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. Doug DeMarco says:

    Flick; I think the answer for our short run issues may be to get as many orders as possible in a short period of time, then send the digital (download or USB) to everyone at the same time so as to minimize copying and sharing. It’s not the best answer but it’s the best so far. As to earlier comments about ‘widening the potential audience’, that means nothing in the event business. Your potential audience is the number of people participating in the event. No one in California is going to buy a dance recital video from New York, no matter how good it looks. And once the event is history, potential sales drop to a few stragglers or replacement copies. Mark; the hybrid disk idea is interesting but it’s still a disk which is what the tech industry wants so badly to kill. Frankly, I’m afraid the answer for the next few years is to support everything; DVD, Blu-ray, USB, until something else fills the void. The disk is still the medium, at least as far as event video goes.

  2. Rick says:

    Are there any advantages to a hardware raid controller versus a software raid controller? Does a hardware raid controller handle more IO operations per second – I.e. faster with smaller files? What about computer crashes while writing?


    • Paulie says:

      I tried the onboard RAID with my older EVGA X58 mobo. WHAT A JOKE. Barely got 95mb/sec read speed. So I decided on the LSI 3Ware 9750-4i based on other editor’s recommendations ( ). WOW. 450mb/sec reads now! I drag a 1.3GB file to another drive and BAM, it moves witout the Windows progress bar even showing up. Incredible. It’s not fun shelling out over $300 for a PCI card, but once it’s running you’ll be overjoyed. Determining the correct cable is a bit confusing, you’ll need to spend 20 bucks for the correct cable that plugs into the card and provides 4 separate SATA plugs, that go into your drives. This is the cable you want: . This assumes you are providing power to the drive from your PSU. Also, this card does work in my 3rd PCIe 8X slot. LSI tech support will safely say it may not, but it does. Make sure you download the latest drivers AND firmware update if you run Win7 64-bit. Windows recognized my card but the BIOS didn’t. Firmware update fixed that. I use two 2TB WD Red NAS drives in RAID 0 for 4TB of fast read access. I backup all assets immediately so if the drives die it’s no biggie. But you have 4 cables so you can run 4 drives for mirror and striping to gain redundancy. But here’s the best part of a RAID card: I’ve changed motherboards and processors 3 times, and whenever I plug the card into the new build, the drives fire right up intact because the BIOS on the card remembers everything. That’s huge, along with the speed gains.

    • LarryJ says:


      In general, a hardware RAID controller will be faster than a software RAID controller, but a software RAID controller is more flexible in terms of what it can do.

      For video editing – as opposed to massive server farms – either provides the performance we need.


  3. Dan S. says:

    It sounds like I’m in the same business as Doug D.—and that we have the exact same clients and thoughts on the industry. While I don’t make 5000 optical discs per year, I’m pretty close. And I agree that in ‘our’ market, DVD is still the #1 and only choice of the consumer. Last year I suggested to a customer that I upload the ~2 hour finished video for distribution instead of using DVD’s and I was met with two looks: 1) “How dare you try to get away with a download link instead of a physical object in my hands” and 2) “Huh, we’d have to do what to watch it?” Needless to say I quickly backtracked, ordered 400 DVD’s with professional printed artwork, and saved my customer relationship.
    I understand that technology changes, It’s just really frustrating that companies would make a decision that completely limits market segments because they feel like they must initiate change.

  4. Chris Mann says:

    As a photographer and filmmaker who shoots a lot of weddings, it frustrates me too that Apple and Adobe have decided (unilaterally it seems) that “physical media is dead” – without consulting their customers.

    As others have mentioned, most consumers still want DVD as the delivery medium – I have offered BluRay as a no-cost option for several years but I would say the up-take is less than 10%. This applies to many corporate clients too – with a recent corporate video that i shot, I provided an HD download on Vimeo, but wound up having to burn two copies on DVD and hand-deliver them to the client because they wanted to show the movie at a conference and DVD was the only technology they were comfortable with. They couldn’t even figure out how to download a movie form Vimeo and play it back on a laptop!

    The point about internet connection speeds is well-made too – while the geeks in Silicon Valley may have unlimited fibre optic connections, that technology is only just beginning to be available to the majority of households here in the UK – and it commands a price premium which many see no point in paying.

    I would happily forgo many of the bells and whistles in the latest version of After Effects if it meant Adobe would devote just a tiny fraction of their programming effort to keeping Encore current and usable. DVD and BD may be “old hat” to those at the front of the technology curve, but there are millions of DVD players and billions of DVD disks out there – maybe computer won’t be built with DVD drives in future, but consumers are going to want to play back DVDs for a long time to come.

  5. My background is making long-form documentaries, originally for the BBC and, back in the day, shot on 16mm film. In those days, making programmes for a fixed broadcast time slot, we often had to “murder our darlings” – favourite scenes which didn’t quite fit the narrative or which had to be excised for length ended up “on the cutting room floor”.
    What I’ve always particularly loved about DVDs was that at last all those scenes on the cutting room floor could now be included as extras, deleted scenes, etc. And as much of my work is about music and arts, the DVDs could also contain slide shows, additional music tracks, PDF documents, even websites, all accessed from menu buttons. This was in the heyday of Apple’s DVD@ccess, still good on Macs, but this sadly no longer works on PCs after Windows XP.
    What is particularly good about DVDs is that all this material is packaged together and is easily accessed and can be inter-related through disc navigation. Also, tracks can have chapter markers to easily jump to a particular scene. Much as I love and use downloads and Vimeo, I’m not aware of any online way of easily packaging all these elements together – but maybe someone is already working on a solution. But personally, I still like to have the physical product – and then of course there is information on the sleeve and maybe an insert booklet, too.
    DVDs – standard definition or Blu-ray – may be on the way out, but it seems that we are a long way from finding a replacement that is as versatile, accessible and comprehensive.

