Since I acquired my Windows 7 phone and the Zune software the proportion of my music which has been acquired by download has more than doubled, from almost none to hardly any. It’s probably a generational thing but I like to own the artefacts : CDs and DVDs (and before them I liked to own Albums and VHS tapes). If one just wants to save money it is easy to record a complete series of a show with Windows Media Center, adding disk space as needed, I can defend bootlegging something that can’t be bought – it preserves something without depriving anyone of income. But I prefer to have the DVDs if they’re available: as the world shifts to downloading content without artefacts I wonder if one will feel obliged to contribute to the income of others. I have replaced whole series recordings of “Doctor Who” with the six-DVD box set – since it can be had for as little as £12.99 it’s not worth making bootlegs into DVDs. I was reminded of this recently…
Just before Christmas I recorded BBC4’s showing of “Macbeth” with Patrick Stewart in the title role; it runs for just over for 2 1/2 hours and produced a 6.2GB .wtv file. Enough people have looked for it that Amazon UK suggests “Macbeth Patrick Stewart” in the search box but there isn’t even a pre-announced disk, so I decided to copy it off my hard disk. My stock of blank DVDs are the 4.7GB single layer variety. This file called for a 8.5GB Dual Layer disk – my new Dell laptop has a PLDS DS-8a4s drive which the maker’s site says supports dual layer, The blank disks are hard to find: Ryman was the only place in central Oxford where I could find them – at £12.99 for a pack of five Imation disks. That’s the same price as the set of Six Doctor Who disks, printed boxed and so on, and it isn’t just high street mark-up, Amazon’s price is the same. Imation’s dual layer disks are more than seven times the price of their single layer cousins. .
I’m left asking Why put myself through the frustration of converting Media Center files to DVD movies? I could have transcoded the file to something smaller than 4.7GB. But instead I bought a pack of disks and set off down the path of making a “proper” DVD. And some of lessons might be worth sharing.
Media Center records a couple of minutes preamble and five of over-run, to cope with transmission times being slightly off. Doing a nice job for a “proper” DVD with nice menus and so on demands that the .WTV files are trimmed (there were no commercials in Macbeth – this being the BBC, but you’d want to cut those out too)- the “Burn CD/DVD” option in Media center can’t trim files, and few editors work with .WTV. The choice is either use Windows Live Movie maker or spend time transcoding into another format before editing. I’ve known sound to go out of sync in transcoding and that’s not the only complication…
On the left is part of file properties displayed by Windows Explorer: 704×480 x 60 fps is “NTSC format”. Since the recording was made in the UK it should be 576 line “PAL format”, and this is not the only place NTSC turns up where it should not.
On the right is Windows media player showing the same file really is in “PAL format”. I put PAL and NTSC in quotes because they really define analogue colour encoding, but they double as shorthand for 576i/25 fps and 480i/30 fps respectively. Note the aspect ratio on the right says 16:9 but if you multiply 576 by 16/ 9 the image should be 1024 Pixels wide. This is because widescreen video is stored and transmitted anamorphically – it is compressed horizontally and expanded during playback.
DVD video is MPEG encoded and stored in files less than 1GB in size with .VOB extensions. Windows Live Movie Maker can read .VOB files and in an ideal world it would create them and take care of DVD menus. It doesn’t. It passes a .WMV file to Windows DVD Maker which re-encodes it. That intermediate file is in NTSC format DVD maker can write PAL format, but there’s no benefit scaling back to 576 lines when video has been scaled down to 480.
To get round this I tried creating 720×576 custom output format in Movie Maker, but there is no anamorphic encoding option: square pixels yield a letterbox picture, 720 wide x 405 tall with 171 lines of black border. I had to create a format of 1024×576 – which DVD maker would convert back to Anamorphic. I found a better way here: Movie Maker’s pre-defined video profiles can be adjusted: I had Media Encoder and its tools installed, so I made a copy of the existing profile with a .BAK extension (if you change the name, Movie Maker can still read the file, and may ignore the modified version). I fired up Windows Media Profile Editor as administrator and changed the settings from NTSC to PAL, 3MBs to 6 and enabled non-square Pixel output. That was one problem solved. I wanted to output the sound track of another recording, but Movie Maker ignores audio-only profiles created in Profile Editor
My recording of Macbeth lasted 157 minutes and Windows Live Movie Maker warned me:
DVDs can use different levels of MPEG compression, even within a single disk but Windows DVD Maker’s compression is fixed. It also seems determined that single or dual layer disks always hold 150 minutes of video. Live Movie Maker spent over an hour outputting a 151 minute version of Macbeth, DVD Maker spent a similar time re-encoding it, copied it the DVD and failed at the end of the burning process. The same thing happened with a shorter edit. Having wasted an afternoon and two disks, I swore at DVD Maker (and myself for trying to make the DVD which the BBC should be selling) and decided to just copy the .WTV file using Windows Explorer. This failed too, with Windows suggesting I check the drive’s firmware; it is available from Dell, but I already had the current version. Roxio Burn, which Dell supplied with the laptop, gave me error 0x80041024 and a fourth coaster. A quick search revealed Roxio had an update to fix this error with other PLDS drives, but I already had that update thanks to Dell’s update system.
I have a Samsung USB drive for the 3 DVD-less machines I have at home, I plugged that in and explorer copied the .WTV file to my fifth and last Dual Layer disk without problems. For the moment I’m blaming the PLDS DS-8a4s for the burning problems. My first contact with Dell support got a response that the machine doesn’t have a Dual Layer drive – which is odd considering LiteOn say it is Dual Layer and Roxio and Explorer both see the disk as 8.5GB and try to write to it. I have to see where that ends up.
Keeping .WTV format avoids transcoding issues and saves HOURS, and it will preserve subtitles transmitted with the programme. Along the way I right clicked the file and chose “Convert to .DVR-MS format”, I couldn’t distinguish between the images in the resulting 3.7GB file, and the 6.2GB original and the conversion was fast (and nearly the same time is saved copying a smaller file to DVD) : I could have avoided the whole business with Dual Layer disks. And I’m more convinced than ever that if I want a nice DVD of something the right thing all round is to buy one.