An Essential Guide to DVD Authoring

Learn how to create data DVDs and video DVDs

DVDs are the fastest-growing medium in the consumer electronics space. More than 15 million homes have a DVD player. Consumers are eagerly moving from VHS to DVD for several reasons, but the primary driving factor is the DVD format's vastly improved audio and video playback capabilities. A DVD image typically provides 540 lines of resolution-compared with a standard broadcast signal's 330 lines of resolution and a standard VHS image's 240 lines of resolution. Another benefit is evident when you compare DVDs with CDs. Whereas a CD is limited to 650MB of data (about 70 minutes of music), a DVD can contain about 4.7GB of data (about 120 minutes of video and audio).

Until recently, consumer-end DVD players have lacked one important quality that VCRs have long possessed: the ability to record. Certainly, high-end devices have been available to recording studios, but the price of these devices placed them well beyond the reach of the average person. Now, thanks to the rapid maturation of the DVD industry, several DVD recording devices are available that can bring the power of DVD authoring into your home.

The two most common types of DVDs are video DVDs, which can contain movies or concerts, and data DVDs, which can contain large programs such as Microsoft Encarta or a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or an atlas reference application. Before you start creating-or burning-DVDs, you need know how to choose a DVD recorder and you need to understand important concepts about both types of DVDs.

Choose Your Recorder

Selecting the right DVD recorder can be a surprisingly complex matter. Such devices are available in two basic categories: PC-based recorders and set-top recorders.

The most common type of DVD-recording device is a PC-based DVD recorder. Much like a CD-R or CD-RW device, a PC-based DVD recorder can be internal or external. You'll find three competing standards in the recordable-DVD arena: DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, and DVD+RW. Currently, several DVD-RAM drives are on the market. DVD-RAM is a rewritable format, so you can reuse the discs. However, DVD-RAM discs come in a cartridge-style case and aren't compatible with most home DVD players. DVD-RW and DVD+RW are newer formats. Like DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD+RW are also rewritable media. However, unlike DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD+RW discs look like standard DVD discs and are compatible with most newer DVD players. None of the formats are compatible with one another, so be careful when shopping for media. For more information about the different DVD formats, see Table 1. DVD-RAM and DVD-RW drives for the PC are available in the $400-$600 range. For more information about the available DVD recorders, see "Popular DVD Recorders."

In addition to PC-based DVD recorders, a new generation of set-top DVD-recording devices have been available in Japan for about a year and are just beginning to appear in the US market. These devices are similar to standard VCRs. However, these devices-which typically run in the $2500-$4000 price range-are still too expensive for most home users. "Popular DVD Recorders" contains more information about set-top DVD-recording devices.

After you purchase your hardware component, you need to assemble three essential software components-two behind-the-scenes system components and the GUI with which you'll assemble contents to write to the DVD. The behind-the-scenes components are an encoder and a decoder. The encoder's job is to translate the recorded digital information into a format that a DVD player can understand. The decoder's job is to translate the DVD format into a digital representation that the target device can render. On the PC, the decoder is typically a software component that comes with the DVD-ROM device. One example of a third-party DVD decoder is InterVideo's DVD XPack, an optional DVD decoder for Windows Media Player for Windows XP (WPXP). Likewise, DVD-recording devices typically include both a decoder for playing DVDs and an encoder for writing to DVDs. Set-top devices usually have a built-in encoder and decoder.

The third software component lets you assemble DVD content. On the PC, the nature of this software component depends on the type of DVD media that you want to create. If you want to create data DVDs, your software will be file-system-oriented and will have an interface that lets you select files and folders that you want to write to DVD. A couple of examples of this type of software are Prassi's PrimoDVD and Software Architects' WriteDVD!. If you want to create video DVDs, you'll need video-capture and editing software such as XP's MovieMaker or Apple Computer's iMovie (which is included with the iMac). Most set-top DVD recorders-which are intended only for video editing and aren't typically able to create data DVDs-include proprietary video-editing software.

Now you need an input source. The input source depends on the type of DVD that you want to create. A data DVD's input source is typically the source computer's hard disk or another DVD or CD drive on the system. A video DVD's input source is usually a video file that you've edited and saved to the hard disk. For example, you might use a digital camera to capture some home video or you might gather content from another DVD.

Now you're ready to start burning DVDs. Because PC-based DVD-creation hardware is the most affordable solution, the examples I include in this article use the PC-based Pioneer Electronics' Pioneer A103 DVD-RW device running under XP.

Create Data DVDs

You can use data DVDs to back up folders and files on your computer system. You can also use them as installation discs for large applications that would otherwise span multiple CDs. The process of creating data DVDs is similar to creating a standard, albeit large, CD-R or CD-RW.

To create a sample data DVD (in DVD-RW format), I used PrimoDVD 2.0, which is bundled with the Pioneer DVD recorder. When the DVD-burning application first opens, you can select the files and folders that you want to write to DVD. (Figure 1 shows the folders and files under the D:\Program Files folder that I selected-279 folders containing 2872 files, with an overall capacity of 1735MB.)

After you select the desired files and folders, you can write them to the DVD by clicking the red Go! record button. You can configure the DVD-writing process to use temporary disk storage before it performs the physical write to DVD, but writing directly to DVD is more common. Therefore, storage requirements are minimal. (Although the various DVD-burning applications require different actions to select files and folders and to burn DVDs, the overall concepts and processes are the same.)

