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Transferring Tapes to DVD
    with Sonic MyDVD 6  (12/2004)

    by Douglas Dixon

Automated DVDs
New and Improved
Tape to Disc Transfer
Annotating Discs
Setting Chapter Points
Combining and Editing Material
Making DVDs
References

Getting video to DVD can require an involved and complex authoring process, at least for commercial discs and formal corporate presentations. But there also are times when you just want to transfer your material to DVD as quickly as possible, whether you are an amateur with some family tapes to organize, or a corporate type with an informal training video to share, or even a pro with a pile of tapes to review. While the fastest no-fuss solution is to use a set-top DVD recorder, you can make a much more useful disc with a little more effort on your PC, including annotated menus to identify and access the material, and even come back later to re-edit the disc and add more material.

        Sonic MyDVD 6

The new Sonic MyDVD 6, released in September 2004 starting at $69.99 (MSRP), makes it even easier to transfer your tapes to fun and accessible discs (www.mydvd.com). In this article, I'll first walk you through the process of using MyDVD 6 to quickly transfer tapes to DVD, and then show how to refine and enhance your discs to add chapter points, customize the look, and combine clips from multiple sources.

Automated DVDs

MyDVD is Sonic's entry-level or "consumer" DVD authoring tool. This class of sub-$100 applications is focused on simplifying the authoring process: you import material from tape or video files, and the tool automates the menu layout and navigation using built-in menu design styles. Of course, the tradeoff for this simplification is a loss of control over the look and navigational design of your productions, as you cannot create individual custom menu buttons or arbitrary links between elements, much less add multiple audio tracks or subtitle tracks.

One solution to this dilemma is to offer a family of products, with room to grow as you get more experienced. With Sonic, you can start by doing quick DVD transfers with MyDVD, and then move up to Sonic DVDit 5 to import and customize the MyDVD project ($299) [ see Nov. C&CV ]. For more advanced authoring, you can step further up the Sonic product line to tools like Sonic ReelDVD and then DVD Producer for full-up professional authoring.

Ulead has taken a different approach, starting with Ulead MovieFactory as the entry-level application (from $49), and DVD Workshop as the advanced tool for creative professionals ($495). For those who want to start simpler and then grow, Ulead introduced DVD Workshop Express ($299) for corporate and personal use, which shares the same bright and accessible interface and supports more advanced features such as two audio and subtitle tracks, but removes some of the higher-end professional features especially for professional manufacturing (www.ulead.com).

New and Improved

In recent versions, Sonic has grown MyDVD to include built-in simple video editing (trim, transitions, titles), and built a larger suite of disc burning tools around it. MyDVD 6 is available in three versions, starting with MyDVD Studio 6 ($69.99 MSRP), with the core DVD authoring and integrated video editing plus the Sonic CinePlayer DVD player. MyDVD Studio Deluxe 6 ($99.99) adds media and disc utilities, with music CD ripping and burning, disc coping, and disc labeling. And the MyDVD Studio Deluxe Suite 6 adds Sonic BackUp MyPC software ($149.99 as a 327 MB download).

   

New in MyDVD 6 is support for a wider range of input formats, including extracting content from non-copy-protected DVDs, importing MPEG-4 and DivX files, support for widescreen (anamorphic 16:9) video, and import from digital cameras to create large slideshows with up to 1,000 photos each.

And for sharing your productions, MyDVD 6 can now create DVD+VR discs for DVD recorders, record to the new double-layer DVD+R disc format, and create and burn disc image files.

Tape to Disc Transfer

So let's get started with a simple transfer of a tape to DVD. MyDVD Studio Deluxe 6 now starts up with a task-oriented launcher screen to help you decide what part of the suite to use. This includes Getting Started and project-based guides, but also can be confusing since there are so many choices, accessed in multiple ways. Beyond DVD authoring, the suite includes audio ripping, playback, and burning; disc copying and imaging; data burning and archiving; and other disc utilities. If you just want to use MyDVD, you can click Video / Create Project or Edit Disc to launch the MyDVD application.

        Launcher

In our case, we want to do a Direct-to-Disc transfer, so click Video / Direct-to-Disc / DVD (or DVD+VR, or VCD). The MyDVD application starts up, flashes on the screen for a few seconds, and then switches to the Direct-to-Disc wizard. (This is a good reminder to return to the main application to set the File Locations options for your capture and work directories. This new version of MyDVD does a better job of trying to save your work after errors occur, but it's still unpleasant to have a 50-minute capture fail when the hard disk fills up after 10 minutes.)

