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Re-editing your DVDs
    with Ulead DVD Movie Factory 3  (6/2004)

    by Douglas Dixon

Mushed DVDs
The Re-Editing Solution
Ulead DVD MovieFactory 3
Formats for Creating Discs
Direct to Disc
Re-Editing Re-Defined
References

Back at the dawn of the DVD age, the wacky idea of playing movies from a disc was originally conceived as a one-way, write-only process: assemble the assets, design the DVD, burn a master, and then manufacture a bazillion copies to sell to the masses. But then as hardware prices plummeted, and software applications made authoring more accessible, the masses also started to get involved in this whole thing of putting videos on DVD.

       

Now, especially for consumers, the DVD is no longer the final result; it's just an interim step in an ongoing process of accumulating and editing video clips. After all, whether you're building a disc of this year's outings for the family, or new product demos for the business, today's DVD is just a work in progress -- next week there will be new material to add and other changes to be made.

The old model of professional DVD authoring is breaking down. Before, if you wanted to be able to ever have the possibility of re-authoring a DVD, you needed to archive all the original assets with your project. In the new world, the disc is the project, and so the DVD is always available to not only play, but also to re-open and re-edit its contents -- and even edit directly on the disc if it is a rewritable (RW) format.

New versions of consumer-focused DVD authoring tools, like Sonic MyDVD 5 (www.sonic.com/products/mydvd), have provided more of this re-editing capability, as have set-top DVD recorders that allow you to record shows to disc, just like videotape. Now, Ulead has taken another step with the new release of DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator, a complete disc-burning suite with the ability to import and edit DVDs in an even wider variety of formats (www.ulead.com/dmf). However, no single format is best for all uses, so with this freedom of choice comes some more confusion about DVD formats.

Mushed DVDs

If you think about it, why should you need to keep a separate copy of all your DVD projects around? After all, the final DVD, by definition, has all the content on it: certainly all the video and audio, even conveniently broken into clips and chapters, plus the menus, and the navigation information. Any DVD player can extract this information in order to play the disc, so it would seem to make sense to think that you could do the same in order to re-edit it.

Of course, things are not quite that simple. When you build a DVD, all the content is compressed and then mushed together into the VOB files that you may have seen under the VIDEO_TS folders on a DVD disc. These days, stripping the video and audio clips out of a DVD is not a big deal, but you typically just get a dump of the video and audio streams out of the VOB files, not the nice logically organized clips and chapters that appear in the menus. In addition, the video is in compressed MPEG-2 format, which is not particularly convenient for further editing.

Even worse, the menus on a DVD are "flattened" into a single composite image. All the different elements that you composed into the menu design -- the background (image or video), titles, graphics annotations, buttons, button frames, button text, etc. -- are squished down into the final menu image (or video) stored on the disc, so all the individual elements that were used to create it have been lost.

(Yes, the button highlights are still available, so you could derive some information about the general button positions and associated navigation links, but you still could not access the individual elements, much less edit the text of a menu title to fix a typo.)

The Re-Editing Solution

This situation is so tantalizing -- the DVD is so close to being accessible for editing. It has all the content, but mushed together with the navigation and the flattened menus. All that is needed is a little more easily-accessible information about the structure of the DVD and its menus, and the disc could be cracked wide open for editing. (Just to be clear: we're talking about your own DVDs here, not copy-protected commercial products.)

This is exactly what has been done to turn plain old DVD-Video discs into re-editable DVDs. Since the DVD specification does permit other arbitrary data files to be included on a disc, and provides some freedom in laying out the elements on the disc, it's quite feasible to add some additional data on the disc to describe its contents for re-editing, and to organize the disc contents to allow a rewritable DVD to be edited and updated directly on the disc. Now we're getting somewhere!

There are two basic approaches in the industry to making re-editable discs: adding project files used by DVD authoring software applications, and the VR format used by set-top DVD recorders.

To build a re-editable disc, DVD authoring software applications basically place a copy of the project file on the disc, along with the various individual elements used to create the menus. If you then need to update a menu title, for example, the application can re-create the menu from the saved background and buttons, and then compose new title text on top.

