Editing DVD Material in an Avid

I recently had to re-edit some source material that lived only on a DVD. And I had to do it at home on a software-only Media Composer system. Many friends told me not to attempt this–too many settings, too many ways to screw yourself up. Better to use a good DVD player, using component or SDI outputs, and digitize via hardware: Adrenaline, Mojo or Nitris. But I didn’t have the hardware, so I persisted.

There are indeed, many, many ways to convert DVD material to Avid media, and by now, it seems like I’ve tried them all. I’ll describe the workflow I came up with below. It seems to work well and once you figure it out, it’s not all that hard to do. Quality is quite good.

The process begins with software to get the video off the DVD. On a Mac, you can use Handbrake, Cinematize, and MPEG Streamclip, among other applications. MPEG Streamclip has two advantages: it’s free, and it’ll digitize directly into Quicktime formats, including the Avid QT formats. Handbrake will only transcode into different MPEG flavors or AVI, so to get into a Media Composer you have to transcode twice. Video captured that way looked okay, and if you’ve got Handbrake I wouldn’t be afraid to use it, but I wanted to skip the extra step. I ended up with MPEG Streamclip.

Settings are critical. You want to digitize into a 480-line format. Video on DVD is 480 lines high. But standard def is usually 486 lines and those extra six lines can create problems, putting horizontal bars into your video when you output. The most common 480-line non-mpeg format is DV. But it turns out that there are several flavors of DV. If you use the standard Quicktime DV codec in an Avid, you can end up with elevated blacks. Better to use the Avid DV codec. The Avid version has another  advantage. You can work at DV50, which offers twice the bandwidth and more color resolution (422) — roughly equivalent to Digibeta.

Insert your DVD and open MPEG Streamclip. Select File > Open DVD and point the application to your DVD. Pick the track you’re looking for. If necessary, open each track and play it to figure out which is which. Streamclip asks if you want to fix timecode breaks. I skipped that step.

Choose the audio track you want. If you have a two-track (dolby stereo) version on the disk you’re probably better off with that. MC doesn’t understand 5.1 and you’ll have to load the individual tracks separately. Then select File > Export to Quicktime. Here’s where the fun begins.

I set the basic import options as follows (if you have trouble seeing the screenshots, click them and they’ll enlarge in a new window). The main idea is to use the Avid DV codec at 100% quality, lower field dominance. If you’ve got 24p material on your disk you’ll want to de-telecine it, and you may need another application. I didn’t experiment with that.

MPEG Streamclip Options

Click the Options button to reveal the Avid DV Codec options. Be sure to select DV50 and RGB levels.

Avid DV Codec Options

Then click Make Movie to begin digitizing. On a dual-core Macbook Pro this took roughly real time. When you’re done you’ll have a Quicktime-wrapped Avid DV file.

You now have to import this into the MC. The idea is to simply remove the Quicktime wrapper without altering the underlying video. To do that, you have to get the MC to do a “fast import.” Open your Import settings and set them up like this:

Import Settings

The critical settings are “Image sized for current format,” and “601 SD.” That’s right — you want RGB, but if you select “Computer RGB” the video will be re-encoded. The button is apparently misnamed — “601” really means “don’t muck with it.” Audio will come in first. When video starts loading make sure the progress bar says “fast import.”

When you’re done you should have a very clean-looking piece of Avid media. Mine was also very responsive, using a laptop with nothing but a Firewire 400 drive. To see the video in its full glory be sure to select the green/green quality setting at the bottom of your timeline.

Edit away, as needed.

When you’re ready to output, your best and fastest option is a Quicktime Reference file. This references your Avid video media and avoids re-encoding it. You’ll want to use the Avid DV codec and set RGB levels, which is where you’ve been all along. (Of course, the reference file won’t work on another machine unless you bring your Mediafiles folder with you.)

Export Settings

And that’s it. Seems easy now, doesn’t it? But I must have done 25 tests over a period of a week to get all this worked out, and there are issues I didn’t fully deal with (de-telecining and using the 5.1 audio, among others). There really ought to be a better, simpler way. But without extra hardware, this approach, or something like it, looks like the best you can do right now.

Many thanks to Rainer Standke, Michael Phillips, Jeff Ruscio, Michel Rynderman and everybody on Avid-l for their help with this.

Explore posts in the same categories: Avid, Avid Technical Tips, Workflow

27 Comments on “Editing DVD Material in an Avid”

  1. Nice little overview of MPEGstreamclip. Anyone who says capturing a DVD in real time is a better way of doing this is just living in the past.

  2. Nice post Steve.

    “Fast Import” is something I wish someone would explain in excruciating detail to me. I wonder if there is a link to a good Avid description on how / when / why it is supposed to work, especially dealing with DNxHD media. I’ve pulled my hair out working with RED to DNxHD media from different apps and sometimes they “fast import” sometimes they don’t. Very frustrating. If you have a good resource please post up a link.

