Tuesday, January 13, 2009

DVD Burning in Windows

Burning a DVD on a Mac from an Avid sequence is easy. Toast is by far the easiest and best program. It takes a Quicktime reference file made from an Avid exported sequence, encodes, and burns it to disk.

Doing the same in Windows isn’t nearly as easy. Sorensen Squeeze is excellent for compression, but is very complicated. Avid DVD by Sonic is reasonably straightforward. But I’ve experienced several failures with it, and it isn’t designed well for what should be a simple operation.

I’ve experimented with several burning software programs. Recently I needed to burn a quite different DVD, and really struggled to find something that worked.

The problem was taking a DVD that had been encoded 4 x 3 anamorphic. What was on screen was a full frame with very thin and tall people. What was needed was normal sized people, in a 16 x 9 frame with black bars on the top and bottom.

It doesn’t help that every modern HD television seems to display video in unpredictable ways, and their terminology is very fuzzy (Wide, Zoom, etc). Incidentally, how does anyone know what the image on screen is supposed to look like? I've seen televisions set up with a completely wrong aspect ratio, simply because the owner didn't want to see any black bars on the side or top.

I used Cinematize to rip the DVD (non-commercial DVD, mind you, so not illegal). It created a very large Quicktime movie. After failing to resize the image in Quicktime and Toast, I then tried Sorensen Squeeze. The reformat was a simple software switch. But, when I chose to Burn-Large_DVD, my results were unexpected. First, it never actually started the DVD burner - a confusing problem. It did however create two files, video (.m4v) and audio (.m4a). I tried dropping these into Avid DVD. The video file came in: the audio file didn’t. Avid DVD didn’t recognize the file type (neither did I, but I thought that was just me).

Needless to day, I spent hours and many blank DVDs trying to reformat this video and burn a copy, with no luck. Even Adobe Premiere Elements 7, which seemed to have much promise, didn’t have an easy resize and the resultant DVD was fuzzy and way out of sync.

Then I tried TMPGEnc Authoring 4 - a suggestion from Michael Phillips at Avid. I downloaded a trial version, which I had reviewed earlier in version 3. The latest was the simplest and best solution.

TMPGEnc imported the Quicktime file. It had several preset frame sizes / formats. I could immediately see that it was making the correct frame size. I set it to burn to a 4.7 gig DVD, another menu option which constrains the final size of the burned files. I could watch it encode, which happened mostly in real time. And after burning, it retained the encoded file,  allowing me to burn additional copies without re-encoding (which Toast doesn’t do).

As a separate test, I took a Quicktime reference from an Avid sequence. It encoded that properly and burned it as well.

There are additional options for editing and adding menus. I almost never want or need this functionality, but its nice to have. The simplicity of the program is its real strength. You aren’t forced to make menus. It will calculate the proper data rate automatically when you tell it what size DVD you have. I could actually see the correct frame size to burn, which is handy if you have anamorphic media. And it retains the encoded files, so you don’t have to re-encode if you need another copy.

- Harry B. Miller III, A.C.E.


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