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Converting your video into a DVD movie

Video to DVD

What are your recommended work flows ?

To go straight from computer video to DVD movie I suggest the following :-

STEP 1, convert (each of) your video clip(s) into non-square pixel 720x576 DVD ready .mpg
STEP 2, check the conversion has generated good quality video (and your audio has not been lost)
STEP 3, import the .mpg clip(s) into your DVD author app. to generate your movie 'title(s)' and menu's etc. and create VIDEO_TS output
STEP 4, check that the VIDEO_TS .vob's play as expected
STEP 5, burn to DVD

To merge together multiple video clips (along with JPG images and music tracks), I suggest the following work flow :-

STEP 1a, For Video, use 'SUPER' (or similar) to convert all your obscure video files into SQUARE PIXEL .wmv (at 768x576) and use Audacity to generate (.wav) audio track(s)
STEP 1b, For Photos, pre-distort the height by 4/3rds for 16:9 and keep as .jpg (or use PhotoStory 3 to generate a 'story' from photo's and 'export' in 768x576 square pixel it you expect to 'merge' with other square pixel material later, otherwise 720x576 (to avoid further interpolation later)
STEP 1c, For PowerPoint, use "Acoolsoft PPT to Video" Free to generate a video from PPT in multiple 5 slide 'clips' in .wmv 720x576 (and use the Pro Trial +  Audacity to create a matching .wav music track)
STEP 1d, To add extra ('language') audio tracks, use Audacity to prepare any additional audio tracks you might want to offer (narration, alternative music etc) as .wav's
STEP 2, Check the quality of your 'source' material (use Windows Media Player)
STEP 3, Assemble each of the clips (i.e. generate the video for each 'title' on the DVD). Import the source .wmv's, .jpg's & .wav's into Windows Movie Maker, assemble & edit the clip and export as DV/AVI (PAL, i.e. 720x576) at the correct aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9), not forgetting to set 16:9 now for 4/3rds height pre-distorted material
STEP 4, Check the clips = use VLC to confirm the quality of your AVI (VLC will show an aspect ratio error, whist WMP always gets it wrong :-) )
STEP 5, Convert to vid+audio mpg. Use 'SUPER' or TMPGEnc etc. to convert the .avi into 'elementary stream' MPG (i.e. .m2v + .wav) = this lets you check the 'run time' of each clip ('title')
STEP 6, Check the clip quality - use VLC to confirm the quality of your .m2v
STEP 7, Assemble the DVD - import the assembled data, including any replacement / additional audio track (as AC-3 5.1 .wav's or PCM DPLII) into "DVDFlick" and generate your VIDEO_TS movie (.vob files)
STEP 8, check the .vob's play OK
STEP 9, burn your DVD
NOTE. To minimise the number of resolution conversion steps, it's a 'good idea' to go direct to 720x576 'where possible' since each time conversion takes place - eg. from 768x576 to 710x576 - there will be some unavoidable loss of equality.If conversion is unavoidable, always go from 'larger' to 'smaller' (and never from 'smaller' to 'larger')Intermediate files should be saved in .avi format where possible (since this is a 'minimum compression' format and will retain best quality)

What are my 'starting' computer video (pixel sizes) ?

As seen previously, standard movie DVD's contain 720x576 non-square pixels that have been 'squashed' for eventual expansion and display in either '4:3' or '16:9' format (TV 'pixels' are NOT SQUARE - whilst computer display pixels ARE SQUARE).

So, to avoid aspect ratio distortion, if your final TV display is '4:3' you must start with exact 4:3 aspect ratio computer video (eg. 800x600, 1024x768, 1400x1050, 1600x1200) - if wide-screen, then start with exact 16:9 (1600x900).

There is one** exception, for photos used in PhotoStory 3, which only allows a 4:3 'crop'. Here, to obtain 16:9 you have to 'pre-distort' the height of your photos by 4/3rdsLater, in Movie Maker, when you set the 16:9 'flag' for the DV/AVI output, the PhotoStory WVP2 pre-distorted photos will be correctly played back at 16:9**You can pull the same trick with photos used in older PowerPoint presentations that are limited to 4:3

To minimise the conversion times, if you are generating a 720x576 DVD for 4:3 TV display, you should build a 768x576 computer video (with a bit-rate of at least 3.5mbs). To generate a 720x576 DVD for 16:9 'wide-screen TV' display, you should build a 1024x576 computer video (& bit-rate at least 5 mbs).

