Tip #1 – DVDs from Xpress Pro

I’ve always planned to include technical tips as part of this blog. Here’s what I hope will be the first of many: ways to make DVDs from Avid Xpress & Media Composer.

Most of us working on bigger pictures are making DVDs using standalone burners. These are cheap now and relatively fast, but they only work in an environment where you have an output that you can route to the thing. If you’re running Final Cut without a video card or an Avid without Mojo or Adrenaline, then you have to burn DVDs using the burner in your Mac or PC. And therein lie too many choices and a fair dose of vodoo.

I’m working on Xpress Pro with Mojo, but my project is PAL and I need to make NTSC DVDs. So I’ve been making DVDs internally.

This requires three steps.

  1. First you have to render every effect. If you’re adding a 1.85 matte or an ownership title, you must put that in your top video layer and render the whole bloody thing. This typically takes longer than realtime, but your mileage may vary
  2. Then you must make a Quicktime. You can do this two ways, either as a “Quicktime Movie” or a “Quicktime Reference.” If you make the QT reference the Avid will generate a stereo audio mixdown of your sequence and point the QT to that. Video will come from your media folder. (You’ll need the Avid codec installed in QT. It should have been installed when you installed Xpress. If not, Avid has a free installer on their website.) Making a QT reference has another important advantage: it renders everything first and thus allows you to skip step 1. (You don’t save time — the rendering still has to take place — but you save a step.)
  3. Once you have your Quicktime, drag it to your favorite burner software. I’ve been using Toast, which is effective and relatively simple. You can also use iDVD or DVD Studio Pro. Toast doesn’t offer much choice in terms of encoders. It will put about 101 minutes of material on a single sided DVD. Since my show is 104 minutes, I’m using double-sided disks, but in that situation Toast doesn’t allow you to choose the spot where the layer switches and, needless to say, that seems to happen at an unfriendly place every time. Toast will handle the conversion from PAL to NTSC, and you can tell it to save an image file of your disk so you can make another copy when necessary.

Assuming that you have to render a matte over the whole show, step 1 happens roughly in real time. Step 2 is real time again if you make a standalone QT (much faster in MC than Xpress, for some reason). Making a QT reference takes about 10 minutes for a two hour show, but if a lot of rendering has to happen then this step will take roughly real time. Step 3 takes about double real time, because the encoding takes forever and dual layer disks are slower to burn (it goes a whole lot faster on a dual-core machine). Total time for the whole shebang for a two hour film — as much as all day, and since there are so many steps, you have to babysit the whole process. Not fun.

My guess is that this works more smoothly in FCP because you’ve got DVD Studio Pro to work with and the system is QT native so you don’t have to convert. But I haven’t tried it so I don’t know.

In general, we need better ways to do this. It should be one-button simple and it should happen in the background. Nuf said.

Additional Details:

Here are the settings I’ve been using to export a QT reference movie. (After rendering everything, select your sequence in your bin, and choose “Export” from the File menu. Then choose “Fast Export Quicktime PAL” if you’re in a PAL project or “NTSC” if you’re working in NTSC.

Export QT ref settings

Here are the settings for a self-contained QT file:

Export Quicktime Movie Settings

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2 Comments on “Tip #1 – DVDs from Xpress Pro”

  1. splicehere Says:

    Note that Toast 7 is significantly better than Toast 6 at DVD burning. Less buggy and smarter about bitrates. It assesses the length of your show and adjusts the codec’s bitrate so that the whole thing will fit on a single-sided disk. It also allows you to fine tune the codec yourself if you prefer.


  2. In it something is. I agree with you, thanks for an explanation. As always all ingenious is simple.


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