Converting HDV Video for a Letter-boxed DVD

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the January, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Eric Wrate writes:

I shot HDV on a Canon HV20. Edited it on a iMac using the latest version of FCP. I now need to be able to burn a “letterbox” version (i.e. black bars top and bottom – showing a 16:9 image).


Can you tell me in simple talk how to achieve my goal. I am only using FCP and Toast 9 (I have their Plug in HD/BD plug in).


I have previously done this by editing in HDV – when finished I highlighted my time line and copied it. I then opened a new project – and set the Easy setting to DV-NTSC and “pasted” the copied file into the new project. I then rendered it and saved it (it took a time for this) – but it worked. I have tried this – now, and it does not work.


Have they changed something in the new version of FCP?

Larry replies: Not necessarily, but probably — it’s a new dialog starting with FCP 6.

Before we start, let me stress something you mentioned. When you want to put video on a DVD, it must be standard-def, not high-def. HDV is a high-def format. Blu-ray Discs (and its cousin, AVCHD Discs) are the only options for high-def media on optical discs.

So, here are the steps to get started:

There are three ways you can do this:

Option 1. Create a new SD timeline. You can use DV/NTSC, but I prefer using DV50 – the files are twice as big, but the image quality is better. Then, copy and paste JUST ONE HDV CLIP into this new sequence.



When you see this dialog, say No. This tells Final Cut not to change the sequence settings to match your clip. (This dialog first appeared in FCP 6.)


Delete the clip you just pasted into the timeline.


Copy your entire HDV sequence and paste it into the Timeline. Now that you’ve properly configured the timeline, everything should be properly letter-boxed.


This is an improvement on your method and it works, but I tend not to use it, as I prefer how Compressor changes the size of a clip.


Option 2. Export your sequence from Final Cut Pro as an HDV movie. (Use the Current Settings option with File > Export > QuickTime movie.)



Compress the file using Compressor using the appropriate DVD Best Quality settings from the Apple > DVD folder. This automatically down-samples your movie to SD and compresses it for DVD.


Import your movie into DVD Studio Pro and place it into a 4:3 track.


This works, but I prefer to have letter-boxing turned on only for those TV sets that require it. This option letter-boxes everything and could cause problems with 16:9 TV sets. My preference is the third option.


Option 3. Export your sequence from Final Cut Pro as HDV.


Compress the file using Compressor using the appropriate DVD Best Quality settings from the Apple > DVD folder. This automatically down-samples your movie to SD and compresses it for DVD.


Import your movie into DVD Studio Pro and place it into a 16:9 track.


This displays your movie at 16:9 on TV sets that support 16:9, and automatically letter-boxes your movie for TVs that only display 4:3.

For me, this third option provides the fastest workflow (no additional rendering in Final Cut Pro), highest quality (Compressor does a better job than Final Cut Pro), and greatest flexibility (16:9 and 4:3 support, depending upon what the TV set displays).

UPDATE – FEB. 4, 2010

Bill Megalos adds:

When I work with HDV and am looking to output an SD DVD, I let iDVD do all the heavy lifting. File> Export>QuickTime Movie using current settings, (ie, you will end up with a 1440×1080 QT file) and let iDVD do the conversion to SD. Much faster and looks fine, especially if you choose Professional Quality in the preferences iDVD>Preferences>Projects>Encoding>Professional Quality.


That should handle at least 30 minutes, if it balks at that, choose High Quality. Please note that changes apply ONLY to subsequent projects, so check/change you preferences and then start the project.


MUCH faster than downconverting in FCP or Compressor and I think it looks better than FCP and possibly as good as Compressor.

Larry replies: Bill, this is a great tip and something I didn’t know. Thanks!


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2 Responses to Converting HDV Video for a Letter-boxed DVD

  1. Kevin Austin says:

    When you use the “DVD Best Quality 90 minutes” selection in Compressor are you compressing your video and audio separately?

    I just used it and there is no audio in the resulting .m2v file (the video looks great though), so I assume you are supposed to drag over the setting for video and the setting for the Dolby Digital conversion too, converting the video and audio separately.

    I just compressed the same file for the Dolby Digital conversion under DVD Best Quality 90 minutes and I was just wondering what people normally do to re-sync the resulting .ac3 audio with the .m2v video when your done?

    This is a project destined for DVD, I was going to use iDVD. I really need an answer to this as soon as possible, if anyone could help me out I’d appreciate it. I’m new to Compressor as you can probably tell.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      If you are using iDVD, you don’t compress in Compressor at all. iDVD handles all of it.

      When compressing files for DVD Studio Pro, and other authoring applications, you need to create what’s called an MPEG “Elemental” file. This means that the video and audio files are separate. They get combined during the final building process that DVD Studio Pro uses to create the finished DVD.

      So, you are correct. When compressing video for DVD Studio Pro, you will end up with two files — one with audio and one with video.


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