Compression and DVD and Standard-Def

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the February, 2011, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Duncan Knowles asks:

Larry, I will be happy to buy any or all of your Tutorials or material that will help me get the best quality on DVD of 47 minutes of footage I shot in AVCHD and edited in FCP.


My footage totals about 40 Gigs. I have tried Compressor’s Best Quality 90 minutes, but it doesn’t do a good job. It only loads 3.0 Gigs of the program on a 4.7 Gig disc. If the amount of information that goes on the disc is a factor in raising quality, how do I get it up to 4.6 Gigs while keeping the Max Bit Rate acceptable?

Larry replies: Duncan, compression doesn’t work that way.

Your goal is not to fill the disc. It is to get the best quality that your compression codec supports. These are not the same thing.

First, I’m sure you know that DVDs are always standard-def, not high-def. So your AVCHD material will always look worse on a DVD than your source footage.

Second, the more you raise your maximum bit depth, the more likely you are to choke the playback from most DVD set-top boxes. DVDs are designed to work within a range of data rates, not to peg out at the maximum rate. This all to often causes stuttery playback and dropouts.

For best quality, set your average bit rate between 5.5 and 6.2.

For best quality, set your maximum bit rate to 7.2.

Then, regardless of what your ultimate compressed file size is, that will yield the best quality.

We talk about this a lot in two webinars:

#5: Compressing video for the Web and DVD

#4: Video Transcoding Techniques

Duncan adds:

Thanks a million for setting me straight on my expectations for maxing out the amount I put on a DVD.

I haven’t made a lot of FCP originated DVDs, but this particular program — shot with AVCHD — didn’t look good coming out of DVDSP. It had wavy lines and some jaggedness on titles. This may have been my not properly de-interlacing somewhere along the line.

I have now been able to get an acceptable DVD in a different way that might interest you. It begins with Josh Mellicker’s Method #3 [Josh is the founder of]:

1) File > Export using QuickTime Conversion

2) Choose QuickTime Movie

3) Click Options

4) Click Settings and set Compression Type to PNG and Depth to Millions of Colors

5) Since my footage is 16:9, click Size, choose Custom and type in the size.

Here’s where my experiment began. I input 1200X675 instead of a smaller size. And then I used your settings in DVDSP for Average and Max Bit Rate. Inputting the larger image size gave a result was MUCH better. And perhaps as you would have predicted, the amount of info on the DVD was still about 3 Gigs.

The size of the file output from FCP was almost twice what I had before and took a long time to make. But the outcome was good.

Larry replies: Thanks for the update and much success with your project.

UPDATE – MARCH 9, 2011

Uli Plank adds:

Finally, regarding downsizing interlaced footage, like in the thread by Duncan Knowles:

I’d rather suggest MPEG Streamclip (free) for the job. It can open AVCHD, does a very good downsizing quality (if the option for better downscaling is checked on) and handles interlace very well (even de-interlacing if needed). Doing the conversion to SD with that program and having Compressor only do the MPEG-2 is faster than having Compressor [do it all] using “Frame Controls”.

Larry replies: Uli, thanks!

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One Response to Compression and DVD and Standard-Def

  1. Jimmy says:

    I’ve always had the same problem. I’m using a pretty good Canon HD AVCHD camcorder. Video looks great on camcorder and even on FCP7. I’ve encoded and compressed many different ways on FCP (share function), export as, make quicktime, DVD Studio Pro, and Compressor. All seem to make very low quality and very interlaced and blurry SD DVD’s even when whole workflow is digital and straight through pro software.

    I think Apple Quicktime/DVDSP./Compressor have inferior down-res compressing codecs. I’ve tried all combinations but cannot figure out what it is. Does it have to do with the odd/even fields on the timeline? Square/non-square pixels? Does it have to do with the AVCHD format? Or maybe the interlaced 60i vs 30p settings on the consumer camcorder? I understand 30p is not always the same 30p on other cameras. Not sure if it really is progressive?

    I’ve even tried exporting quicktime movie and then dropping into an SD timeline but it makes very bad quality video. Extremely interlaced.

    Another issue is inserting scrolling text into the timeline. FCP 7 made it non-useable when the text would flicker. I now have to use Motion to make my credits and then import into FCP.

    Please help. What can it be? I’ve tried every combination I can think of.



    I’ve been editing and authoring DVD’s on my FCP, DVDSP for almost 10 years…

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