We’ve had a HD videocam since 2006, and have been building up a backlog of unprocessed video, since the stuff is so huge and slow to process. This is one of the reasons I recently bought a Mac Pro. Things are better, but the story doesn’t have a happy ending yet.

I’ve never really liked iMovie, it seems like it’s trying too hard to be “easy” and hiding the direct path to where you’re going. And I’ve sat in on some commercial video-editing sessions and have an inkling of what’s possible. So when I ordered the Pro, I got it shipped with Final Cut Express.

Now, that is a program with a nasty learning curve. The user’s guide is a thousand-page-plus PDF, and it’s OK, but not that great. Too often the description of how you do something doesn’t end up corresponding with what I see on the screen when I try to do that; they’ve omitted to mention the crucial step you need to get to that intermediate dialog box or whatever.

But anyhow, I sat down with an hour or so of HD video shot over the 2006-2007 holiday season and banged my head on FCE till I had it figured out enough to get what I wanted. It’s easy to like once the learning pain eases off, and on an 8-core 2.6GHz Mac Pro with 6G of memory, it’s damn snappy; my first experience of any video-related software software being responsive. It will do way more than I’ll ever need, and what it does, it does fast; what’s not to like?

One problem is that I’ve been spoiled by Lightroom, which doesn’t have a “save” button because it doesn’t need one, what a concept. So my first extended FCE editing session edited sadly with a crash that cost me a couple of hours’ work. Save early, save often.

After a few days of poking around, an hour here, and hour there, I had things edited down to a pretty pleasing 8-minute movie, with nifty voice-overs and decent fades and so on.

Then I wanted to cut a DVD, you know, to send to my Mom or whatever. Which means, I guess, iDVD, a program I’ve always hated. I don’t know what it is, it just seems like it’s much harder than it should be. And I’m particularly upset that all the “themes” come with Apple branding on the title page. Fuck you Apple, this is my film of my kids.

The instructions sure seemed to be simple: export from FCE as a QuickTime movie, import into iDVD, press “burn”; and indeed I got a shiny silver disk. But also one minor and one major disappointment.

The minor disappointment is the picture quality; the DVD playback just doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the raw HD QuickTime on my nice Sun monitor. It still looks pretty good, but once you’ve seen better... The DVD playback looks weaker not just on the TV, but on the computer screen.

The major disappointment is that the sound is completely borked; but only on the DVD player, not on the computer. It sounds like it was all recorded at much too high a level, so it’s breaking up and distorting in a bunch of ugly ways. I review in FCE and I don’t see the levels ever hitting 0dB. Maybe my DVD player is the problem? But I watch movies all the time, with no sound problems. Maybe it’s my lame old DVD player, or because I used a DVD-R instead of a DVD+R? Maybe iDVD just hates me?

Working on it...


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Zach Wily (May 05 2008, at 13:18)

You can turn off the Apple logo in iDVD preferences.


From: Jesper (May 05 2008, at 13:36)

The Apple logo is the subject of a check box in preferences, but you're right that it shouldn't be there in the first place. It's not like they stick a watermark on iPhoto pictures when you print them - why this?

Burning with a DVD+R disc would just make it not a Video DVD, as far as I can tell. (DVD-R is the 'official' offspring of the recordable DVD format, which means that DVD+R by its very divergence isn't guaranteed to be compatible, which means that you'll need hybrid players to play back the DVD.)


From: Andrew Miller (May 05 2008, at 13:59)

Umm.....there's a nice preference in iDVD to turn off the Apple logo -- the "Show Apple logo watermark" preference.


From: Nick (May 06 2008, at 03:35)

This probably isn't very helpful but since you've gone to Final Cut probably anything with 'i' in the title is a mistake. Did your stuff come with a copy of DVD Studio Pro? Again it's a huge pro app with a learning curve but it does let you do pretty much anything that the DVD standards let you do (as far as I can see).

Of course I didn't pay for my copy of any of the Pro apps (I use them at work) so Your Mileage (or Wallet) May Vary.


From: Paul (May 06 2008, at 12:04)

HD, high definition, does not equal DVD. DVD has an output targeted at NTFS video or roughly 640x480, (although not exactly).

HD (depending on who's calling it HD) may be 1080i or 1080p which has much higher resolution than a DVD will carry.

We get a nicer picture picking up a movie broadcast OTA (over the air) in HD (1080i) than from a DVD.

Leaving the downsampling to iDVD in order to get a DVD compatible video is probably a mistake. Convert your HD video first, you do have some choices to make, and then push to a DVD media.

Generally, one is always going to be disappointed by comparing a lower resolution result to an original that is higher resolution. I find that LCD monitors render the video better than an equivalent LCD TV. Smaller vs. larger pixel sizes.

(Please kill this message if you're already all over this but it wasn't clear in the post.)


From: Colin (May 06 2008, at 13:20)

What audio format are you using for your DVD? You normally choose this at the authoring stage.

If you went for uncompresssed PCM then the bitrate needed for that (stereo at 24-bit/96kHz would be 4.4 Mbps; stereo at 16-bit/48kHz would be 1.5Mbps) will really eat into the available video bitrate (maximum 9.8Mbps out of the 10.08 total for audio+video). Maybe look for an option to have lossy AC-3 or lossy MPEG-2 audio instead?

On a PC, you could use GSpot to examine your DVD files and detect which codecs were used (http://www.headbands.com/gspot/). Not sure about a Mac but the Linux tcprobe (http://www.transcoding.org/cgi-bin/transcode?Tcprobe) - part of Transcode - looks like it does the same job


From: Derek K. Miller (May 06 2008, at 16:51)

You could try the simple Export to iPod setting, which goes out at 640x480 H.264 (MPEG-4) with AAC audio. Then put that into iDVD, and it might work out -- at least it shouldn't take too long as a test, and you'll have an iPod/Apple TV-compatible video file to boot.


From: Josh Peters (May 07 2008, at 06:59)

I was fortunate enough that my local community college had a video production class that featured Final Cut Pro.

This was 6 months before the release of Final Cut Express, and when it finally came out I was all set to start using it for my editing needs.

Perhaps your local community college offers something similar? Weekly night courses with someone knowledgeable can save you many, many months of tinkering (which is a good or a bad thing, YMMV).

Final Cut Express is a great tool to have if you're 100% digital and don't wanna drop the $$$ on FCP. Well worth learning IMO.


author · Dad
colophon · rights
picture of the day
May 05, 2008
· Technology (90 fragments)
· · Video (26 more)

By .

The opinions expressed here
are my own, and no other party
necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my
professional interests is
on the author page.

I’m on Mastodon!