You'll spend little or a lot on disc authoring software but making the right decision will go a long way toward how happy you are with the outcome and how well you satisfy your clients.
Whether you want total control or you just want to be able to get it done, there's disc authoring software to meet your needs. Everyone has unique requirements when it comes to authoring discs and delivering the final product, be it for personal use or paying clients. What ever level of authoring is wanted, there's a solution.
Dedicated and exacting professionals may want all the bells and whistles when it comes to authoring. Although there are extensive software solutions allowing for complex projects, even the most particular professional will find a wide range of solutions.
Perhaps you're looking for an easier way to generate long-form projects that exceed the quality barriers and capacity limits of a single-layer, standard definition (SD) disc. You might want or need to utilize double-layer disc blanks that can handle your longer SD productions. Others may specialize in short form productions, allowing them to fit 15 minutes or so of high definition (HD) content on a standard disc. They, or their clients, might prefer higher capacity Blu-ray disc delivery, with fully-authored productions featuring complex chapter development, interactive content and special features that commercial discs provide. There's software available that allows you to burn productions onto Blu-rays providing everyone from the consumer and hobbyist to home-based business and professional, applicable disc authoring solutions.
Some people will need software to enable them to provide a master disc to a duplication house where a glass master is created for mass production in the thousands. This can get expensive. Most of us will generate all the quality we want for our clients by authoring, burning and printing our own products. See the associated Duplicators Buyer's Guide.
Disc Authoring Software Features
Even if the program provides a select group of templates for designing a look, you want to be able to customize it. Look for software allowing you to replace background images, enjoy a range of font options and create unique chapter buttons.
Some people just want an applicable theme to insert titles and information then burn a disc. On the other hand, there are programs that enable you to create a complete look, theme and presentation using bundled graphics and imaging software, or stand-alone programs to customize, then import to the authoring program.
To customize, look for options to add music, generate backgrounds and buttons, create chapters, perhaps animate buttons and add text. If you prefer a stand-alone program that lets you do it all, you might want authoring software that provides for light video editing, maybe even capturing your video. Others may want their software to allow for burning the disc and to include a program to play previews.
Professional Disc Authoring Solutions
Professionals often want total control over the outcome, from graphics, menu development, font selection, imaging, button generation and placement to compression ratios and choice of input formats. While some users are satisfied with the critical adjustments for playback quality their software provides, others prefer a bundled solution allowing them to manipulate the video before processing the disc. Or they might use a stand-alone or complimentary solution for adjusting playback quality before importing and burning their discs. A professional is also likely to want these features in both SD and HD and will focus mostly on developing Blu-ray products.
In-Home Business Solutions
While the in-home business producer will oftentimes be every bit as selective and demanding, requiring all the options listed above, some simpler and less expensive software may be in order.
Outside of the high-end home-based professional producer, other in-home business owners may focus more on simplicity and ease of use. This business person may not have the same budget or customization requirements, or as high a level of expectation from a more casual client base. There may be absolutely no desire to experiment and manipulate the end product to the max.
Consumer Disc Authoring Solutions
Sure, the consumer can be every bit as picky regarding how much control their authoring software provides. There are consumers who will delve into the full range of disc authoring options and learn it all. There are consumers who could probably teach the ultra-professional a thing or three. But on average, a consumer is usually looking for affordable and easy, with a few templates that offer themes for babies, anniversaries, vacations, photo albums, sports and such. The average consumer will want a few basic fonts, as well as a selection of specialty fonts for titling. Last but not least, an average consumer may want a program that allows ingesting video, authoring and burning the disc at a few clicks or the push of a button.
Free Disc Authoring Software Solutions
Just because an authoring solution is free doesn't automatically place the program or its users in a sub-level category. From the professional, to the in-home business person, consumer and hobbyist, many have their favorite free disc authoring software that didn't stretch their budgets but enhanced their options. While most free disc authoring programs will range from severely to relatively limited in customization options and may not provide for much more than simple, basic chapter development, there are a lot of simple-to-use choices available. If you just want to make a disc that will play in your home DVD player, a free solution can work. Be it the PC or Mac platform, there are possibilities that include the free downloadable Windows DVD Maker for PC and iDVD for the Mac, depending on your computer's model and operating system.
