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Getting to High Def:
    HDV Video to High-Def DVD on your PC  (10/2006)

    by Douglas Dixon

High-Def DVD Playback  /  High-Def DVD Authoring
Consumer HD

InterVideo Software
CyberLink Software
Roxio / Sonic Solutions

Getting Blue

References

High-def is here! At least mostly here. -- You can buy HDV camcorders for around $1400 and shoot in real HD resolution (www.hdv-info.org), and then you can burn and share the results on high-def DVD burners for around $1000. Yes, it seems we've been talking about these forever, and the products are just starting to get to market, and the prices are still high, and the hardware and software are still new and a bit rough. But, on the other hand this next generation is coming much faster and dropping in price more quickly than the previous transitions from analog to DV video, and from videotape to DVD. -- Remember the good old days of early DVD, when only high-end pros could work with $17,000 burners and $50 discs?

This time around for high def, we already have consumer / enthusiast HD camcorders with compatible editing software, and the first blue-laser recordable discs with basic consumer authoring tools, all becoming available within just a year or so of when the first professionals started authoring commercial high-def DVDs. Sonic Solutions just shipped the first packaged film authoring tools earlier in 2006, and now we're talking about consumer tools from several companies -- albeit significantly less sophisticated -- becoming available later this year.

So let's look at what to expect through the rest of this year, as high-def DVD comes to PCs along with consumer burning software. Just be warned that this is all a little tricky and fuzzy -- the combination of the technical complexity of these new formats, the costs of the associated royalty pools, and the restrictions from the layers of copy protection mechanisms all have combined to limit what you can do with high-def DVD, relative to the extensive freedom we are used to when working with DVD.

We'll focus on the recently announced set of Sony HDV and Blu-ray products, since they cover the range from set-top to desktop, and HD DVD recorders are not yet shipping. Apple's pro and consumer suites also support HDV editing and early HD DVD authoring, but we'll look here at the wide variety of new tools coming available under Windows.

High-Def DVD Playback

Before we get started, we need to address the added confusion of the all-out format war between the two main high-def disc formats -- HD DVD, championed by Toshiba and NEC, and officially adopted by the DVD Forum (www.hddvdprg.com), and Blu-ray Disc (BD), championed by Sony and Panasonic, with strong support from the consumer electronics and computer industries (www.blu-raydisc.com). While HD DVD was designed as an incremental improvement beyond DVD, offering 15 GB of capacity per layer and 30 GB for dual-layer, Blu-ray is a more aggressive step forward, with 25 GB per layer and 50 GB for a DL disc -- making it a much more interesting choice for PC-based data backup and video sharing.

       

The initial first-generation set-top players for both formats came onto the market in the first half of 2006, beginning with the Toshiba HD-A1 High Definition DVD Player for HD DVD (www.tacp.toshiba.com/hddvd) and the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc Player (www.samsung.com/Products/Blu_ray). These shipped with a limited selection of movie titles (some exclusive to individual formats). And these are playback-only: no set-top recorders are available, even though one obvious motivation for these new formats was to record HD television.

        Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Player

         Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player

In addition, the movie industry has loaded these formats down with extensive layers of copy protection technology to protect their content in its full high-def digital glory. As a result, the set-top high-def DVD players will only display their picture in full HD on displays that support the HDMI interface (all those HD video and multi-channel audio connections combined into one convenient cable) -- and only on newer devices that implement full HDCP copy protection. Otherwise, you'll need to buy a new display, or the titles may permit display at lower resolution on older analog displays.

Similarly, you can't expect to play back these HD discs on any old PC, like you are used to with DVDs. Full HD playback will require significant upgrades or a new system, with good performance, updated drivers, plus a secure digital connection with hardware HDCP support in both the video card and the display across a DVI interface. Again, the title otherwise may permit reduced playback at standard resolution.

High-Def DVD Authoring

And what about authoring to these HD formats? The good news is that the first Blu-ray PC drives are shipping, with software for burning data files and at least basic video discs. However, these new high-def DVD formats have very sophisticated capabilities, much like Web interfaces -- with pop-up menus floating on top of playing video, multiple layers of motion video and audio, programmability for developing games and other applications, and even networked interfaces for accessing and downloading additional content.