        Capture

The Direct-to-Disc wizard works much as in previous versions. On the first screen, select the menu style, choose the project name (which is also used for the menu titles), and select the output (record to DVD, or save to a folder on hard disk). On the next screen, set up for the capture by using the preview display and VCR controls to rewind and position the tape in your attached DV camcorder, and set the length of the capture. Also specify how you want chapter points to be set -- inserted regularly every couple of minutes, and/or by using scene detection (as discussed later). You also can set up the input device (i.e., DV camcorder or TV tuner), and set the compression quality (from very high 8 Mbps to lower quality to fit more material on a disc).

Then click the red Start Capturing button and take a break for a while as MyDVD captures and processes the tape. Or don't go away -- The good news is that this process is not quite as touchy as it used to be. With today's PCs, you actually still can use your system during capture and burning, at least for non-intensive activities such as e-mail and word processing.

MyDVD first captures and compresses the video to disc, builds the menus and compresses the audio, and then burns the result to disc. For a 45 minute tape, that adds up to around 45 minutes to play and capture, 10 minutes to prepare the disc contents, and 15 minutes to burn on my 2.4X burner. (Or write the result to hard disk instead in a handful of minutes.)

The result is a quick transfer of your tape to DVD, much like you could have done with a set-top DVD recorder. However, with a tool like MyDVD you have much more control of the look of the disc by choosing a menu template design, including motion video menus. Plus, you have much more ability to edit your discs, as we will discuss next. Editing menus and chapter points is obviously limited at best on a TV set interface, even with DVD recorders that include a hard disk to stash and update clips.

Annotating Discs

The real power of an authoring tool like MyDVD is not in the first capture, but in the ability to come back and re-edit the disc, to add text annotation to the menus, or even to update the disc with new material. With MyDVD, the first step can be a quick edit to add text annotation to make your disc significantly more useful with maybe 10 minutes of work.

First, we need to talk about disc formats. The best way to keep a disc available for re-editing is to use a rewritable DVD+RW disc. If you burn your Direct-to-Disc capture direct to DVD+VR, you have the best of both worlds: a disc this is immediately playable on many set-top players, and also has the possibility of being updated in place when you want to edit it, without the need to copy the entire disc's contents to hard disk first.

MyDVD also can create discs in DVD+VR format, so they can be updated by a set-top player, and can import content (but not the menu navigation) from other DVD-Video discs (not copy protected). And you can make copies of your discs on write-once R discs for better compatibility, especially with older players.

The special sauce when you create a disc with MyDVD is Sonic's OpenDVD format -- the disc not only contains the standard DVD-Video content (so it can be played like any other DVD), but it also contains additional computer-readable data, essentially the project file defining the menus and navigation. In MyDVD, click Edit Disc and then browse to the disc, on a DVD drive, or saved on hard disc. MyDVD then opens the disc just like a saved project.

To make quick changes to your disc, navigate through the disc in the MyDVD window, and click to edit the text for the buttons to describe the contents. Click the Play button at the bottom to preview the disc and video clips.

You may also want to click the Edit Style button to change the menu style, including still or motion backgrounds, background audio, button frames, motion button thumbnails, and text fonts.

Then simply click Burn to re-write the disc in place. (Since this operation could fail and destroy your master disc, MyDVD offers the helpful option to save the project to hard disk. Or you can edit on hard disk, and burn the results to DVD.)

Setting Chapter Points

If you captured your disc from a DV tape with good scene breaks, the quick edit to add button annotations may be all you need to have a quite useful disc. But if the tape was copied from an analog source, or has too many or too few breaks, then you will want to edit the chapter points to match your material.

Click Edit Chapters to display the Chapter Points dialog, with a timeline marked with chapter point positions. You can scan through the clip, moving, adding and deleting chapters. Unfortunately, scanning through the video is not as responsive as with the higher-end DVDit, so stepping to an exact frame can be a slow process. It's also a good idea to first adjust chapters and then edit the text, since MyDVD sometimes resets the button text to the default project name.

