Basics DVD/VCD Creation Process

Have you ever noticed how much easier things seem once you learn the basics? Until you know how the various elements of a project will fit together, you tend to see the task as one big, incomprehensible, and almost impossible undertaking. How will you ever get your movies from your camcorder onto a DVD that you can play in a set-top player? It just seems overwhelming, doesn’t it?

I think the key to making this whole process easier to understand is to break it down into manageable steps. Once you can see how all of the pieces fit together, you’ll be able to clearly understand that creating your own DVDs (or VCDs) is really pretty straightforward.

Pretty soon you’ll have your first DVD movie that you’ve made for yourself, and things won’t seem nearly so intimidating. By the way, from now on I’ll just refer to creating “DVDs” unless I’m talking about something that is specific to VCDs.

Since the two types of discs are so similar, you’ll be following pretty much the same path regardless of which of them you intend to create at the end of the process. Also, for continuity purposes, I’m going to use one excellent and inexpensive piece of video editing software, Pinnacle Studio 8, for my general examples.

Creating Your Video Content

Not surprisingly, the first step in creating your DVD is actually creating the video content that you want to use for your movie. You have many different options, of course, such as the Sony DCR-TRV27 mini DV camcorder shown in Figure below.

FIGURE 3 This Sony digital camcorder is an excellent choice for home video creation.

I use a digital camcorder. Digital camcorders record your video (and audio) as digital information. That is, everything is reduced to a series of ones and zeros, which very accurately store the sounds and images in a format that can be copied or reproduced as many times as you like without deterioration.

In most cases, this also means that the end result is a high-quality video that can easily be stored on a very small tape. For example, Figure below shows that two of the mini DV tapes easily fit within the palm of my hand.

FIGURE 4 Mini digital video cassettes are a very compact way to store digital video.

Mini DV may be the most popular digital camcorder format, but it is not the only one available. Digital 8 uses a slightly larger tape cassette, and micro MV uses an even smaller one.

None of this really matters all that much in terms of how you create your video content or the manner in which you will later transfer that content to your PC for editing. In addition to digital camcorders, there are the older analog models, such as the VHS-C and Hi8.

Rather than converting your movies to computer data, these camcorders store the video and audio directly onto the tape. This is the same recording method that is used in VCRs. Analog recordings can suffer a quality loss when the tapes are played many times or when produced by duplication.

This characteristic should not be a significant issue if you are transferring a video you’ve shot from your analog camcorder (or your VCR) to your PC, since once the video is in your PC, it is stored in digital format.

The basics of creating your original video footage can be summed up as follows:

  • Digital camcorders generally produce superior quality sound and images.
  • If you have the proper video capture hardware on your PC, there’s no reason why you cannot also use analog sources such as analog camcorders or VCRs.
  • Some rare footage is simply too important to waste even if the quality may not be up to modern standards. For example, your grandfather’s old home movies probably won’t have the same quality as ones you shoot today with your digital camcorder, but that doesn’t mean you should simply toss them out!

Capturing Your Video

Once you have your video content assembled, the next step will be to capture that video on your PC. This simply means that you will connect the video source to a special port on your PC, then copy the images and sounds into your PC for further processing. I’ll tell you more about this step later, but for now let’s take a quick look at the basics of video capture on your PC.

Capturing Digital Video

If you have a digital camcorder, your PC can connect to it and then control the playback of the video that is contained on the camcorder. As Figure below shows, the video editing program that you use may even have onscreen controls that enable you to play, pause, rewind, fast-forward, and so on.

FIGURE 5 Capturing video from a digital camcorder is easy with onscreen controls.

In most cases you will probably use an IEEE-1394, FireWire, or i.Link connection between your PC and your digital camcorder. (These are three different names for the same type of connection.) Not all PCs have this type of connection, but it is quite easy to add one if yours does not.

An IEEE-1394 connection is really the best method of transferring video between your camcorder and your PC, since it offers very fast transfer rates. Some digital camcorders also support USB connections to your PC.

Unfortunately, USB connections are generally slower than IEEE-1394 connections, so it may take longer to transfer your videos (and you run the risk of introducing errors known as dropped frames into the captured video).

It’s true that the newer USB 2.0 standard is faster than IEEE-1394, but unfortunately it is not yet widely supported by most camcorders—even if your PC is new enough to be equipped with the faster version of USB.

