Making DVDs at home

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 10, 2007

Q: My wife bought Pinnacle Studio to burn home movies to disc. I am attempting this on a Dell Dimension computer outfitted with a CD burner. So far I have been unable to burn DVDs and obtain poor quality burning to CD-Rs.

Do I need to buy a DVD burner, and if so what would be the best quality burner for this application? Is the Pinnacle Studio a good system for converting home movies to disc? If not, what system would you recommend?

Dave Rascati, Pittsburgh, PA

A: You do need a DVD burner to make DVDs.   What you are creating on CD-Rs is Video CDs, not DVDs.  

Video CD is a format that preceded DVD and achieved some popularity overseas, but not in the USA.   It provides the convenience of a small disc-based storage medium with image quality approximately the same as VHS, which is far below that of DVD.

It all comes down to storage space. A blank CD-R has about 700MB of free space.   A blank DVD-R is 4.7GB, of which approximately 4.3GB will show as free space when placed in a drive.   Fitting an hour’s worth of video on the small amount of space requires a different digital storage format, MPEG-1, which limits the video quality.   DVDs use MPEG-2, a much better format used for HDTV and digital satellite broadcasts.

The easiest way to add DVD burning capability to your computer is buying an external DVD burner.   An external DVD burner connects to you computer via a USB 2.0 or FireWire connection so it can be used with almost any computer. I have found them to be one of the most useful peripherals you can own becauses besides their basic usefulness, they can be kept and used as your upgrade computers.   I have had good experience with Lite-On external burners, which are available in many retail locations.   If you are willing to purchase via mail order, my favorites are the Mercury Pro units from One World Computing, located at www.macsales.com.   The $129 Mercury Pro can be used with both Apple and Windows computers and offers incredible speed, reliability, and can record to the new double-layer DVDs, which offer 9.4 GB of capacity.   Double-layer DVDs are great for storing double-length movies or a tremendous amount of data such as documents or digital pictures.   Both FireWire and USB 2.0 connections are provided and it comes fully complete with a thoughtful bundle of software and cables, as well as blank DVDs and CDs to get your started.          

Pinnacle Studio is an excellent software suite for video editing, but my favorite Windows video editing program is Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0.   I recently compared several Windows-based video editors and Premiere Elements 3.0 was the clear winner for its its easy-to-use interface, features, and the outstanding video quality of the DVDs produced. MPEG encoding, converting the digital video into the MPEG-2 format used by DVDs, is one of the hardest tasks these programs undertake.   If a program does a poor job the resulting DVDs look noticeably inferior to the original tape footage.   The DVDs produced by Premiere Elements 3.0 were extremely clean, sharp and colorful and very impressive to watch.

Premiere Elements 3.0 is available on its own for a street price of $79.   It is also available in a bundle with Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0   for only $, which has to rate as one of the better bargains out there for anyone who enjoys digital photography and digital video.

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