Creating DVDs in Linux 2. The Shootout

[Note: this is the second of two articles on DVD Authoring in Linux. The first one introduced the concepts that are going to be used in this shootout, so if there is anything here you do not understand, please read the other article here first.]

Now that we understand the setup and process, let’s look at the software available for DVD creation and compare our options. If you just want the process I am following after all the shooting out, look at the far end of this post.

Gathering

Getting all the videos together is the easiest part of DVD creation. You either created the videos yourself (in my case, with the ContourRoam sports camera), in which case they are readily available; or you selected videos from your friends on YouTube (at least that’s where my buddies share their creations), in which case you use a tool like VideoDownloadHelper or cclive.

Notice that, even if you can actually watch a video on YouTube, you may not be able to do much with it on Linux. That’s because some of the codecs (the software plugins that read and write different formats) may be available for the browser or the Flash plugin, but not for other software at large.

The two most useful packages for video transcoding on Linux are by far mplayer and ffmpeg. They come with their slightly different set of codecs, so if you are having problems with one, try the other.

Editing

Video editors on Linux still have lots of flaws, which makes the editing process slightly cumbersome and frustrating. The good news is that the situation is rapidly improving, and by the time you actually get to read this article, you may find everything in a much better state.

For simple cutting, I love avidemux. I find it very intuitive and stable. So far, it hasn’t crashed on me once, and it has read and processed all the videos I have thrown at it. Its user interface is a bit clumsy (for instance, once you select an area of the movie, to select a new start you have to select twice), but it’s a solid choice.

Another option might have been Kino, the KDE equivalent of avidemux (which is GTK-based). No matter what wonderful capabilities hide in Kino, though, it refuses to work with anything but DV files, which causes giant bloat. Fix that, and you might have a better option, since Kino looks a lot more polished than avidemux.

For more complex editing, I tend to use Kdenlive. Prior versions were extremely crash-prone, but the software is mostly stable, now. Kdenlive, like other non-linear-editors, allows you to join clips with transitions of your choosing; to add captions and titles; to add pictures and animations; to tune your clips, by adding effects like color correction and pixelation (of faces, for instance).

Similar software includes Cinelerra and LiVES. I have used both, and in my limited experience they are much more stable, but have severe drawbacks. Cinelerra, in particular, is one of those applications I love to hate, because they choose to do things differently for no good reason. You have to install it from a PPA (which is short for preposterous pain in the ass), it doesn’t know about H264, and the user interface looks like someone set back Blender by ten years.

LiVES, on the other hand, looks much better, but takes forever to import even short clips. I waited on this computer for 2 minutes for a 10 second AVI file to be read. Imagine if I wanted to edit one of those 15 minutes clips the ContourRoam spits out!

(As a matter of fairness, I will mention that Kdenlive seems to have problems with the AVI files from the ContourRoam, too – thinking that a ten second clip is 2 hours long. But that seems something easier to fix. Update: converting the AVI files to DVD format with ffmpeg does the trick)

Two newer contenders on the scene are PiTiVi (there you have that German convention again) and OpenShot. At first glance, they look a whole lot like Kdenlive, which is a good start. I still ended up preferring Kdenlive, simply because it has a ton more (and more useful) effects and is almost as easy to use. I guess the main difference I encountered in usability is that OpenShot (a really good contender!) has built-in title frames (drage the image to the timeline – done!).

Creating

Most DVD creation software subsumes the other steps mentioned in the first article, so we’ll skip right ahead to our selection of DVD authoring tools.

I got the candidate list from LinuxAppFinder. I chose this list because, frankly, it contained everything any of the other lists on the Internet contains. Unfortunately, this list is not culled, so I had to go ahead and remove dead branches. Here the complete list, and a comment where I removed the option from the running:

Linux DVD Authoring Software
Bombono DVD  
DeVeDe  
DVDStyler  
ManDVD Sounds great, but relies on QT3, which means it hasn’t been updated in a long while
QDVDAuthor Front-end for dvdauthor (command line only), this one requires qmake compilation. Don’t have the patience to install all dependencies (and not sure why there is no Ubuntu package).
Slideshow Creator Not interested in DVD slide shows for this article
dvdauthor  
DVD Slideshow See above
lxdvdrip This is a ripping tool. Not relevant to creation
tovid  
KMediaFactory Development of this tool seems to have stalled at the moment. The approach taken was that of creating templates for menus, which isn’t my favorite way of going about things, anyway…
Varsha From the homepage: Last update, 2005
VideoLink Last update 2009

Bombono DVD

Bombono is really easy to use and not intuitive at all at the same time. That’s because it makes the process of creating a DVD very simple: select the clips, add a menu, create the DVD. The interface, correspondingly, is tabbed and says: Source, Menu, Output. There you go, simple as that!

