A Study of Authoring Software

Discuss about generic usage of MediaCoder.

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A Study of Authoring Software

Post by meRobs » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:35 am

[Updated 7 Apr 2012] -- updated Sections 2 and 3 on DVDstyler

Before reading this article I suggest you first read general comments on sending files to DVD: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=8740&start=0.

Authoring is the process that converts audio/video material into a form that complies with DVD specifications and enables the resultant DVD to be played in standalone DVD Players. Also, it may supply Menus, Chapter points and all the navigation needed to link all the chapters, files and menus together. The result will be a VIDEO_TS folder containing VOB files (audio-video data), the IFO files (navigation data) and BUP files (copies of IFOs). The VOBs must be in chunks no bigger than 1 GB (arranged by the authoring Pgm).

Moreover, the authoring Pgm will usually be able to burn the VIDEO_TS to disc in the correct order (not alphabetical), etc, and finalize it. It may also add an empty AUDIO_TS folder to comply with the needs of older Players.

To this end, I searched and found a number of free Authoring programs. In the next section, I summarise their features, and, in sections 2 to 4, my preferred choice is detailed.

Section 1: Free Authoring Software
In Jan 2010, there were a number of programs based on the 'DVDauthor' package, a set of command-line tools. They offer a user-friendly interface (GUI) for accessing these tools. For example:
(1) 'GUI for DVDauthor', an App written primarily written primarily to get captured television broadcasts comfortably into a DVD. Hence, it is limited to MPEG input, does menus & chapters but needs a separate burner!
(2) 'GUI for DVDauthor', version 1.2.0. It will accept only elementary streams or MPG files with NAV packets (VOB, MPG or MPEG). The MPEG2 files from MediaCoder were not acceptable because they had no NAV packs!
(3) 'DVDStyler', which prefers to deal with MPG (MPEG2) and VOB or elementary streams (M2V with AC3 or MP2), yet, will convert from other formats, such as WMV and AVI! It can create custom-designed menus, add chapters and burn to DVD or ISO.

Also, there were:
(4) 'Video DVD Maker' (Free version), accepts WMV & AVI and converts to DVD-compliant files, but cannot make menus.
(5) 'EM Free MKV Video2DVD': the Free version adds a watermark unless the imported files are in the MKV format! It creates customised Menus and burns directly to DVD or ISO.
(6) 'Free Movie DVD Maker', will convert WMV and AVI to DVD-compliant files, but in the free version, it adds a watermark to the video.
(7) 'KDE DVD Authoring Wizard': is an open source App that does not do conversions. It simply adds chapters and simple menus to MPEG2 files and creates DVD-compliant folders. Hence, it needs an extra conversion in MediaCoder. It is possibly for Linux only?
(8) 'DVD Flick': an open source App that accepts the AVI and WMV files from Movie Maker, can do Menus and Burn directly to DVD. It is a good choice if you want a very simple program that does the job quickly. For example, just select a menu design and it automatically links to all the Titles. Also, each file will be authored as a separate Titleset, which may be an advantage (see Section 2). However, being simple, there are two basic limitations. First, there are only five menu designs available and they cannot be customised (no direct access to the menu). Second, it ignores the PAR of the input files, so, use “Video for local playback (2.1 Mbps)” when exporting from Movie Maker.

For an authoring App that can handle both the MPEG2 files from MediaCoder and the export formats from Movie Maker, as well as create menus and burn to disc, DVD Styler is the clear winner, and is described in more detail below. The others have features that may work better in special situations. The versions of the above programs that I examined were those available at the time of writing. Check them out!

Section 2: DVDStyler: its Features
Initially, in Jan 2010, DVDstyler v. 1.8 was studied in Windows XP when creating this Guide. Later, in Apr 2012, version 2.1 was examined in Win7 to check that the Guide was still applicable. It was. And since the later version involved some enhancements, this section was edited appropriately. DVDstyler 2.1 supports the importation of video in a variety of formats, including all those created by MediaCoder using the Encoding Guide (viewtopic.php?f=17&t=9643), as well as VOB files, elementary streams (M2V with AC3, say), MOV and exports from Movie Maker (WMV and DV-AVI). If the MPG, VOB or M2V are DVD-compliant they may be used without re-encoding!

It can create customized menus in 4:3 or 16:9 and add chapters in all Titles where desired. Finally, it will burn the completed project to ISO and/or to DVD, before which the result may be previewed.

