Introduction to the DVD-Video Format

Digital video is not a Polaroid camera, where you click the big red button and 30 seconds later a photo plops out, ready to be stuffed into the family photo album. Digital video is more like an amateur film photographer, so (figuratively speaking) be prepared to break out the thermometers, powdered developer chemicals, a good instruction book, and get to work. And as always, remember to never let your first tests be on something important or irreplaceable.

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What is a DVD? What is DVD-Video?

A DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) is the next-generation version of a CD (Compact Disc), identical in size, but able to hold far more data, and a bit more durable than CD was. DVD-Video is the way video data is stored on a DVD, the successor of the decades-old VHS tape format. Video data is stored on an optical disc, and can be played either on standalone DVD players or on a computer with DVD player software. Within the past couple of years, it has also become possible to write or record onto DVDs, a process often called “burning”, using either computers or standalone DVD recorders.

DVD technology has a distinct advantage over old analog tape formats, with the ability to be copied with no loss in quality, to not be at risk of being damaged when played, and the media should last decades longer than analog tapes when stored properly. However, the discs are a little more difficult to create than VHS was, and is easy to create bad quality discs (usually due to user error). DVD is not like VHS, where you could slam a tape into the VCR and hitting the record button. Even the DVD recorders sold in Walmart take a little bit of thought and knowledge, though minimal.

What Steps are Required to Make a DVD-Video?

There are two ways to do video:

  1. The good way. Spending time to use proper hardware, proper software and proper methods to achieve an excellent end product. A little bit of money may be required along the way, but it won’t require an extra mortgage or anything excessive like that. A little bit of reading/learning is also required, but again, nothing excessive, you do not have to get a Ph.D. in video. It also requires some patience.
  2. The cheap/lazy way. Just slam everything through some cheap/free garbage hardware/software, often in the hopes that it will do all the work because they “cannot be bothered” with work and “need it right now”. These same people often complain that quality is not good, their discs do not work, etc etc. They reap the punishments or their own bad choices.

Which do you want to be? This guide will assume you pick the first choice, the good way. The guides on this site are actually ordered and grouped by the processes needed to create a DVD-Video (and for the sake of brevity, from this point forward, “DVD-Video” will be referred to simply as “DVD” as most people do).

STEP 1: CAPTURING. Process of getting the video data off the tv/tapes and onto the computer (via capture card) or a RW disc (via DVD recorder). A video card “captures” the data it is fed, and creates a new file. Computers do this with a mix of software and hardware, depositing video files on the hard drive. Standalone DVD recorders do the same thing, but the conversion is entirely processed in hardware, and the data is deposited on a blank DVD (or internal hard drive on some of the more advanced units). When using DVD recorders, remember to use good blank discs.

STEP 2: EDITING. To remove unwanted footage, re-arrange footage, add effects, etc. This is an optional step, and is not required. Includes things as simple as “removing commercials” to the definitive video magic of George Lucas movies.

STEP 3: RESTORING. Often referred to simply as “filtering”. Restoring is actually performed throughout the video process, first with good playback hardware during the capture phase. Both during and after editing, software filters can be applied to improve quality. And again during the encoding phase, software filtering can often be done in the encoder. Both audio and video can be filtered, though audio is faster and easier.

STEP 4: ENCODING. This step can actually go by several names, and can be used to accomplish varying goals, but the outcome is the same: a new video file is created. Encoding is usually done for one of 3 reasons: (1) the edits are completed and a new file must be saved, (2) the video was digital source, not something you captured, and needs to be converted to DVD-Video specs, or (3) the capture method is not MPEG and needs to be encoded. Some people use “render” to describe encoding, but that term is incorrectly being used. This step can be skipped if the capture was MPEG format and had compliant DVD-Video specs, and needs no editing done on it. This is by far the most time-consuming step, and is why many people prefer to capture MPEG and do basic edits in the MPEG domain (this method will not work for advanced editing needs, and requires good hardware/software to be successful).

STEP 5: AUTHORING. The organization and menu-making step. DVD-Video format calls for discs to have a certain file arrangement, set to rigid specifications so all DVD players can easily and properly play the material, and is why discs cannot be made from raw files. The software will take care of the structure, your only job is to make attractive menus and import the audio/video files.

STEP 6: BURNING. After the disc is authored, it can be burned. Some software includes a burning engine, so many people think authoring is the same as burning, which is incorrect. If your authoring software does not contain a burning engine, or it’s burning engine is buggy, software like ImgBurn or RecordNow (not Nero or Roxio) can be used to burn authored folder sets onto disc. Always remember to use good blank media.

STEP 7: PRESENTATION. The disc is burned! It’s over, right? Not always, no. At this time, feel free to label the disc with a Sharpie marker, or print pretty pictures onto the disc with an inkjet printer (inkjet media required). NEVER USE LABELS ON DVDs!!! Create nice cases in Photoshop, and place them on a shelf with the rest of the family video collection.

It may not be as fast as the big red button on a Polaroid, but it can be equally as nice, if not outright better. In fact, it should be better, given the right tools and knowledge.

Vocabulary and Jargon of DVD-Video

The following list of terms will appear throughout this site (and many other sites that deal with video). Only required jargon is being put into this list. Obscure terms are not needed at this time. It is, after all, a BASICS guide. At this point in time, this short list of terms is not presented in alphabetical order.

  • Resolution: The size of the video, as measured in pixels (a digital measurement).
  • Bit-rate: The amount of data per second. This alone determines the filesize of a video file. NOTE: Actually, there are a couple more mitigating factors that can affect the file size, such as the discreet cosine and GOP length, but for the purpose of introduction, this is the only factor that affects filesize. Resolution does not determine filesize. However, bit-rate must increase with resolution, in order to allocate enough data to maintain high quality video or audio.
  • Macroblocks: When not enough bit-rate is being fed to an MPEG file, meaning there is an insufficient resolution-to-data ratio, the outcome is blocks on screen. MPEG is a compression system that divides an image into square zones, and when there is not enough bit-rate, these zone boundaries become visible.
  • Dropped frames: When the flow of data is interrupted during capture, and data is lost in the process. Video and/or audio frames are missing from the captured file, resulting in undesirable side effects like audio/video being out of sync, jerking in the image, or large missing gaps of time.
  • NLE: Abbreviation for “non-linear editor”, often in reference to high-dollar professional and semi-professional software like Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas Video, or Avid. Non-linear means the video can be edited at random outside of real time (which is how editing was often done on tapes).
  • VCD, SVCD, CVD, XVCD: Various methods of storing low or medium resolution MPEG files onto CD media, for the purpose of playing on VCD or VCD-capable DVD players. Not all DVD players will play all CD formatted video, and in fact, some cannot play any CD video. Often referred to as “the poor man’s DVD”. Not a high quality format, therefore not suggested.

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