However, set-top DVD recorders do not have the luxury of running full-fledged DVD authoring tools. Instead, they need to be able to add and remove clips, and build associated menus, all with a remote-control interface through your TV. While support for re-editing was not part of the original DVD concept or specification, the consumer electronics industry has developed a variant of the DVD-Video format that does support this usage, called DVD-VR (for Video Recording, and not Virtual Reality).

There are actually two flavors of VR formats -- "dash" and "plus" -- corresponding to the two rewritable DVD formats. DVD-VR, originally developed for set-top recorders using the DVD-RW format, provides a simple text menu for essentially a playlist of clips. DVD+VR, developed for set-top recorders using the DV+RW format (of course), supports more general menus with clip thumbnails. However, since the VR formats are variants of DVD-Video, discs in VR format may be somewhat less compatible, especially on older players.

As a result, if you want to both play and edit discs on both a set-top recorder and a computer, then you need to use a VR format, and you also need DVD authoring software on the PC that can import the VR format. If you're only working on a PC, you can create full DVD-Video discs, with an embedded project file.

Sonic calls its version of this project file concept "OpenDVD" and uses it in MyDVD and some of its other products (MyDVD also can import information from VR discs). Ulead's new DVD MovieFactory 3 also adds its own project files to discs, and can import, edit, and burn discs in VR format as well.

Ulead DVD MovieFactory 3

Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator, released in January 2004, has been expanded to provide a full suite of disc-burning possibilities, for DVD and CD (Video CD and Super Video CD).

   

The initial Launch Panel screen displays big icons and buttons for all the possibilities, and then launches the appropriate sub-application:

        Launch Panel screen

- Create Video Disc             - DVD video, VCD, SVCD
- Create Slideshow Discs  - Photos and interactive menus on DVD, VCD, or SVCD
- Create Music Disc             - Audio CD or MP3 on CD or DVD
- Create Data Disc               - Copy and backup data files to CD or DVD
- Direct to Disc                     - Real-time video capture and burn to DVD, VCD, SVCD
- Edit Disc                             - Edit an existing DVD or MP3 disc
- Copy Disc                          - Burn a DVD from another disc, or a folder on hard disk
- DVD Player                         - Play DVD, VCD, SVCD, or video file

The Launch Panel also provides several utilities for program settings, to erase a rewritable disc, burn from a disc image file, and print a disc label or case cover.

Formats for Creating Discs

What's really interesting about MovieFactory 3 is Ulead's focus on re-editing across the broad range of DVD formats. You can import and edit DVD-Video, DVD-VR, and DVD+VR formats, and MovieFactory will extract the available information from them. When you burn a disc, MovieFactory also can add its project information file so the disc will be easier to re-edit. And, if the disc is in a rewritable format (RW), MovieFactory can edit it directly on disc, without requiring that you first copy the 4+ GB of disc contents to hard disk.

        Edit Disc dialog

MovieFactory 3 then provides a wealth of options for creating a new DVD, depending on whether you need to be compatible with a set-top recorder, and whether you are burning a rewritable (RW) or recordable write-once (R) disc:

- DVD-VR - Create a rewritable (RW), re-editable disc in -VR format, with a simple playlist interface. Use this for compatibility with DVD-RW set-top recorders.

- DVD+VR - Create a rewritable (RW), re-editable disc in +VR format, with full menus. This format provides compatibility with DVD+RW set-top recorders, of course, but Ulead also recommends it for discs will be continually modified. (Edits to the disc are fast, and deleted space for content can be reused, although space for new menus needs to be preallocated.)

- DVD-Video Fast Re-Editable - Create a rewritable (RW), re-editable disc in DVD-Video format. The disc includes the MovieFactory project file to provide re-editing information, and the content is organized (within the DVD-Video spec) to facilitate re-editing on disc. Best for appending new content, but not lots of editing, since it is slower than +VR to update (since it needs to read a larger block of data to modify). This also is more compatible than +VR, especially with older players.

- DVD-Video - Create a recordable write-once (R) disc in DVD-Video format. The DVD can include the MovieFactory project file, but the disc's contents will need to be copied to hard disk to edit and then burn to a new disc.