The GUI (interface) is simple, with a Toolbar across the top, tabs down the left side, a sort of Storyboard across the bottom and a large Menu Editor. These are illustrated in the following Figure. The panel across the bottom of the GUI is a Titleset Manager, referred to in the Figure as the Storyboard. It will contain all menu (pages), as they are added, and all video files that have been added to the project with a drag/drop from the File Browser, above. Each file is treated as a 'Title', although, they all appear on a DVD in the same Titleset (VTS), by default.


If you prefer to 'author' with more complex customisation, then you are in luck! Read: http://www.dvdstyler.org/docs/dvd_styler_guide.pdf . For example, it is possible to create multiple Titlesets. This is necessary, for example, if you insist on including clips with different Aspect Ratios, because this is not 'allowed' in a single Titleset. Also, see DVD Flick, above.

The Properties dialogue for a Title, Menu or Menu button is opened by a D-click or R-click > Properties.

Title Properties (video clip): R-click on a Title/file in the Storyboard (see Figure) and select 'Properties'. It gives the video/audio details for the source file with panels showing the pre-selected encoding choices, based on the Project settings (see Section 3). This may be changed via its drop-down menu to other DVD-compliant values. Also, to the right, there is a “…” button offering other settings. For example, that for the video stream allows the Display Aspect Ratio to be changed, progressive or interlaced chosen and Fade in/out applied. Moreover, there is an 'Add' button to add audio or a subtitle file and a Settings button (spanner icon). If a subtitle text file is added, such as an SRT or SUB file, it is displayed under the video file, and its font, colour and position may be modified by selecting it and clicking the Settings button (this may fail, in which case, do the changes later with DVDsubEdit, a freebie)

Below, there is a panel for assigning Chapters for that Title, which are set at 10-min intervals, by default, according to the Project Settings (below). Each is entered in the format hh:mm:ss, with no spaces and a comma between each. The “…” button opens a Chapter window where the file may be scrubbed to set chapters, with the ‘Add’ button. Note that Chapter 1 is at its start (time zero) and is not listed.

Menu Properties: offers the means to change the menu Format (PAL or NTSC), pre-selected at the Project value, and its Aspect Ratio (4:3 or 16:9). You may also browse to select a different image for the Background, etc. Moreover, you may:
(1) add an Audio track (MP2 or AC3 only), under ‘Video object’ and
(2) use the interesting feature: 'Buttons”, where you may set the times at which all the buttons on that menu begin to appear and when they go.

Menu-Button Properties: for each, under 'Action', there is the means to define its link (Jump to > Title 3, etc) and what happens when on that button during Play and the Left, Right, Up or Down buttons on a Remote is pressed (or leave as 'Auto', the default). Under 'Look', you may set the Highlight colours, etc, for the subpicture on the button that indicates whether it is selected or activated. If the button is a frame type, which, by default, shows a frame from the Title it is linked to, the frame may be changed to one at a different time or to an image (browse).

Section 3: DVDstyler: in Operation
The first step on opening DVDstyler is to click on the ‘New’ button, top left under ‘File’ (see above Figure). This opens the Create a New DVD dialogue to select the DVD label, if required, the DVD capacity (4.7 GB, 8.5 GB or Unlimited), the Video Quality (Auto, 2 Mbps … 8 Mbps or Custom bitrates), the Video Format (PAL or NTSC), Aspect Ratio (4:3 or 16:9) and the Audio Format (MP2 or AC3 in 48 kHz). Apart from the Bitrate, these choices are pre-checked at the values in the Project Settings (below). Make choices to suit the intended DVD and click 'OK'. Note that these choices may be changed later via DVD > Options. The current ‘Video Quality’ in Mb/s is conveniently displayed at bottom right of the Interface. To its left, is the DVD capacity in minutes and the amount of consumed capacity (see Figure).

Then, a second dialogue opens to offer a choice of menu Templates, or none. Subsequent operations in DVDstyler are simpler if a template is selected. Then, as files are added to the Storyboard they are automatically linked to the next available menu button.

First use of DVDstyler: if this is your first use of the App, now would be a good time to set the default Project Settings. They are under Configuration > Settings, which has two tabs: Interface and Core. Under Interface are the defaults for the Disc Label, Disc capacity, Video and Audio formats and Chapter interval (default is 10 min, but may be changed), etc. Note that if the time interval between chapters is changed under Settings, the change will affect only those files (Titles) added afterwards.

Under the Core tab, there are a dozen settings, and I suggest you change “Preview command”, which defines the software player to open and play the project when 'Preview' is checked on the Burn dialogue. Simply, click the “…” button and browse to the EXE file for that player.

