The home DVD production dam started breaking down when computer manufacturers started equipping their products with DVD burners.
But almost as quickly consumers realized that making a DVD isn’t as simple as popping a tape in a VCR and hitting the Record button. That's because in order to make a home playable DVD at least some basic disc authoring must be involved.
Authoring is the process of creating navigation menus linked to the video content on the disc and converting the raw video stream — typically created in editing software or imported from videotape — into the MPEG-2 data expected by all DVD players.
Authoring software is where you create the video, audio and navigation files that you will eventually burn onto your DVD.
Authoring software ranges from very simple programs like Dazzle's DVD Creator and Apple's iDVD to the kind of full-scale commercial authoring programs that cost upwards of $1,000.
As you move up the sophistication scale, you’ll move from simple automated software with few user choices, to suites of software capable of burning commercial programs with all the bells and whistles built into the DVD spec. Your authoring software is also typically how you specify the type of encoding that your project will have. Simpler programs allow little or no changes to the encoding, while more sophisticated software will allow you to specify a higher or lower bitrate (to fit more video on the disc, usually, or to maximize quality on shorter programs), as well as CBR (constant bit rate) or VBR (variable bit rate) encoding.
Sides and layers
The original DVD standard was "single sided, single layer" (SSSL) and all DVD burners will write to this basic form of DVD. In their constant quest to improve the industry, however, manufacturers are starting to promote both dual-sided and dual layer DVD technologies. Basically, these are ways to increase the data capacity of a single DVD disc.
Currently, there are few home solutions that allow anything but SSSL authoring, but some do, and dual-layer hardware has begun to hit the market, too.
After the encoding is complete, it's time to actually write the data to the surface of a disc. For this, you need two things. Blank recordable DVDs and some form of hardware DVD burner — the device that actually uses a laser to write your data onto the blank disc.
As far as blank media is concerned, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the kind of DVD stock required for making DVD-Video discs. The key point is that simple video playback is actually one of the more basic tasks built into the DVD specification — so the good news is that much of the confusion surrounding the various "flavors" of DVDs — R, RW, +R, -R etc. can be ignored if all you want to do is burn DVD videos.
Virtually all the recordable blank DVD media out there can work for DVD video. This means there’s no need to pay extra for specialized discs that are designed for more sophisticated interactive training uses. Videomaker’s bench tests have proved that most commercially available recordable DVDs will work just fine for video applications. Just look for good quality recordable discs at the best price you can locate and chances are they will work just fine to burn your DVD-Videos.
On the hardware side, there are basically three form factors of DVD burners in common use. Internal DVD recording drives come standard inside many modern computers, external drives connect to a desktop computer via some kind of communications port, and the new "standalone" DVD authoring appliances function much like a home VCR but write video to DVDs rather than to VHS tape. (See the Standalone Recorders sidebar.)
If your computer, like many today, came equipped with a DVD burner, you don’t really need any additional hardware to burn DVDs. If your computer doesn’t have this kind of built-in DVD burning capability you’ll need to purchase an External DVD burner that attaches to your computer via a data interface (typically USB or FireWire.) Many drives are available from companies such as Pioneer, Sony, Plextor and NEC, and some even include basic DVD creation software with the hardware.
The label game
Once you have authored and burned your DVD, your job still isn’t finished unless you’re happy to live among stacks of unlabeled blank discs. Disc labeling systems fall generally into two categories. The first is "peel and stick" labeling systems from companies like Avery and Fellowes.
The other popular disc labeling process consists of purchasing blank DVDs that have a labeling surface already in place. These printable discs work with disk printers like the popular Epson R200 and R900. These are basically standard inexpensive ink-jet printers with the capability to print directly on a DVD.
Making the case
After you’ve authored and labeled your DVDs you'll probably want to put them in protective cases. Commercial DVDs are usually accompanied by printed covers and contents lists, and for the home DVD creator, there are plenty of DVD label printing templates such as those bundled with the popular CD Stomper systems that let you set up and print your own DVD artwork to complete your package.
The Final Spin!
Clearly DVD production is no longer a game that must be left to the big time pressing plants and commercial operators. Using the products outlined here, virtually anyone with the proper DVD authoring and design talents can author, burn, label and package a home-made DVD that can stand toe-to-toe with anything a commercial production company can produce.
Bill Davis writes, shoots, edits, and does voiceover work for a variety of corporate and industrial clients.
[Sidebar: DVD compatibility]
Many new DVD creators get frustrated because their discs don’t always play on all players. The fundamental problem is that commercial DVDs and home-burned DVDs have little in common.
The DVDs at your local movie store start as professionally authored content following extreme proofing and testing until the content encoding and all the authoring links are flawless.
Next, that data is written to digital linear tape (DLT) for transport to the DVD pressing plant. After more proofing and testing, a "glass master" is created to make "pressing masters" to stamp out thousands (or even millions!) of virtually identical discs.
At home, your $99 DVD burner attempts to move an inexpensive mass-produced laser over a rapidly spinning disc and re-create what the pressing plant accomplishes with millions of dollars worth of precision machinery. Is it any surprise that home burning is sometimes a "hit and miss" proposition?