The Nonlinear Editor: Exposed Roots
Posted Jun 1, 2005

Years ago I dated a girl who had such light blond hair that people were always asking her if she dyed it (or so she said). She didn't, but she seemed almost obsessed with people who did—so much so that she could never resist pointing to women on the street, in movies, or on television and saying, "Her roots are showing."

I think it's safe to say that EventDV's roots are showing in this issue as much as they have to date, and probably more than they will again for quite some time. Years ago, we produced a monthly called EMedia Professional, a trade journal that bore little resemblance to EventDV. Its primary concerns were optical media standards, storage, duplication, and replication. While it was a short journey from the digital video postproduction territory of EMedia: The Digital Studio Magazine to the more inviting, user- and business-oriented terrain of EventDV, EMedia Pro's optical media pre-occupations seem half a world away these days. But that doesn't mean those concerns are irrelevant to what we're doing now.

As such, it shouldn't be terribly surprising that we've come out with an issue that includes a full-length feature on the pros and cons of outsourcing DVD duplication vs. buying the equipment and doing that work in your studio, and another piece written by stage-event videographer Ed Wardyga that debunks prevalent myths about recordable DVD media.

One thing we learned in a recent survey of our EventDV Spotlight enewsletter audience is that 85% of our readers deliver final product to their clients either exclusively on DVD or "mostly" on DVD. Other choices included "Half DVD, Half VHS," "Mostly VHS," and "All VHS"; significantly, "Mostly VHS" garnered only 2% of the vote and "All VHS" registered no votes whatsoever.

We're living and working in a DVD world. With all the talk of DVD's likely successors—Blu-ray and HD-DVD or some hybrid of the two—circulating at shows like NAB, we tend to think of DVD as a "mature" technology. If it's far enough along that we're already discussing the formats that will replace it, it must be "mature," right? It's certainly mature in that some aspects of DVD technology development aren't likely to go any further—recording speed, for one. That doesn't mean you need to gearing up for Blu-ray now; it's not going to affect your work for quite some time, and in all likelihood whatever your research turns up today will have changed by the time it becomes something your clients want.

Which brings us back to DVD. Like it or not, DVD is still evolving in several respects. One is the slow and unsteady emergence of two-layer recordable discs, which present nice possibilities for videographers to pack more content onto disc—say, a full-length 80-minute wedding production and a 25-minute highlight reel on the same disc—without having to lower the bitrate. The problem is that, three drive and media generations into its lifetime, "double-layer" DVD+R still doesn't offer the disc/player compatibility credentials that you can really trust with commercial product, and "dual-layer" DVD-R (yes, we have yet another name for a virtually identical product) is just now trickling into the channel. Dual/double-layer-capable drives are worth buying, if you're in the market for a DVD burner; just don't plan on using the dual/double discs for delivering product anytime soon.

Like any technology, DVD has peculiarities that can cost you dearly if you're not aware of them. In one sense, DVD's flaws are even more critical than the shortcomings of, say, your camera, lighting equipment, or microphone setup. Whatever damage those other problems inflict, you still have some hope of compensating for them in post; DVD is post-post, and if the disc you send your client fails to play back when they pop it into their player for a reason as frustratingly inane as media-player compatibility, your reputation can take a serious hit. If it's just a disc/player mismatch and you know the technology well enough to diagnose it as such, it's easy enough to replace the disc with another brand; you just don't want to get blindsided by the problem.

When I first started at EMedia Professional, I asked the editor to describe our readers. His response: "The kind of people you don't want to talk to at parties." In part, that was because all this optical media nitty-gritty is likely the kind of thing they'd most want to talk about. I, myself enjoyed talking about that stuff, but I'd be the first one to cut off the conversation if the issues went away. But they haven't.

While the statistics are much better than they used to be—at least for single-layer media—we've reached this weird moment in DVD's lifespan (synonymous with "maturity" for many folks in the industry) when there's no ROI for "respectable" manufacturers like Sony or Philips or Panasonic in producing DVD players anymore. Which means so-called "off-brand" manufacturers will occupy more and more retail shelf space. Their players will neither meet the engineering standards nor will they have undergone the rigorous media compatibility testing of their big-brand counterparts, and they'll prove increasingly susceptible to playback problems. They'll also be more likely to choke and sputter on video encoded too high. Which is all the more reason to be vigilant about some of DVD's harsher realities—your customers surely won't.

Enough said.