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DVD Toolbox

DVD Toolbox

Making DVD’s for Fun and Profit

By Jim Bray

Budding videomakers have a nifty tool with which to inflict their visions onto the public.

The DVD Toolbox software, from VITEC Multimedia, lets you convert video productions to the digital disk medium for maximum durability and playback quality.

Since the DVD medium offers the most – and best – storage you can reasonably get right now, this makes it the ideal medium for students, professionals on a budget, or even Mom and/or Pop who wants a permanent way to archive all that footage they shot of the kids back when they were cute and cuddly.

DVD Toolbox takes your existing footage (once it’s saved onto your PC as an AVI file (Audio Video Interleave – a common multimedia format for the PC), convert it into the MPEG or MPEG 2 standard (“Moving Pictures Experts Group,” according to the web site), then burn it onto a DVD-RAM (a recordable DVD format), or other recordable optical disc format.

DVD Toolbox offers a pretty complete software solution to moviemaking on the PC. It comes with virtually everything you need to encode, edit and produce your DVD-Video, except for a big hard drive and a method of capturing your video footage in the first place.

About the only other thing it won’t do is burn the DVD for you. To do that, you’ll need a DVD RAM drive and accompanying software, and right now DVD-RAM is a VERY expensive beast. It will, however, create the final files for you, ready to be taken to a duplication house where they can do the dirty deed for you.

DVD Toolbox is actually made up of a few different modules, each of which is designed for a different task. Modules include “MPEG Maker 2” which, as its name implies, actually creates the MPEG 2 file for eventual output onto the DVD disc. MPEG 2 is the technology DVD’s and digital satellite dishes use to compress the digital information to a workable size. MPEG-1 is an earlier version and it can still do a reasonable job, but it’s nowhere nearly as good as MPEG-2. It works in a pinch, though, if you’re short of space and don’t need the highest quality: you can sacrifice excellence for smaller file sizes.

I used this to burn an eight minute VHS-quality production onto a CD-R disc. I chose CD-R because I needed a way to send a “demo video” to people in a format they could watch on their PC’s. Since far more people right now have CD-ROM drives than DVD ROM drives, CD-R was the ideal choice.

It worked well; by “dumbing down” the quality to MPEG-1, I could fit the whole production onto one disc and thereby distribute it inexpensively and with little hassle for the end user. The MPEG-1 quality was adequate in this case because VHS isn’t particularly great to start with, so I didn’t really lose anything in the translation.

Another module of DVD Toolbox is VIDEO Clip MPEG-2 SE, a non-linear editor with instantaneous preview and “copy and paste” functionality.

If you’re going for the gusto and creating an actual DVD title, the “DVDMaker” module will create it for you. It can even add chapter stops so the end user has random access to particular sections of your masterpiece.

You can also use the software to mix from DVD’s back to MPEG for editing. There’s also an audio conversion tool that lets you strip out old sound from an MPEG and replace it with a “wave” file, which could let you add your own soundtrack to a disc.

VITEC also throws in a software DVD Player, but you’ll need a DVD ROM drive to use it.

Even if you aren’t burning your own DVD’s, you’ll need a horrendous amount of hard drive space to store the really BIG files. I was using a 36 Gb hard drive for storage, and its elbow room was much appreciated. Archiving videos there would eat up the space really quickly, though.

The $399 product requires a Pentium II 300 or higher, 64 meg of RAM, 800x600 16 bit color resolution or higher, and Windows 95/98, NT4, or Windows 2000.

DVD Toolbox works as advertised, though there’s a lot of waiting from the time you start creating your files until they’re actually ready for use.

Which makes for a nice coffee break.


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January 31, 2006