  3. Steve Says:


    You’re absolutely right, that’s a critical question. One of the options means “don’t mess with it if you don’t have to” but it’s not labeled that way.

    In general, the import dialog needs some work. I’d love to see a preview pane that shows you what’s going to happen to aspect ratio and cropping before you press “okay.” Some detailed descriptive text would help a lot, too.


  4. Harry Miller Says:

    Excellent and extremely useful post. It is very helpful to know the ‘whys’ of some of your selections. I use Cinematize, which comes PC or Mac, and works quite well.

    You now need to have a page to list all your tutorials.

    – Harry

  5. Steve Says:

    Many thanks, Harry.

    You can see a list of tips by going back to the main splicehere page and selecting “Avid Technical Tips” from the category popup in the right hand column.


    Update — I’ve added a list of all technical tips, organized by subject matter. It’s in the Pages area in the right-hand column the home page. Or just click here.

  6. schiffty Says:

    Agreed on the lack of clarity in the import/export dialog boxes. Not sure if this is telling you all something you already get, but here’s how I think of which of those two boxes to check:

    For Importing, the RGB or 601/709 option should be selected depending on what color levels exist on the source file being imported. I believe that Fast Import is available when you are importing a file encoded with an Avid codec at the appropriate size for your project, that has color levels of 601/709. Since Avid media is always 601/709, Fast Import is unavailable when you check RGB since Avid will want to convert them to 601/709.

    So basically, if your Quicktime file is nothing more than a piece of Avid media with a Quicktime wrapper, it will do a Fast Import.

    For Exporting, the 601/709 or RGB box determines what color levels the file you are exporting will have. So for viewing on the web or using in FCP or DVDSP, I usually export RGB. If I’m sending a file out for color correction or to play on an HDTV, I’ll check the box for 709.

    So, if that all makes sense and functions as I understand it to, then I think you might be applying some unintended color conversions to your media. For example, by encoding your Quicktime at RGB but importing it at 601, your import is probably more contrasty in Avid than the original. Likewise with then exporting it back to RGB, since I think you will have then applied a double conversion to your source material.

  7. Steve Says:

    Thanks for all that. I understand it — sort of — but I tried all the other alternatives, including 601 straight through, and there were problems with black and white levels every other way. Either too contrasty and blocked up, or noticeably milky and washed out.

    • Evan Schiff Says:

      Yeah it gets a little tricky in your situation because Streamclip probably doesn’t say what color levels it’s ripping from the DVD, which gives you a 50/50 chance of checking the right box when exporting to Quicktime and then importing to Avid. Normally I would say export from Streamclip to QT at 601, import in Avid at 601, then export back to QT at RGB if viewing on a computer monitor. But Streamclip might be converting the DVD’s color levels to RGB automatically, in which case you’d want to export to RGB, import as RGB, and export again as RGB.

      Until you output from Avid to RGB it’s hard to tell what it really looks like, since viewing 601 media on a computer monitor will always look milky.

      FCP displays 601/709 media as RGB in the Viewer automatically, which I think is misleading, but it certainly looks better!


  8. Jason Says:

    Steve and the commentors – I agree this is a wonderful post and tutorial. I am constantly stuggling with the notion of accepting DVD instead of tapes. Tapes have TC which allow for re-onlining a program; ingesting a DVD requires that I re-ingest the whole thing with no guarente it will re-link properly. If a DVD is all I can get then I dub it to tape and ingest that tape. Not ideal or effecient but it has a TC. Is this out-dated? Unnecessary?

  9. Steve Says:

    There are three places where you can set color levels: the Avid DV Codec options, the Avid import settings, and the Avid QT reference output settings (all are shown above). That makes 8 permutations just for this one setting. I have tested all of them, outputting back to DVD via DVD Studio Pro and comparing the source DVD to the copy.

    You can also check black and white levels in the MC in color correction mode (the Match Color widget is a good way to get exact values for any pixel).

    Regardless of how you set the codec, the only input setting that produced a fast import was 601.

    Folks at Avid suggested that RGB was the right setting for the Avid DV codec and for output because QT is basically RGB internally, and that fast import was preferable.

    Using that combo: Codec set at RGB, Input at 601, and output set to RGB produced blacks at 16/16/16 in the MC and whites at 235/235/235. And the output DVD looked just like the input DVD. This is not a subtle thing. When it’s wrong, it’s pretty obvious. Blacks are either milky or the whole bottom end of the image looks blocked up.

    Responding to Jason — you’re not alone. Most people prefer to use tape and avoid all these ways to make a mistake. That’s unfortunate. There really ought to be an easier way to do it in the ap.

  10. Steve Says:

    So if you ask a FCP editor to export a .mov file with 601 levels, are they going to be able to do that or just nod their head and generate a RGB file?

    It would be nice if QT could include color level metadata that would let an application decipher this junk automatically.