The DVD-recording software writes the files to the DVD in the ISO 9660 or Universal Disk Format (UDF) format so that the OS can read the files. However, typical DVD players can't read or play data DVDs-rather, data DVDs are compatible only with your computer's DVD-ROM drive. Data DVDs that you use for archival purposes contain only files and folders. Data DVDs that you create for Windows program installations also contain an autorun.inf file in the root directory. This autorun.inf file generally contains the following text lines:


When you insert a DVD that contains an autorun.inf file, Windows looks for the autorun.inf file. If Windows finds the autorun.inf file, it launches the program identified by the Open= line (in this example, setup.exe) and displays the icon identified by the Icon= line.

Create Video DVDs

Although you can certainly use DVDs as big data CDs, DVDs' primary use is for video. Anyone equipped with a MiniDV video camera, a PC outfitted with a DVD recorder, and video-editing software can create video DVDs. Like data DVDs, video DVDs are a digital medium. However, unlike data DVDs, which don't have a predefined structure or file content, video DVDs must adhere to a set format.

When you burn a video DVD, the authoring software creates the required VIDEO_TS directory, which will contain the files that handle the DVD's audio and video playback. Figure 2 shows the VIDEO_TS directory. Each of this directory's files has a unique purpose and must follow a specific naming convention. The VIDEO_TS.IFO file contains the overall DVD title-set navigation information, and VIDEO_TS.BUP is a backup copy of this file. The VIDEO_TS.VOB file contains the initial DVD splash screen and menu options. (The .VOB extension stands for Video Object.) Video DVDs can have multiple chapters; each chapter is designated with VTS_ and the chapter number. Each chapter comprises a set of .vob, .info, and .bup files. The VTS_01_ files contain the first chapter, the VTS_02_ files contain the second chapter, and so on. In Figure 2, the VTS_01_0.vob and VTS_01_1.vob files contain the video and audio information that the DVD player will play for the first video chapter, whereas VTS_01_0.IFO and VTS_01.0.BUP contain the navigational information for the first video chapter. The DVD-authoring software automatically generates all these files.

To create a video DVD, I started with some video footage that I shot with Panasonic's PV-DV900 MiniDV camera. This MiniDV camera has an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) connection, which I used to connect to the PC's PCI 1394 adapter. Then, I used XP's MovieMaker software to capture and edit the video footage. Finally, to convert the video footage into DVD format and write the files to DVD, I used Sonic's MyDVD authoring software, which was bundled with the Pioneer DVD recorder. After I connected my digital video camera to the system, I started MovieMaker and selected Record to open the Record dialog box, which Figure 3 shows. To start capturing video from my camera to my computer, I clicked Record.

Before you begin recording, you need to make a couple of decisions about how you want to capture the video footage. Primarily, you need to determine the format of the captured video. Digital video has a variety of purposes, one of which is DVD creation, but other purposes are TV broadcasts and Webcasts (i.e., streaming video from a Web site). When you select a capture format, you make a compromise between the level of fidelity and the size of the captured digital information. Video-editing software packages offer varying options for recording video.

You also need to consider the capability of your DVD-authoring software. Generally, Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG)-2 is the highest-fidelity option that's compatible with nearly all DVD-authoring software. Unfortunately, MovieMaker doesn't support the MPEG-2 format; the highest-quality format XP supports is AVI. In Figure 3, you can see that I've selected DV-AVI (25Mbps) and that the software is capturing video at 720 × 480 pixels at a rate of 30 frames per second (fps). These settings will produce a high-quality image. After the software captures the video, you can use MovieMaker to cut clips, rearrange sequences, dub audio, and perform other editing functions. Be aware that the video-capture process requires prodigious amounts of storage space. Consider reserving 8GB to 10GB of disk space before you begin capturing and editing any video footage that's longer than an hour or two.

After you've captured and edited your video footage, you're ready to write the video information to DVD. Your first step is to import the video footage into the DVD-authoring tool. In MyDVD, you open a new DVD project, right-click the Video Themes window to bring up a File Open dialog box, and select the video files that you want to import. The MyDVD software can import the AVI files (which you used MovieMaker to create) and add the files to its list of video images.

Unlike VHS tapes, which you usually play from start to finish, DVDs have additional interactive qualities, such as graphical menus and navigation features. Video studios often add additional video clips (e.g., interviews, alternative endings, studio trailers) to DVDs. The DVD menu and navigation system makes these features possible. Most DVD-authoring tools provide utilities with which you can create custom menus. Figure 4 shows an example of the MyDVD authoring software's menu-creation feature.

Although the steps you take to create a DVD menu vary among DVD-authoring packages, the concept is simple. The menu-creation feature lets you position text or graphics on the initial DVD menu screen, which is the first or second screen that appears after the DVD starts playing. You use the DVD-authoring tool to create text. Typically, you use a separate graphics editor to create graphical images (e.g., .gif files, .jpg files), then use the DVD-authoring software to import the images. The software then links these text and graphic elements to a video element that it writes to the DVD. Now, when you play the DVD, you can select a menu option to play its associated video clip.

After you import video and create a menu, you're ready to burn your DVD. From MyDVD's Build menu, you simply select the Make a DVD Disc option. Figure 5 shows the resulting dialog box. The DVD-authoring tool then writes the captured digital-video footage and menu to the DVD. The authoring tool also handles the creation of the VIDEO_TS directory, along with its accompanying .vob, .ifo, and .bup files.

Take On Hollywood

Creating DVDs is straightforward and a lot of fun. Data DVDs can give you an impressive amount of storage space in which you can store educational materials or file and folder backups. Video DVDs offer a high-quality medium for your family videos and vacation footage. With good video-capture and editing software in hand-as well as a DVD-authoring tool-you might even take on Hollywood and create your own DVD movies.

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