MovieFactory 3 provides these choices, and more (VCD, SVCD), in its interface, although you'll need to pay attention to which choice is provided where. When you start a project, you need to make an initial chose of the base disc format (DVD, DVD-VR, VCD, or SVCD), since these choices determine the fundamental disc organization, menu structure, and even compression formats used on the disc. When you are ready to burn a DVD, you can choose the recording format (DVD-Video or VR), but you then need to dig into an Advanced Option dialog to choose between plain DVD-Video or Fast Re-Editable. And you also need to access an Output Options dialog to choose whether to include the project file. (MovieFactory provides the option to include a copy of the Ulead DVD Player application on the disc, so it can be played even on a PC with no DVD software.)

Hidden under an Output Options button are several more possibilities: you can burn your DVD to disc, and/or to DVD folders and a disc image file on hard disk. However, the Direct to Disc mode only burns to DVD disc; you cannot use it to capture a video to a DVD on hard disk.

        Output Options dialog

Direct to Disc

The MovieFactory's Direct to Disc does show how far we have come with processing power on today's PC: you can capture video, compress, format the DVD, and burn to disc, all simultaneously -- end-to-end, tape to disc, in about the time it takes to play the tape.

You first choose the output disc format and the DVD burner drive, then choose the recording format, and then customize the disc. You can choose a menu format from the list of templates, and automatically insert chapters at fixed intervals (but not through DV timecode or detecting scene changes). As is typical with Ulead software, you also can dig down to set detailed options, including compression parameters.

Then click Start Capture and you're off ... the DV camera starts playing, the video plays on your PC, the PC crunches away (although is still responsive), and the DVD writer starts burning.

Even better, none of these choices are immutable. Once the disc is burned, you can return to the Launch Panel screen, choose Edit Disc, and open up the new disc to edit. If you burned a RW disc, you even can edit it in place, adding clips, editing title text, or changing menu styles at will.

   

        Menu Editing

Re-Editing Re-Defined

Ulead has taken another dramatic step forward in opening up DVD creation and editing with DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator. As a disc-burning suite, it packages up all your disc-writing needs for all types of media. And as a DVD authoring tool, it's a valiant effort to provide comprehensive support for all those wacky DVD formats: writable and rewritable (R / RW), "dash" and "plus", DVD-Video and VR, VCD and SVCD.

While all these options can be confusing, the bottom line is that MovieFactory provides the ability to make DVDs that always can be re-edited if you so desire. You can re-open any disc as a project and start editing, or even conveniently update rewritable (RW) discs in place.

However, supporting all these formats and options on arbitrary machines on a variety of Windows architectures is also a challenge. MovieFactory 3 had several problems on my primary test system, which is littered with the droppings of a variety of other digital media applications (like many end-user machines). It had a problem with interface freezing up that Ulead traced to a conflict with old compression DLLs. It also failed to handle captures longer than around 50 minutes, which is especially painful when you need to restart the process from scratch. (All of these applications could do a better job of allowing you to save work in progress if there are problems with a long capture.)

On the other hand, the interface is inflexible in some areas: you cannot do a Direct to Disc capture to hard disk (i.e., if you don't have a DVD burner attached, or just want to reduce the risk of a failure), nor can you use DV timecode scene detection for a quick Direct to Disc transfer (which would create much more useful menus).

Ulead DVD MovieFactory 3 gives you the best of both worlds -- you can author DVDs to play and enjoy, but also with the possibility to re-edit them at any time. You have complete flexibility to edit and re-edit on your PC, or to transfer discs back and forth with set-top DVD recorders. And there's no need to back up your projects -- the disc itself is the project.

If you are constantly modifying a DVD design, you can keep it in a rewritable (RW) format, so it's easy to re-edit directly on the disc, but still playable to show at any time. When needed, you can copy your work in progress to DVD-Video format on permanent recordable disc, to have a more compatible copy to share with others, and as a backup (since the copy is also still available as a master for future editing). DVD authoring for the masses really has been liberated!

To try out DVD MovieFactory 3 for yourself, download a fully-functional 30-day trial version from the Ulead website.

References

Ulead - DVD MovieFactory
    www.ulead.com/dmf

Sonic Solutions - MyDVD
    www.sonic.com/products/mydvd