  11. Frank Reynolds Says:

    About Handbrake: the video looks fine, but the audio has problems. I’ve heard clicking in the sound, no matter how I’ve tried to transcode the audio. Also, if you use the option to transcode the audio into simple left-right stereo (as opposed to Dolby stereo), the sound constantly jumps back and forth between the left and right speakers. I definitely will try MPEG Streamclip.

  12. Norman Says:

    I’ve used both Handbrake and MPEGStreamclip myself, but I’ve just used another program called VideoPierHD (they have an SD version as well).

    I was using it to easily transcode AVCHD media into a more professional format (that is, not Long GOP) but I also noticed that it picked up VOB files as well. There are a multitude of output formats and the UI is very intuitive.

  13. […] The process begins with software to get the video off the DVD. On a Mac, you can use Handbrake, Cinematize, and MPEG Streamclip, among other applications. MPEG Streamclip has two advantages: it’s free, and it’ll digitize directly into Quicktime formats, including the Avid QT formats. Handbrake will only transcode into different MPEG flavors or AVI, so to get into a Media Composer you have to transcode twice. Video captured that way looked okay, and if you’ve got Handbrake I wouldn’t be afraid to use it, but I wanted to skip the extra step. I ended up with MPEG Streamclip. read more… […]

    • Sean Says:

      Ok, I got the import to work fine, my question is, can I do an import of another file to edit from? Once I input the first source file, the import selection on the file dropdown goes inactive on me, unable to select it again.

      • Steve Says:

        Is the bin activated when you pull the menu down? Click on the bin to bring it to the front. Then pull down the menu.


  14. pedro Says:

    Thanks for all that Steve.
    My question: I open DVD, select in out the part I want export to QT Movie. Select Export to QT but when I select compression i don´t see the AVID DV Codec.


  15. Steve Says:

    Do you have the Avid Codecs installed? They would normally be installed when you install the Media Composer. On a Mac you’ll find them here:

    Macintosh HD / Library / Quicktime. In that folder you should see several items that start with the word “Avid”.

    You can install the codecs separately. The installer is here:


    • pedro Says:

      Hi Steve

      I have installed Avid Media Composer 3.0 on a PC. I have searched the avid codecs in my system and:

      C:\Program Files\QuickTime\QTComponents




      What do you think?


      • pedro Says:

        I have reinstalled Quicktime Alternative 1.81 and the same situation. Do you recomend another codec?
        Thanks for all.

  16. Julia Says:

    Thank you for this instruction. I found that marking “deinterlace video” was extremely important for keeping motion from being jagged. Also helpful was when I imported from dvd into MPEG Streamclip, that I fix the timecode breaks (command F), and went to get Stream info. This information allowed me to see that my dvd file was actually 720×480, 4:3, 29.97 fps, 8.00 Mbps, upper field first and an 224 MPEG-2. With this information I could better choose my settings, and not say for example, choose 30 fps.

  17. Dave778 Says:

    I am about to work on a project where we are going to import DVD media into the PC Avid MC 4.0.5. I’ll be using MPEG streamclip. The DVD’s are dailies material (i’m hoping there is burned in TC)from master tapes. They don’t want the extra charge of renting an HD Cam deck.
    The project is 16×9. If I import the DVD’s won’t they be 4×3 letter box? Is there a way to Squeeze the 4×3 into 16×9.
    I would prefer to use the master tapes but it’s coming down to $$$.
    I am mostly concerned on how the online will work-by linking back to the master tapes accurately.
    Any comments or suggestions.


  18. Steve Says:

    If you don’t have burn ins this is semi-suicidal since you won’t be able to get back to the masters. With burn ins, I guess you might be okay.

    If the source material is 16×9 (ie squeezed into 4×3 for the DVD), you’ll be able to load it into a 16×9 project type and it will be unsqueezed semi-automatically.

    Not sure how much else help I can be. You’ll have to do some experimentation. Make sure that the TC on the burn-in doesn’t slip relative to the Avid numbers above the monitor. Check the head and tail of a long clip. Should lock up in both places.

  19. Daniel Mercure Says:

    Reading this in August 2012, a couple of the graphics links need to be fixed. The file links msc_options and export_settings do not display.

    After the text “I didn’t experiment with that.” is a text link msc_options. When I clicked on the text link msc_options, it did open the graphic on a wordpress server.

    After the text “(Of course, the reference file won’t work on another machine unless you bring your Mediafiles folder with you.)” the text link export_settings gave a url 404 error. However, if I take the url for msc_options and replace the phrase “msc_options” with the phrase “export_settings”, the export_graphics graphic opened.

  20. Hello, thank you for this article. Would you be willing to post an update showing how this works with AMA in a 16×9 project?
    Working my way through your book btw, love it.

  21. Sorry, I meant to say SD as an element in an HD 16×9 project. Project going to DVD as well as a digital file. Esp. the issues around interlacing and uprezzing.

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