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DV to DVD -- DVD Gets Easier (12/2001)
by Douglas Dixon
(See also DV to DVD -- End-to-End
DVD is coming to your desktop -- soon! During 2000, we saw the development of a wide range of desktop and even consumer DVD authoring software for PCs, ranging from under $1000 down to $150. Then, earlier in 2001, we saw the first reasonably-priced DVD burners announced at prices under $1000, and the introduction of consumer DVD disc media at prices under $20. Apple also gave DVD a big push by building in DVD burners to its high-end Power Mac G4 systems, and by releasing both consumer iDVD and professional DVD Studio Pro authoring software.
But that was just the beginning. By July 2001, the beginnings of the next generation of lower-cost and easier to use DVD hardware and software had been not only announced, but also released. In this article, I'll walk you through one set of products that can go from DV video input to DVD disc output in one click, with minimal pain and fuss.
You can start with the LaCie FireWire DVD-R/RW/CD-RW Combo drive, an external DVD burner at $995 (list). With the DVD drive now packaged as an external FireWire device, you can connect to your PC (or Macintosh) with the plug and play ease of the IEEE 1394 interface. And with Pioneer dropping DVD media prices to under $10 a disc, the ability to share video and archive 4.7 GB of data on a single disc looks quite interesting.
Then, you can use MedioStream NeoDVDstandard at $149 (list) to capture your video (and audio) from a DV camcorder and burn it to DVD (or CD) -- in real time! Yes, PC processors at above 1 GHz and PC hard disks are now fast enough that an off-the-shelf PC can capture from DVD, compress to MPEG, format for DVD, and even burn to disc, all in real time. That's tape in to disc out in only the time it takes to play the tape!
Finally, you can use the InterVideo WinDVD DVD player at $49 (list) to play commercial DVDs, movies and music, at high quality on your PC, including Dolby Digital surround sound. You can also play and explore DVD files on CD and hard disk, as well as play compressed files in a variety of formats.
In case you've lost track of the players, here's a brief summary of the DVD formats, as originally defined by the DVD Forum industry consortium (www.dvdforum.com).
For consumer players, DVD-Video is for prerecorded movies and the new DVD-Audio is for high-fidelity surround-sound music.
For PC data, DVD-ROM is for prerecorded data such as software distribution and encyclopedias, DVD-R (recordable) is for write-once recording, DVD-RW (re-recordable / rewritable) is for recoding multiple times on the same disc, and DVD-RAM is for data archiving and backup.
Current set-top consumer DVD players play prerecorded DVD-Video and DVD-Audio, many also play DVD material recorded on CD-R (and some on CD-RW), but DVD-R is the only PC-recordable format that can be expected to play on consumer players. DVD-R media actually is available in two types: for General use in consumer applications, and for Authoring use in professional productions which include the full DVD content protection features.
In addition, consumer digital VCRs and camcorders are starting to use the DVD-RW and DVD-RAM formats to replace clumsy tapes and non-removable hard discs. However, while it's easy to add support for DVD-RW to existing designs, DVD-RAM is a very different physical format and requires additional hardware.
Current PC DVD-ROM drives can read the consumer video and audio formats, DVD-ROM disks (of course), and the recordable DVD-R/RW formats. Again, reading DVD-RAM discs requires additional hardware. Also, playing DVD-Video or DVD-Audio discs requires not only the DVD drive, but player software to decode and display the contents of the disc.
Finally, an alternative rewritable format has been defined by the DVD+RW Alliance, a group including Hewlett-Packard, Mitsubishi Chemical / Verbatim, Philips, Sony and Yamaha (www.dvdrw.com). The products based on this DVD+R recordable and DVD+RW rewritable format ("plus" as opposed to "dash") are beginning to ship this year, and promise to be compatible with existing DVD-Video players and DVD-ROM drives.
In the past, hooking up new hardware with new technology to your PC has always been a risky undertaking that requires disrupting a working system and taking a chance of bringing it down completely. At worst, you need to crack open your case and try to use the right wires and flick the right switches to add a new drive, or at best you need to fuss with SCSI cables to add a new drive to the chain.
With the advent of IEEE 1394 / FireWire connectors, things have gotten a whole lot better. Once it is supported properly in the operating system, 1394 offers the promise of adding and removing drives by just connecting one wire, and even on the fly, with plug and play ease.
LaCie (www.lacie.com ) has done exactly this with the Pioneer DVD-R/RW burner. In June 2001, LaCie started shipping the Pioneer DVR-A03 internal drive, packaged as an external FireWire drive, for $995 (list). The drive is actually a Combo device, playing and recording both DVD-R/RW and CD-R/RW media. It is packaged in a nice case, and even includes a second FireWire port in order to chain to another device like a DV camcorder. LaCie also includes three CD-R discs and one DVD-R disk, and a CD-ROM with editing and authoring software for Windows and Macintosh. The release of Linux 2.4 also adds FireWire support, or Linux users can also download separate utilities.