Capturing Analog Video

If you have an analog camcorder or if you want to use recorded video from a VCR, you’ll need to use an analog capture method. This is similar to capturing digital video, except that your PC won’t be able to control the playback—you’ll have to start and stop your camcorder or VCR manually.

As Figure below shows, there isn’t a lot of difference in your video editing program (except that there won’t be any onscreen playback controls).

FIGURE 6 Capturing video from an analog source is also pretty easy.

You need a different type of connection for capturing analog video signals on your PC. For this, you will need a video capture board that has either composite video or S-Video inputs, depending on what is available on your video source.

It is also possible to capture video through a TV tuner card in your PC. This may be your only option if your VCR lacks composite video or S-Video outputs.

Transferring Old Movie Film to Digital Video

I imagine that some of you may have old movie films (such as 8 MM home movies) that you would like to convert to modern digital video format. The good news is that this is quite possible to do, but the bad news is that you may need to experiment some to get the results you want.

Basically, the problem comes down to two issues: first, you need a physical means of doing the transfer; second, you may have some quality issues that will need some tinkering to resolve. The easiest way to transfer the old movies is to project them onto a screen and then film them with your camcorder (which should be mounted on a tripod to keep it as still as possible).

You might also be able to locate a specialized video transfer unit, such as the Raynox RV-1500, which will probably produce superior results. Unfortunately, you may have a difficult time locating a video transfer unit; it is really just a box with a mirror and a frosted glass screen.

You set up the film projector to project the images into the box, and the mirror flips the image so it is projected onto the back of the frosted glass screen. Then you focus your camcorder on the screen, start the projector and the camcorder, and wait while the movie is recorded on your camcorder.

The one problem you may encounter using this method is flickering in the video recorded on your camcorder. This flickering results from the frame rate of the old movie being different from the frame rate of your camcorder.

The only solution I know about for this problem is to slightly adjust the playback speed on the film projector to see if you can eliminate (or at least reduce) the flickering on your recording. It may take some extra work, but it is possible to save your old home movies and create those family heirlooms.

Editing Your Movie

Once you’ve captured all of your video, the next step is to edit it. This is the process of choosing which parts of the video actually belong in your movie. However, to leave the definition there would really only brush the bare surface of the possibilities that you have available for taking your video and making it into a movie that someone will want to watch.

In fact, editing is the most fun part of the whole process, because it enables you to really get creative and turn a bunch of boring footage into something that is really special. Editing your movie can include quite a few different steps. You have to do only one of them—choose the video clips that you’ll include—but there is a whole world of additional possibilities for you at this point.

For example, you can do the following:

  • Rearrange the clips so that they appear in a different order than they were shot in. Often this is crucial to telling the story, since you may not have been able to film your shots in the order that best illustrates the story you want to tell.
  • You can trim clips to remove extraneous footage at the beginning or the end of a scene. In fact, it’s often a very good idea to shoot a few extra seconds both before and after a scene just so you’ll be sure to capture everything you really want to include. Then you’ll be able to trim properly for a more professional looking final result.
  • You can change the speed at which certain clips are played back. For example, you might speed up the pace in a scene shot on the road to increase the excitement, or you might want to slow down a scenery fade out shot at the end of your movie.
  • You can add or modify the soundtrack. For example, you can add some music to accompany certain scenes, or you might want to add a voice-over narration to tell part of the story.
  • You can add titles at the beginning, the ending, or anywhere in between to make your movie appear more professional.
  • If you like, you can add transition effects between scenes. These are the fancy fades, wipes, dissolves, and so on that you’ve probably seen in all sorts of movies and TV shows. Transitions can be especially effective when you’re moving from one part of your storyline to another, since they give the viewer a visual clue that the next scene is not directly related to the one it follows.
  • You can add menus so that viewers can easily navigate through different portions of your movie.

So you see what I mean—editing your movie is where the real fun begins. Just think, with only your camcorder, your PC, and some handy digital video editing software, you’ll be able to produce movies that would have cost thousands of dollars and taken the efforts of dozens of people just a few years ago. (Well, maybe the dozens of people is a bit of an exaggeration, but it really is pretty amazing what you can do with this stuff, isn’t it?)

Figure below shows a simple movie. To assemble the movie, I begin by dragging the clips I want from the album pages in the upper-left area of the window onto the storyboard—the filmstrip—near the bottom of the window.

