Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet


July 2003

By Mike Gould

Living as we do here in the foothills of the headlands of the technical vastness of the future, everyone in Southeast Michigan is familiar with DVDs, right? They are to video tape what CDs are to the old LPs (vinyl records to you whipper-snappers out there).

And just like with CDs, anyone with a suitably equipped Mac or PC can now make their own. So, having just finished such a project, I feel the need to share the love. Let's plug in our DVD burners, fire them up and see where they take us.

Directly Verifiable Definitions
First, some background information. DVD stands for Digital Versatile Disk. We usually think of digital movies when we hear DVD, but technically, such disks containing movies are called DVD-Video. But there are other DVD formats: those containing only data are called DVD-RAM, and there is also a specification called DVD-Audio for music. For the purposes of this article, we will use the term DVD to refer to DVD-video. (But give some thought to the DVD-RAM concept: consider all the PowerPoint files you've ever created backed up onto one disk).

A DVD can contain movies, slide shows of pictures, and raw data. Physically the same size as the CD, a DVD can contain 4.7 gigabytes of data, compared to the paltry 700 megabytes a CD can contain. (That's, um…mumble…almost 7 times as much data, for those of you out there keeping score.) In fact, you can also produce DVDs that are two disks back-to-back, for a total of (um…carry the one...) 9.4 Gigs. This gets hairy on a home system, but commercial replicators help you with this.

You need all this room if you are dealing in the digital video format, as movies and pictures take up a lot more in the way of data than music does. How much more? Let's just say a lot. (The scorekeepers referred to above can check out for more details than I feel like covering in my brief space here.)

Devilishly Valuable Device
To make a DVD, you need a reasonably recent computer, some specialized software, a fairly large harddrive to hold your source files, some content (pictures and movies you have shot with your digital camera or camcorder), and a device called a DVD burner. Similar to a CD burner, a DVD burner is an internally- or externally-mounted mechanism that encodes your content onto a disk such that it can be read on any DVD player hooked up to any TV set.

These jobbies are called "burners" because they use a laser to heat up a complex set of chemicals embedded onto blank media, "burning" the ones and zeroes onto the disk.

These are available built into recent computers or can be added to them. If you are going the add-on route, make sure you get one that supports FireWire. This is a flavor of wiring that supports the transfer of big honking files (a technical term) really fast.

Domestic Visual Demonstrator Why would anyone want to do this? Because you have digital pictures and movies you want to share in a universally-supported medium. Think about it - if you have a wad of digital pictures you want to share with Gramma, you can print them out and send them via snail mail (expensive and slow), you can put them on the Web (cheap and fast, but what if Gramma isn't online?) or you can burn them onto a DVD and send them to her (cheap and slow). OK, you might have to buy Gramma a DVD player, but these can now be had for less than $75, so you now have her next birthday covered. And for movies, there is really no better way to share them effectively. You can publish via the Web, but this gets complicated, expensive, and slow, really fast (so to speak).

Substitute "Out of State Business Partner" for "Gramma' in the above and you will see why I can cover this in a commerce magazine. This is how you share your training tapes and all the pictures of everything in your Fall catalog with your office down-river. It's also a good way to archive large amounts of data.

"But can't I do this with tapes from my VHS camcorder?", I hear a few dinosaurs out there muttering. Well, yeah, but you can't edit analog tape with the same ease and low cost that is inherent with digital editing. And DVDs are ever so much more physically robust than tape, as anyone who has ever dealt with a jammed VCR can tell you. And you don't have to rewind them.

Distinguished Vibes Distributor I needed to do all the above because I volunteered to document a musical/tavern-related event. It seems a certain local DJ got himself fired at one radio station due to some injudicious remarks, and was hired at another station 3 weeks later. To celebrate, he threw a party at a local watering hole and invited a number of bands in to jam. I was asked to document the event, and since I had a brand new camcorder to try out (Canon Elura 40), I showed up at the joint and shot a bunch of still photos and 3 hours of digital video. The photos I could easily post on my Web site (, but the video was problematic, due to the issues outlined above.

This gave me an excuse to polish up my multimedia skills, so I whipped out my Mac G4 (well, carefully turned it on, actually) and fired up iDVD, a low-end DVD authoring application that comes bundled with every DVD-burner-equipped Mac; it provides basic buttons, backgrounds, and the means to stitch them into a DVD complete with navigation. I edited the video in iMovie, another part of the free "iApp" suite, and dragged the clips into the presentation. I prepared custom backgrounds in Photoshop, dragged them into the mix, and I was done.

The result was a nice mix of slideshow (the same as on the Web) and 3 videos of songs. The video is a bit grainy due to the atrocious lighting in the bar, but the audio sounds really good. And a good time was had by all, especially me.

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Fac·, and welcomes comments addressed to

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