If your video source is a camera, chances are, the pixels will ALREADY be 'non-square'. It is only computer generated video that will start 'square' & needs to be 'squeezed' before it can be put onto the DVD (so it can be 'expanded' correctly when displayed on a TV).

How can I generate computer video from my photos ?

Starting with your photos you can create a pan & zoom (aka 'Ken Burns effect') 'Story' using MS PhotoStory 3, PhotoFilmStrip or Ashampoo Sideshow Studio = see 'If all else fails' section in my Advanced PhotoStory page. Even Windows Movie Maker allows you to string together a sequence of photos with various 'transition' effects (and add music).

Many commercial 'photo edit' packages can also make 'Photo slideshow Stories' (eg. Adobe 'Premiere' and 'Lightroom')

You can also turn a PowerPoint presentation into a movie 'for free', using "Acoolsoft PPT to Video" Free Edition (5 slides at a time) or using EffectMatrix's "E.M. Free PowerPoint Video Converter V3.20" (with the wmv.prx profile hack to get an intermediate 'lossless' .avi) - see my PowerPoint to Video page

The best free quality comes from "Acoolsoft PPT to Video" Free Ed. which will generate an almost 'perfect' 768x576 .wmv video but is limited to 5 slides at a time (and you will have to use Audacity to capture the music as Acoolsoft Pro Trial runs the whole Powerpoint video (generating low res. video).

With "E.M. Free", to get reasonable quality you have 'save' the multi-Gb 1400x1050 .avi ~temp file = and you still have to capture the sound (by running the Powerpoint yourself) separately.

NB. The best paid for PowerPoint conversion software is, without doubt, Acoolsoft Pro

Should I convert my video file into mpeg (DVD format) before or after Editing ?

There is debate about what is best, to convert (into DVD mpg) first & then edit your movie, or to edit (the wmv) first & then do the conversion.

Since Microsoft provides the free Windows Movie Maker (which is a 'basic' movie edit package), I suggest you edit your computer video files in .wmv first and only convert to .mpg just before the DVD author step.

Of course video from a camera will already be in non-square pixel mode, so you should use MPEG / DVD authoring tools to edit those files
**If you are starting with 'lossless' .avi (eg from the "E.M. Free PowerPoint Video Converter"), I suggest you convert into 'Your_computer/ video' .wmv (at 768x576 4:3 or 1024x576 16:9) before using Windows Movie Maker - this lets you check the quality (and avoids the need to spend hours manipulating a 30+ Gb file in Movie Maker :-) )

Note - whilst VLC may be regarded as the 'standard' when it comes to handling and displaying obscure video formats, it is much less useful for conversion = it tries to run it's conversions 'in real time' and this often results in very poor quality with dropped frames, skipping sound & low bit rates leading to visible blocking & mpeg 'artifact's'. When unable to 'keep up' it even occasionally 'crashes' / locks-up your PC !

Will eRightSoft 'SUPER' (freeware) do all my conversions ?

Note - the eRightSoft web site will present you with many 'download' buttons for OTHER software (mainly AVS products) ... this is how eRightSoft make their money = by tempting you into downloading 'pay for' software. So either use the direct link above or be prepared to navigate multiple pages of 'advertising' before you find the SUPER download option 'buried' at the bottom of the last page

SUPER (despite it's silly name, the difficulties in actually downloading it and it's annoying never ending adverts) will 'get the job done', producing high quality output (from the built in FFmpeg.exe conversion library).

Unlike other packages (which typically open to a blank window and where you have to 'guess' where to find the output settings in some 'File/Properties' or 'Tools/Options' menu and hope you have selected what you need from some obscure 'Profile (name)'), you are presented with a main 'conversion' window in which the top 3 'frames' allow you to set-up the conversion process

By default, the converted result is placed in the same folder as the 'source' .. if your file sizes are large, you should change the destination to a different hard drive (right click the '>>>>' in the 'Output' frame to change destination)

You will note that both 768x576 and 720x576 are offered as "target's". To minimise the number of conversions (each of which degrades quality), I suggest going straight to 720x576.

Only you intend merge the video with some existing 'square pixel' material should you select 768x576 (for 4:3) or 1024x576 (for 16:9) as your output from 'SUPER'

How about TMPGenc (shareware) ?

