Monday, August 24, 2009

On DVDs and a film festival

When a film festival shows DVDs, they have a couple of issues:
  • Inserting the sponsor logos and festival trailer to right before the start of the movie
  • Different, possible dodgy DVD+/-Rs from filmmakers
  • European DVDs in PAL format
In addition, if they do a short films program, they may have to do several disc swaps between two or more DVD players over the course of the program.

Or they can try to consolidate.

Over the past few days, I got to be the "consolidator" for the shorts programs at the Sausalito Film Festival, where I learned some new things about DVDs and how Macs can handle them.

Prior to showing up, I did a little online research, and came up with the following workflow:
  • Rip DVDs using MacTheRipper to rip the encrypted DVDs
  • Use MPEG Streamclip to rip the unencrypted DVDs
  • Import into DVD Studio Pro
  • Profit!
Well, having grabbed some alternate programs just in case, I went in and started ripping away. As it turns out, DVD Studio Pro (Like Encore on the PC) needs a particular set of files to import into a new DVD project. As far as I can understand it, .VOB files describe some file formatting info as well as the raw media content, and DVD Studio Pro does not have the means to strip that info away.

So, new plan:
  • Rip the encrypted DVDs using MacTheRipper
  • Import the .VOB files or unencypted DVD into MPEG Streamclip
  • Export out .m2v and .ac3 (or .aiff for PCM audio) from said program
  • Import those files into DVD Studio Pro
  • Profit! (Okay, I'll stop using that now)
Well, all of this went fine, until I had to rip a film with subtitles. As luck would have it, there were several films like that, and they were all in PAL (of course).

So, my next idea was to transcode all the discs into ProRes using Streamclip and show them off a MacBook Pro. I started to mess around with that a bit, before I realized a tiny flaw in my plan:

MPEG Streamclip couldn't extract the subtitles.

I checked MacTheRipper, and it had no subtitle ripping options either. None of the programs I had could do it. To make a long story short, I found that the process of ripping and overlaying subtitles was going to be time consuming, and crappy quality to boot.

To understand why this was so unexpected to me, you have to realize I'm a PC guy. And on the PC, there's a program called DVD Shrink. Shrink will let you re-author a DVD from a disc, folders with .VOB files in them (VIDEO_TS folders extracted from a DVD), or both. It will let you select what audio tracks to include, what video to use (by title, which actually could span several .VOB files), and most importantly, what subtitles to carry over, even allowing you to force them to display. Other for-pay DVD prosumer programs can do this, but Shrink does it for free.

No free program for the Mac will let you do all this. In hindsight, I probably should have asked to get a copy of Toast. But that still wouldn't have solved the problem of mixing PAL and NTSC material on the same disc without reencoding anything.

I ended up having to punt on the PAL discs, as time was running out, so the festival used a universal player for those discs, and I compiled the NTSC shorts together into a DVD per short program. It worked well in the end, but the process was really dissapointing for me.

One of the reasons all of this matters is that the festival had to use a video switcher, which introduced minor audio latency (delay), since it didn't switch the audio as well.

One possible solution for next year (if the program is still mostly DVD-based) is to get the films together early, then dump all the discs into Final Cut Pro via an HDMI connection from a really good upconverting DVD player (probably one NTSC and one PAL player, actually) to 720p HD ProRes 422 HQ (or 1080p if the projector is high-res enough). Then, you could edit in the sponsor info and festival trailer at the beginning of each segment, and play back all the material via Front Row from a Macbook Pro with an HDMI-equipped video outboard unit (Such as the AJA iO). This way, you could go directly into the projector and sound system without using the latency-inducing switcher, and you could also pre-tweak the volume in Final Cut Pro to maintain consistant levels over the course of the program. You would also never have to change aspect ratios or any other settings on the projection equiptment.

You would probably still have to rip the encrypted DVDs so you could copy via the HDMI cable, and check for issues switching between video files in Front Row, but basically, I think it could be done.

Oh well, next year.

Also, the festival was a blast both to work for and attend, so I would reccomend anyone in the Bay Area next year should check it out.

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