Commentary: Rethinking DVDs

Posted on by Larry

The world of software and hardware move faster than we want them to. I was thinking about this fact during the last week when I got yet another email asking how to create DVDs.

One of the more interesting marketing facts that I’ve learned is that people will pay more for something they can hold in their hands than they will pay for something to download. No where is this more evident than in the world of DVDs (and, by extension, CDs and Blu-ray Discs).

Check out the price of an album on iTunes versus Best Buy and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not suggesting there is a vast pricing conspiracy at work here, its just a fact of life that we value things we can touch more than things we can’t. And any marketer worth their salt will always charge as much as the market will bear.

We do the same thing when pricing our services: we try to find the best balance between the amount we want versus the amount the client will accept. It is a fine balancing act that’s been going on between buyers and sellers since time immemorial.

However, the tech world has embraced downloads with a vengeance. Every where you turn, if the product can be reduced to bits and bytes, its available online. Getting physical product is increasingly difficult. The reasons are not hard to see: downloads are faster, easier, and, if properly implemented, safer and more secure as well. Distribution costs are also much, much cheaper; even when you include bandwidth and web development costs.

The tech world, which lives about six months farther into the future than the rest of us, is all over downloads. Which means that for those of us that depend upon DVDs and other optical media, we have a variety of hard business choices to make.

So far, we’ve been able to limp along. But those days are rapidly dwindling.


Many of us have generated a nice part of our income from selling media on DVDs and other optical media. This doesn’t make us bad people, just that our business is different from the technology business. They create technology. We use technology to make money.

The problem we face is that Apple discontinued DVD Studio Pro three years ago when they released Final Cut Pro X. While there is a DVD output option in Final Cut Pro X (and Compressor, for that matter), it is much more limited than what we could do in DVD Studio Pro. Apple supported DVD Studio Pro for a year or so after the product was discontinued, but even that support has stopped.

Adobe, on the other hand, continued selling Encore – which does a fine job of creating both DVDs and Blu-ray Discs – as a stand-alone product long after DVD SP died. Did, that is, until June of this year, when individual Encore sales were discontinued and Encore CS6 was bundled in with the rest of the Creative Cloud applications. Adobe has also made clear that they will not be developing Encore in the future.

This forces us, as media creators, to think about how to handle the issue of selling products on optical media because, in my daily email, a lot of folks are asking me that question. It is hard to lose that revenue stream.


First, we need to accept that DVDs and other optical media are not coming back; they are on a slow slide to oblivion. Not today, not tomorrow, but just as with as 8-track tape, floppy disks, and ZIP drives, optical media will become history. Today, there isn’t a mobile devices that can read optical media and many new computer systems require external devices in order to access DVDs.

NOTE: By the way, this forced obsolescence has an impact on all our archives that we’ve stored on optical media over the years. I’ll have more on archiving options next month.

At the very least, you need to start planning for the day when optical media is unplayable. You need to develop a business model that accepts that the vast majority of the market will not be able to play DVDs in the near-to-medium future.

In the meantime, there’s no reason to leave good money sitting on the table. We still have options when it comes to optical media.


There’s a hierarchy to tech life. First, the tech companies are all scrambling to find “the next great thing.” This forces constant development and product launches. Some products find a market. Others find the trash. So, there will always be someone shouting “This product will change your life.” Sometimes they are correct. Many times, they are just blowing smoke.

Second, are customers who like being on the cutting edge. They like being a first adopter, and, generally have the money to support it. If these people are your market, then you need to respond more quickly to technology changes than most of us.

Third, are media creators who use technology to tell stories. We are always mindful of new gear, but we are even more mindful of deadlines, budgets, and the need to get the job done. If its a choice between meeting a deadline or buying new gear, the deadline always wins.

Fourth, is the general market. They adopt new technology, but only as it becomes widely available and affordable. They don’t replace technology very often, instead, they will keep older technology because it works, they have media for it, and its paid for.

NOTE: There are also the technology laggards. The Luddites that enjoy being so far retro that the old is looking new again. These are a fine group of people, but they aren’t a very big market.

This means that, with any technological change, the market will change slower than the technology leaders – and we are caught in the middle. Because of this built-in lag, we have several options on optical media.


I just retired my old 2010 Mac Pro. Phenomenal system, used it 24 hours a day. But, well, you know, the siren song of new hardware grew too great. So, I replaced it with an iMac, which is what I now use as my everyday computer.

