Over the last year I have been struggling to create a series of 1 hour DVDs containing video data from 1 hour MiniDV tapes. I have used the LaCie DVD d2 DVD+-RW Dual Layer Burner, and the included Roxio Easy Creator 7 Basic DVD software, which I feel, unbeknownst to me, was causing all my problems. I have recently discovered my problem, purchased Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 and am now creating error free disks. Below is the story of this odyssey and hopefully key pointers (the key idea is throughput in mega bits per second) for people new to DVD burning.
I purchased the LaCie d2 DVD+-RW Dual Layer Burner in July 2005. It came bundled with the Roxio Easy Creator 7 Basic DVD version of software. My reason for purchasing the drive was to take an hour long MiniDV tape, enter it into the computer, edit it very slightly just doing overlays of text (not changing its length), and write the result to DVD. As background, my equipment was a Dell Insperion laptop with a Intel Pentium 4 processor 1.9GHz, 256 megs memory, a nearly full 60 gigabyte hard drive, a LaCie external 160 gigabyte hard drive (FAT formatted so it could port to older systems) and the LaCie DVD burner. The LaCie hard drive and DVD burner were connected to the Dell laptop through a Adaptec fire wire card in the laptop's PCMCIA port since the laptop did not have an internal firewire port. The laptop was running Windows XP professional. The LaCie hard drive was FAT formatted so the max files size was 4.3 gigabytes because the editing was done with Adobe Premiere x5.1 and Pinnacle DV 500 capture hardware on a separate Dell desktop (Intel x86 with 128 megabytes of ram) running Windows 2000. The Roxio software was not able to do the editing I needed to do on the laptop itself.
Because the Roxio software would not import the Adobe Premiere Pinnacle AVI files directly I had to write the Adobe Premier files to MiniDV tape through a camcorder and then read the MiniDV tape back in using the Roxio software. Because the Easy Creator 7 for Windows XP did not automatically break input files at 15 minute boundaries (< 4 gigabytes) on the XP version I read the MiniDV tape back on the Windows 2000 machine (where the Roxio software did automatically break at fixed time intervals) and then moved the portable drive to the laptop where the Roxio software could read back the files it had written in its Windows 2000 version. Note, at the 15 minute boundries several frames were lost when reading so you could hear a blip in the sound.
Now the important part! When I would go to write the DVD using the Roxio software I was shown two choices for output quality which would automatically set the internal parameters Roxio uses to create the DVD. The choices were: 1) Good 720X480 8Mbs; 2) Medium 720X480 7Mbs. I could use the Good option but that would create a file that would contain 4.526 gigabytes which with other information was too big to fit on one DVD, 4,7gigabytes max. Using this option the software would encode for about 4 hours and then would have a write error because there was too much data to fit on the disk (one would think the disk space could be figured out before doing 4 hours of encoding). I could alternatively choose the Medium option and that would fill the single DVD almost full with 4.1 gigabytes. Later I learned that the 7Mbs associated with the "Medium" option was the throughput number and what the Roxio software was creating was theoretically 7 Megabits/second and that most DVDs are encoded to have only 5 megabits/second.
An informal note I got from the production supervisor of a local cable TV station explains this:
"TO give you an idea of encoding rates.....
Commercial DVD's: variable bit rate from 3mb/s to 6mb/s
Digital TV (used by cable and satellite): Constant bit rate 4mb/s
Stand-alone DVD recorder standard speed: Constant bit rate 4mb/s
Video-on-demand: constant bit rate 3.5mb/s
our station: Variable bit rate from 5.5mb/s to 7mb/s"
"As you can see, for DVD and lower speed digital transmission, the number stands around 4mb/s. Our system is hard drive based and can perform much higher bit rates so we go up to 7mb/s. The variable bit rate is used to save of storage space.....when we do a sporting event like basketball, the bit rate goes up to get the fast action. For talk shows, it becomes much lower. Also, due to the fact that our station is broadcast to the home via analog, digital artifacts can be more obvious."
