Publishing Movies for DVD, the Web, and HD

Photo to Movie can render movies in a wide variety of formats. Knowing what format to use in what situation is important but can be very confusing. This article will attempt to give you some of the trade-offs and concerns for DVD, web publishing, and High Definition (HD) video.


A DVD can be burned in two formats. A DVD-Data format and a DVD-Video format. DVD-Data is used to store computer files. DVD-Video is used to store video only. DVD-Video is the type of DVD that can be played in most home DVD players. For this article, DVD will refer to DVD-Video since that's probably what you're inerested in producing.

All DVD's have a fixed pixel size (either 720x480 for NTSC, the U.S. format; or 720x576, the European format). Video can either be standard (4:3) or widescreen (16:9) aspect ratios. But in either case, the pixel size is fixed to one of the values above (720x480 or 720x576).

You'll notice, however, that 720x480 (or 720x576 for PAL)is neither a 4:3 nor a 16:9 aspect ratio. What actually happens is that your DVD player stretches or squishes the 720x480 (or 720x576 for PAL) pixels so that it appears at the proper aspect ratio (either 4:3 standard or 16:9 widescreen).

One consequence of DVD having a fixed pixel size is that there is no way to display HD video using DVD. Let me repeat: There is no way to display HD video on a standard DVD player!

The other important thing about DVD's is that they use the MPEG-2 video format on the disc. Photo to Movie on the Mac cannot produce MPEG-2 directly; that is what iDVD does, however. iDVD converts QuickTime movies, DV Streams, and other file formats to MPEG-2. Photo to Movie on Windows, however, can produce MPEG-2 directly and you may choose to use this capability when making DVD's on Windows.

On both platforms, however, you will create a document with either a 4:3 standard or 16:9 widescreen format. Using the techniques outlined here, you do not need to worry too much about the pixel sizes or file formats described in the previous paragraphs.

On the Mac OS, DVD publishing is easy. You create your movie in Photo to Movie. Then you render it into the DV Stream file format. You can do this by clicking Make Movie and then using the iMovie, iDVD, or QuickTime panels. In the last case, you need to choose DV Stream in the Movie Format menu. Then choose either DV NTSC or DV PAL in the Movie Settings menu. Render your movie to a file and then use iDVD to burn your file to DVD.

On Windows, DVD publishing is slightly more complex. Like the Mac, you first create your movie and then render it to a file. Then you encode your movie and burn it to DVD. But there is no standard DVD burning software on Windows so you'll need to have your own burning software. And to make matters more difficult, some DVD burning software can re-encode your video to MPEG-2 and generate the DVD menu structure, and some cannot.

If you have DVD burning software that can re-encode your video and generate DVD menus, then you can use Photo to Movie to render video to any file format and then let your DVD burning software re-encode it to MPEG-2 and burn it to DVD. However, if you use Photo to Movie's direct MPEG-2 encoding to render your video, you may be able to avoid having the DVD burning software re-encode the video, which will lower quality. For this reason, we recommend rendering your movie directly to MPEG-2 from Photo to Movie.

If your DVD burning software cannot re-encode your video, you must render your video to the .iso disk format and then burn the .iso file to DVD. The .iso that Photo to Movie produces contains the MPEG-2 encoded video and a minimal DVD menu structure. If you want a more complicated menu system, you'll need to purchase 3rd party software to encode and generate the menus for DVD. Select Document Info to choose your file format on Windows. Then click Make Movie to render your movie. Then use your DVD burning software to burn the .iso file to DVD.

Web Publishing

Web publishing is equally tricky. There are several things that make web publishing difficult. The primary difficulties involve the video file format, the bandwidth required to play the video, and the video size. In addition, your web page must include some sort of video player to play the video.

Unfortunately, there is no single video format that works flawlessly on all browsers. However, a few different formats come close, especially if your users are using the latest browser available on their platform.

In addition, web users may be connected to the web on a low bandwidth connection such as dial-up or a high bandwidth connection such as a cable modem. They may also be connected on anything from a mobile device such as an phone with a small screen to a desktop computer with a large screen.

You'll also need a player that can be embedded in your web page. It is typically written in either JavaScript, Flash, or Silverlight.

Ideally, too, you can provide multiple versions of your movie in different file formats, sizes, and bandwidths. Some video sites do just this, for instance the NASA websites and Apple's movie trailer websites both provide multiple formats and sizes for users.

There are several video formats that may be useful. The QuickTime format is available for any user browsing from a Macintosh or any user with QuickTime installed on Windows. The Windows Media format is available for any Windows user but not available for most Macintosh users.

One format that stands out lately is H.264 contained within a QuickTime movie file. This format is available to anyone who has QuickTime installed and also to anyone who has Flash Player 9 installed on Windows or Mac.

There are also many players available. For instance, Apple's QuickTime Player Pro can generate movies and a JavaScript player embedded in a web page that is capable of playing a matrix of QuickTime movies based on the bandwidth and video size requirements. There are also inexpensive Flash and Silverlight players available. See useful links below for one possible player.

