The Gadgets Page

September 6, 2005

How to make DVD Home Movies

Filed under: Articles,Audio and Video — Matthew Strebe @ 1:19 am

DVDs have rapidly replaced videocassettes as the format of choice for home video. But making your own DVDs with video from a camcorder is far from easy. Understanding the process helps.

Ways to make a DVD

There are basically three methods you can use to create DVDs of your home movies. Each method has its advantages and drawbacks, and none of the methods has a clear lead in the market. The three methods are:

  1. Using a component DVD recorder
  2. Using a DVD Camcorder
  3. Using a computer

Using a component DVD Recorder

Using a component DVD recorder is basically like using a VCR—You insert a blank recordable DVD, connect your video source, and hit the record button. If you like simplicity, component DVD recorders are for you. The disadvantages are that they’re more difficult to use and program than VCRs (so if you had trouble with your VCR, you’re going to have trouble with your DVDR) and they’re not flexible—you can’t create highly customized DVDs. Some have lower quality encoders that leave noticeable artifacts in the video as well, so be sure to take a good look in the electronics store before you purchase.

Using a DVD Camcorder

Using a DVD Camcorder is the newest way to make DVDs, but unfortunately it’s not all that reliable. If anything goes wrong during the all-important finalization phase of the DVD burning process, you’ll loose all your video. Also, DVD camcorders are limited to about 40 minutes of recording before you have to change DVDs, and the blanks are still rather expensive—around $5 each, compared to about $1 each for typical DVD blanks. Most people are better off using a traditional tape based camcorder and a console DVD burner if ease of use and reliability are important.

Using a computer

Using a computer is the most difficult but most flexible way to create a DVD. You’ll need a DVD recorder in your computer and a bit of third party DVD creation software—for example, each of the five steps in the next section typically takes a different piece of software to perform.

If you’re willing to invest a significant amount of time learning the tools, and you don’t mind the considerable amount of time that your computer will have to spend transcoding video, then creating DVDs using a computer is for you.

Understanding the process

  1. Capturing video
  2. Editing video
  3. Encoding video to MPEG-2
  4. Authoring the DVD titles
  5. Burning the DVD
Capturing Video

You probably already know how to capture video—point your camcorder and shoot. Any kind of video can be a source for DVD, but the easiest to use and highest quality video comes from digital camcordes that use Firewire (or sometimes USB) to transfer the video without loss to your PC or component DVD recorder.

If you don’t have a digital video camera, you’ll need a video capture card in your PC or a component DVD recorder with an analog input in order to capture video. A video capture card turns your camcorder’s video output into a digital file that the computer can transcode into the DVD format, MPEG-2. There are two similar formats that are also popular: MPEG-1, the format of Video CDs, and MPEG-4, which was made popular by DIVX and is the native format of a lot of video content on the Internet.

Editing Video

You don’t have to edit video—If you’re happy with what you’ve captured the way you’ve captured it, you can skip this step and save yourself some time.

Editing video requires that you use a computer and some (usually) expensive software. While there are different types of editors, most allow you to scan through the movie and cut out clips that you can then chain together to create the cinematic flow that you want. Most video editors also require that you transcode your video to some intermediate format, which will take a considerable amount of time on most computers.

Encoding video to MPEG-2

Once you have raw or edited digital video files, they need to be encoded into the DVD format, which is called MPEG-2.

Component DVD recorders and DVD camcorders have special chips that can encode to MPEG-2 in real-time as they get a video feed, but PCs have to do it with their regular CPU, which is not optimized for the process. It usually takes between two and ten times longer to encode a DVD than it would to play it on a PC—so expect your two hour movie to take at least four hours to encode to DVD when you import it from your camera. Usually, the MPEG-2 encoding process is handled by your DVD authoring software.

A new class of camcorders that record to internal hard disks in MPEG-2 format are starting to appear. These cameras require you to use a computer to create your DVDs, but they eliminate the time required to encode MPEG-2 and they typically come with all the software you need to perform these steps. If you want to use a computer to create DVDs, look for hard disk based camcorders to make it as easy as possible.

Authoring DVD titles

Authoring DVDs is the process of creating menus and the ancillary description files that the DVD format requires in order to make sense of the various video files contained on a DVD. Although the process is usually automated by console recorders and DVD camcorders, you can get quite a bit of flexibility out of PC authoring software to include the title screens you want, the audio tracks and music that you want, and to display menus the way you want to display them. If you really care about the finished look of your DVDs when they’re played, you’ll want to check out various DVD authoring titles.

Burning the DVD

On a PC, burning the DVD is also sometimes handled by the DVD authoring software, but in many cases the DVD authoring software merely creates a “VIDEOTS” folder or a DVD image file. If this is the case, you’ll have to use another program to burn the folder or image onto a DVD blank. Be careful—Both Windows XP and Mac OS X can’t correctly burn a VIDEOTS folder to DVD correctly using their built-in CD/DVD recording software because the way they record files is not compatible with the DVD standard. You’ll have to use software such as Roxio, Nero, or Toast to burn the files if you want your DVDs to work correctly.

Sometimes, burning the DVD fails at the last step (called “Finalizing”). This is the phase when the recorder burns the menu onto the DVD. Finalizing can fail if the DVD media is of poor quality. When this happens, use better media and try again.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much but what software do you recommend and how is it better than another software?

    Comment by zoe — July 11, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

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