When you plug the device in under Windows, it is automatically detected as a 1394 device, and appears as a new Compact Disk device mounted on your computer. You can then access any CD or DVD that you load in the drive, or use the provided tools to burn your own discs. Once you are done with the drive, use the Unplug or Eject Hardware utility that Windows places in the system tray to dismount the device before you turn it off. You can then safely unplug and remove the DVD drive while Windows is still running.
The LaCie drive includes several Windows tools, including Sonic Solutions MyDVD 2.3 for DVD authoring (see the discussion of version 3 below), and Prassi (now VERITAS) PrimoDVD 2.0 (www.prassieurope.com) for burning data files to a DVD and for initializing DVD-RW discs.
Totally independently of its use for video, DVD also offers a very interesting approach for data backup and archiving. At 4.7 GB, a DVD disc can hold quite a bit of data, so you can archive your files permanently on write-once DVD-R recordable discs, or make regular backups to reusable DVD-RW rewritable discs.
Meanwhile, the price of DVD media continues to drop as the market grows and more companies start manufacturing the discs. On the Macintosh, Apple has been driving DVD usage by offering DVD-R media at around $10 a disc. In July 2001, Pioneer Electronics (www.pioneerelectronics.com) announced major price reductions, with DVD-R for General media available at $9.95 (retail), DVD-RW media available for $19.95, and even lower bulk prices for 50-disc spindles.
MedioStream, Inc. (www.mediostream.com) has been forging the way with real-time video capture and compression on the PC. A previous product, CAMpeg RT, captured digital video and audio from DV camcorders over a 1394 / FireWire interface and compressed to MPEG-2 format on hard disk, all in real time on a PC with a 1 GHz class processor.
In July 2001, MedioStream released the next step in this line, NeoDVD, a "one-click" tool to simplify the process of DVD capture, authoring, and burning. NeoDVD not only captures and compresses in real time, but also formats and saves the result in DVD-ready format (VOB files). After a real-time capture, it can then burn the result directly to DVD, with no additional authoring or processing step required.
The tremendous simplification provided by NeoDVD for working with DVDs is that it eliminates separate "authoring" steps. Traditional step-by-step processing both takes more time and requires lots more disk space: first capture the video, then compress it, then author it into a DVD-ready format, then burn it. That's four steps, and three copies of your video cluttering up your disk. With the NeoDVD approach, you collapse the first three steps into one, reduce a 4X process into 2X, and also have no extra copies of your video. Through the explosive growth in processing power on today's PCs, the result of the capture step is DVD-formatted files ready to burn.
Because of the extensive processing required, MedioStream recommends a minimum 700 MHz or better system for creating a DVD from disk files, and a minimum 1.1 GHz system for real-time DV capture. However, NeoDVD is designed to still run on slower systems, by buffering the captured video if it cannot be compressed in real time. On my sligly slower 1 GHz test system, for example, it took approximately 53 minutes to process 34 minutes of material from a DV tape.
The list price for NeoDVDstandard is $149, but MedioStream also was offering introductory promotional pricing down to $99.
The current version, NeoDVDstandard 1.0, offers three main functions: Camcorder mode to capture from DV, File mode to author from video files already stored on hard disk, and Disc Copy mode to copy an existing DVD disc or file.
In both Camcoder and File mode, you can choose to create DVD-ready files on your hard disk, or process directly to CD or DVD disc. NeoDVD also has built-in support for both NTSC and PAL DVD video formats, and will automatically covert the captured video to the selected output format as required. This is particularly helpful if you are creating DVDs to send to family or friends overseas.
In Camcorder mode, NeoDVD connects over your 1394 / FireWire port to your DV camcoder. It provides a preview window and on-screen controls to play and fast-forward (but not single-step) your tape to position it to the start of the sequence you want to process. You choose the output directory on disk, and then click Start. NeoDVD then plays the tape and processes the video to DVD format. You can end the sequence by clicking End, or NeoDVD will stop automatically when the maximum capacity is reached.
In File mode, neoDVD provides a simple authoring interface to import a list of files in Windows Media-Player-compatible formats (AVI, DV, MPEG-2, and QuickTime). Under the Video tab, you can rearrange the order of the files, preview them by playing through them, and set trim points to select only part of each sequence.
Under the Menu tab, NeoDVD automatically generates a series of menu pages with links to each video sequence, shown as the sequence name and a thumbnail of the first frame.
NeoDVD DVD menus
NeoDVD provides limited ability to customize the menus: you can enter a title for the DVD, select the font and color, and select the background image from a built-in list or import your own image. When you are done designing your DVD, click Make Disk to compress the video, create the DVD files, and optimally burn it to DVD or CD.
Finally, in Disc Copy mode, NeoDVD can copy DVD data between CD, DVD, and hard disk. In this way, you take a DVD file that you originally created on your hard disk and burn multiple copies to DVD, or even to CD if the files are small enough.
MedioStream intends enhance NeoDVD to be more customizable, but without losing the simplicity and ease of use. For example, NeoDVDstandard currently has no concept of a "project" that you can build, save, and then come back and modify. It is designed for simple, one-shot, select and burn use, without even knowing about MPEG compresssion, or worrying about deeper issues like compression rates.