Finally, you need to decide what size and how much bandwidth to require to view your movie. Mobile devices such as phones typically have a video height of either 240 or 320 pixels and can download at a rate of 150-200 Kbps. Web browsers on computers with cable modems typically can display video up to 1024 pixels tall and can download at rates of 1 Mbps or more. There is no "right" way to do things. You'll have to make size and bandwidth tradeoffs depending on your particular application. For one reference point, standard video on YouTube downloads at about 300 Kbps.

Web Publishing - QuickTime

If you're using Quicktime, we recommend that you render your movie in a high quality video format and then use QuickTime Player to generate the web pages. QuickTime Player will render multiple movies for various bandwidth and size configurations.

On Mac OS, use Make Movie within Photo to Movie and choose the QuickTime rendering panel. Select the QuickTime Movie movie format and choose movie settings as large as the largest movie that you want to publish on your website. Then use QuickTime Player to open your "master" movie and then choose the menu item File > Export for Web... This will produce a set of files suitable for publishing on the web.

On Windows, use Document Info to choose the QuickTime file format. Then choose Custom. Select a size that is at least as large as the largest movie that you want to publish on your website. Then click Make Movie. Then use QuickTime Player to open your "master" movie and then choose the menu item File > Export for Web... This will produce a set of files suitable for publishing on the web.

Web Publishing - Flash

If you're using Flash, we recommend rendering your movie in the H.264 format and then using a standard player such as JW Player to place it on a webpage. You will need to consult with the instructions for your chosen player to get the exact details.

On the Mac OS, you can render H.264 video directly. Choose Make Movie and select the QuickTime rendering panel. Select QuickTime for the movie format and choose your desired movie settings. This will produce a suitable H.264 video that can, in most cases, be placed directly on your website using a Flash player.

On Windows, it is slightly more complicated since the Windows version of Photo to Movie cannot fully render H.264 video files (it can do the video, but not the AAC audio, due to licensing restrictions). We still recommend rendering your movie to H.264 video, but use uncompressed audio. To do this, use Document Info and choose the QuickTime movie format. Then choose a custom file format with the H.264 codec, the desired video size, and desired bandwidth. Then render your movie. This will produce a H.264 video with uncompressed audio. Next use QuickTime Player Pro (see useful links) to open your movie and re-render to full H.264 with AAC audio. QuickTime is smart enough not to re-render the video that is already in H.264 format, but it will re-compress the audio into AAC, producing a movie that can be placed directly on your website using a Flash player.

Web Publishing - Silverlight

Microsoft Silverlight is another useful technology for publishing video. It is especially suited towards Windows but also available on Mac OS. Much of the video for the 2008 Olympics was available via NBC using Silverlight.

On Windows, you can use Photo to Movie to directly render your movie to Windows Media-formatted files. These can then be used with the Silverlight developer tools (see useful links below) to produce websites that display the video. From Photo to Movie choose Document Info and then choose Windows Media for the movie format. Click Make Movie and use the resulting movie within the Silverlight developer tools.

On Mac OS, you can render a standard video format such as MPEG-4 and then convert it to Windows Media. You can also use a 3rd party tool such as Flip4Mac to render Windows Media-formatted files directly on Mac OS. However, you will need to run the Silverlight developer tools on a Windows computer or else do a bit of hand coding to place your movie on a web page.

High Definition

Playing your movies at HD quality is limited to playback from a computer or playback from a Blu-ray Disc. Some media center PC's have the ability to play back HD quality video too.

The choices for video suitable for HD playback are much more limited -- namely you must choose the format: HD-1080p, HD-1080i, or HD-720p. It is best to match the format to the device which will play back the movie; but if everything else is equal, choose HD-1080p, since it is the highest quality. All HD video is widescreen, so your movie within Photo to Movie must be widescreen too.

On the Mac, you can render HD video in the H.264 format. Using Make Movie, select the QuickTime rendering panel. Then choose QuickTime for the movie format. Select one of the high definition formats under the settings menu. Then render your movie. You can use QuickTime Player or FrontRow to play your movie on your computer.

On Windows, you can render HD video by using Document Info. Choose the file format of Windows Media. Choose a custom settings with a size of 1920x1080. Choose best quality. Render your movie. You can then use Windows Media Player to play your movie on your computer.

If your computer can be connected to an HD TV, you can play the rendered movie back directly to the TV.

If you have a Blu-ray disc burner and a 3rd party application for doing Blu-ray burning, you can burn it to a Blu-ray disc. However, the Blu-ray disc can only be played back on a Blu-ray player. It cannot be played back on a standard DVD player. Again, to repeat from above, there is no way to get HD video on a standard DVD player.

You may also be able to use some media center PCs to play back the video. These may require special codecs to be installed to allow you to play back H.264, if you use that format.

Useful Links

Useful links:

Written by Chris Meyer, LQ Graphics, Inc.

September 5, 2008 - First version