What’s a little frustrating is menu creation. For one, the obvious thing fails: you cannot simply drop the source videos or other menus into a menu page. You first have to create a text item, and then you can drag and drop videos or menus. Additionally, when I tried importing a background from Flickr, the software listed it as a supported service, but whatever Flickr image I selected, I always got an “unsupported format” error.

I say, skip Bombono until the user interface works better. It would be really easy to tweak: automatically create text items when a source file is dropped, and maybe even add a wizard that creates menus with specified numbers of items on each page. Add image import from the files, and maybe menu items with images instead of plain text… It could be awesome!

DeVeDe

Being used to German naming conventions, I knew that DeVeDe is simply the German pronunciation of DVD. Given that I have gotten used (as a German myself) to the quirks and weirdness of German software, I wasn’t really very keen on trying out this one.

I was wrong, and I hang my head in shame. Despite some minor quirks, DeVeDe does pretty much exactly what I want: it creates a DVD with a nice menu (but only one!), and it takes care automatically of positioning things for as simple a creation story as possible.

What doesn’t work is more complex settings, like multiple menus, or two-column menus, or menus with videos, or some such. But otherwise, for the creation of a simple home video DVD, it’s just perfect.

On the minor improvements part, I find it entirely stupid that you can select only one video to add at a time. It’s done so you can specify per-video settings, but it would be much smarter to pop up the video settings dialog once for a selection of clips and default all the videos to the same settings. As is, creation of a video with many clips is really tedious.

DVDStyler

As the name implies, DVDStyler is very concerned with style, that is, the look of your DVD menu. DVD creation is simple: you choose a style, then you choose source files, then you check that you have enough buttons for your videos. You have lots of backgrounds to choose from, and all sorts of fancy buttons. It’s all very easy to do, and very pretty to look at.

One fatal flaw: the project I created, which contained a paltry eight clips of the pathetic waves I ride (about 10-15 seconds each), was declared too large to fit on a DVD. I suspect something fishy is going on – something of the type that is happening in Kdenlive, too, where ten second clips are imported as 2 hour long. But as it stands, dvdstyler is perfectly useless for me.

If it did work, though, it would be a tough choice between this one and devede.

dvdauthor

dvdauthor is one of the two text mode tools (with tovid) in this selection. The author is very clear about the limitations on the web page: dvdauthor doesn’t do anything beyond creating the menu and generating the file system. Everything else is left to you: from converting the videos to the MPEG format suitable for DVDs, to the actual burning of the ISO master to the disc.

I absolutely love the idea of having the freedom to generate the DVD structure I want. On the other hand, I am way too lazy to do that if I have perfectly suitable tools that do that automatically for me. So I am doing without for the time being.

tovid

As mentioned above, tovid is mostly a text mode tool used to generate the menu and the file system for a DVD. Unlike dvdauthor, which is really spartan, tovid includes a lot of supporting tools. It does have a GUI frontend, called from the command line with tovid gui (how’s that for simplicity).

tovid also has pretty good documentation at wikia. It includes HOWTOs for doing DVDs from a set of different sources, and would be my go-to if I wanted to do something special and unique, or something quick and dirty.

Burning

I won’t consider anything but k3b for burning anything. It’s rock solid, recognizes everything I attach to the computer and any medium I put in, and it hasn’t failed to burn a single blank, yet.

Covering

You have several options here, but unfortunately nothing (at this time) that takes your DVD menu and makes it into a cover. I’ll work on that. Incidentally, you should know that of the packages above, only DVDStyler uses XML for file save format. Both Bombono and DeVeDe save into a proprietary format that looks a whole lot like Python pickles.

As far as just creating a cover for the disc itself, you may want to look at kover. It’s designed for audio CDs, but works in a pinch for DVDs, too. It’s spartan, though – apparently, you can’t even add a background image.

The other option is to take a word processor like openoffice write or a DTP application like Scribus, and create the DVD cover of your dreams. A template is useful, but not really necessary. It’s easy enough to measure out a spare DVD cover and enter those values into the page dimensions of a Scribus frame.

The Skinny: the Entire Process

So, this is what I currently do to create a DVD with various surfing clips.

  1. Copy all files to my computer
  2. Convert them all to DVD format, using ffmpeg with the -target ntsc-dvd option. I throw in a bunch of additional options I won’t bore you with, to ensure high video quality and remove the audio track
  3. Select the clips I like and save them separately with avidemux; also select and save a few frames as thumbnails and titles later
  4. Merge clips that belong together (typically: a single surf session) into separate, longer videos using Kdenlive; here I also add transitions and effects
  5. Depending on number of videos, create a DVD using either DeVeDe or DVDStyler
  6. Create a cover using Scribus

 

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