software, but takes some time to understand and master. In essence, a Hollywood-like DVD created at home consists of a video project created in native DV (NTSC 720 X 480, 29.97 fps, 48kHz 16 bit audio), then converted to the MPEG-2 file format, then "authored" to a disk in software that directs the DVD player in how to present the content. When you insert a finished DVD into your home player you wind up at a menu page where you select a button linked to the movie you want to watch. Inexpensive authoring software provides a few choices for background images and types of buttons, with text underneath to name the video. This type of material is what the authoring process "translates" for the player. Better software allows videos to play inside the buttons, music in the background, chapter points, layers of menus, sub-titles, language options, camera angles and so on. In early 2006, nearly four years since I got my first burner, several applications now support true high-end authoring, where an amazing degree of interactivity is possible. Web-linked content, test-taking with scoring, "easter egg" hidden links, moving menus, dolby 5.1, or 7.1 surround sound and deep menu trees are among the features, for well under USD$1000. These apps bear virtually no visual connection with their low end cousins, like MyDVD, but the feature set is far beyond what a home-based hobbyist needs to be a player in DVD.

Understanding DVD

DVD, or Digital Versatile Disk is a storage medium, like your hard drive. Early on, disk formats competed for majority acceptance, not unlike the old Beta versus VHS slugfest of many years ago. Player compatibility (Jan. 2003) reached 85% for DVD-R and 65% for DVD-RW, and new burning hardware handles both. I still use DVD-R exclusively, but two of my three burners will handle just about any format.
DVD's (and CDs) work by bouncing a laser beam off the the shiny side of the disk, where a series of dots and dashes (pits and lans) represent the data contained. Burning drives burn these areas into the disk. Commercial disks are created from a glass master, from which molds are made and new disks created by injection molding. From the economic perspective it's cheaper to burn your own disks for up to 75-100 copies. After that using a replicator is more cost effective, with minimums as low as 100-300 disks. Once the glass master is made the disks spit out at one every 3-5 seconds. Home DVD makers who want to minimize compatibility issues should stick with better disk brand names, like Pioneer, Maxell, Verbatim and Sony. Burning at 1X or 2X is also recommended for maximum compatibility. The owner of a local DV shop, who burns them all day long, recommends Verbatim over all others, which is what I've been using. So far, sending DVDs to friends and family, I haven't had a failure to play at their end.
Like a CD, you can burn a variety of material to a DVD. They work exactly like a CD in that you can copy and paste clips back to a hard drive if and when you want to use them. This is NOT the same as a DVD movie. To put video on DVD for playback in a home DVD player you need to follow a procedure that goes way beyond copying and pasting.

DVD in Detail

A playable DVD contains a set of files. You don't create them, your DVD authoring sofware creates them after you have fed it a few things. You choose a background image from those available. In some you can create and import your own. Then you select a button to call up your video, and change the default text to the name of your movie. Then you import the movie file. Simply put, you export an MPEG-2 file of your project. You import the file into your DVD authoring software, and tell it to make a DVD. It converts the video and audio portions of your file into a DVD-friendly format, and adds files that tell the player what to display in the menu screen and what to do when a viewer selects the button linked to your video. More sophisticated users create their own separate video and audio tracks and import them separately into the authoring software. Encoders from Main Concept and Canopus can create an MPEG-2 video file (m2v) and a WAV audio file, for example. On one hand you can't play the output back for yourself in Media Player because the audio is a separate file. On the other hand you can apply some effects to the audio before going to your DVD authoring software - for instance you can normalize the audio, averaging the volume across the file. You can also select and modify sections of audio, bringing down hot spots (too loud) or boosting quiet segments. I believe this two-file process has its greatest virtue only with sufficiently high end software to allow the use of the AC-3 audio codec, (dolby surround) which saves a ton of disk space versus WAV files, saving room for higher video bit rates and therefore higher video quality on the same 4.7 GB general purpose disk. Incidentally, you can put about 4.37 GB of material on one of these disks. I've gotten away with 4.39 GB and if I do better than that I'll let you know.

The workflow from editing to DVD creation is becoming ever simpler with the major players all bringing out end-to-end product suites. Adobe has added Encore for DVD creation with Premiere Pro (Win XP only), Sonic Foundry (now Sony) makes Vegas Video available with +DVD, while Pinnacle is getting rave reviews for its Edition Pro 5 with DVD editing from the timeline. If you aren't ready for one of these investments you need an editor, something to convert to MPEG-2 if your editor won't (like the paid version of TMPGEnc), and DVD authoring software. If you choose TMPGEnc for your encoding you are going to thank me for this link. All the settings for quality MPEG-2 output are here. My current favourite software for creating DVD-compliant files is the Canopus Procoder Express, which plugs into Premiere and functions as a stand alone. I have also been generally pleased with my upgrade to Sonic MyDVD 5.2 for DVD authoring. Now available for operating systems other than XP (I use win2kpro) it has added great features over my previous version 3, including basic dolby digital stereo audio (AC-3), motion menus, background audio, video in buttons and chapter points you can create from an existing MPEG-2 - no need to capture into MyDVD to create chapters anymore. For the price these are cool features, and it also allows the selection of "first play" to start your movie when the disk is inserted into a set top deck.
You can create DVD projects on your hard drive if you don't have a DVD burner, and play them in a software player like PowerDVD. You can also play the MPEG-2 in Windows Media Player, or at least that's my experience, probably because the codec for Adobe Premiere is available to the media player as well.

FINAL NOTE:I was surprised to learn that DVD movies, home-made or otherwise, are subject to the same NTSC/PAL issues as videotape. One can't watch a PAL-format DVD in an NTSC DVD player and vice versa. I "assume" they're interchangeable in a PC but not when output to TV. You can read about this and the players available HERE.

myDVD splash screen

MORE INFORMATION

The most frequently referenced web site for information on creating DVD's and VCD's is DVD HELP. There you will find two sites to choose from at the moment, with descriptions of the competing formats and a lot of help aimed at individuals who need to know the step by step level of detail to get what they own to do what it should. For a VERY comprehensive collection of DVD information, visit DVD Demystified. Other sites worth visiting include Introductory DVD Authoring FAQ, (start here), TheDigitalBits, RecordingMedia.Org,and DVDReview.Com.

DVD SOFTWARE LINKS

  • Sonic MyDVD (my current tool), DVDit and ReelDVD
  • MedioStream NeoDVD
  • Pinnacle Express and Impression DVD-Pro
  • DVD Studio Pro
  • Ulead DVD MovieFactory and DVD Workshop
  • DVD Lab
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