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DVD Media Production

DVD production has two basic phases: development and publishing. Development is different for DVD-ROM and DVD-Video, publishing is essentially the same for both. Cheap, low-volume productions can be duplicated on recordable discs, whereas high-volume, mass-market products such as movies must be replicated in specialized factories.

DVD-ROM content can be developed with traditional software development tools such as Macromedia Director, Visual BASIC, Quark mTropolis, and C++. Discs, including DVD-R check discs, can be created with UDF formatting software. DVD-ROMs that take advantage of DVD-Video's MPEG-2 video and multichannel Dolby Digital or MPEG-2 audio require video and audio encoding.

DVD-Video content development has three basic parts: encoding, authoring (design, layout, and testing), and premastering (formatting a disc image). The entire development process is sometimes referred to as authoring. Development facilities are provided by many service bureaus. If you intend to produce numerous DVD-Video titles (or you want to set up a service bureau), you may want to invest in encoding and authoring systems. Replication (including mastering) is the process of "pressing" discs in production lines that spit out a new disc every few seconds.

Replication is done by large plants that also replicate CDs. DVD replication equipment typically costs millions of dollars. A variety of machines are used to create a glass master, create metal stamping masters, stamp substrates in hydraulic molds, apply reflective layers, bond substrates together, print labels, and insert discs in packages. Most replication plants provide "one-off" or "check disc" services, where one to a hundred discs are made for testing before mass duplication. Unlike DVD-ROM mastering, DVD-Video mastering may include an additional step for CSS encryption, Macrovision, and regionalization. There is more information on mastering and replication at Technicolor and Disctronics.

For projects requiring less than 500 copies, it can be cheaper to use recordable discs. Automated machines can feed recordable blanks into a recorder, and even print labels on each disc. This is called duplication, as distinguished from replication.

How much does it cost to produce a DVD? Isn't it more expensive than videotape, laserdisc, and CD-ROM?

Videotape, laserdisc, and CD-ROM can't be compared to DVD in a straightforward manner. There are basically three stages of costs: production, pre-mastering (authoring, encoding, and formatting), and mastering/replication.

DVD video production costs are not much higher than for VHS and similar video formats unless the extra features of such as multiple sound tracks, camera angles, seamless branching, etc. are employed.

Authoring and pre-mastering costs are proportionately the most expensive part of DVD. Video and audio must be encoded, menus and control information have to be authored and encoded, it all has to be multiplexed into a single data stream, and finally encoded in low level format. Typical charges for compression are $50/min for video, $20/min for audio, $6/min for subtitles, plus formatting and testing at about $30/min. A ballpark cost for producing a Hollywood-quality two-hour DVD movie with motion menus, multiple audio tracks, subtitles, trailers, and a few info screens is about $20,000. Alternatively, many facilities charge for time, at rates of around $300/hour. A simple two-hour DVD-Video title with menus and various video clips can cost as low as $2,000. If you want to do it yourself, authoring and encoding systems can be purchased at prices from $50 to over $2 million.

Videotapes don't really have a mastering cost, and they run about $2.40 for replication. CDs cost about $1,000 to master and $0.50 to replicate. Laserdiscs cost about $3,000 to master and about $8 to replicate. As of 2003, DVDs cost about $1000 to master and about $0.70 to replicate. Double-sided or dual-layer discs cost about $0.30 more to replicate, since all that's required is stamping data on the second substrate (and using transparent glue for dual layers). Double-sided, dual-layer discs (DVD-18s) are more difficult and more expensive.

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