Once you've chosen your computer platform and processor speed, make sure your system is fitted with the following must-have components. We consider these essential to be features of a DVD authoring workstation. Some systems will ship with these features included, and others will require you to add-on.
FireWire: The IEEE 1394 standard and Sony's i.Link brand are both better known as FireWire, a high-speed data transfer protocol developed by Apple Computer. With a throughput of 400 Mbps (megabits per second), it has become a standard for connecting peripheral devices like DV cameras, hard drives, and scanners to Macs and PCs. A newer version, FireWire 800, can transfer data at an amazing 800 Mbps.
Most new computers come with standard FireWire connectivity built right in. If your computer is FireWire-deprived, you can easily remedy that by installing an inexpensive (around $49) FireWire PCI expansion card with 2 or 3 connector ports.
USB 2.0: Another high-speed data transfer protocol, USB 2.0 connections can move files at a speedy 480 Mbps. Many newer computers, hard drives, and scanners are equipped with both USB 2.0 and FireWire connectors.
The original USB 1.1 is not a high-speed protocol (only 12 Mbps) and is not particularly useful in DVD authoring and video. It is, however, fine for connecting keyboards, scanners, and digital still cameras.
Hard Drives: DVD and video files will quickly fill your available hard drive space. You'll want to have enough elbow room to work on several projects at the same time, so try to get a large capacity internal or external hard drive that holds at least 80 to 120 GB. If you can afford it, you might want to get something even larger. You can never have too much drive space (or RAM).
Drive speed matters too. When you work with video and DVD, be sure your drive is rated at 7200 rpm for optimal video performance.
A 32-bit color monitor with at least 1280 x 768 pixel resolution is optimal to effectively preview your work. At a minimum, you'll want to have a 17-inch monitor, but don't turn down a super-large 23-inch flat panel if one just happens to come along. Extra screen space is mighty helpful in video work.
LCD flat-panel: Flat-panel screens have begun to outsell the bulky CRT monitors, and for good reason. They take up less room, and the LCD display doesn't refresh and flicker like a regular CRT, therefore reducing eyestrain.
If you're in the market for a new monitor to do video and DVD work, by all means, get a flat-panel. Your eyes will thank you and your desk will have more open space.
CRT: The old reliable CRT monitor has been with us for a long time now and still does a fine job as a computer display. For color accuracy, many print designers still swear by 'em. The downside is that they take up more deskspace compared to a flat-panel monitor and can be more difficult to stare at for extended periods of time.
Audio output and speakers
Built-in audio: Some computers, including Macs, come with built-in audio output. This means they will have at least one jack for connecting external speakers and will often have a small internal speaker.
Audio card: Computers lacking built-in audio can be upgraded by adding a sound card in one of the PCI expansion slots. The card provides a connector jack to plug in your external speakers. A basic card costs around $20 to $30.
External speakers: Audio is a huge part of video and DVD, so you'll need to have some decent external computer speakers connected to your authoring workstation. Some models already ship with speakers, while others don't. Speakers do differ in audio quality and you can spend $20 to $200 depending on how particular your ears are.
Headphones: You also may want to have a set of headphones handy in case you're editing or authoring in an open office space with co-workers to consider. Listening to a video soundtrack with headphones also allows you to discover any unwanted pops or audio artifacts that you'll need to edit out of the final cut.
No authoring system would be complete without a writable DVD disc drive on hand. An internal writable DVD drive, or burner, will allow you to test your DVDs during authoring and then produce the final disc when your work is finished. DVD drives are currently sold with write speeds of 1x, 2x, and 4x. The faster 4x is clearly your best choice, since you won't wait nearly as long for your disc to burn.
Most burners also double as DVD players, so you can proof your own discs or watch Hollywood movies right on your computer.
When buying a new computer, don't confuse a playback-only DVD-ROM drive with a DVD-R or DVD+R writable drive. A DVD-ROM drive will play a DVD just fine, but it doesn't know the first thing about burning a disc. If you have a choice, try to get a hybrid DVD drive that writes to all consumer disc formats, including DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW and CD-R/RW. No need to be locked in to a single format when you can easily have all.
External DVD burners are also available if your system doesn't ship with one already built-in. These will typically connect via a FireWire cable and are just as good as an internal burner. They have the added advantage of mobility and can be used on multiple computers. External DVD drives can cost from $200 to $400, depending on the brand, write speed, and formats supported.