An Overwhelming Range of Choices
Your first concern when selecting a disc authoring software solution is to confirm minimum system requirements and platform compatibility. The greatest disc authoring software on the planet will do you no good if your system can't handle it. Your second consideration, of course, is budget. If you desire more than your system can handle and don't want to settle for a solution that offers fewer authoring options, then there's a system upgrade in your future.
Fortunately, companies like CyberLink, ArcSoft, Corel and Roxio offer multiple levels of capability with stand-alone solutions and bundles that work together to make disc authoring less complicated. Many also provide for Blu-ray authoring and burning as well.
CyberLink's PowerDirector 10 (Deluxe $70; Ultra, $82, download/box, PC) provides not only for editing video but also for the authoring of DVDs, Blu-rays, burning and more. The company also features Power2Go 8 (Deluxe, $50; Platinum, $70, download, PC) an authoring program with customizable menu options using your videos, pictures and text.
With ArcSoft's DVD SlideShow ($50, download, PC) you can create basic DVD productions using available templates along with your media. Corel's DVD MovieFactory Pro 7 ($50, download, PC) provides for HD disc creation and includes burning software for DVD, AVCHD and Blu-ray discs. Templates, motion menus and more are included.
Roxio offers a range of tools for the PC and Mac that include production bundles with DVD authoring and creation, as well as stand-alone software. The company has products making video transfer easy to accomplish, while allowing for 3D video creation, DVD and Blu-ray disc authoring and more. Its HD and Blu-ray disc plug-in provides the ability to author HD video content onto Blu-ray discs.
For your Mac you'll find Roxio's Toast 11 Titanium ($100, download/box, Mac) and Toast 11 Pro ($150, download/box, Mac.) You will need a hefty 5GB worth of free space for the Pro bundle. The density here comes with good reason, Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is included. You'll have to work at it to learn all there is to know about Sony's DVD Architect Studio ($40, PC) and how to harness its powerful features. Many who use a Sony Vegas editing program also use DVD Architect Studio as their preferred disc authoring software solution.
Realistic Needs or Bragging Rights?
Unless you are producing projects that require feature-heavy authored discs demanded by your top-level clients, you don't need to spend a lot of money just because you have it. Take the time to evaluate your true production and authoring needs against the range of desired features. A reasonable investment is both a smart move professionally and economically. Regardless of the category in which you believe you fit, you'll find a low, middle and high range product for your specific needs. Buy the best of the best, whatever that disc authoring software may be, if you must. No matter what platform you work on, however, you'll find affordable software with extensive feature sets and a steep learning curve to match any higher-priced option. One final note: think about the future - find a program that can possibly grow with your other devices, software and gear. Technology is moving at amazing speeds nowadays, it's sometimes tough keeping up.
Sidebar: There's a Disc for Every Purpose
There are many disc formats and types produced for various purposes. What format works best? There are DVD-R and DVD+R (write once), DVD-RW and DVD+RW (re-writable.) Add DVD-R DL (dual layer) and DVD+R DL for nearly double the capacity. Throw in DVD-RAM and DVD-ROM for good measure.
Today's "+/-" discs are pretty much compatible with all current consumer DVD players. There was a time that wasn't so, but not anymore.
HD-DVD is basically a thing of the past, having succumbed to Blu-ray disc in format wars.
You'll come across DVD-5, a one-sided, one-layer, 4.7GB capacity disc and DVD-9, your one-sided, two-layer, 8.5GB capacity disc; often wtih gold color.
Less common are DVD-10s which are two-sided, one-layer per side and DVD-18, storing 17GB as both sides have two-layers. How much capacity you need is of course, dependent on your compression ratios, extra content and audio requirements.
Commercial operations use glass discs to create a series of metal master discs that are in turn used to produce the final stamped disc. Stamped discs are essentially mechanically created one-off productions, not burned or recorded using laser.
The blanks most of us use to create small or short-run productions actually go through a laser process that burns a dye or metallic material in the blank to create the digital information they contain.
Within the above standards are also quality variations. Manufacturers such as Taiyo Yuden (JVC) offer duplicator or "value" grade and premium grade. A variety of gold-colored archival quality disc blanks with a stated 100-year life expectancy are available. These, of course, haven't been around long enough for a real world test.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Disc Authoring Software Buyer's Guide
Earl Chessher is a veteran career journalist, independent video producer and author of video marketing and production books.