However, I made a point NOT to upgrade the operating system on that Mac Pro. I currently have a boot drive on it running OS X 10.6.8, specifically so I can use DVD Studio Pro, Final Cut Pro 7 and Soundtrack Pro. Not that I use them everyday, though I do use FCP 7 every week, but so that I COULD use them every day, on a reliable system, if I needed to.

If you need to retain the ability to create DVDs, or CDs or Blu-ray Discs, find a system you like and stop upgrading it!

This is an important point – software and operating systems are designed for each other. When Apple stopped developing DVD Studio Pro, OS X 10.9 was not even flow-charted (or whatever “they” do when first thinking about an operating system). There is no way that DVD SP could be designed to run with an OS not released until four years in the future on processors that didn’t yet exist.

DVD SP works great on OS X 10.6.8 or 10.7.5. It runs well on OS X 10.8.5. However, I would be dubious using it on OS X 10.9 or later. Why? Because it was never designed for those systems. It may run, but it isn’t designed to run well on it.

Use the same philosophy for Adobe Encore. That software was developed for machines created 2 years ago and earlier. That means it is optimized for OS X 10.7.5 or earlier.

Software will not run on every future operating system upgrade. And you don’t want to be surprised when it breaks. So, pick a computer you can use to create optical media and stop upgrading it.

NOTE: If all you need to do is create DVDs, but don’t need access to the Creative Cloud, search eBay for a boxed copy of Encore CS6 or the CS6 Production Bundle. Then, install it on a computer running an older version of Mac OS X.


I still create DVDs; several a week, in fact. However, my current financial model is built without any DVD revenue at all. This took a major shift in my thinking and in how my company plans for the future. It is always a good idea to plan for shifts in technology.

Downloads will provide you a much bigger audience, but at a potentially lower selling price. Downloads force us to rethink marketing, pricing and products. Again, its that age-old balance between buyer and seller. Keep in mind also that, properly implemented, downloads give you access to a far larger audience, but require an entirely different method of marketing with less revenue per unit to use to market your products with.

The earlier you start planning, the easier it is to make the transition.


There is one value of DVDs, however, that has not gone away. Hard as it is to believe, not everyone has high-speed Internet. In fact, I get requests every week from parts of the world that have no Internet access, or access so slow as to make downloads unworkable. Currently, we meet this need supplying DVDs to transport our training to places the Internet doesn’t easily reach.

In fact, as I was writing this, a new idea popped in my head. Quite without thinking about it, we have shifted our perspective about what a DVD is.

In the past, DVDs meant standard-def video. (In fact, all DVD-Video disks are always and only standard-def video. HD only lives on Blu-ray Discs.) And this option is going away quickly.

But, a DVD can also be used to store data. And, in “data storage mode,” it can hold any files that will fit on a disk. SD video, HD video, Keynote slides, anything.

Well! If all we are using DVDs for is storage, why not shift to USB thumb drives with our logo on them? USB drives provide far more storage at far faster speeds for the same shipping costs, with the added benefit of supporting both Mac and PC systems – assuming we format the drives correctly. Unit costs are higher, but they are not going to be technologically obsolete anytime soon.

USB drives give us any flavor of video we can create on our computer, without the SD limitation. We could even create a DVD image and store it on the thumb drive so that the end user/viewer sees exactly the same image as they would see if they loaded a DVD into their computer.

Granted, this isn’t the same thing as a DVD playing on a living room TV set, but many new TVs have USB drives built in. And compressing files for a thumb drive is as simple, or maddeningly complex (depending upon your point of view), as compressing videos for the web.

A USB drive can emulate a CD, DVD, Blu-ray Disk, or a hard disk storing QuickTime or MPEG-4 movies on the drive, without the limitations forced on us by optical media formats. And duplication is far easier than Blu-ray Discs.

NOTE: You could say that that CDs or DVDs are harder to copy than a USB drive. But no one would say that accessing media on a CD or DVD is hard.


I’m not advocating a particular option. Each of us has specific needs and only you know what will work for your business. But, the world is changing. At a minimum, protect yourself by keeping an older system around “just in case.”

Then, spend time thinking about what you need to take the place of the traditional DVD. There are a number of options – you just need to figure out which is the best one for your customers, and for you.

As always, I’m interested in your opinions.

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51 Responses to Commentary: Rethinking DVDs

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  1. Andy Seal says:

    I use Toast Titanium for burning DVDs. I have a usb DVD writer and a 1 year old Macbook Pro. Toast is fine and appears in online bundles at a reduced price from time to time.
    I only need it 3 or 4 times a year as Vimeo does everything else that I need.

