Designer's Toolbox: DVD hardware and software overview
DVD authoring is like assembling a digital collage—lots of individual pieces, methodically arranged, emerging as an entirely new creation. The process takes the raw digital materials, or assets, from various software applications and combines them all into a single cohesive unit. Unless you're an author working as part of a team, the assets won't just drop into your lap—you have to create them. Each piece needs to be individually crafted with specialized software on a capable computer workstation.
To start the process, you'll need to assemble your DVD tools by deciding what software you need and the kind of computer it will best run on. That may sound relatively simple, but there are a lot of choices to be made. Your selections will be based partly on the scope of your first project, partly on your own preferences, and the rest on the depth of your pocketbook.
In this chapter, we'll review the hardware and software categories necessary, or at least helpful, for you to produce your own assets and assemble them onto a finished DVD.
If you want to create your own DVDs, you've got to have the right equipment. The basic price of admission into the world of DVD creation is the investment in a capable computer system, a few key peripheral devices, and authoring software.
Because consumer DVD authoring is a relatively new phenomenon, your equipment should be as up-to-date as possible. Parts of the DVD process can be processor intensive, particularly video encoding, so the faster your system is, the sooner you'll complete your projects. Let's review the many options in DVD development hardware, starting with the computer.
Windows or Mac?
You can create great-looking DVDs on either Windows PCs or on Apple Macintosh computers. A full range of authoring and content-creation software is available for both platforms. Each has its specific strengths, but both can achieve professional results.
There are many Windows-based DVD authoring packages on the market, providing a good choice of prices and features. Although the selection is more limited on the Mac, the available DVD software is top-notch and is arguably among the best of the bunch.
Our recommendation is to stay on whichever platform you're comfortable with and buy the best DVD software you can afford.
Regardless of your chosen platform, you're probably in one of two camps: Either you already have a computer and want to find out if it can handle the demands of DVD software, or you're in the market for a brand-new computer and want to buy something that's tailor-made for authoring. In the end, the requirements of your chosen DVD software will always determine what kind of hardware you'll need. It's safe to assume that a new top-of-the-line computer will handle anything you throw at it, but if you can't afford the top, you'll want to know what you can get by with and still end up with acceptable results.
A cross-comparison of the requirements of several DVD software applications suggests that you really shouldn't use anything less than a PC with an Intel Pentium III 500 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, running Windows 2000 or ME. While this is the bare minimum, most software will benefit from a faster machine and a snappier operating system.
Our recommendation for Windows users is an expandable tower computer with an Intel P4, 2 GHz (or better) processor, 512 MB of RAM running Windows XP (Home or Pro).
With this set-up or something better, you can easily run any kind of DVD software on the market today.
Macintosh DVD software needs to run on Macs with at least a 500 MHz G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM (or better), and using the latest version of the OS X operating system. A dual-processor G4 or G5 Mac would be sweet, if you can spring for it.
G3 Macs generally aren't fast enough to crunch the video for a DVD, and current Apple DVD software won't even install on them. Some users have been able to hack this software into running on a G3 machine, but we don't think it's worth the time and trouble.
While there are some non-Apple entry-level DVD applications that will run on a G3 Mac, our recommendation is to get a G4 or G5 and enjoy the experience, instead of frustrating yourself with a too-slow computer.
Why not both?
People in many homes and offices use both Macs and PCs in their everyday setup. Even if you prefer one over the other, having access to both platforms can come in pretty handy. It means you can run any available software application you want.
Sometimes the DVD authoring process is shared between Macs and PCs. Often, the Macs will be used for menu design and motion graphics while the PC handles the authoring. In other situations, the PC will serve as an MPEG-2 video encoding station, while the Mac does the authoring duties.
Of course you don't have to do it this way, but by using both, you can let each platform play to its strengths or your personal preferences.