The first thing most people notice when they get a new DVD burner and go to burn that nice file they get from the Internet onto DVD is that it isn’t particularly simple. Burning a CD is something anyone can do: just drag and drop a few things in Winamp, Windows Media Player, Nero, iTunes, or countless other programs, and you have a beautiful audio or data CD. Windows even has an integrated way to burn Data CDs, right from within the Explorer interface. Piece of cake.
DVDs, however, enter a realm of codecs, framerates, and other things that generally don’t need to be worried about for CDs. Most songs that exist digitally are either mp3s, wmas, or aacs, with a few exceptions. Most programs can easily handle all of these. Furthermore, it is easy to tell between formats because they all have different file extensions. That is, you instantly know song.mp3 is an mp3 file. With video files, that is not how it works. Nearly every digital video file downloaded from the internet is in the AVI format. However, AVI is simply a container format, and actually is not a video compression format. Inside those AVI files could be Microsoft MPEG-4 type video, which Windows Media Player can easily handle, or maybe some Cinepak codec video. However, the most popular formats nowadays are DivX and Xvid, both of which cause Windows Media Player to choke (without the proper GSpot (interesting name, I know) can give you tons of info on AVI files, including framerate and codec, and helps demystify these common issues.
The other thing I mentioned is framerates, which is measured in frames per second (fps). You either have 25 fps (PAL), 23.976 fps (NTSC Film), or 29.97 (NTSC) framerate. The former is used in Europe, while the latter two are used in America. NTSC Film is used on Hollywood DVDs (i.e. DVDs you buy from a store), while plain old NTSC is the American format for digital video. I’m sure each one has plenty of other uses, but that is the ways I remember them as. You can get any one of these three in an AVI file. Having a PAL usually means it was recorded in Europe or Canada, while NTSC Film means it was ripped from a DVD (see this article on how to rip DVDs). But it doesn’t really matter why a certain framerate is there… all you need to know is that you must have it at 29.97 to burn it to a DVD that will work on American DVD players. And don’t you know that 29.97 is the least common framerate for Internet-downloaded videos?
The reason for the above description is just to introduce to you how daunting burning AVI files can be. If you understood everything said above 100%, you can most likely handle burning DVDs the way I do. However, if you don’t, you may want to look at the many tutorials on Videohelp.com, the amount of which are available can also be a bit daunting, because the one I wrote is not exactly detailed.
The last thing I wanted to say is that there are programs available that (allegedly) automate everything for you and make it nearly as simple as burning a CD. Included with Nero Ultra Edition is Nero Vision Express (renamed to Nero Vision in version 7), which I will say works very well in most cases. I personally use Nero Vision to burn quick movies, like on Video CDs for example, if I just want them to be watched once. However, it doesn’t really give you the ability to get maximum quality if that is what you want. But the biggest problem with Nero Vision is the fact that you need to separately purchase various codec files, like AAC and Mpeg-4, to open most video files. Moreover, it still doesn’t handle certain files for no disclosed reason. When trying to quickly burn Chronicles of Narnia to DVD, Nero looked like it read it fine when making the chapters and during the preview stage, but when you get to burning it it errors out within five seconds, and the log has no details of why. It is for that reason that Nero Vision isn’t the tool for EVERY situation. While I know there are many others (Sony DVD Architect, DVD Santa, Pinnacle Studio, to name a few) I have had problems with almost all of them.
On a small side note, I’ve never had any issues with DVD Santa, and it is really easy to use. If you don’t want to learn about video files, etc., I recommend it highly. The only reason I don’t use it a lot is because it is TOO simple. It doesn’t give you enough control of the files. But again, it is great for beginners and those of you who don’t care to learn the small details and make absolutely perfect DVDs.
But, if you feel like you have what it takes to tackle burning DVDs the long way, you will be very impressed by the final result. In many cases, DVDs I make turn out better than the source material because I can apply various filters to fix up dark or bright (or grainy, etc.) videos, and resize them with barely any loss of quality. The howto that I am going to link to is simple a Word document (that I converted to HTML for sharing purposes) that I made for myself, as a sort of personal TODO list while burning AVIs to DVD. It is by no means step-by-step in terms of covering every single little detail, but if you understood everything above and don’t mind experimenting a little bit, I am sure you can take a lot out of my guide below.
Aside from the great quality, the other huge reason that I burn DVDs with this method is that it preserves audio/video sync. My biggest problem with Nero and Sony DVD Architect was that they produced un-synced DVDs, which gets ugly real quick. I had a Bourne Supremacy DVD that had about a six second delay by the end… not pretty at al, which was burned with Sony DVDA. The same video file burned with the below method not only looked better, but stayed in sync the entire time. (Note: most of the times when things get out of sync it is because the source is a PAL video and you are converting to NTSC, adding video frames but not taking care of the audio. That is why in my method we separate the audio and video streams in the beginning).
But enough talk. Without further ado, click here to access the “howto”. I will attempt to support people that have questions, but a lot of it really depends on the source video. If you give me a screenshot of GSpot output, I could probably help you the best.