Improve Your Home DVD Movies

Q. I’ve started creating home DVDs and have been very disappointed in the quality of the video. What can I do to improve my home DVD movies?

Arnold DeFazio

Jackson, MS

A. The potential quality of DVD video is very high, certainly much higher than analog broadcast television or VHS videotape. But DVDs use MPEG-2 compression, which is a lossy compression format that inevitably results in some image degradation. The trick is to only lose information from the picture that is not visible to the human eye. This is a very sophisticated and complex problem, but one that has some very good solutions.

While MPEG quality is a very complex topic, we can offer some pragmatic advice. First, shooting quality video pays off when it comes time to compress your movie. In essence, this means locking the shot down on a tripod and lighting your scene properly. Not only does this improve your video overall, it makes the compression process much easier. Second, get a quality MPEG-2 encoder and learn how to use it. Fortunately, competition in the last two years has resulted in some excellent software. By default, many people are using an encoder from MainConcept, perhaps branded as an Adobe, Sonic or Ulead MPEG encoder. This is a quality encoder that has the potential to output excellent video. To make the encoder easier to use, many of the features might be hidden from the user. Instead, many applications simply have a Burn DVD button. In most situations, this works very well.

If you want more control, you might try another encoder with more options than the one that came with your software. MainConcept is a good example: you can purchase a flexible and feature-rich encoder directly from the source. We like the Tsunami encoder (TMPGenc), which has a trial version you can evaluate. Or perhaps you are ready to get really serious and need the professional features found in products like Discreet Cleaner 6 and Canopus ProCoder. Of course the ultimate solution, and the one Hollywood relies on, is to hire a compressionist who has made a career out of encoding video. Quality home DVDs are possible, but we suspect that many people are disappointed in the quality of their home movies because they are unfairly comparing them to Hollywood movies that were professionally shot, professionally lit and painstakingly compressed by professionals.

Q. Is it a good idea to convert my DV projects to smaller MPEG-2 video files for archiving and then burn them to DVD-ROM?

Geri Shearer

Arlington, VA


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A. Short answer: No. Yes, it can be done, but MPEG is a lossy compression format that is not suitable for archiving. Yes, it can be done, and some people are satisfied with the quality of archived MPEG-2 video, but, as the previous letter shows, many people are not.

Unfortunately, DV video projects and their associated source media are often larger than the 4.7GB capacity of blank DVD media. The solution is to delete unused source video files and trim the ones that are used to a manageable size. Theoretically, when stripped to a bare minimum, you might be able to squeeze a 20-minute project onto a DVD. Every project has additional source media in the form of music beds and graphics that you will also want to backup, so you are probably realistically limited to projects of around 12-15 minutes.

You can trim and delete unneeded clips or outtakes manually, but many popular editing applications can automatically trim your media. For example, Vegas Video has a "Copy and trim media with project" check box in the Save As dialog. Some programs will even allow you to pad the trimmed media for future editing flexibility. Finally, when you need to re-edit your project, you will need to copy it back to your hard disk (you may have to change the file permissions from "read-only" before you can make your edits).

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