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Monday, January 23, 2006
Making Professional DVD from Authoring to Replication

2. Introduction - Basic DVD Concepts

1.0 Introduction

Making DVD is both a science and an art. With the ever decreasing prices on powerful PCs and peripherals, you and I can create great DVDs that used to require big investment on hardware and software just few years ago. Now a $400 PC from Dell or other PC manufacturers will be good enough to create somewhat professional DVDs.

In this article I will try to provide you with the basic information to get you started on creating DVDs. All you need is just some basic equipment such as a digital camcorder, an IEEE 1394 controller card or a video capture card. There are lots of other tutorials and HowTos on the web on making DVDs. What distinguishes ours from the others is that we try to cover as much as we can, so novices or pros, prudent or extravagant readers, Windows fans, die-hard Mac users, or Linux supporters can benefit from reading this. In this article we not only tell you how, but in most cases also tell you why.

As in life there are always trade-offs. If you have tons of money to burn you can get yourself the state-of-the-art system to add great features to your DVDs. But if you like the challenge of experimenting free software, you can be equally satisfied by creating wonderful DVDs without spending a dime on software. But many of you will be in the middle-way category, i.e. spend some but not too much and still get the job done beautifully.

Both the free and advanced approaches require steep learning curves and strong technical background. You will find some "DVD for Dummies" kind of approaches in the middle. I have made no assumption on your technical ability so it's your own decision to choose and read the right sections of this article. The Table of Contents is your best pointer to the appropriate sections. Do study the Workflow, DVD Mastering, and the DVD Replication & Duplication sections though.

1.1 Some Basic DVD Concepts

As you don't need to know combustion engine to drive a car, you don't really need to know how DVD works in order to make great DVDs. Nevertheless, some basic concepts about DVD will help. Let's provide such concepts in form of Q&A.

1.1.1 How many kinds of DVDs are there?

Depends how you see it, there are DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, and DVD-Audio. Each of these DVDs can be in DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10, and DVD-18 formats. The first classification is based on functions and the second classification is based on the capacity or playtime. The names of the DVDs are pretty self-explanatory. DVD-Video is for video, DVD-ROM is for pure data, DVD-Audio is for high quality audio, and DVD-R is the recordable version of all these DVDs. There is also DVD+R which is nothing more than a different kind of recordable DVD. The new DVD writers do not care whether the recordable media is in + or - format.

The following table summarizes the different formats of DVDs.

Side / Layer
Video Playtime
DVD-5 4.7 GB Single / Single 2 hours The most basic kind of DVD
DVD-9 8.54 GB Single / Double 4 hours Need to be careful during authoring to choose the correct jumping point from Layer-0 to Layer-1.
DVD-10 9.4 GB Double / Single 4.5 hours Essentially a DVD-5 on each side. The disc needs to be manually flipped in order to play the other side. No artwork can be printed because both sides contain data.
DVD-18 17.1 GB Double / Double 8 hours Essentially a DVD-9 on each side. The disc needs to be manually flipped in order to play the other side. No artwork can be printed because both sides contain data.

Since this article is about authoring video DVD so we will leave the discussion of other functional DVD formats to other people. Jim Taylor's DVD Demystified is like the Bible of DVD and will be a good place to look into.

1.1.2 Are DVDs all the same around the world?

Physically they are. It's the content that makes the difference. This is all because of the different video system used by different regions of the world. In the US the video format is NTSC and in Europe it is PAL or SECAM. NTSC has 30 frames per second and the line density is 720x480 for DVD. PAL has 25 frames per second and the line resolution is 720x576. These resolutions are for normal TV size. For wide screen TV the resolution will be different.

A PAL/SECAM DVD normally won't play on an NTSC regions unless the player has the dual-format feature. Most cheap DVD players do come with this feature. On the other hand, an NTSC DVD will normally play in PAL regions; not because they don't care but the popularity of dual-format players in those regions. To be safe, you should make your DVD in the correct format for the targeted regions to assure 100% viewership.

1.1.3 What do I need to know as the DVD author?

DVD is a feature-rich gadget for the years to come. It has more interactive features than the old VHS tapes. As the author of DVDs you should at least know about the following features unless all you care is just a plain video played from the beginning to the end. Features of DVD include:

  • Menu
    Menus are like the table of contents for a DVD. On the remote controls of most DVD players there is a Menu button. Pressing the Menu button will bring the screen to a menu on which viewers can choose randomly to jump to specific part of the movie. In it's simplest form a menu can be no more than just few text labels. But it can also get fancy by adding a small movie as the button animation background. When you author your DVD you will need to set break points on the video to mark them for chaptering.

  • Subtitle
    Subtitles are like the Closed Captions (CC) on TV and they can be turn on or off if your DVD player supports this. The most common application of subtitles is to create different language subtitles for foreign viewers. For instance if the main movie is in English and you want French or Spanish viewers to understand the plot, you can add subtitles in French and Spanish. Besides texts, subtitles can be images too and gaming DVDs sometimes do take advantage of this. Creating subtitles can be time consuming task. But with the right tool it will be a pretty straightforward process. We will talk about a free subtitle tool call Subtitle Workshop later.

  • Audio Tracks
    Just like the subtitles audio tracks can be turned on or off if a DVD player supports this feature. With the remote control, you can imagine yourself going to a concert where you can be the conductor to turn the violin on and make the cello silent. Audio tracks can accomplish this effect so individual track can be turned on or off and the overall sound is the resultant of all tracks that are turned on superimposed together. The obvious application of audio track is again for foreign viewer to watch the movie with foreign language voiced over. Combined with subtitles, you can have many language combinations, say, French subtitle with Chinese voice over.

  • Camera Angles
    Camera Angles can be considered as having few movies played simultaneously and the viewers can only pick one movie at a time. With this in mind, you can actually design a DVD to play two totally different scenes and has nothing to do with the camera angles. The original concept of camera angles is to look at a movie setting from different angles. I rarely see any DVDs make use of this feature and was told this can only be found in some promiscuous movies. The real estate people should put this feature to work for them when trying to make a virtual tour for their potential buyers.

  • Copy Protection
    Copy protection can only be added during the authoring step. Once a DVD is authored and mastered there will be no way to add copy protection. Common copy protection schemes are CSS and Macrovision. These are usually added at the last stage of the authoring before transferring the result of the authoring to DLT tapes. There is no copy protected DVD-R because DVD burners cannot write copy protection information onto a DVD-R. If you need copy protection on your final pressed DVDs, you will need to output your masters to DLT tapes instead of DVD-R. No all DVD authoring software can add copy protections. If a software can output the result to DLT tapes normally it will also have copy protection enabling feature. In any cases you should consult the User's Guide on how to enable copy protection. We will talk about this on few popular DVD authoring software programs.

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