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Software Overview

You may need some key hardware to get going with DVD, but software is the real brain of the operation. A collection of custom software is necessary to first create the individual pieces, and then later to bind them together to form a DVD.

To the end user, a DVD appears to be a seamless presentation, and no one is likely to suspect that it's a mixture of several distinctive parts. But behind the curtain, the DVD author not only understands each piece and how to create it—he also understands how to make all the parts work together and appear seamless to the end user.

Each piece of the DVD puzzle is created with its own unique software application that was programmed for the task. By our count, there's a total of nine distinct software categories that contribute a unique asset to the end product (see the chart below). Depending on the price, some software packages have more than one digital trick up their sleeves and you may not need to use every application listed here.

We'll remind you that each software category represents a specialized discipline that can't be mastered overnight. Take your time and don't expect to learn it all at once.

All-in-one DVD authoring

The following pages cover the main categories of software applications you'll need to author a full-featured DVD, but for entry-level authoring, you may not need them all. Some entry and mid-level authoring packages integrate many key features right into their interface. Functions like video capture, encoding, compositing, menu creation and disc burning may all be contained within one convenient package.

If it sounds too good to be true, it is . . . and it isn't. No integrated authoring software can deliver the kind of control available with the individual external applications, but it can create a simple, good-looking DVD.

The all-in-ones may be a good place to dip your toe into the DVD authoring pool, but if you have aspirations for projects on a grander scale, you'll quickly decide to jump in head first with more advanced software.

All-in-one authoring software includes myDVD, Roxio CD & DVD Creator, NeoDVD, Sony Click to DVD for Windows, and iDVD (with iMovie) for Mac.

DVD authoring software (required)

The hub of any DVD project is the authoring application. This is the software that rolls all the individual assets together into a single DVD disc. Think of it as a kind of smart glue that binds the project together and controls how the assets will be viewed.

There's a wide variety of authoring programs available, ranging from inexpensive entry-level to pricey high-end. Some of the newer applications are the most innovative and intuitive, positioned in the affordable mid-level range.

A cross-section of popular authoring software includes Adobe Encore DVD, Ulead DVD Workshop, Pinnacle Impression, Sonic DVD Producer, and Sonic Scenarist for Windows, and Apple DVD Studio Pro and Sonic Creator for Mac.

Chapter 15 provides an overview of authoring software in each price range and describes their capabilities and differences.

Video editing software (required)

Next to DVD authoring software, a video editing application is probably the most important software choice you'll make. Called a non-linear editing application or NLE, you use it to import raw video (DV) footage from your camera and edit vacation videos, documentaries, or even a polished feature movie. You can add transitions, titles, soundtracks, or special effects to give your project that professional look. The video you produce and edit here will ultimately end up as the main attraction in your DVD, so you'll want to use an application that gives you the best quality and all the features necessary for your production.

As with authoring applications, there's a wide selection of NLE software on the market, ranging from free to thousands of dollars.

Some examples of popular NLE video software include Windows Movie Maker, Pinnacle Edition, Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Xpress DV for Windows, and iMovie, Final Cut Express, Final Cut Pro, Avid Xpress DV for Mac.

Chapter 4 covers some of the most popular video editing programs.

Video compositing software (optional)

A video compositing application does for video what Adobe Photoshop does for still images. It allows you to manipulate a video clip in every way. For example, you can create animations, adjust colors, add type, apply image masks, or add special video effects.

It's known as compositing software because it allows you to layer parts of different video clips and graphic images, melding them into a single composite video. If you've heard the term motion graphics when discussing video, it was probably referring to something created with compositing software.

Compositing is an essential process for creating looping DVD menus that include motion video. Some video editing applications have a few compositing features built in, so you may not need to buy a stand-alone compositing package unless you've just got to have more features.

Well-known compositing software examples include Adobe After Effects and Discreet Combustion, available on both the Windows and Mac platforms. See Chapter 11 for more about video compositing.

Menu compositing software (required)

Still-image compositing software is essential for creating DVD menu graphics. Similar to a video compositing application, this software will allow you to layer and manipulate still graphics and photographs. This category is dominated by a single product: Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is the standard for bitmap image manipulation and is used extensively in print, web, and now video graphics.

Photoshop is extremely versatile and can be used to stylize a photo, design a menu, enhance slideshow images, design a jacket picture—the list is endless. Photoshop files can be layered, which also comes in handy to create and align subpicture overlays (see page 26).

The application has its roots in print, which means it includes features for high-quality printing. If these features aren't important to you, consider Adobe Photoshop Elements, a $99 sibling to Photoshop. For creating DVD menus, it's nearly as good as Photoshop and has most of the same features.

See Chapter 10 for more about using Photoshop to create DVD menus.

3D animation software (optional)

Some DVD menus are designed as complete virtual three-dimensional environments, rendered entirely with 3D animation software. You may not want to use 3D menus on your first time out, but you should keep the idea in mind as a possibility for future advanced projects.

Most 3D software can export a rendered scene to a video file format, which will be necessary if you want to incorporate it into a DVD. 3D software is typically difficult to learn and can take a long time to master, but there are entry-level programs available to get you started. Some compositing applications have limited 3D capabilities built in, which may be enough to suit your needs.

