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Getting Ready for DVD Authoring

Getting Ready for DVD Authoring By Paulo de Andrade

There has been a lot of confusion regarding some capabilities of DVD Studio Pro in general. Following are a few important things to keep in mind.

DVD Formats
It seems like one of the most common questions relates to the DVD formats supported by this package. If you plan on using the software with the Apple's new SuperDrive, or Pioneer's DVR-A03 (formerly known as DVR-103), you will be limited to the DVD-5 format. This is a single-sided, single-layer format that handles up to 4.7GB of storage. By using Variable Bit Rate (VBR) compression and AC-3 audio, you can squeeze over two hours of high quality video and audio on a single disc.

The reason you are limited to DVD-5 is that no DVD recorder to date can burn dual-layer DVDs. This format, known as DVD-9, is commonly used by movie studios to distribute feature films and it can store approximately double the DVD-5 information by distributing the data along two layers. These layers are accessed via separate laser frequencies. You can often notice when most desktop players switch layers because of the slight pause in the video content while the laser changes frequencies and jumps to the start of the second layer. Studios often take advantage of the extra storage space to increase the video encoding quality, include bonus material on the disc or even additional audio formats such as DTS.

DVD Studio Pro is not limited to DVD-5 authoring. It can easily create DVD-9 discs as well, as long as you don't mind sending your work to a pressing plant for duplication. Remeber, dual-layer DVDs can only be pressed, not recorded. We'll talk about this process later.

By the way, in theory you should also be able to burn DVD-10 discs on the SuperDrive or DVR-A03. These are the dual-sided discs that you occasionally see. They are nothing but DVD-5 on each side, doubling the storage capacity but requiring the user to flip the discs over. The problem is that although dual-sided blank DVDs are rumored to exist, they are not yet available for sale. And at this point no one knows for sure if they will ever be.

Preparing Data for Mass Duplication
Authoring a disc for mass duplication, or pressing, involves certain steps. First, it is important to keep in mind that DVD pressing plants do not normally handle small quantities. You should be prepared for a bare minimum of 200 copies—unless you a very lucky to find facility that will accept a smaller job. The economy of scale with DVDs is similar to that of CDs, meaning that prices start to really become attractive when you break certain quantity barriers, such as 1,000 units. So, expect to pay a premium per unit when ordering smaller runs.

Delivering your data to a pressing plant is not as straightforward as it seems. DVD Studio Pro takes care of most of the work, but there are a few things that you should keep in mind. First, it is not advisable to use the SuperDrive or the DVR-A03 to store your data. These drives were not designed for professional authoring. And this is one of the main reasons for the huge price difference between them and Pioneer's professional DVR-S201DVD Recorder.

The professional drive uses more expensive authoring media which, by the way, does not work on the lower-priced drives. The SuperDrive/DVR-A03 uses the less-expensive media and creates discs that play back on most DVD players, but cannot be used to create a glass master directly. The format used is prone to data errors, too, which usually are corrected by players but should not be trusted for the creation of masters. The $5,400 DVR-S201, on the other hand, can record discs that are ready for glass mastering.

If your work will rarely consist of mass duplication titles or dual-layer DVDs, then the SuperDrive/DVR-A03 will work just fine. But if a considerable amount of your work will involve those cases, then investing on a DVR-S201 drive may make more sense.

There is a more common way to deliver your data, though, which is very reliable and has become an industry standard: Digital Linear Tape (DLT). DLT drives are expensive, but only cost a fraction of a DVR-S201. DLT drives can also be rented if they will only be used once in a while. This presents a very good alternative and also a good complement to a system with the SuperDrive/DVR-A03. DLT media is very reliable and can be trusted in handling your precious data. Price for DLT-3 tapes is around $50 retail.

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