When I finally checked the throughput of the Roxio DVDs with the program Bitrate Viewer V1.3, I found the DVDs created by Roxio showed a throughput profile alternating between 8 and 9 megabits/second with an average of 8.31. Since 9 megabits/second is about the top limit for most DVD hardware, at this rate both the hardware and the disks have to be very high quality. Thus I was able to write disks at 4X (not 8X) with the LaCie drive and then those disks would sometimes have problems not only when being read by the LaCie drive but by most other DVD players. Most disk media I tried could not handle the high rate and I found that only TDK disks (of the several I tried) would work. The Roxio software also automatically picked the burn rate and it would pick the highest rate (8X) and at 9 megabits/sec that rate would not work even with the TDK disks and the LaCie drive. Roxio suggests that if you want to specify the rate you should write the file in ISO format to a hard disk and then write the ISO file to the DVD using it's disk copy software since you can not vary the write rate directly from the burn utility. I finally ended up creating a DVD ISO file to my portable hard disk drive using the Roxio software and then using DVD Decryptor to write the ISO file to the DVD at a speed less than the max for the media (in my case 4X). After writing, DVD decryptor also was used to verify that the disk was written correctly. Even then the disk could only be read by the best DVD players since the throughput was so high. The LaCie drive could read it and my best DVD player could read it but other DVD players would freeze when the picture changed a lot and especially in the last few minutes of the DVD which were recorded on the outer (faster moving) area of the DVD. I created over 50 marginal DVDs using this method and probably another 50 bad disks doing hours of experimenting.
Then after reading on the internet about people using Adobe Premiere Elements and having no problems writing DVDs I decided that the Roxio software I was using was my problem. I purchased Adobe premiere Elements 2.0 and used their option to encode the DVD file to a disk file first. Adobe Premiere Elements gives you the option of specifying the bitrate on a variable scale. I specified it to be 5 megabits/second. Adobe however does not give you the option of creating an ISO file since it sells other software that takes the encoded TS file and creates the ISO file. Instead I used DVD Shrink 2.2 which took the Adobe created TS file and created a MDS file. Then I used DVD Decryptor to take the MDS file and create the final disk and then verify it by reading it back. I have had no trouble with these new files either writing them or reading them on any DVD player. The new file comes to about 2.1 gigabytes (instead of the Roxio 4.1). I have written these files at the top speed specified by the media (8X) and I have written on media that I couldn't previously use at the 9 megabit/sec throughput rate. I have also used Adobe Premiere Elements to create the file on disk directly (no intermediate files) and Adobe selected the top writing speed of 8X and the disk wrote perfectly. When checking the Adobe Premiere Elements created files with Bitrate Viewer V1.3, the program it shows a flat 5megabits/sec except for a short ramp up at the beginning on all disks.
Oh yes, to encode a 1 hour MiniDV tape using the Roxio software at 8-9 megabits/sec took about 4 hours, and in the fast moving areas there was often pixelation. Since I was encoding a square dance the whole picture was almost always in motion with people moving in different directions, a particularly hard scenario to encode. To encode the same material using Adobe Premiere Elements takes about 6 hours but there is no pixelation. Thus when you get a lower bit rate you also have to do a better encoding job which takes longer. Roxio was giving me a shorter encoding time but creating files that could barely be written or read. Bottom line, there is no alternative to good slow encoding except to perhaps get a higher powered computer.
I have also created a disk with 1hr and 20 minutes of DV material and it worked beautifully.
And finally, the Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 does a wonderful job of editing and creating DVDs. The only problem I have is that it will not write out through the ADAPTEC PCMCIA card to my miniDV camcorder. If you have a regular fire wire port you will not have this problem.
I still don't know why the Roxio software created 8-9 megabits/sec when it said it should be 7 megabits/sec. 7 might very well have barely worked. Oh well.
The lesson learned.
1. The LaCie drive works perfectly (although I have yet to try dual density disks and the label writing features). I have created hundreds of DVDs.
2. Media differs but you probably only need perfect media when your bitrate is extremely high
3. Watch out for software included with hardware. The Roxio Easy Creator 7 Basic DVD software was minimal and gave me lots of trouble. Roxio continually wanted me to upgrade but why would I upgrade if the current software they gave me could not handle the basic job and there was no explanation of why it wouldn't. Perhaps the upgrade would have worked and perhaps it wouldn't have.
4. Use separate software to measure your actual bit rate. I used Bitrate Viewer V1.3 available on the internet.
Hopefully, if you are reading this and you have had some of the problems I have had, my experience will point you toward your own solution. The key seems to be to get software that will let you get the bit rate (throughput) correct.
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