FIGURE 7 Here I’ve begun the editing process.

I can play any of the clips on my movie by selecting the item I want to play (by clicking it) and using the viewing window at the upper right. As you learn more about the whole video editing process, you’ll find that there are many different ways to work.

Some people like to start out with a shooting schedule, and they have the entire movie pretty much planned before they even pick up their camcorder. That’s probably a great approach if you’re setting out to produce a video that has a specific purpose, such as an advertisement or a recruitment video.

But it’s also important to remember that you can create videos just for fun, and that sometimes putting too much emphasis on trying to produce a professionallooking movie can just spoil an otherwise fun occasion.

For example, if you’re taking movies of your family vacation, don’t worry about getting every shot just right. Nothing spoils the fun more than having someone tell you to redo something you’ve just done because they didn’t get it framed quite right the first time.

Remember that you can always have a lot of fun in the editing phase, and some bloopers will probably make for a more interesting vacation movie, anyway!

Creating Your Disc

Once you have finished your editing, you’re almost ready to create your disc. It’s a good idea to run through the assembled clips a few times to make certain that everything flows the way you want before you burn your masterpiece to disc— then you can go ahead and burn a sample.

Figure below shows that I’m about to burn a copy of my ten-minute road trip movie to a VCD. I’m giving the movie one last run through before I click the Create Disc button.

FIGURE 8 Now I’m ready to create a disc-based copy of my movie.

Once you begin the disc creation process, it’s usually best to just let your computer go at it without additional disturbances. The reason for this is that discs need to be created in a single pass—otherwise they likely won’t play in set-top DVD players (and may not even play on your computer).

If you have a very fast computer with plenty of memory and a lot of disk space, it’s not so likely that anything will disturb the process. However, you’ll find that it’s probably best to be cautious until you get a good feel for how well your PC handles the whole digital video creation process.

Hardware Basics

Now that you’ve had a brief introduction to the basics of digital video production, let’s move on and take a look at just what hardware you’ll need. After all, digital video editing is quite a bit different from things like surfing the Internet, exchanging e-mail, playing solitaire, and balancing your checkbook.

I want to make certain that you have what you need to get satisfactory results and enjoy the process.

What Kind of Computer Do You Need?

Digital video editing on your PC is one of those things that has really become practical only during the past few years. Before that, home computers simply weren’t powerful enough to do the job—or at least to do it very well. The reason for this is a matter of numbers. Digital video is data, and it is typically huge amounts of data.

In order to handle all of this data, your PC needs a fast processor, lots of memory, and plenty of disk space. Just what does a “fast processor, lots of memory, and plenty of disk space” really mean? Well, you really shouldn’t try to do any digital video editing unless your PC meets the following minimum specifications:

  • 500 MHz processor
  • 128MB of RAM (memory)
  • 8 GB of free disk space (will hold a bit over 30 minutes of finished video)

Realistically, I’d suggest doubling all of those numbers at the very least. But even if you do have to upgrade your PC, you should find that it’s really not all that expensive to do so. Even the least expensive brand-new PC you can buy today almost certainly has a 1 GHz or faster processor, 128MB of RAM, and 12 GB or more of disk space.

Even a minor step up from the basic system should result in a PC that is quite satisfactory. In case you’re wondering, I recently built a new system that handles even the toughest of video editing chores without even breathing hard. It has an AMD Athlon XP 2200+ processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a 160 GB hard drive.

You may not need something that powerful, but it gives you some idea of where you might want to head if you want something a little better than a run-of-the-mill system. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the Mac. That was on purpose.

For years it’s been almost a religion among Mac users to insist that you had to have a Mac for any type of graphics-related work. Well, when it comes to digital video editing, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t use a Windows-based PC just as easily as a Mac.

In fact, using a Windows-based PC makes a lot of sense, since they’re far less expensive than Macs, have a lot more reasonably priced software available, and are at least as reliable (if not more) than any Mac you can buy. Of course, if you have a Mac and want to use it for digital video editing, that’s fine, too.

I just don’t think that anyone should feel that they have to go out and buy a Mac if they’ve already got a PC that will work at least as well.

What Computer Add-Ons Do You Need?