  6. William Hohauser says:

    Remember Macromedia Director which eventually morphed into Flash? That was an attempt to integrate all sorts of media into a single presentation that worked cross-platform. We can still do that with HTML but like everyone here seems to be agreement, we need something universal that can easily plug into a television without a computer. People need a simple delivery medium that doesn’t require a complex machine to view. It’s too bad we can’t burn a DVD file with HD video to a flash drive and expect it to be read by a flat-screen.

  7. DebG. says:

    Hi Larry,

    I have some questions about how to do these particular things mentioned in your article EXACTLY?

    1. how to format it for both Mac and PC?
    2. How to create a DVD image that is playable on both Mac and PC?
    3. How to emulate a Blu-Ray disc?

    ” … 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. …

    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.

    A USB drive can emulate a CD, DVD, Blu-ray Disk…”


    • LarryJ says:


      Good questions, but to tell you EXACTLY how to do some of these would require separate articles. Still, in short:

      1. For files less than 2 GB in size, format the drive using FAT, for larger files, use ExFAT
      2. Both DVD Studio Pro and Encore create disc images which are bit-identical to a DVD. In fact, that image is what’s burned onto a DVD disc. Check your documentation for how to do this.
      3. Encore can create a Blu-ray Disc image. Again, check the documentation for instructions how.

      A USB drive is just a slow hard disk, with all the flexible formatting and storage capability of a hard disk in a much smaller, more rugged, package.


      • Hey Larry, I think there’s a problem on Macs to play DVD images without a DVD drive. DVD Player often says there’s no valid drive and shuts down – sometimes even if there’s an external drive that the app doesn’t like. You can play DVD folders with VLC but then you have to become a computer teacher… teach your clients how to play video… maybe even distribute VLC on the same USB stick and then tell them how to use it.

        Generally anything more complicated than DVD discs is going to require more customer support, and lots of research before repro about the end users for that project.

        Also, I believe USB drives are less archivally sound than DVD’s (especially archival gold DVD’s). Fine for a conference video which no one will ever watch after a few months, but not for important archival delivery.

  8. Lynton Brown says:

    I’m in the same boat as many of you are making DVDs of kids concerts ect.
    I had a similar problem when DVD came onto the domestic market several years before videotape started to disappear.
    I was selling one DVD to every 40 videotapes at the start, approx three years later it was 35 DVDs to 5 VHS . The following year I didn’t promote VHS at all.
    Event videographers like myself should be offering three ways to obtain a copy of our recordings.
    1. Disc
    2. Digital download
    3. USB.
    The product I can offer now is far superior to DVD and I’m now kicking myself for not future proofing my earlier recordings which were recorded in HDV around 1998 onwards but at the time were edited down to SD for DVD.
    So I better jump on the band wagon very quickly and work out how to sell my recordings.
    Do I sell by download, pay per view, what versions do I need to keep, do I make a 2 hour concert available in one hit to download or the individual recitals…. (Shrugs shoulders)

  9. Joe Holt says:

    Very timely article and comments for me. I’ve been doing event videography for about two years now after about 20 years of industrial and commercial work. When I first started, I thought everyone would want Blue Ray but no one did. It is entirely standard def DVDs and probably will be unless something drastically changes. It just kills me to take the time to shoot 1080P video and painstakingly match 3 cameras to have it all end up at 480 lines. To top it off, I constantly get complaints about “blurry” video image. I have been racking my brain trying to come up with an alternate delivery platform which will provide the content in 1080P and be easily accessible by the masses. I will look into the download model but it is hard to justify a $30 unit price without a physical product to deliver. So what I think I will end up having to do is both which means more work, not less.

  10. Doug DeMarco says:

    @Joe Holt: I could have substituted your name and inserted mine. Those are the complaints I get too about the ‘fuzzy’ image. I can offer some insights from how I’ve been handling things. One regular client, a school who regularly does about $3k worth of business, complained about the fuzzy image and was talking about hiring a new videographer. I very patiently explained that what was happening was similar to the old film photo days when you would enlarge a photo so much that it would get grainy and ‘fuzzy’. She understood the analogy instantly and then asked how to fix it. I then explained about HD DVDs (I offer AVCHD HD disks, not actual Blu-ray; we can have that discussion later) and then went to a rehearsal of their show and sent her two sample DVDs, SD and HD of the same scene. She of course loved the HD (she had a Blu-ray player) and decided to offer them to the class in addition to the SD. I charged $5 more for the HD version and surprisingly, I had over 10% order the HD. I’ve since started to offer HD only as a two disk set; one SD and one HD and advertise it as something they can ‘take to grandma’ since she probably doesn’t have a Blu-ray player.

    I agree with your comment that a $30 charge must have a physical item, so I have been offering a SD DVD for $30 or $35 and for $10 more, they can add a download. About 10-15% more will order it that way when I explain they can play on their computer, tablet or smartphone, and I expect that percentage will increase once they get used to the idea.

    So now, I’m trying the reverse with two regular summer clients; the download is $30 and for an extra $10 they get a SD DVD. Just tried the first time this weekend and out of 20 orders, only 3 took the physical – something magical about that 10% and I don’t know what that means. You may find some combination of the two offers might work for you. In any case, I get additional revenue from selling this way and sacrifice nothing except encoding time.

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