Yes = this also does a really good job, HOWEVER it is 'free' only for the first 30 days. For this reason I can only recommended it for a 'one off' short term use.

The limitation is imposed on an individual computer from the date of installation. Un-install (or System Restore) will not give you another 30 days :-) If you have a temporary need more than 30 days, I leave you to think how 'cloning' / 'ghosting' will 'roll back' your computers hard disk to a point before TMPGenc was installed ....

How about using the 'FFMPEG' utility (Open Source) in 'command line' mode ?

SUPER, VLC, MediaCoder and almost all other free/open source GUI conversion utilities make use of the FFMPEG command line trans-coding package. If you can't get SUPER, VLC or MediaCoder to do what you want, chances are your CAN get FFMPEG itself to do it - this is because the version of FFMPEG that is 'buried' inside SUPER, VLC & MediaCoder always 'lags behind' the latest FFMPEG release

There is an 'open source' front end to FFMPEG, known as "WinFF">, which should allow you to control the latest version of FFMPEG via a GUI window.

If all else fails, you will have to work out how to drive FFMPEG via a CMD window ('DOS Box'). As with many command line apps, the complexity of options and settings is so obscure that hours of trial and error (mainly error :-) ) are required before you can ever hope to 'get it right' ... however if nothing else works, this is where you will end up :-)

Can use VLC be used for conversion ?

Yes, in theory, however I suggest you only do so as an absolute 'last resort' if you can't find anything else to do the conversion. The hopelessly confusing GUI means it's almost impossible to 'get it right' first time (or even the 10th time :-) ) with VLC.

Plainly, if the original video file plays OK in VLC, then, in theory, VLC can be used to convert it to the 'target' format of MPG2 + AC-3.

However VLC was developed to handle live 'streaming video' from Video Capture cards (or the Internet) - and this means everything is much less obvious than it may seem when it comes to handling video.

Having just played your original OK, you might expect that choosing the 'Convert/Save' option from the Media Menu would immediately open the 'output' format option window. Wrong = remember VLC assumes you have a live streaming video source, NOT a file that can be 're-read' = so it will show the 'Open Media' window again.
You now 'Add' (i.e. browse to) your file again and then tick the 'show more options' box. Having entered a file name in 'save to', at the bottom of the window, you should then see, next to the 'Convert / Save' button a tiny small "." (dot) icon = click this to bring up the 'save format' options window.
Remember that VLC 'thinks' it will be converting a live video feed = so it will do everything it can (drop frames, skip sound, reduce the resolution) to 'keep up with' the 'output' frame rate (25fps). So DON'T be tempted to view the video as it's converted. No matter what your PC CPU speed, if you allow VLC to 'display the converted video', it is guaranteed to drop frames and reduce the quality.
Also, you should never expect VLC to 'save' to the same drive as the 'source' video - doing so lowers the maximum video 'streaming' rates, so once again, VLC drops frames and reduces the 'bit rate' (quality of conversion) to cope. If you have only one hard disk, I suggest you think about using a decent size USB2 stick for the 'destination' file.

Sometimes VLC will play a video perfectly well and then throw up an 'unrecognised format' error when you try to convert it.

With a commercial application you would immediately suspect some sort of built-in Copy Protection / DRM was at work .. however as an Open Source application you can be sure VLC is untainted by such nonsense.
If the video plays OK then the problem is with the 'destination' format you have chosen, NOT the original file format = so make sure you have selected MP2/AC-3 = VLC may well have 'defaulted' to something else :-)

When an error is detected, VLC sometimes pops up a message box with the suggestion that you "Check the log file for details". The problem with this is that, by default, no log file is created so there will be none to be found !!

Navigate to the 'Tools' tab, open the 'Messages' window and set the error message 'level' (this is extremely counter-intuitive and catches out almost all new users - and shows how far behind the VLC UI is compared to more 'commercial' applications).
The first time an error occurs Messages will be empty = this is because it defaults to 'level 0' error information .. to get more detail change the 'Verbosity' level (2 or 3 is suggested) and then retry the conversion again.

Sometimes VLC fails to 'start' but does not 'pop up' any error box. If you click 'start' and nothing seems to happen, check the Message window and if nothing is shown, increase the verbosity level and retry.

