Video Out: Creating Video on CDs

My brother, who lives in Europe, shoots almost as much home video as I do. For years, we’ve wanted to send each other family videos, but we haven’t been able to get past the PAL/NTSC barrier. The two broadcast formats, PAL in Europe and NTSC in the U.S. are incompatible. I looked into transfer services that convert NTSC signal to PAL, but the cost was exorbitant. We even tried sending each other video e-mails but the files were huge. Then it hit me. What if I recorded video onto a CD-ROM and sent that to my brother? After all, CD-ROMs are universal. They’ll play in any computer: PC or Mac. We wouldn’t have to fiddle with tapes or try to open any large, awkward e-mails.

I had created a few audio CDs before, but I never tried to put video onto a disc. I decided to go for it and send a home video on CD-ROM to my brother for his birthday. Guess what? I found that it’s easy, fast and best of all, I already had everything that I needed on my new computer. In this article, you will learn the basic steps it takes to put your own video onto CD-ROM.


Virtual Studio in your Computer

If you already edit video on your computer, chances are you’ve already got everything you need. Here’s a quick checklist of hardware and software that you’ll need to create a video CD.

  • Video input: You’re going to need to be able to get your video onto your computer either through a digital FireWire or USB port or through a digitizing card or external device.
  • Editing software: You need to edit your video for length and size. The software can be as basic as Windows MovieMaker or as complex as Adobe Premiere.
  • CD-R/CD-RW drive: Of course, you’ll need a CD-R or CD-RW drive and CD-recording software.
  • CD-R discs: Discs are cheaper than VHS tapes. As far as I can tell, the biggest difference in the cost of CD-ROMs is the jewel cases that come with them.

    Getting Started

    First, you need to edit your video. If you already have a video project that you’ve created you can open the project and make a new movie to export. If you haven’t already done so, render your project and watch it to make sure you’re happy with the way it plays.

    We’ll use Adobe Premiere to illustrate the basic steps required for editing video for CD. Though every editing program is unique, the basic steps will be generally the same.

    Creating a Movie for CD

    Once you’ve loaded your project and rendered your video, you’re set to export your movie. In Premiere 6.0, go to the File menu, select Export Timeline and choose Movie. A settings dialog window will open to show you the current settings. Click the Export Settings button and then click on Load. This will open another dialog window with a list of settings. Choose Multimedia Video for Windows, which has a 320×240 frame size and a frame rate of 15 frames per second (fps). You can customize your settings as well. I chose to work with 15fps so it would run smoothly on an older (and slower) machine and a newer Pentium III or 4. If you know your audience has a fast computer, you may want to choose 30fps for a smoother picture. Experiment with a few different settings and see how they look to you.

    One thing to remember, the larger the frame size and the more frames per second, the larger the final .avi file size will be. At 15fps, one minute of video will take up about 24MB of CD space. Since most CD-ROMs hold about 650 to 700MB, you can fit 25 to 30 minutes of video on a CD-ROM. Audio takes up significantly less space than video, so don’t be too concerned about space.

    Burning Your Video to Disk

    If you’ve got a CD-burner on your computer or if you recently bought one, chances are it came with some kind of CD-creation software. This software makes the process very simple. It’s basically a drag-and-drop operation. You choose the files you want, record them and seal the disk. My computer came bundled with Adaptec Easy CD Creator 4. This application copies data, image, audio and video files to disc. But since this was my first go at this, I wanted to keep it simple and record only one .avi file to the disc.

    Open your CD-creation software. With Easy CD Creator, you simply launch the program and choose Data from the opening dialogue window. Open the folder where your .avi file resides. Select the file and drag it to the CD Layout window. Easy CD Creator will then automatically indicate how much space is left on your targeted CD. Once you’ve loaded all the files that you want to record to disc, hit Create CD. The CD-creation Setup window will open. It is here you can indicate drive, record speed, and whether you want a test file or not. I first selected the CD-R drive. Then I selected a moderate recording rate of 8×1200 Kb/sec to ensure a quality recording.

    With CD-RW (rewritable) drives and the proper CD, you can record over the same CD as many times as you like. With CD-R drives, however, you can only record to a disc once.

    Sealing the Deal

    The final step for recording to a one-time only CD-R disk is closing the session or sealing the disc, indicating that you like what you’ve got and don’t want to add or delete anything else. If you’ve got a CD-RW drive, this step won’t apply.

    In the CD Creation Setup, you can choose to close the session after the software records to the disk or you can choose Test, which puts the file on the CD but does not close the session. Since I was happy with what I had, I chose create Disc-at-Once method so that it would automatically close my session, thus sealing my CD and my video fate. I hit OK and in less than five minutes, I had my very first video on CD-ROM.

    When I first told my brother I was going to create a video on CD, he sounded a little skeptical. But after he received the CD and played it in his Mac, he was amazed. It was the first time his family got to see and hear my family. When I outlined the basic steps to him, he practically dropped the phone to start creating his own video on CD.

    If you’ve got a CD-R drive on your computer or if you’ve been thinking about buying one to make video CDs, go for it. It’s one of the easiest, least expensive, most efficient and universal modes of distribution. CD-R drives have come down so much in price, it doesn’t make sense not to own one. So there’s no time like the present to start burning video CDs of your own.

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