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  4-03 | This article originally appeared in Videography magazine.

 

Navigating the New Dynamics of DVD Authoring & DVD Publishing

 


By Jon Leland

In one of those deceptively “simple twists” of technological “fate,” DVD has, it seems to me, suddenly become a key component of almost every video post-production system. Driven by the explosive growth of the DVD player platform—as TV set-top boxes and within PC’s—as well as by the emergence of new low-cost DVD recorders, DVD has now become not only the premiere interactive video delivery platform, but it has also become a new kind of video mastering medium as well. As a result, there is also new software on the way to make the interactive DVD authoring process easier than ever and there are new DVD (and VHS) video duplication and distribution opportunities being offered as well.

While hardly a comprehensive overview, this article will feature Adobe’s brand new, just announced DVD authoring software and the time and money saving CustomFlix duplication and distribution system. Along the way, in addition to my own views, I will offer insights and perspectives from DVD software execs and a DVD book author, as well as additional resources. All of this is designed to help video professionals to use, or perhaps get started, with the DVD medium more effectively.

Explosive Growth

Amidst all of the “noise” about the Internet and other digital video “revolutions,” and despite the slackening economy—in only six years, DVD has become the fastest growing consumer electronics product ever. Just as a couple of points of reference, and in case you were distracted by other news, Christmas 2002 was a milestone where DVD titles outsold VHS titles for the first time; and despite the soft economy, DVD sales and rentals grew from $6.8 billion in 2001 to $11.6 billion in 2002.

On the desktop NLE post production front, I got an even clearer indication of the explosive growth of DVD among video producers when Adobe’s Senior Director of Digital Video, Dave Trescott came to my office to demo the soon-to-be-released Adobe Encore DVD authoring software. Trescott explained that one of the reasons that Adobe is joining what I might call the “DVD software dance” is because their research tells them that 50% of Adobe Premiere customers will buy a DVD-R this year. That’s serious stuff.

“Tape is Dead”

And, while I found Mr. Trescott’s provocative proclamation that “tape is dead” to be a bit over the top, one of the other real world dynamics that captured my interest was the discovery that the CustomFlix duplication and distribution system is designed and built to take advantage to the increasingly widespread trend toward digital studio DVD mastering.

You can still use the CustomFlix service if you master to tape (like in the “old days”), but it will cost you more because you will need to create (or have CustomFlix create for you) a DVD master. (More about the reasons you might want to do this later.)

Up until very recently, DVD duplicators or replicators were requiring DLT (digital linear tape) masters. According to Darren Giles, CustomFlix’s Chief Technology Officer, “In the last year, (mastering a DVD for duplication on anything other than DLT) has gone from unheard of, to a world where a majority of duplicators will accept DVD-R as a mastering format.”

So, tape may not be dead, but as a mastering medium for independent productions, especially those that are created with one-person run project studios, tape for mastering can certainly be considered an ”endangered species.” Once again, the cost of owning your own post suite has come down significantly, especially if you acquire your footage on a DV format. In this case, you no longer need a Betacam deck (or something comparable) for mastering—in many cases, a $350 (or less) DVD-R drive will suffice.

A New Learning Curve

At the same time, video shops that want to get into DVD authoring are facing a new learning curve because DVD is a new technology with its own production process. Producers have a classic choice that CustomFlix’s Giles summarized as, “You can have someone else do it for you, or do it yourself” (and address the learning curve). But, most importantly, he said, “Don’t take the process for granted.”

As I learned during Adobe’s Trescott’s tour of Encore DVD’s authoring configuration, DVD has significant constraints, or as Giles also said, “just because it’s on DVD, doesn’t make it ‘awesome.’”

I also spoke with Douglas Dixon, author of the very well thought out book “Desktop DVD Authoring” (New Riders). Dixon provided an orientation to the DVD platform with these words, “Think of it as video tape with good navigation. If you think of it as a Web page with good video, you’ll be disappointed.” While DVD video obviously far surpasses the Web in terms of video quality, I was surprised to find out, for example, that because of “constraints” in the DVD specification, interactive button highlight graphics can only have a color depth of one-bit!

When you are considering what software to use for DVD authoring, Dixon offered this perspective, “The more sophisticated the authoring tool, the more trouble you can get into.”

Enter Adobe

Bottom line, I was way more impressed with my sneak preview of Adobe’s new DVD authoring tool, Encore DVD, than I expected to be. Not that I expected it to be a weak product; but I was surprised to see a significant number of features that leverage Adobe’s expertise so effectively—especially in terms of integration with Photoshop—that I think Encore DVD will deserve serious consideration when it is released “this summer” at an estimated price of $549.

To me, one interesting dimension of this product introduction is the fact that Encore DVD is a Windows-only product. Yes, 95% of Premiere users are on the PC platform; but, I believe, equally influential is Apple’s strategies especially in the DVD market which make it more difficult for third party developers to integrate video applications on their platform. (In the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know that I am a Mac user who is thrilled with OS X and some of Apple’s other applications.)

I don’t have space to go into much detail here, but essentially, with regard to DVD mastering, Apple has built a relatively closed system. For example, one of the disappointments that I ran into while researching this article was when I inquired about a new Sony DVD-R drive that I wanted to evaluate. This particular piece of hardware, among others is not available to Mac users because there’s no compatible software on the Mac that works with this drive.

