Last night I made a 22minute DVD is less than an hour, from capture to final burn. And I am amazed.

This experience serves as another reminder to me that it’s important to have good entry-level media creation tools if we’re seriously going to democratize the media. A person shouldn’t have to spend weeks in a classroom or reading manuals to communicate effectively. Any tool that makes the process of communicating through media easier and more intuitive is a good thing.

For some time now I’ve been saying that true DIY DVD creation isn’t ready for prime time. Burning DVDs isn’t new to me. I got a burner at work last year and I’ve struggled along with learning the ropes of MPEG2 compression (which takes forever on a dual P-III machine), authoring, making menus, etc. etc. On the whole it’s been a frustrating pain-in-the-ass experience. Especially when you wait 20+ hours for your video to compress only to find out that it ended up being a few megabytes over the size limit of a DVD-R.

But a few weeks ago I got a new computer, an off-the-shelf HP from Best Buy (24 months of 0% financing, woo hoo!), that got my attention because it includes a DVD+RW drive.

Along with a 15″ flat-panel monitor and ink jet printer the whole sheebang was only $1300. Damn cheap considering the drive along costs around $300+. (Also not bad because the whole package was $100 cheaper by including the printer, which kicked in rebates worth double its cost. That’s right, it would have cost me $1400 to get just the PC and monitor — now do you believe that printers are just ways to get us to buy overpriced ink cartridges?)

The PC came preloaded with mostly-useless software, including myDVD 4, an entry-level DVD authoring program. I use myDVD’s big brother, DVDit at work, and I’m not quite satisfied with it — some projects result in weird errors and crashes and its interface is kind of unintuitive. Thus I didn’t have much hope for myDVD.

Then I read an article in emedia magazine about “real time” DVD authoring focusing on entry-level apps, including myDVD4. To my surprise they gave myDVD 4 a good review, putting it at the top of the heap by a tiny margin.

Though the article admits that in actuality real-time means taking about two times the length of the video to capture and burn a DVD of it. While stretching the definition a bit, this kicks the ass of the 10x real-time drudgery I’d become accustomed to.

Reading this I thought I’d have to give myDVD a shot, especially since I had a cool little 22-minute documentary on some Dutch community/pirate TV activists that my friend Dave just finished.

I have to admit that the damn program worked as advertised. Now, it’s important to recognize that this DVD contained no sophisticated menus or chaptering — just a basic intro screen with a few chapter stop buttons made from screen shots. To speed things up I selected the chapter stops on the fly while capturing from the camcorder — you just hit the spacebar where you want there to be a chapter.

After capturing the program transcoded from DV format to MPEG2 really fast (thanks, I’m sure, to my 2.53 GHz processor and 512 MB of RAM) and then burned away at the drive’s maximum 2.4x burn speed.

My resulting DVD+R looks great and works in most new DVD players. I’m especially truly impressed at how nice the video quality is given the speed of the encoding.

It’s very rare that entry-level media-making tools work as advertised. Too often they’re lacking in features while also imposing a simplified but non-standard user interface. It makes sense that an entry-level tool requires a trade off of complexity for simplicity, but it shouldn’t also make the program unintuitive. More importantly, the entry-level tool should introduce paradigms that allow users to step up to more sophisiticated pro-level tools.

I think Apple has done this best with its iLife software, like iMovie and iDVD. Both these apps simply work if you want to create simple, but elegant, videos and DVDs. And when you’ve outgrown their limited feature sets you can move up to Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro, which are both truly great (and expensive) production tools. It’s signficant that Apple enables its users to start creating nice quality media right out of the box without a lot of hassle.

Unfortunately, I think PC manufacturers and Microsoft lag way behind Apple in this regard. I’ve tried to use entry-level PC video editing apps like Ulead Video Studio or ArcSoft ShowBiz (bundled on my HP machine) and just been confused and frustrated — especially when these immature packages crash fatally when doing even simple things. The uselessness of these entry-level apps especially bugs me since you can get good sophisticated and pro-level tools for the PC — like Premiere 6.5 or Avid Xpress DV.

Obviously, I’m pleased with myDVD. Even though it’s menu options are limited, it still let’s you throw together a high quality DVD from a finished DV videotape very quickly, with nearly zero hassle.

With the current generation DVD burners you can then copy that DVD at 2.4 to 4 times speed — meaning that you can have 10 copies of a half hour video in around 2 – 3 hours from capture to finish. There’s no way you could do that with videotape, which is real-time only (unless you’re a high-volume commercial duplicator) — DV to VHS would require at least five hours for ten copies, along with a massive loss in quality, not to mention the wear and tear on your master tape. On top of that, each of those DVDs you burn can be a master for another DVD (no copy protection on the ones you burn yourself!) with no loss! Try that with a VHS tape and you’re third generation really looks like crap.

Now that blank DVDs are dropping to $1 – $3 each, it might soon become time that we can trade home movies, videos or even mix videos like we trade mix CDs. Burn on, my friends.






One response to “DIY DVD ASAP”

  1. mike Avatar

    I found your review informative and confusing because I’m not well versed with the methods of
    “myDVD Suite 4”. I had previously transfered over
    2.5 hrs. of media from my Sony TRV103 (D8 via firewire) in the *.avi format, to Showbiz prior to
    have purchasing “myDVD”. After installation and
    “myDVD’s” spill and fireworks, I was dismayed to the time it took to convert *.avi to *.mpeg.
    Should I reload media from camcorder to new
    “myDVD” software (which has Showbiz)?
    Can you give advice as how to manipulate my documentations due to short schedule that does not
    allow learning curve?
    Note: I have a Compaq Presario, 2.6GHz, 512MG ram, 120gig internal storage, Sony DRU510A burner and a Maxtor 160 gig external storge.
    I’ve plans to upgrade camcorder but have to make do at the present.
    regards Mike

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