Creating AVCHD Discs

Posted on by Larry

Here’s another technical question that came in recently.

Sourabh asks:

I am a huge fan of your newsletters. I see you mention in quite a few newsletters burning an AVCHD disc (on a standard DVD) using FCP 7 that will give greater quality than a SD DVD. Could you please go over the process?

Larry replies: Thanks for writing!

This is a new feature in Final Cut Studio (3). Both Compressor and Final Cut Pro 7 can now create Blu-ray Discs. This means that it is now possible to put HD content onto what looks like a traditional DVD.

However, although the physical shape of the disc is the same, there are actually three flavors of DVD:

1. Traditional DVD. This is the ONLY format that DVD Studio Pro creates. All DVDs created by DVD SP are standard definition (SD) video. Yes, I know that DVD SP creates HD DVDs, however, that format died in the marketplace two years ago. If you are creating a disc only for yourself, you can use this format. However, there are no players on the market today that can play this type of disc. For this reason, use DVD SP to only create SD discs.

2. Blu-ray Disc. This is the new HD video format that you see promoted in all the stores. It requires compressing your video to meet the specs of this format and, for Macintosh folks, also requires that you purchase a separate Blu-ray Disc burner for your system. No burners shipped by Apple support this format. Also, keep in mind that as of today, no Macintosh can play a Blu-ray Disc natively on their system.

3. AVCHD Disc. This is a hybrid format. It records Blu-ray compatible video on a standard DVD disc. The benefit of this is that your current DVD burner can create this disc using standard DVD media. The disadvantage to this is that because a standard DVD only holds about 4 GB of media, while a Blu-ray Disc holds at least 6 times more, you can only get about 20-30 minutes of material on a disc. Also, because AVCHD discs require a lower data rate, it could be argued that the video quality is close to Blu-ray, but not quite equal to it. Still, the benefits of using AVCHD for short projects are great. This format also requires a Blu-ray player to be able to play the disc.

There are essentially four ways to create an AVCHD disc:

  1. From within Final Cut Pro.
  2. From within Compressor.
  3. Using Roxio Toast 10.
  4. Using Adobe Encore CS4 or later, which is part of Adobe Production Premium.

Let’s look at each of these.

The benefit to using Final Cut Pro is that it is easy. Select the sequence, or clips, you want to burn to a DVD in the Browser. Choose File > Share. Then, from the pop-up menu, select Blu-ray Disc. A side menu appears allowing you to set various parameters. You can also use this approach to create an AVCHD disc – keep in mind that you are limited to a project length of 20-30 minutes.

The disadvantage to using Final Cut is that menus are only templates and it is really designed for putting one movie on a disc. You can’t author a title or design menus the way we can in DVD SP, for example.

Bruce Nazarian has told me that the compression settings Apple uses to create Blu-ray Discs are actually very good — the image quality looks excellent.

The advantage to using Compressor is that you can adjust your compression settings; for example adding watermarks or resizing your video. However, the end result is the same as Final Cut Pro – menus are templates designed more for creating review copies of projects, not a commercial-grade Disc.

Roxio Toast 10 provides more flexibility, but the menus are still templates. You can easily add more movies. You can create your own menu graphics. But, in the end, the look and feel of the Disc is driven by the templates. Branching menus, scripting, stories, and other advanced features in DVD SP are not available.

Roxio Toast is the best choice when you want to provide a variety of different movies on a disc, using a single menu. Think demo reels.

Adobe Encore is the only application currently on the Mac that provides full authoring capability for Blu-ray Discs.

Based on what I’ve learned and in talking with others, the workflow that I would suggest when using Adobe Encore is to edit your project in Final Cut Pro. Export it as a high-quality, self-contained QuickTime movie. Compress it in Compressor as a Blu-ray file. Import the compressed file into Adobe Encore and create your HD title.

As alternatives, you can edit in Premiere and compress in Encore — it all depends upon which programs you are most familiar with.

If your project is short, create an AVCHD Disc. If you have more than 30 minutes of material, create a Blu-ray Disc. In both cases, you’ll need a Blu-ray Player to view the resulting files.

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