blog Video editing

Converting HD Video for use in an SD DVD project

Why a DVD, why can’t everyone just go digital…?

Unfortunate as it is, real world clients’ requirements tend to rely on 1990s technology.

I’ve been putting together DVDs for the New Wine conference, which is generally consists of:

  • complete the edit…
  • export full quality
  • export to MPEG-2 in Compressor
  • drag into DVD Studio
  • burn the disk

This doesn’t work very well for projects which originate in high definition, partly because of your finely rendered type and partly because of the poor transcoding magic performed going directly from 1080 to 576 for DVD.


Like me, plenty of people out there have learnt everything they know about videography from working on pet projects and tinkering with the tools they have to hand, and stuff like this just isn’t really “in the manual.”

I think I might’ve finally worked out a workflow that should work, should you need wish to put your beautiful HD Video onto a standard definition DVD.

Starting point:

Most of my video projects are in Apple ProRes — captured live or post-event using my Ninja device. The specific variety of ProRes doesn’t matter, frame rates (60i or 50i) and colour depth aren’t the problem here. We’re in 1080 and it looks pretty great. On the computer. And in whatever web format we tend to use.

Output from the edit:

Using your editing software typically you will typically output a full resolution copy of the edit, or a reference movie — just the audio and rendered parts, with pointers to all your other source video files, hidden in a file much smaller than your full copy.

What you would do for the web:

At this point, I usually drag the reference movie into MPEG Streamclip. Sometimes it misbehaves and doesn’t understand the reference pointers; so it might be best just to output a full QuickTime file for transcoding.

Vimeo (the discerning videographers publishing platform of choice?) has a helpful guide on good settings for upload, but basically I do this (my saved “Vimeo 720” preset):

  • Choose MPEG-4 export, using H.264
  • Bump the quality to 100% (no point compromising here)
  • Limit the data rate to 3500 or 5000Kbps depending on how good you want it to look (I tend to choose 5000 for final exports, 3500 for key drafts, 1000 for quick previews)
  • Do whatever you want with sound, AAC / Stereo / 44.1 / 256kbps
  • I tend to scale to 1280 x 720 for output
  • Choose the right frame right
  • Select “Interlaced Scaling” and “Deinterlace Video”
  • Everything else should be right

And a visual representation of the above, if it helps…

vimeo-720-hq-settingsThis creates a pretty good image and the interlaced/deinterlace couplet fixes most “why did my text go fuzzy” issues.

When creating DVDs:

MPEG Streamclip is not the tool for this job. iDVD is Disney. Toast does burn video DVDs but it [ignorant assumption] won’t give you the ability to make the type of interface that you actually want.

So you need to use Compressor + DVD Studio Pro. Nightmare. But they can do pretty much everything you want them to.

Bad assumption:

You can just use the source file, make it convert using one of the provided DVD formats (in Compressor) or just drop it into DVDSP directly and it will create a useable disk. It will, but it won’t look good. All your rendered images and text will be of very poor quality and while much less noticeable the video itself will not be as good.

Larry to the rescue:

Often you’ll find the answer to a video question is answered on Larry Jordan and this is no exception, though it took me a few days of casual searching to find a link to the article entitled Solving Video Compression Problems When Down-Sizing HD to SD — you may notice some similarity in the title of this article…

The basic solution here is this:

  • Pre-compression” — resize the HD movie to an SD frame size without compressing (transcode to ProRes HQ from 1080 to 1024×576 if you’re working in the PAL world) — full details of which settings to use are in the article
  • Then use that exported file as your DVD track source.

Obviously this will take a bit longer to output, but it will provide far cleaner images from which to produce your DVD. In practice it takes significantly longer: on a 2009 iMac, transcoding five 35 minute files took just over 14 hours. Fine if you’ve nothing else to do!

P.S. If you spot any flaws, or have any suggestions or additions to this article please leave a comment below and I’ll consider updating it.

Mastered DVDs