Create Your Own Blu-ray Video Discs

Creating Disc Menus

Once you've finishing setting chapters, click the Create Disc tab in PowerDirector, and it will present you with an assortment of predesigned menu templates. Hundreds more are available online, for both CyberLink and other PowerDirector users.

Laying out your disc menu is easy with included templates, and usually you can download more templates from your software manufacturer's Web site.
All the menu templates are fully customizable. If you select one and click the Modify button, you can change everything from the background artwork to the chapter typeface. For high-definition 16:9 discs, size the background art to 1280 by 720 pixels before importing. This part of the program is also where you'll edit the title and chapter names for your disc.

Disc Authoring and Burning

After you've finished editing and creating your disc menus, it's time to set the recording parameters and burn to disc. This is the tricky part, as it's the only step of the process where things can go very wrong. First, be sure that you have the needed Blu-ray codecs and plug-ins installed, and that your Blu-ray drive (if you have one) is attached to your PC. Most Blu-ray software requires separate registration of Blu-ray components, which happens only when you attach a Blu-ray drive and start to author with it.

Be sure that your output settings are at the highest quality, and that they match your source video.
Next, make certain that your output settings are at the highest quality, and that they match your source video. For example, if your source video is HDV (.m2t), confirm that MPEG-2 1440 by 1080 is chosen as the video format. Similarly, for AVCHD (.mts), choose MPEG-4/H.264 and either 1440 by 1080 or 1920 by 1080, depending on the resolution at which you recorded. If you need to mix HDV and AVCHD clips, choose AVCHD and 1440 by 1080 as a common output format.

The purpose of carefully matching your output settings with your source video is to maximize quality while minimizing the need for reencoding--a process that can take many hours. CyberLink PowerDirector has a special "smart rendering" technology that skips encoding of any portions of your video clips that have not been modified. So if all you've done is trim the ends of clips, you'll avoid most production and encoding time. By contrast, Pinnacle Studio 12 does not have equivalent capabilities, and it took more than 30 minutes to save a BDMV disc image of a tiny 3-minute AVCHD clip, even though I had not modified it at all. Pinnacle says that smart rendering is not yet implemented in Studio Ultimate for AVCHD files, although it is for HDV.

The settings box will also ask you about your disc format and media. This is where you specify that you want to burn a BDMV, and choose Blu-ray or DVD media for your project. The burn-setup box in Pinnacle Studio has similar options, plus a setting to create a disc-image folder on your hard drive as well as to burn a disc. This is a great feature, since you can go back and reburn that particular disc image, without waiting for production and encoding, at any time. You can also use the disc image as a test file, burning it only when you are satisfied that your project is perfect; this approach saves you from inadvertently cranking out a stack of expensive drink coasters.

Another way to avoid wasting expensive media: It's a good idea to use only rewritable discs until you have developed a tried-and-true workflow from camera to player.

Playing It Back

Now that you've finished burning your Blu-ray movie to disc, you're probably ready to play it back. Whether you intend to view your discs on your computer, or on your HDTV with a Blu-ray player, you need the right gear.

For computer playback, any system capable of running one of the authoring packages discussed earlier will also be able to play Blu-ray video discs with software like CyberLink PowerDVD 8 Ultra (my favorite player). Note, however, that while you can use a DVD recorder to author Blu-ray video discs on DVD media, you can't play them back in an ordinary DVD drive. You need a Blu-ray drive in your PC for that, though it can be a BD-ROM drive, which is cheaper than a recorder.

Set-top playback of BD-R/RE and Blu-ray-on-DVD media is more hit-and-miss. The Blu-ray spec does not require players to support playback of recordable media, and support among manufacturers and models varies. For example, the specs of the Samsung BD-P1500 state that it can play AVCHD discs (high-def DVDs), but not BD-R/RE media. And the Samsung BD-P1400 is not even rated to play AVCHD. By contrast, the Panasonic DMP-PD30K specifies support for BDMV discs burned to BD-R/RE media, as well as AVCHD. That means you can play discs recorded on high-def DVD camcorders as well as those you author.

But just because a player's official specs don't mention BD-R/RE or AVCHD playback doesn't mean that it can't handle the task. Many vendors have issued firmware updates that address the issue. Before you throw up your hands, be sure you've applied any available firmware patches to your player, and research other owners' experiences on the Web. And if you haven't yet bought a Blu-ray player, you might want to test a few models in the store with the disc formats (BDMV, AVCHD) and media types (BD-R, BD-RE, DVD) you plan to use.

While Blu-ray authoring and playback are still a bit of a minefield, the right tools and hardware can greatly ease your way through, and save you huge amounts of aggravation and encoding time.

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