  2. William Hohauser says:

    DVDSP still works on 10.9 however I only use it for one client now, everyone else I use the DVD export function in Final Cut. It is sort of amazing that nobody in the independent programmers community has come up with a low cost DVD authoring program in the past few years. Somebody recommended an open source Mac DVD authoring program a few months ago which I haven’t had the time to try. Link here: . I would be interested in hearing people’s opinion of it.

  3. Kevin Murphy says:

    I wish that I had read this BEFORE I updated my 2008 MacBook Pro to Mavericks–or even to Lion. My prime machine–a 2013/14 MacBook Pro Retina 15″ with all the bells and whistles (but happily, an older version of Pages)–runs FCPX nicely, and that is good, but I do worry about the DVD issue. I began with early CP/M PCs (Osborne, Kaypro, etc.), and am still trying to find time–and ways–to retrieve important documents from ancient software, WordStar being the most prevalent of a large variety of defunct office suites from Lotus, Parsons, and several others. Can I back-install an older OS onto that 2008 MacBook Pro, I wonder, now that my 2013/2014 machine seems to be working properly, after a nightmare beginning (

  4. Rich Davis says:

    Timely read, maybe a tad tardy. All of my DVD and BR customers are gone…seemingly overnight. Delivery of final product to all of my clients is via YT, Vimeo, Dropbox, etc. I even have a customer who uses Pogoplug…jeesh. Frankly, I can’t say I miss the sometimes hit or miss, maddening burning process…

    • LarryJ says:


      Yeah, I plead guilty to the “tad tardy.” I’ve been talking about this for a long while and answering lots of personal emails with this question, but never addressed it formally in an article.

      Thanks for your comments.


  5. Ken Ackerman says:


    You make a good point about unavailability of high speed internet in many places. Many people assume that wherever they move in the US that high speed internet will be waiting for them and many of them are greatly surprised when that is not the case.

    “Utility” companies, like phone carriers, still have more copper lines than fiber optic. Couple that with costs of laying new lines, especially in lower density population areas, and you find great resistance by those companies to join the 21st century because of the longer pay back times and the impact on their bottom line.

    In today’s market, some people think of entertainment companies like cable tv providers also as “utilities” and here again there is the same resistance to upgrading existing lines to fiber optics in lower density population areas.

    The point to this is that even here in the US, there still many people on dial up, like I was once, 25 miles from Sacramento, the state capital of California !

  6. Doug DeMarco says:

    I am in the event videography business; school plays, dance recitals, graduations, etc. In just this calendar year (2014) I have delivered 5000 DVDs to clients and customers. I deliver events on Standard DVD, AVCHD HD DVDs and digital downloads. Of those orders, 4200 are SD, about 500 are HD and 350 were downloads. From the sales figures, and from talking to customers (average age is 35-40 and parents of school age children), I have noted the following (this applies to my business and it may or may not apply to you):
    1) people want physical media of the things they were in; weddings, plays etc.
    2) most people are completely unaware of HD disks and have no idea how to play them back or what a Blu-ray player is or how much it costs. Many wonder why the SD DVD looks ‘fuzzy’ on their HDTVs, and are surprised that HD disks don’t play back on their existing (SD) players.
    3) Even fewer understand what a download is or how to play it back on anything other than a computer. Trying to explain devices like AppleTV and streaming to their TVs is a tech support nightmare. My website suggests, (tongue-in-cheek), they consult any convenient 13 year old living in or near their homes for assistance.
    4) This situation is not likely to improve.

    While streaming of Netflix movies is a popular pastime and people understand it (mostly), the need for physical media in the mid-term is not only viable, it is a necessity. The tech companies do a great job of developing new tech, they do a poor job of making it easy for the average customer. For example; why can’t EVERY HDTV have a USB port that can playback any digital media format with one click on the remote? Forget truing to explain mp4, Windows Media, QuickTime, Flash, etc. It has to be as easy as sticking a VHS tape or DVD in a box and pressing play. THEN maybe we can move completely from physical media.

    Don’t get me started on 4k…

    • LarryJ says:


      (smile… OK, I won’t get you started on 4K!)

      Excellent comments – thanks for sharing. However, I still don’t think DVDs will be supported by tech companies in the future.


