Do-it-yourself DVDs: If at first you don’t succeed…

When I got my Powerbook, it came with software for creating/editing movies (iMovie) and burning them to DVD (iDVD). I already have a Sony MiniDV video camera, and several hours of footage of my now-3-year-old son. With this gear, all I needed to make DVDs, was a FireWire cable and some blank DVD media. So I figured, what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. I bought a cable for $10 and a spindle of DVD-R media for $12 (after rebates of course), and today I gave it a shot. It took two tries, but the end result was success.

First step was to copy the video onto the computer. This was straightforward. Connect the camera, start iMovie, and tell it to import from the camera. I imported two 1-hour tapes, which took up around 26 gigs total (13 per tape). Then, I used iMovie to add DVD chapter titles to the movie, and told it to create a project in iDVD.

In iDVD, I was able to build menus for the soon-to-be DVD using several different built-in themes. It’s actually pretty cool. I went through this process, got everything looking good, and attempted to burn a disc. Nope. The project was too big for the single-layer disc I inserted. It asked for dual layer media. I don’t have any. So instead, I created a new iDVD project with only half the footage from my imported video (one tape, or one hour’s worth). Then, I went into iDVD’s Project menu and told it I was using single-layer media. That seemed to make it happy. I redid the menus and went to burn again.

Dang, this takes a long time! The encoding process seems very CPU intensive. Encoding the video is the most time consuming part. After it does the video, it encodes the audio. This takes longer than you would think by looking at the progress meter, but it eventually completes after 10 minutes or so. Then it goes to actually burn the disc.

The disc seems to burn OK, but at the end I get some sort of happy-fun-ball encoding error at the end. The resulting disc plays in the Mac, but my 1-year-old Sony DVD player refuses to recognize it. Bummer.

I try to quit out of iDVD. It seems wonky. I have to CMD-Q to quit it and I get a “terminated unexpectedly” dialog. Now, the odd part. I start it back up, open my project, and this time, it tells me the “project is too large for my encoding scheme” or somesuch. I wonder if that was the problem. If it was, why didn’t it tell me that in the first place? OK, so the software’s not perfect I guess. I’ve got a nice shiny round coaster to show for it.

Not to be discouraged, I try again. This time, I change the encoding scheme to “maximize quality” (it was previously set to “maximize performance”). I go to burn again. One bit of weirdness this time: During encoding, the progress bar got to 100% when the encoding was only half done. That didn’t give me warm fuzzies, but I let it keep going anyhow. It finished this time, with no errors. Seemed to play OK on the Mac, too. Cool.

Moment of truth: I popped it into my Sony again, and this time it worked! Great.

Moral(s) of the story:

  1. Use “maximize quality” setting
  2. Ignore the progress meter during encoding
  3. Keep videos to around one hour for single-layer media (this works well when using tapes recorded in SP mode; 1 tape == 1 DVD).

It seems to have used most of the available space on the media, just from looking at the disc. The “maximize quality” setting must use minimal compression. I’ve got no problems with that, the media is cheap.

Just for yuks, I’ll try it out in my 1997-vintage Toshiba 3006. I really don’t expect that it’ll play DVD-R media, but if it does, I’ll be really impressed.