Both formats therefore define two distinct layers of programmability (and therefore authoring complexity) -- basic video playback (standard or video mode) and full-up (advanced or movie mode), plus a simpler video recording mode for set-top recorders. To simplify, HD DVD provides Standard Content mode similar to current DVD capabilities, plus Advanced Content (with Web-like markup and scripting using iHD). Blu-ray provides basic video recording with BDAV (Audio/Video) mode, DVD-like playback with HDAV authoring mode, and full customization with BDMV (Movie mode, with BD-J Java programming).

The initial software tools will start with basic recording of clips to disc like a set-top recorder (i.e., BDAV mode), and then expand to DVD-like menu design and navigation (Standard / HDAV mode). Full-up programmability (Advanced iHD/BD-J) is currently reserved to the high-end tools like Sonic Scenarist 4.

Consumer HD

But first before we can think about burning HD video to disc, we need to shoot and edit some high-def material. The consumer HD pieces started really fitting together in July, when Sony announced its expanded line of HDV camcorders and its Blu-ray Disc (BD) PC drive, which means you can go from the HD camcorder to recording on BD media -- up to four hours of 1080 HD video on dual-layer discs with 50 GB of storage (that's 10X the capacity of a standard DVD).

First, Sony expanded its line of HDV Handycam camcorders to include units that record on tape, DVD, and hard disk. The original Sony HDR-HC3 1080i Handycam Camcorder (around $1499) captures either DV or high-def HDV video to standard MiniDV cassette tape. The new HDR-UX1 records to 8 cm mini-DVD discs ($1399, due in September), and the new HDR-SR1 records to a built-in 30 GB hard disk ($1499, due in October). Sony also introduced double-layer +R 8 cm DVD media ($12) which provides around 45 minutes HD recording (www.sonystyle.com).

To share your video, all three Handycams have HDMI output to play directly on an HD display. Both of the new units use the new AVCHD format sponsored by Sony and Panasonic (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 high-def video, www.avchd-info.org).

   

AVCHD support means you can remove the DVD from the camcorder and play your high-def video directly on the Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Disc player (around $1000). Or you can transfer to regular DVD with the Sony DVDirect DVD Recorder (around $200).

Even better for video enthusiasts, today's video editing software can edit videos in HDV format, so you can do HD editing on your own PC much like you are used to with DV -- if your system is equipped with reasonable processing power and disk space.

But what about sharing your edited HD productions? You can play them back from a HD camcorder, or export them in MPEG-4 or Windows Media Video HD format to play on PCs, but it would be even better to burn your videos to high-def discs.

The first Blu-ray PC drive was the Pioneer BDR-101A Blu-ray Disc/DVD writer ($999, www.pioneerelectronics.com). This external drive burns single-layer (25 GB) Blu-ray write-once (BD-R) and rewritable (BD-RE) discs, as well as recordable DVD formats (but not CD). Spinning at 2X, it can burn a full disc in around 45 minutes. The 25 GB disc can hold around 3 1/2 hours of 1920 x 1080 video using MPEG-4 AVC compression at 12 Mbps, along with multiple audio tracks.

   
    Pioneer BDR-101A Blu-ray Disc/DVD writer

Sony then introduced the Sony BWU-100A Internal Blu-ray Disc Rewritable Drive ($749), so you can burn HD video to 50 GB Blu-ray discs to play back on a set-top player or on a PC. It supports burning to dual-layer Blu-ray, DVD, and CD media.

Sony also ships Blu-ray drives with the Sony VAIO RC Blu-ray Disc Desktop PC (around $2300) and VAIO AR Blu-ray Disc Notebook PC ($3500), which include the dual-layer drive and HDMI output to HDTVs.

These Blu-ray drive products include software suites for Blu-ray disc playback, data burning, and video recording, which are extensions of the products that you are probably already familiar with.

InterVideo Software

The Sony Blu-ray VAIO notebook ships with a suite of tools from InterVideo, including InterVideo WinDVD BD for playback and Ulead BD Disc Recorder. These are part of the InterVideo / Ulead suite of disc burning and digital media creation tools (www.intervideo.com, www.ulead.com).

       

- InterVideo WinDVD player software is being extended to support playback of both the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. The new versions should be available as retail products in Fall 2006.

- InterVideo Burn Now provides data burning and backup for data and music, burning and copying, to also support burning and backup to Blu-ray format.

And for HD video disc creation, InterVideo is enhancing its line of Ulead editing and authoring tools.