Version 2 of NeoDVDstandard, due in the Fall of 2001, will add basic fades and transitions, and more control over the DVD menus. A more advanced version, neoDVDplus, is scheduled for December for under $200. It is expected to support capture from analog video and still images from video, and provide the ability to customize and personalize your DVD with layout templates.
Sonic Solutions is taking a different approach to turn-key DVD creation with the new version of its introductory DVD authoring tool, Sonic MyDVD version 3 (www.sonic.com). The new version was announced in August 2001, began shipping bundled with DVD burners in September, and will be available in a retail version in November for $149 (list).
Beyond the consumer MyDVD product, Sonic Solutions sells a broad range of DVD authoring products, with several versions of DVDit! for desktop authoring ($499 to $999), higher-end professional tools such as DVD Fusion and DVD Creator, plus the recent purchase of Daiken Scenarist for fully-featured commercial titles. But the low-end products are demonstrating great interest in the market: as of July 2001, Sonic reports sales of DVDit! and MyDVD had topped one million units.
This is a new direction for the MyDVD product, which has changed from a simple DVD authoring tool to focus on real-time capture and recording. MyDVD 3 supports capture from both digital DV and analog camcorders, with real-time compression and recording to DVD or CD. It also can import files in AVI, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 formats.
With its strength in higher-end DVD authoring, Sonic provides more user customization in MyDVD. You can choose a style for your project from a large selection of professionally-designed templates, or choose your own style. You can also capture clips separately in MPEG format, and then use them in multiple projects.
Trimming video in MyDVD
In addition, by adding a small data file to each DVD, MyDVD will be able to "crack open" a previously-recorded DVD to import the video and audio, and then use it again in order to add more material to a presentation, or use the same material in different presentations.
Finally, you still need a DVD player application in order to play your DVDs on your PC. Two solid players are InterVideo WinDVD (www.intervideo.com) and CyberLink PowerDVD (www.gocyberlink.com). These provide the ability to not only play your DVDs on your PC, but also to play DVD files from CD or hard disk. You can also use the PC interface to directly explore the contents of the DVDs outside the built-in navigational menus, and even capture screen shots of the DVD content. Both companies are also developing larger suites of related applications for video compression, video editing, and digital VCR.
WinDVD 3.0 automatically recognizes and plays a variety of disc formats, including DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, Video-CD, and Super VCD. You can also create a playlist of local files to play back, including AVI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MP3, AC3, and ASF.
Perhaps the coolest, and most useful, feature in WinDVD 3.0 is the smooth fast-forward and fast-reverse, from 1/4X to 20X speed. Even better, at up to 2X speed, WinDVD has a "time stretching" feature that maintains the natural audio quality even as the DVD plays at double speed: the equivalent of speed-reading for movie buffs.
To explore your discs further, WinDVD provides zoom and pan capability to zoom in to view a portion of the frame while the DVD is playing, and the ability to view up to four subtitles in different languages at the same time. You can also set bookmarks to find favorite scenes, and adjust brightness and contrast to see a dark scene more clearly.
For audio fans, WinDVD 3.0 adds standard support for Dolby Digital 5.1 for surround sound through multi-channel speaker systems. It also supports Dolby Headphone surround for the surround experience through headphones. Plus, WinDVD 3.0 adds support for DTS-encoded movies and multi-channel music CDs.
WinDVD 3.0 was introduced in July 2001, and is available for $49.95 (list). Check the InterVideo web site for trial downloads, and upgrade offers for the 10 million existing owners of WinDVD. InterVideo has also partnered with Microsoft to offer MP3 audio encoding ("ripping") and DVD playback capability as plug-in enhancements to the Windows XP Media Player.
2001 looks like the year that DVD has really broken through. With burners under $1000, media under $10, and authoring tools under $140, you can add DVD to your PC with minimal pain, and start creating, sharing, and archiving your video materials and data.
With tools like NeoDVD and MyDVD, you can quickly turn videotapes directly into DVDs, or do a little more work to add a simple menu with thumbnails of the different clips.
Businesses now can shoot a presentation or event, and send out copies on DVD the same day. Families can combine a collection of clips from a vacation, or the past year, and burn them to DVD with a professional-looking menu. And these DVDs can be played on any set-top player or any computer, PC or Macintosh with a DVD driver and player software.
Suddenly, with DVD, full-resolution, digital quality video and audio are in our reach. And it's a lot easier than digital video editing and recording to videotape, and a lot less painful and much better looking than trying to view low-resolution streaming video clips over the Internet.
For all the gory technical detail about the DVD formats, see the DVD FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), by Jim Taylor, author of "DVD Demystified" (McGraw-Hill, December 2000) at www.dvddemystified.com.
Pioneer Electronics - DVD-R/RW
LaCie - Firewire DVD-R/RW Drive
Prassi - PrimoDVD
MedioStream - NeoDVD
Sonic Solutions - MyDVD
InterVideo - WinDVD