As the author Doug Dixon described it, “Like everything else on the Apple platform, the good news is that they control everything. So, if they happen to offer exactly what you want, you’re in great shape… (On the other hand), the trouble with the PC platform is that there are too many choices.”

In this case, as a Mac user, I felt disappointed that Adobe Encore DVD will not be available on the Mac. I’ve looked at Apple’s professional authoring software DVD Studio Pro and it’s an excellent product with sophisticated features and capabilities, but not only are the number of drives that it works with limited, I was excited by some of the features that Adobe showed me with its new product—features that will help video professionals to be more creative and to work with more flexibility when authoring DVD programs.

Leveraging Photoshop

One clear differentiator between Adobe Encore DVD and most other DVD authoring software is that when you use Photoshop or another application to create interactive menu graphics for your DVD program, you have to flatten the files (eliminating the flexibility provided by Layers) when you import the graphics into your DVD authoring program.

Encore DVD, on the other hand, provides the full functionality of Photoshop layers within the program, so that if you want to move a button’s position relative to its background while you are designing your DVD program, you can do that. In other DVD software, you would be sent back to Photoshop to make changes and then would need to go through the whole import process all over again. Encore DVD is even going so far as to read simple programming symbols that can be added to the beginning of a Photoshop Layer’s name in order to identify its function on the DVD. For example, placing a plus symbol (“+”) at the front of a Layer identifies that graphic component as a button highlight; thus saving a whole step of programming when the graphic is imported into Encore DVD.

I was also impressed with the fact that Encore DVD does MPEG compression as necessary AFTER the authoring process is complete so that you can work with, for example, DV format footage right within the program. That’s a clear workflow enhancement. Encore DVD also has a very familiar looking timeline where you can make chapter marks, and I came to understand after talking to Doug Dixon that authoring chapter marks in your NLE software, while often hyped by Apple and others, is “not necessarily the best idea.” When you are doing professional DVD program production, chapter marks are frequently best programmed directly within your DVD authoring software.

Doug Dixon summarized the impact of Adobe’s new DVD software this way, “DVD has historically been a‘write-only process’ where making changes is painful. (Encore DVD) will make this process less painful.”

On-Demand Duplication

An interesting new way to make the duplication and distribution of DVD titles less painful (by decreasing the upfront investment, among other things) is CustomFlix. By working with your DVD-R master, CustomFlix is especially attractive for those who would prefer not to make a commitment to 1,000 units (or some other volume order) from a duplicator.

CustomFlix has developed a unique proposition by innovating an on-demand duplication process that includes both DVD disks and VHS tapes as well as all the necessary packaging, all with no minimum order. For just a $49 set up fee, in addition to a duplication platform for your program, you get a credit card-taking online store that is customized with your own digital graphics and a streaming video sample of your program, as well as an option to get your title listed with Amazon.com among other e-commerce web sites.

As a small, independent producer myself, I wish CustomFlix had been around when I was selling my own programs because they also include fulfillment services. You pay about $10 per unit and set your own price price. Then, they duplicate DVD disks and VHS copies as needed including reproduction of the packaging from your digital files, and they put the packages together and ship them to your customers, including internationally. I think CustomFlix is a duplication and distribution service that every independent producer—whether corporate, independent film, educational, weddings or whatever—should know about.

A Medium with Momentum

Needless to say, this medium will be continuing to evolve rapidly. For example, Sonic Solutions is now offering “plant direct” technology that allows you to transmit your disk image to the duplication plant directly—without even the need for a disk master.

Depending on the depth with which you want to approach DVD authoring, there’s lots to learn. I also spoke with Rolf Hartley, General Manager of the Professional Products divison at Sonic Solutions because it became clear to me that Sonic is a leading vendor, on both the Mac and the PC platform, when you are considering DVD authoring software. In fact, Sonic’s DVD “engine” has been licensed by Adobe for Encore DVD; and Sonic claims about 80% of Hollywood’s DVD titles use its engine. (A DVD authoring program’s engine “multiplexes” the individual assets together, including graphics and interactive programming commands as well as the MPEG video streams so that they become one large program.)

CustomFlix also uses the Sonic engine when it creates professional quality DVD masters from tape because the DVD engine is a significant contributor to the compatibility of DVD-R disks. And because everyone wonders, with good reason, about the compatibility of different DVD players with DVD-R disks; CustomFlix has published a chart:which is available online at: http://www.customflix.com/Customer/Compatibility.jsp

If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of DVD, in addition to Douglas Dixon’s “Desktop DVD Authoring” mentioned above, Sonic’s Hartley highly recommended Jim Taylor’s “DVD Demystified,” which is in its second edition (McGraw-Hill Professional) and that book’s Web site offers a comprehensive FAQ (answers to Frequently Asked Questions) about DVD: http://dvddemystified.com/dvdfaq.html

Doug Dixon also has several valuable articles on his web site, http://www.manifest-tech.com including a comprehensive listing of DVD authoring software options with illustrative screen shots at: http://www.manifest-tech.com/links/dvd_sw_gallery_full.htm

Good luck, and stay tuned.


Jon Leland is the publisher of MediaMall.com. His professional bio is here.
 
         
       


 

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