- Ulead BD Disc Recorder can capture from DV / HDV camcorders, import video clips, rip from DVD, and burn or append to Blu-ray disc in BDAV format. It also supports Straight to Disc recording direct from tape to disc. The result is much like a set-top recorder, with a simple menu of the clips on the disc But it's a real, playable Blu-ray disc, so you can finally share your HD productions on disc.

- Ulead DVD MovieFactory provides disc authoring with menu creation and navigation design. Again, expect support for BDAV recording relatively soon, followed by more interesting menu authoring before the end of the year.

CyberLink Software

The Sony BWU-100A Blu-ray drive ships with an extensive suite from CyberLink with a similar range of tools, also being updated to support the high-def video and DVD formats (www.cyberlink.com):

   

- CyberLink PowerDVD player software provides playback of BDAV discs, but not prerecorded commercial Hollywood BDMV discs in the initial release. Retail update packs for both Blu-ray and HD DVD are due later this year. Note that playback of high-def video with advanced compression requires significantly more processing power than SD DVD playback -- CyberLink recommends a 3+ GHz Pentium or 2 GHz Core Duo or equivalent.

CyberLink also is extending its tools for data burning and backup to CD, DVD, and Blu-ray.

- CyberLink InstantBurn is packet-writing software for drag and drop burning in Windows Explorer.
- CyberLink Power2Go provides easy burning of data, videos, photos, and music.
- CyberLink PowerBackup is data archiving software.

And CyberLink is expanding its video and HDV editing and authoring tools:

- CyberLink PowerDirector editing software supports HD and widescreen video, with automated editing and enhancement. The current bundled version burns to DVD, but not yet Blu-ray.

- CyberLink PowerProducer is BD/DVD authoring software, enables the capturing, authoring, editing, and burning video to CD, DVD, and basic Blu-ray.

CyberLink expects to have more advanced menu authoring for the high-def DVD formats implemented by the end of 2006.

Roxio / Sonic Solutions

The Sony Blu-ray VAIO notebook also ships with basic Blu-ray data burning tools from Roxio (a division of Sonic Solutions), called Roxio DigitalMedia (www.sonic.com).

   

Meanwhile, Sonic is preparing a new release of its Roxio Easy Media Creator suite to support the HD disc formats, with tools for data backup and copy; audio, photo, and video media creation and editing; and media conversion and playback over a wide variety of formats and devices.

The first release of the suite will provide basic Blu-ray data burning and video recording.

- CinePlayer for playback of HD discs (consumer BDAV recording mode, not commercial titles).

- VideoWave video editor for HDV editing.

- Quick BD Disc Creation for recording video clips to disc (BDAV mode).

- MyDVD authoring for standard DVD, with menu design and navigation control (not Blu-ray).

Roxio will add support for HD DVD support once PC drives are available, and you can expect more advanced playback and authoring features to become available as the know-how and technology trickles down from Sonics's professional tools which currently are being used to create commercial titles.

Getting Blue

As you can see, the roll-out of consumer access to HD is in some ways impressively fast, especially compared to the years it took for DVD to extend from high-end professionals to reach similar consumer functionality and price points. However, while HDV camcorders for shooting HD video and the associated video editing software are looking good, the deployment of the new HD disc formats is going to be more confusing.

Between copy protection restrictions for playback, technology and licensing restrictions for advanced features, and just plain format complexities -- plus the ongoing format war -- we cannot expect to have the same seamless experiences as with current DVD moving either prerecorded titles or recorded discs between set-top devices and desktop computers.

On the other hand, it's a very liberating experience to fire up a DVD backup application and see the capacity indicator read "50 GB free." So look forward to high-def DVD, at least in its early phases, for data burning and basic video recording and playback. Then hang in there a little longer before expecting fancy menu editing. And start planning some equipment upgrades for a full HD movie-viewing experience.

References

HDV Format 
    www.hdv-info.org

HD DVD
    www.hddvdprg.com

Blu-ray Disc (BD)
    www.blu-raydisc.com

AVCHD Information
    www.avchd-info.org

Toshiba - HD DVD
    www.tacp.toshiba.com/hddvd

Samsung - Blu-ray
    www.samsung.com/Products/Blu_ray

Pioneer Electronics
    www.pioneerelectronics.com

Sony Style
    www.sonystyle.com

CyberLink
    www.cyberlink.com

InterVideo / Ulead
    www.intervideo.com
    www.ulead.com

Sonic / Roxio
    www.sonic.com

Originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video magazine, 22, 7, Oct. 2006.