    • Patty Kuning says:

      Most of my work is also event videography and all of my clients still want a DVD. I’m running 10.9 and have not had any trouble with DVD SP, although I will now be wary about updating beyond this. I’m not sure how I would move beyond the DVD media, because if I were to stream my work, I don’t know how I would get paid for it by the many individual clients I have for any particular event. Even my wedding clients want the DVD in the fancy case (along with uploads to Vimeo and such).

  7. Paulie says:

    This DVD entrapment has been a sore spot for me ever since getting the 5D Mark II and I started shooting 1080p. It was YOU Larry that explained video resolution to me and it went KLUNK and sunk in, so now I’m on a crusade to educate the consumer on why they must abandon DVDs forever. Simply put, squishing my already-overly compressed 1080p H.264 down to 480 vertical so they can expand it back to 1920×1080 on their big screen (or even worse, WMP on a 27″ monitor) gives me that same comfy feeling I would get by doing my taxes while getting a root canal. I hear it even from from photographic peers who don’t do video: “I’m never buying BluRay, what’s the point, they’re just trying to get us to spend money on movies we already own.” Yet they stream in 1080i wrapped in that wonderful pixelated latency we so enjoy from our cable company, and they just love the way the movie looks. And because the TV makes had to deal with the love affair with DVDs (which most consumers still think are the top dog of image quality), they’ve embedded upsampling algorithms to make the things look halfway decent. The only media people should want is BluRay at this point, in fact they should leap at upgrading the way we did for CDs in the 80s to replace our scratchy LPs ( and we even convinced ourselves that that boxy 16-bit audio was a sonic purejoy, lol). But people do NOT, they cling to these DVDs like gold, it’s our younger set that has zero interest in physical media (thankfully), so we basically need to weather the storm until DVD obsession has passed and we can concentrate on the slickest online media delivery method we can conceive. The inability of the consumer to understand BluRay is the industry’s fault, I remember the big battle whether to call it HDDVD or BluRay (and I immediately stuck to BluRay because it sounds more marketable). but then the industry did the classic Microsoft thing where they try to think for you and over-simplify the environment which dumbs-down the user instead of helping the user to think intuitively like Apple always has (hold your fire, I’m a full Windows user because of my circumstances but Apple makes the best UI and hardware, deal with it). So the industry never told people WHY they would want BluRay or what it even was. They should have pushed the 1080 number in the name from the start, then eased in marketing that says “no longer do you need to deal with yesterday’s limited 480, expand your movie experience to a full 1080 just like the theaters use”, and just keep pounding the increased resolution. Nope, nobody knew or knows what it was to this day. They want their DVD and I’m so tired of destroying my video work by chopping it down to a 1990s resolution.

    4K… my oh my, 4K. We’re going to ruin what would be a great next level. If peeps don’t get BluRay, how can the entire user base handle/deal with/want/understand 4K? OTOH, it could be the saving grace of video. Look at Windows Vista, it was intended to be a better, more secure more compatible OS, yet the PC industry did nothing about writing drivers, then you add bad navigation (still don’t get how to nav for files easily in Vista) and an overly paranoid security model, and people hated it, almost just to hate it. Windows 7 comes along, same concept but this time they clean up confusion, improve the UI tremendously, and we still end up with what Microsoft intended in the first place but badly executed. So, FINALLY we have an industry name that educates the consumer: 4K. Salesman can say “Super high 4,000 pixel resolution” even if they don’t know what it means, and to the consumer, this sounds amazing because they at least have a CLUE what they’re getting. Then they see the screen demo and they’re sold. It just might work…

    • LarryJ says:


      (smile… I’m curious to see what would happen if you felt passionate about a subject…)

      Thanks – excellent comments.


      • Paulie says:

        I’d probably sell my gear and become a politician. =-)

        Hey, as long as I have your attention, just a big thanks for the effort you put into helping all of us with this crazy world of media that we love. Much appreciated!

        • Doug DeMarco says:

          Larry, you are right about the DVD vanishing at some point; that is unavoidable and frankly I’d love to do only one output transcode instead of 3 or 4, and the expense of buying burnable media, printing inks, envelopes and postage. It would help offset the perceived lower cost of a digital format. But the fact remains that the public is not ready to give it up yet. There’s still nothing easier that giving Grandma a copy of a DVD and let her watch her granddaughter’s dance recital. No way is grandma going to download and link a file to her TV media device. There’s also the idea of keepsake; photo albums used to be passed down generation to generation, the thought may be that physical media of a wedding or graduation, can be passed down the same way, not so the file. The answer to completely eliminating the physical disk is still the same; it has to be good enough, universal, and dead simple to play and share. Physical media solves that right now. Despite what Apple, Adobe and the TV giants think, it’s not there… yet.