One common mistake is to forget to set a 'destination' file name .. yes, VLC is quite happy to let you click 'start' and then just sit there 'doing nothing' ...

MOST 'real' errors are due to missing some required component (CODEC) because you have selected an encoding format or a file 'container' that is not natively supported by VLC.

Again, this is also very counter-intuitive, as you might think that any unsupported option would be 'greyed out' or not even listed, but not so (and is yet another illustration of how difficult VLC can be for the new user).So, for example you can select .MKV container, but unless you have already downloaded the .MKV container support components (from the MKV web site), VLC is going to fail.

You can save the Messages (Save As button), but whilst VLC is quite happy to 'remember' the files you tried to convert, it always forgets 'where' and the 'save' location defaults to 'My Documents' (again)

When you close VLC, it 'forgets' the error 'verbosity level' you set (thus resetting to 'no error messages' next time it is launched) - yet another annoyance (and trap for the unwary)

If VLC was unable to convert fast enough to 'keep up' with your required frame rate IN REAL TIME it will drop frames. When you play the resulting file, the video and/or sound may be disjointed, skipping or pausing unexpectedly.

One way to avoid this is to try converting to an intermediate but 'less demanding' format first (for example, from .mp4 AVC (Apple QuickTime proprietary format) to .mp4 H.264 (industry standard).

Finally, note that VLC will 'pause' if you let your screen-saver cut in = as already mentioned, VLC assumes you are watching some live 'streaming video' source - plainly if the screen saver cuts in, you can't be watching the video, so there's no point in converting it :-).

So, if you set it up for an over-night run, make sure you disable your 'screen saver', otherwise all you will find in the morning is that VLC 'paused' after the first 5 mins or so :-)

As a truly desperate 'last resort', how about using Media Coder to get mpg ?

In theory, MediaCoder, which uses the FFMPEG codebase, SHOULD be able to do a decent job of conversion. Whilst not strictly 'Open Source', it has no Licensing restrictions and requires no payment (although you may make a donation to the authors, should you wish to do so). The current version can be found here :-  http://www.mediacoderhq.com/
The problem with MediaCoder is that whilst it often does do a perfectly good job of re-coding, other times the results are 'marginal' to 'unacceptable' and there appears to be absolutely no obvious reason why :-(
WARNING - if MediaCoder fails (or you abort it), whilst the UI will close 'cleanly', it normally leaves a 'process' running (Alt-Ctrl-Del, Task Manager, Processes Tab) .. this process (MediaCoder.exe) then causes Media Coder to fail on your next attempted use .. and so on ...
Video tab
Select MPEG2 format,  MPEG2 'container'** and 'enable video' (if 'enable video' is not set, MediaConversion will extract the audio).
Only select 'copy video' if your original movie is already MPEG2 format (the conversion process will be extremely fast - file copy speed - as no video conversion will be performed).
Mode should always be set to Bitrate based, and (for standard DVD's) 6mbs.
As of Dec 2010, choosing :
'Mode = Quality, 100%' simply results in the input file being skipped (0% done) OR the app. totally locking up.
Mode = '3 pass' fails with an 'Incorrect FFMPEG parameters' Error
Mode = '2 pass' works fine ... but whist taking 50% longer, makes absolutely no difference to the quality of the end result ...
**NB. If your editing / authoring software (see points 5 & 6 below) requires 'containers' other than .mpg (eg. .MKV) these can be used, BUT (for a standard DVD, as opposed to HD) movie, the video 'inside' must still be MPEG2.
Audio tab
If your original movie has audio you will normally want to keep it.
If your existing audio format is 'MP3' and you are SURE your domestic DVD player supports this, then it is best to leave it 'as is' (tick 'Copy audio' in the left hand pane 'Audio' tab).
Otherwise you need to set AC3. In MediaCoder, the AC-3 Audio format is 'hidden' under the "FFMPEG" encoder tab. The bit rate for 2 ch (stereo) should be set to 192Kbps (the DVD standard, for 5.1, it's 384kbps, however I can't confirm MediaCoder supports anything other than 2ch) or, if your source data rate is higher than this, and you know your DVD player will support it, 256 or 384Kbps.
First, in the left hand frame, Audio tab, select "FFMPEG" in the 'Encoder' drop down list. This will set MPEG Layer 2 (MP2) Audio as the default. Most players will not support this (indeed VLC typically crashes with an 'unknown error') = so you MUST go to the right hand pane and in the FFMPEG tab make sure you select AC3 from  the 'Audio Format' box drop down list. The 'standard' bit rate for AC3 2ch on DVD is 192kbs.
Unfortunately, MediaCoder often does a VERY poor job of converting from any other audio standard (such as AAC and MP4) into AC3.
Although 'acceptable' results can often be achieved by converting into an intermediate format first (e.g. MP3 @ max. supported kbps) and then from MPEG2+MP3 (by reprocessing for Audio only (i.e. using 'copy video') into the final MPEG2+AC3, quality will still be lost.
If you have to 'convert' the audio, don't use MediaCoder. Instead I highly recommend you extract the Audio from the original file 'as is' and then use Audacity to do the conversion. The best package by far to manipulate audio is Audacity http://audacity.sourceforge.net/. It will not only do high quality conversions but also allow you to 'merge' your narration and/or background music together. Files should be saved 'uncompressed' as WAV.
MPEG Streamclip (or your DVD authoring software) can be used to recombine later, HOWEVER there is plainly a risk of losing perfect Audio<>Video synchronisation. Some video cameras create movies without audio - or your holiday movie may be full of irrelevant background noises. This is another reason to start by generating Video 'on it's own' (un-tick the 'enable audio' box) and then extract the Audio in it's original format (un-tick 'enable video', tick 'copy audio').

