Create a Better DVD

You won’t find this your instruction manual, and most of your friends have never heard of this. ‘This’ is a method to create a better quality DVD than using the default setup of your editing and burning programs.

I know, I know, there are Blu-Ray disks and High Definition Mp4 files available today, so why bother with making a better DVD? Fact is, despite the HD revolution, the primary distribution of most home videos and movies is still the DVD. When viewed on an HDTV from a normal viewing distance, a standard DVD made this way can look deceivingly close to a High Definition Blu-Ray video disk.

I realize there are dozens of video editing programs and DVD burning programs. I’m not going to try to account for, or even profess that I know more than a few of them. However, the overall concept is the same for whatever programs you use.

Most of the time I use Sony Vegas to edit. Sometimes I use Final Cut Pro. My DVD recording method will work with either editing program. Regardless of which program I use to edit, I author my DVD using Sony’s DVD Architect Studio. Even using Studio’s default settings, the DVD comes out better than it does on the Mac.

You are about to learn how to make a DVD even better than your default settings will allow. Of course, this method only offers improvement on a DVD that is mastered from a clean, High Definition video source. So forget about it being useful for converting your old VHS tapes to DVD.

Creating a DVD on your computer is a multiple step task. When you begin the process of creating a DVD from your edited program, your edited program files are rendered into a set of two master files; one video file and one matching audio file. Sony Vegas creates an Mpg file for the video and an Ac3 file for the audio. Final Cut Pro and other editing systems create a similar set of files but with different extensions. These two master files are then imported into Architect Studio, which converts them again into the VOB audio/video files and the IFO indexing files that are standard for all DVD’s.

When you select “Make DVD” in Vegas or select “Share” in Final Cut, the first rendering process in the editing software creates master files that are matched to the low resolution of the finished DVD; 704 by 480 pixels. This is quite a degradation from the 1920×1080 you recorded, or even 1280×720 if you used that format. In addition, the files it creates are Mpg 2 based. Mpg 2 files are an old encoding technology; Mp4 files are better. So how do you get around this process? Simple. Don’t select “Make a DVD”. Instead, create a single High Definition Mp4 file that has both video and audio in the same file.

Set the file Mp4 parameters manually for either the 1280×720 resolution or 1920×1080. You won’t gain anything in your DVD by using 1920×1080 over 1280×720, except that you’ll have a better master file for other purposes later on, like uploading to YouTube or Vimeo. Some newer Blu-Ray players have an SD card slot. If you copy the Mp4 file onto your SD card, you may be able to play the video directly from the SD card with quality that exceeds even Blu Ray. Not everyone can do this, however, so please read on.

Mp4 files are a newer and more efficient technology having less digital artifacts than similar sized Mpg 2 files. If you choose, you can create a larger Mpg 2 file instead of an Mp4, but Mp4 delivers a cleaner image, all other factors being equal. If you edit in Final Cut, you can create your HD file as a Quicklime file. Architect Studio works with those, too. No matter what type of master file(s) you create, you need to set the data rate to at least 10,000 Kilobytes (also stated as 10 Meg) per second in order to keep the compression artifacts below normal visibility.

Once you have created your master High Definition video file, play it on your computer to make sure your machine is fast enough to have rendered a skip-free master file. Once you know your master file is good, import it into your DVD authoring software. With Architect Studio, you can drop nearly any file (Mp4, Mpg 2, Quicktime) directly into the DVD authoring time line, or you can insert the file from the program’s menu as a media file. Create your DVD menu and then burn your DVD using half the top speed your recorder will record. Recording at 8x using a 16x recorder will result in fewer playback errors that sometimes result from bits that don’t get burned deeply enough at the higher recording speed.

In short, by using this method, what you are doing is keeping your master video file in High Definition mode through the intermediary rendering step (as opposed to standard resolution if you use the DVD default settings). This preserves the HD quality of your video as long as possible. Your finished DVD will still only be 704×480, but the cleaner intermediate rendering process will yield a DVD with less digital artifacts around the edges, and colors that are more pure. You’ll especially notice the difference when the disk is played on an HDTV with the player connected to an HDMI port.

Most new DVD players have an HDMI output and will up-convert your DVD into an HD compatible signal for your HDTV. No, it does not turn your DVD into High Definition, but it does eliminate the raster lines of a regular TV and makes the DVD look much sharper than it does if you connect the player through the regular RCA video outputs.

The combined processes of mastering your DVD from a High Definition intermediary file, and using the HDMI connector with an HDTV will give you the best image you can get from a DVD. From your sofa, you may forget you aren’t watching a High Definition Blu-Ray disk.

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