DVD Options: To check or change the Settings for the current project, click the DVD button on the Toolbar, then ‘Options’. It opens the Properties dialogue for the current DVD, as already set in the New Project dialogue (above). Here, these parameters may be changed and, additionally, you may set the “First-play command”, such as Jump to a menu or a particular Title. The latter allows for an introductory clip to play before the first menu. Leaving this blank will cause play to begin at Menu 1.

Import Files: To add files, use the File Browser (left panel) and drag/drop to the Storyboard or use the “+” button on the Toolbar. To re-order the Titles, or delete any, just R-click on one and select Move Left or Right or Delete. If the menu has a 'Play All' button the Titles will play in the order on the Storyboard, even if different from the assignment order on the menu!

It's a good idea, at this stage, to check its Properties (above), to see that its format is as you thought (TV and Aspect Ratio) and to check/modify the chapter list (see Section 2).

For DVDstyler to not downgrade the source files, by an extra conversion, import DVD-compliant files, either MPEG2 (see: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=8599&start=0) or M2V/AC3 streams.

Create or modify Menus: The next step is to design the Menu. If one of the menu Templates had been chosen then all is well, although, it may easily be modified. Otherwise, D-click a Background from the Background tab at left for it to appear correctly positioned on the Menu Editor. If, instead, an image file is Drag/Dropped to the Menu Editor it will be an 'object' sitting over all others, including text, but not buttons! It may be moved and/or resized to fit or deleted.

If you wish, you may add an audio track to the menu (its Properties) but only if MP2 or AC3 at 48 kHz.

Then, add some buttons, with a drag/drop from the Buttons tab at left, and the Title, by a R-click on the menu and Add > Text. Dress up the menu with other text objects and, if required, an image or two, also with a R-click. You may also add shapes with a R-click (Ellipse or rectangle). Their Properties may be entered with a D-click, where, for example, you may change the Font and colour, etc. See comments in Section 2.

All Text and image objects and buttons may be resized (drag a corner) or moved (drag centrally) manually or via their Properties dialogues.

To add another menu, R-click on the Storyboard and Add > Menu. Of course, the menus then need arrow buttons that link to other menus, etc.

Burn: The Burn button opens a dialogue window where you may set the Temp folder and choose whether to Preview (plays the output before a burn). Then, choose a process: (1) 'Just generate', (2) 'Create ISO image' (in a suitable destination) or (3) 'Burn' (and select the drive and burn speed).

Whatever the choice, the authored result will be a series of VOB files in the folder “dvd-cache” within the set Temp folder, one VOB for each Title/file. If 'Just generate' is chosen, that is all you get, so define the Temp directory path (Burn window) for convenient access, if required. It will be overwritten for each burn, so re-name its directory after a burn if you wish to save it. If the other options are chosen, the contents of this folder will be used to create either the ISO or the disc. When ready, hit 'Start'.

If Preview is checked, and the chosen player is opened for the preview, close the player when satisfied. Then, DVDstyler will move on to display “Generating was successful”.

Section 4: Summary
Far more sophisticated menus may be created in 'professional' programs like Adobe Encore, but these are very expensive and require a lot of time and effort, even for relatively simple menus. Hence, if your main aim is not to design weird and wonderful menus, but to simply author your movies to DVD with practical menus of high quality, DVDstyler is the way to go! For further comment and an example of its use see: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=8488&start=0.

The other question is: Does DVDstyler downgrade video quality? The answer is: No, if you import DVD-compliant MPG or M2V/AC3 files, because DVDstyler will simply do a direct copy. For other input formats, the quality of the conversion in DVDstyler will depend on the chosen bitrate and, if set above 3 Mbps, the final quality will probably depend more on the processing done prior to its import into DVDstyler.

If your source files are not DVD-compliant, there are two alternative approaches for DVDstyler.
(1) do not use a video editor and convert the source file to DVD-compliant files in MediaCoder (see: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=8282&start=0). Then, no re-encoding will occur in DVDstyler if “Copy” is set for the clip, or
(2) use Windows Movie Maker to edit. In this case, I suggest you export from Movie Maker as either WMV at 2.1 Mbps or as DV-AVI. Try both and choose the one you judge to be sufficient in your situation (see the guide on Movie Maker: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=8429&p=25736#p25736).

Note 1: sometimes, if you make too many changes to the project, such as by using a previous project and replacing its Titles, etc, DVDstyler may crash. It is best to always start with a new project.
Note 2: for a discussion on Progressive versus Interlaced, see: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=9867&start=0

Enjoy …
Have you checked out the Tips & Guides for MediaCoder? Try: http://forum.mediacoderhq.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=8061
Also, get older builds at: http://www.videohelp.com/tools/MediaCoder/old-versions#download