Are You Writing Your Own DVDs?

by Terry Wilhite

My friend, Jerry Clower, the country comedian, used to say that the first football game he ever saw, he played in it. I can empathize with him. The first DVD I ever saw, I produced. If you've not paid attention to the DVD craze, it is time you did, because one day blank VHS tapes on store shelves will be gone. Let me stress that you need to have a plan now, before VHS becomes a relic! The pristine quality of DVD video and audio makes it unquestionably clear why versatile digital disks are so popular.

What I'm about to give you is the roster of helpful information that I wish that I'd had before I started writing my own DVDs. Next month I want to point you to some easy-to-use software that will take most of the fear factor and guess work out of creating your own DVDs, but right now here are some helpful hints.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>DVDs are the same physical size as a compact disc. A CD holds around 750 megabytes of data. A one-sided DVD will accommodate about 4.7 gigabytes of information. A DVD burner can create a CD, but a CD burner can't create a DVD.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Until this summer, DVD burners, the internal or external devices that create the digital media, could only write a one-sided DVD. This summer, however, units are on the consumer market that can write two-sided DVDs called DVD+R DL (for double layer). A two-sided DVD means that you can get as much as 8.5 gigabytes worth of data on a DVD.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>DVDs can be used to archive files of any type (Microsoft Word, Excel, audio or video file), just as you can do with CDs. In fact, re-writable DVDs, known as DVD-RW or DVD+RW allow you to modify and/or erase data. Other DVD formats include DVD-R, DVD+R. The "R" stands for record once. Be sure to buy blank DVDs that are the same format as the DVD writer that you have or plan to get. My Sony DVD writer is the only brand on the market that I know of to date that will write all of the common formats. We won't discuss the "whys and wherefores" of formats, but let me just say that different companies have had their ideas of what the standard format should be. Each format produces the same pristine quality.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>When you buy a DVD player, make sure you look to see what formats it supports. Most DVD players today support all of the common formats we've mentioned.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Concerning a DVD presentation, just as you'd buy or rent a DVD movie at the store, to create your own presentation, you will need DVD creation software. More on that next month.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>The way to get video into your DVD software is by linking your video camera or VCR to your computer, via FireWire, using a capture card or unit like a Dazzle. See for an explanation.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Typically the native, original video footage that is captured by video editing and/or DVD software is formatted by the software as an .avi file. These are huge files. To get the audio/video onto a DVD, the video has to be compressed or "encoded" as the DVD industry calls it, typically using a compression format called MPEG-2. That's part of the work the DVD creation software will do.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Typically, you'll have several "export" options on your video software, including an option to "Export As MPEG-2." When you choose this selection, the file will have to go through a process called "rendering." This is a lengthy ordeal. For example, to compress an hour-long (14 gigabyte) .avi file into an MPEG-2 will take about two hours using a 1.2 GHz computer with 512 Megabytes of RAM. Literally, right before I retire for the evening, I push the "start" button on my computer software to begin rendering and producing a DVD. It finishes some time during the night, and my video project on DVD is completed. Of course, short video clips take less time to compress. The creation process takes up most of the computer's processing capacity and RAM, so you can't go about your normal computer duties and create a DVD too.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Rent some movies or concerts to see how professional producers structure their menus. Unlike VHS, with a DVD you're able to instantly access any part of the video that links back to a chapter, menu or sub menu.  Unless you look at a professionally-created DVD, software that you buy won't make nearly as much sense.

Creating a DVD is not nearly as difficult as it may seem. As I mentioned, we'll delve deeper into DVD creation next month when we review software that makes DVD writing a cinch.

Terry Wilhite is a music and multimedia specialist.

He welcomes your emails at

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