Noted 3D animation software includes 3ds max, Maya, SoftImage 3D, LightWave 3D, Electric Image Universe 5 for Windows, and Maya, LightWave 3D, Electric Image Universe 5 for Macs.

Audio editing software (optional)

Your video editing software will have some built-in audio features, but if you need to go beyond that level, you'll need a separate audio editing program. Audio editing becomes necessary if you need to “clean up” or enhance a poorly recorded vocal track or produce a music soundtrack to accompany your video. Some applications will allow you to perform sophisticated layering of audio tracks, known as mixing. The process of enhancing an audio track to sound better than the original recording is called sweetening.

You can import edited audio clips into your video editing software or export them directly as PCM formatted WAVs or AIFFs.

Audio software examples include ProTools and Adobe Audition for Windows, and ProTools, BIAS Peak, and Apple Soundtrack for Macs.

Video encoding software (required)

All video destined for DVD must be converted into the MPEG-2 (or MPEG-1) format through a process called encoding. Encoding squeezes out the redundant bits and makes a video track file small enough to fit on a DVD disc.

Files that have been encoded into MPEG-2 format usually have the extension .m2v, which identifies it to the authoring software as an allowable video asset. A software encoder will also strip the audio track from the video, saving it as a separate PCM file (WAV or AIFF), ready for Dolby compression, or direct import into an authoring application.

We mentioned earlier that hardware encoding is a much faster process, but for many DVD authors, software encoding is the best choice. The output quality of a software MPEG-2 encoder can be on par with a hardware encoder, but the process is usually slower.

Some entry-level authoring applications provide built-in encoding functions, but many authors prefer to have more control over their MPEG-2 files with a separate piece of software. There are a number of stand-alone MPEG-2 video encoders available, priced from $60 to several hundred. They don't all produce the same results—some provide better quality encodes than others.

Examples of software encoders include TMPGEnc Plus, CinemaCraft Basic, Canopus ProCoder for Windows, and Innobits BitVice, and Apple Compressor for Macs.

See Chapter 14 for more about encoding.

Audio encoding software (required)

Audio files, although much smaller than their video counterparts, can still benefit from compression. The most common compressed audio format for DVD is Dolby Digital, often referred to by its extension name: AC-3.

An audio encoder will import either a WAV or AIFF file and convert it to the AC-3 format. AC-3 files can contain up to five-channel surround sound, which makes this format extra appealing to quality-conscious authors.

The other five-channel compressed format is DTS, a competitor to Dolby Digital. DTS files require their own separate encoding software such as that provided by Surcode (

Dolby Digital audio encoding functions are included with some DVD authoring programs such as Sonic Producer (, Adobe Encore DVD (, Ulead DVD Workshop AC-3 for Windows (, and A.Pack for Mac (included with DVD Studio Pro).

Stand-alone Dolby encoding applications include BeSweet (, and Surcode for Windows (, and Nuendo AC-3 encoder ( for Windows and Mac.

Subtitling software (optional)

Most authoring packages in the mid-range to high-end can import subtitles and will either bundle external software or have integrated subtitling features. Regardless of where the subtitling feature is found, you will still be working with an interface that allows you to synchronize a subtitle with an underlying video image. The files generated are bitmap graphics, a type of subpicture overlay. There are a variety of subtitle formats, so make sure that your subtitling software will export into a format that your authoring program will understand.

Subtitling can be a lengthy and exacting process, and many companies specialize in this service if you can't do it yourself.

Authoring applications that support the import of subtitles include: Adobe Encore DVD, Sonic ReelDVD, DVD Producer, and Scenarist for Windows and Apple DVD Studio Pro for Mac. Some of the subtitling software titles include: FAB Subtitler (, Subtitle Workshop (, and Stream SubText for Windows (, and Eva for Mac (

Software DVD player (required)

You'll want to test your authored DVD files before you write them to a disc. It's important to determine that the data was written correctly and that it all looks the way you expected. To do this, you'll need a software DVD player.

Provided that you purchased a computer with a built-in DVD-ROM or DVD-R/+R drive, there's probably a software player already installed. Your authoring software also may be bundled with a player. If you don't have any of these options, you can always buy a software DVD player for $30 to $70, depending on the features included. They all mimic the remote functions of a set-top player and are a good first indication of how a disc will perform on a hardware player.

Software DVD players include WinDVD 5, Sonic Cineplayer, and Cyberlink Power DVD for Windows, and the Apple DVD Player for Mac.

External disc burning software (optional)

Most DVD authoring software has a built-in “burn disc” command that will let you write your work to a DVD-R or +R disc without leaving the program. That's fine, but in most cases, we prefer to use an external application to burn our DVD files because we can first test them with a software DVD player (see below) before committing everything to a disc.

To generate the proper DVD files, you must prompt your authoring software to build VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS directories and save them to your hard drive. Once the files have been created, you are free to use your disc burning software to write them to a DVD.

Examples of popular DVD burning software include Roxio CD & DVD Creator, Ahead Nero, Sonic RecordNow Max for Windows, and Roxio Toast for Mac.

See Chapter 17 for more about disc burning.

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