  8. I would like to present my clients with their videos on flash drives that preserve a higher quality than DVDs but, among other things, there is an obvious problem with that. How do you author a flash drive. How do you install the chapters that my wedding and live performance clients have come to expect? When Mr. and Mrs. Jones watch the video of their daughter in a dance recital, they want to go directly to that part of the performance quickly and not fast forward hunt for it.

    • LarryJ says:


      Yup. That’s a problem.

      Flash drives solve the distribution problem, but not the ease of use/playback issues that you and others have mentioned.


  9. Mark Suszko says:

    You can already buy duplicator machines, that dub to memory sticks, the way you’re used to burning DVD’s or BD’s on a Primera printer. But they don’t dub as fast, and they need someone to physically plug and unplug the drives after each run. There isn’t anything yet out there for USB copying that you can load up with 200 units and walk away from it, like you can with automated robotic-feed disc printers. And disc media is cheaper than USB. At least or now. USB drives are awkward to mail, compared to a cardboard self-mailer for disk media. A 50-cent disk in a 75-cent mailer using h.265 could deliver most of what people now ship hard drives for! And a BlueRay version – even better capacity!

    But you raise an interesting idea: you CAN put HD product on DVD disks if you use h.264, and get hours of footage on a 50-cent disc. When/if H.265 takes over, that’s going to double the capacity of an “old fashioned” DVD yet again. The same disc will have room to include a downloadable player app so even the “luddites” can have a relatively transparent experience. I thing such “hybrid mode” disks will be out there circulating for some time yet.

    The thing that attracts me to BluRay still is that you can play them in a game unit as well as a stand-alone machine or a computer bay drive, so the same media goes from game room to board room to classroom, etc. That’s a lot of varied platforms, which can mean longer life.

    And for broadcast users that for some reason can’t FTP, and can’t afford digital betacam decks or shipping hard drives back and forth, a cheap piece of flat media that can be stored on a shelf has lots to recommend it, still.

    So, I’m going to say, disks aren’t dead; they may smell funny, but they still fill several key niches, and with hybridization, could extend their utility another decade.
    I hope Larry that you keep your ears open for any third-party DVD/ BD authoring apps that can fill the widening gap Adobe and Apple have created.

  10. The biggest worry for me is how to do local distribution. You don’t want to put a file on the youtubes, because then you have to have proper rights for web distro which is different than DVD distro for a small run. You don’t want to host it on your own server behind a paywall, because then you have to babysit it for the rest of your life (and really, clients want hard copies). Same with Vimeo pay-per-view. Do I want to keep every dance recital on my Vimeo channel forever?

    If you start putting files on USB sticks then people can copy them really easily, good for archiving but not for selling copies to every parent. And as people mentioned, there’s the format nightmares.

    I don’t know, it is at a crux for me…what to do next?! When to let DVD die? Be like Steve Jobs and just refuse to do DVD’s anymore?

    That’s before the tech problems – iDVD still works in Mavericks but the chapter titles don’t make it from FCPX to iDVD. Thank god the markers do at least.

    • Paulie says:

      Hey Flick, my photo/portfolio hosting site is They have built-in themes to create a site, full ecommerce (clients can pay per download) and best of all, UNLIMITED storage for photos and video. Plus no ads, ever. Non-ecommerce plan is $60/year, ecommerce starts at $149/year. I create a password protected page for my clients and their content can stay on there for 3,217 years if it wants, lol. Sorry to sound like a commercial, I have ZERO connection with SmugMug, I’m just a happy customer. It’s true that one person can buy the download and pass it around, but that’s been happening since audio tape recording landed in every home that had a stereo hifi set a half century ago. You know, the kind in a wood case like furniture where we taped quarters to the metal phonograph arm to weigh it down so records wouldn’t skip. ;-D

      • Paulie, that does sound like a good deal – but I still worry that when Smugmug disappears or re-focusses their business in 10, 15 or 20 years that your clients won’t be coming back to you for their archival videos!

        At least with a hardcopy contract, I can hand over the materials and be done with it (minus the occasional glitch or mistake). But if you guarantee permanent access to materials online? Doesn’t that mean you are responsible to an ever-growing client list forever?

        I mean, I’m working with a theatre company right now that is about to create a documentary of their 25-year history. Another artist I work with has archives going back at least that far. I would hate to think that some website somewhere would be part of an archiving strategy…

        – Flick

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