In addition to a fast processor, plenty of memory, and lots of free disk space, your PC needs a few extra components that you won’t find on most PCs—yet. I expect these will become popular as more people discover the joys of digital video creation on their PCs. But let’s take a look at two items you’ll definitely need.

Video Capture Options

The first important option you’ll need on your PC is one that enables you to transfer the video from your camcorder (or VCR) into your PC. The exact item you’ll need depends on the type of camcorder you have:

  • Digital camcorders typically use the IEEE-1394 connection I mentioned earlier (this also goes by the names FireWire and i.Link). If your PC is relatively new, it may already have an IEEE-1394 port built in, and you can use that. If it does not have this port, you’ll need to add a board inside your computer.
  • Analog camcorders and VCRs use either the composite video or the S-Video connections I mentioned earlier. Unless your PC has a TV tuner card, you probably don’t have either of these connections and will need to add an adapter board to your PC.

Both IEEE-1394 and video capture adapter boards are pretty easy to find and install. One excellent option you may want to consider is to buy something like Pinnacle Studio Deluxe—a complete package that includes the Pinnacle Studio 8 video editing software discussed earlier as well as a capture card that gives you both digital and analog inputs and outputs.

It has a handy box that sits on top of your PC for easy connections (see Figure below).

FIGURE 9 Pinnacle Studio Deluxe includes a handy I/O panel that sits on top of your PC.

With this slick package, you can plug in your digital camcorder, your analog camcorder, or even your VCR. And since it has both inputs and outputs, you can even use it to record your movie on that videotape for Grandma. Pinnacle Studio Deluxe is really quite a bargain, too, since everything you need is bundled in one package.

You can find more about it at the Pinnacle Web site: If your PC already has an IEEE-1394 port built in (or you don’t need one because you don’t have a digital camcorder) and you already have the digital video editing software you need, another solution will enable you to add the composite video and S-Video capture ports without even opening up your PC.

The Pinnacle Bungee DVD is an external box that connects to your PC through a USB port. As an added bonus, the Pinnacle Bungee DVD even has a built-in TV tuner so you can watch and record TV shows right on your PC’s monitor.

TIP: For some reason, it seems as though most digital camcorder manufacturers leave out a very important item when they package and sell you your camcorder. That item is the IEEE-1394 connector cable that you need to transfer the videos from your camcorder to your PC.

If you aren’t buying a complete video editing package like the Pinnacle Studio Deluxe package, you’ll need to buy this cable before you can begin your video editing (the Pinnacle bundle includes the IEEE-1394 cable).

Adding a DVD Burner

The other important item that is still not all that common on most PCs is a DVD burner. Okay, officially this should be called a DVD-R/RW(or DVD+R/RW) drive, but everyone calls these drives “burners” because they use a laser to write the data onto the recordable discs. This is, of course, the drive that you will need if you want to actually create your own DVDs.

TIP: Remember that you do not need a DVD burner yet if you want to start out your digital video career with VCDs. For that, all you’ll need is a standard CD-R/RW drive, which is found on all but the least expensive PCs today.

As I mentioned earlier, you must choose the recordable DVD format you want to use before you can decide which DVD burner is right for you. If you are just starting out and have decided to go with the DVD-R/RW format, you may want to consider the Pioneer DVR-105 DVD-R/RW drive. This is a brand-new model that replaces the very popular Pioneer DVR-104 model I use.

NOTE: You may see the Pioneer recordable DVD drives listed as DVR-A05 rather than DVR-105. The “A” designates an OEM drive that is sold in bulk packages rather than in individual retail boxes. The drives are identical, but there may be a difference in both the length of the warranty and in the software bundle (if any) that comes with the drive.

It really pays to shop around when you’re buying a DVD-R/RWdrive. The same drive can vary greatly in price—I’ve seen different vendors price identical drives for anywhere from $250 to $450. In some cases the drive may come packaged with some very minimal software offerings, but this doesn’t seem to have too great an affect on the price you pay for the drive.

Well, I hope you’ve found this brief introduction to the world of digital video editing interesting and informative. I’ve tried to touch on the important points without getting too technical.

Next, we’ll have a look at some of your choices in video editing software. I’m going to show you how you can get the job done without breaking the bank, and I’m also going to show you why an inexpensive upgrade may be in order.

Finally, I’m going to give you a quick look at a couple of much more expensive options, which you may want to consider once you decide that digital video production is your future path to success and you want to turn pro.