        Chapter Points

For help in finding good chapter point positions, you also can use scene detection. When capturing original DV tapes, MyDVD can detect every time there is a break in the recorded date/time (i.e., when you started and then stopped recording). For analog input (or material copied to a DV tape), it can detect scene breaks based on changes in the actual video content.

Even so, scene detection is a tricky business -- even if you find all the breaks correctly, there may be too many or too few of them to use for your DVD menus, in which case you'd want to consolidate closely adjacent breaks, or add additional chapters between widely spaced breaks. In addition, detecting scene breaks from the actual video frames can be easily confused by fast motion and quick changes in lighting (from auto exposure or camera flashes).

MyDVD can try both scene detection methods, and provides a general sensitivity slider to provide a rough indication of how many scene breaks to find, but the process is nowhere near the ideal -- the ability to find (say) around 20 equally-distributed chapter points in a 50 minute tape, so they will fit on a short list of four linked menus, at six per menu.

My best results came from using DV date/time detection for Direct-to-Disc capture, which works well if you're good about shooting the original video in reasonable-length clumps. For longer shots (or material copied from analog tape), MyDVD's Edit Movie mode can analyze the captured material looking for breaks. This analysis did not seem to do much during capture, but can also be run later while editing the clip. On my tests, it was useful at the beginning of clips, but then seemed to give up on the rest of the material.

Combining and Editing Material

Beyond direct tape to disc transfers, choosing menus styles, and setting and annotating chapter points, MyDVD also goes deeper to allow you to create DVD productions by combining and editing multiple clips.

Use the buttons down the left side of the main window to import additional material into your disc -- use Add Files to use additional video clips from disk or Capture Video to grab more clips directly from within MyDVD.

Then use Edit Movie to bring up the simple built-in video editor. You can detect scenes, split long clips into sections, rearrange the sub-clips in a storyboard, and add transitions, filters, titles, slides, and background audio. You can use the scenes as chapter points, and choose whether to have MyDVD generate a chapter index menu for the edited clips.

        Edit Movie

To organize the structure of your disc to make room for the new material, use the New Sub-Menu button to add a nested menu, and the New Slideshow button to add a nested photo slide show, complete with transitions and background music.

And in MyDVD 6, you can further customize the look by applying styles to individual menus (and defining your own styles), and taking over control of the menu layout to manually add more buttons and position them independently.

Making DVDs

As you have seen, consumer DVD authoring tools like Sonic MyDVD go beyond simple tape to disc transfers to offer the ability to adjust the look of your discs and edit and enhance their contents. You can perform a simple transfer of your tape, spend five or ten minutes annotating the chapter points to make it much more useful to viewers, and still have the option to come back later invest more time to enhance the design and add additional material. And with MyDVD, you also have the option to upgrade to DVDit, import your MyDVD projects, and further customize the look and navigation.

However, be warned that messing with DVDs on PCs is still not a trivial exercise. You need to plan how you are going to create and edit your discs, and understand which DVD format to use. You also need to be aware that DVD burning (and DV capture) can still be problematical even on today's PCs under Windows XP. For example, I saw several DVD burns fail, even though the same drive and media worked fine other times.

Similarly, it's not easy to develop these kinds of consumer applications doing advanced digital video under Windows, especially on tight development schedules, so you can expect to see some glitches. For example, I saw problems with projects using motion menus, hangs when the DV camcorder was not connected, and sluggish performance when shuttling through video or even opening the Styles dialog.

As a result, it's always a good idea to work through the process a few times to find the best approach with your system. For example, you can have MyDVD do a Direct to Disc capture to hard disk, edit there, and then burn to DVD as a separate operation. This version of MyDVD does work harder to gracefully handle such problems, and save your work in situations such as ejecting the disc during the burn or running out of disk space.

For my purposes, MyDVD 6 provided a convenient workflow for transferring DV tape to DVD for immediate viewing, and with the bonus of being able to then come back and spend five or ten minutes updating the titles and chapter links to help identify the disc contents. All that important video that was essentially inaccessible when stored on DV tapes stacked in the closet is now immediately at hand, and we can jump directly to the scene of interest through the chapter menus.

The Sonic website offers trial download versions of its products.

References

Sonic Solutions
    www.sonic.com

Sonic - MyDVD
    www.mydvd.com

Ulead - DVD Workshop
    www.ulead.com/dws