How long does it take to convert video ?

If you are converting a movie length video file from one format to another, DON'T expect it to be fast .. and don't expect to know in advance what the file size will be = it's entirely possible that after conversion the file will be too big to fit onto a (single-layer) DVD, HOWEVER what you have will be a fully compatible video player format file that you can then edit and cut down or split into parts and spread over multiple DVD's and quickly burn and re-burn as needed.

When a 'format' (CODEC) conversion is required, it typically takes between 1 and 5 times the length of the movie (i.e. a 90 minute movie takes between 90mins  & 7.5 hours to convert). You should always end up with an ".mpg" video file - don't expect your DVD 'authoring' software to accept files with other extensions and still 'get it right'

If you don't need to edit the movie in any way, you might ask, "why not go straight to DVD ?". Well the reason should be obvious .. if your first attempt at 'convert & burn' fails for any reason - or you get it 'wrong' (such as forgetting to add the Title, Menu 'image' etc) - you face another 6+ hour wait as it reprocesses from the start.

Also, since you can't know the actual converted file size until it's complete, you can't know if it's going to fit on a single DVD.
Whilst a few 'all in one convert & burn' commercial packages will 'save' the converted movie as a series of Video_TS files (often in the windows/temp folder), most will either abort processing and/or crash when the DVD size is exceeded** - thus leaving the Video_TS 'set' incomplete - or delete the 'temp' file just before closing or crashing with an 'out of disk space' error = just what you need after 6+ hours of processing.
** One useless commercial package I encountered spent many hours converting the video only to throw ir all away (i.e. delete the Video_TS files) when it discovered there was 'insufficient space' on the empty (i.e. no disc present) DVD drive !

What about applications that calculate the converted size 'in advance' ?

I have never found any 'DVD author' application that gets the 'estimated' output size even approximate right when it has to convert any of the imported video.

One very well known 'commercial' package always seems to 'estimate' DOUBLE the actual size (even when no format conversion is needed), thus misleading you into making unnecessary quality reductions (and preventing you from making use of more than half the available DVD space).
Another package I have used always UNDER estimates by about 50% (which is even worse, since it then tries to 'burn' the DVD and, of course, crashes when the space runs out).

It is far better to do a full quality conversion into MPG2 format, check the converted file is OK and then 'post process' as needed to make it fit (i.e. down-convert into a lower resolution or 'cut' the file into episodes that can be split across multiple DVD's).

You then generate the Video_TS 'set', complete with Menu and any other options you may require (audio track choice or sub-titles etc.), so you can check that the Menu operates as expected and that the individual VOB files are 'OK' (VLC will play a movie .VOB file just fine)

This means you can check your masterpiece will not only fit on a standard (or double layer) DVD but actually play back with the expected sound (and decent quality) before wasting time actually burning.

To skip my 'DVD authoring' pages, click here direct to my HD video issues page (otherwise click 'Next >>' in the Navigation Bar (left) for my 'How to author a DVD' page

Next subject :- DVD author software