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Comparison of DVD Authoring/Graphics Tools

Players, Converters, and Utilities

- - - as a result of 3 months of intensive Testing - - -

Womble MPEG Video Wizard,  CucuSoft, Ultra Video Splitter, IMtoo MPEG Converter, WinAVI Video Converter.  Each has their own problems, except TMPGenc Express, which seems to be trouble-free.  The following is the results of about 3 months of testing . . . for in-depth statistics I used GSPOT to get data rates, video and audio parameters such as aspect ration, CBR vs VBR, sampling rate, etc. I used the "MPEG-2 Validator" to give a count of I, B, and P frames in any MPEG-2.


Sample Conversions - play them and see for Yourself !!

Play these test files yourself - there is a huge world of difference going from DVD-compliant MPEG-2 files at 352x240  vs  352x480 when using Womble (which sucks for MPEG-1 conversions)  -  but TMPGenc Express created 352x240 SIF files that look just as good as the 352x480 1/2 D1 files !!  That was quite a surprise.  Still, if you go with 1/2 D1 MPEG-2 instead, you will still be able to squeeze a LOT of video onto one disc, because even though there are twice as many lines, for some reason the file sizes are only about 15% larger than the SIF files - another surprise :

Womble Converted Files

Play Womble sample conversion - MPEG-2, 352x240 clip 
NOTE:  the edge jaggies are from the "Womble MPEG Converter" - which is why I no longer use it

Play Womble sample conversion - MPEG-2, 352x480 clip
using this size got rid of the jagged edges - but they should not be there in the MPEG-1, and
it is unacceptable to have to go to this size just to have something watch-able

 

TMPGenc Express 3.0 Converted File

Play TMPGenc Express 3.0 sample conversion - MPEG-1, 352x240 clip
NOTE: no jagged edges - excellent quality. 
Play full-screen for an idea of what it will look like if use for a DVD.
My favorite out of all the converters I have tried !!

For Desktop (non-DVD) High Quality full D1 Video

Maximum Compression of a full D1 (720x480, 29.97 fps) file - that still was High Quality, was obtained via the rm (real media) format:

Format Conversion File Size Results
Original File - MPEG-2 Original File 14 MB High Quality
DivX AVI (MPEG-4, default settings, 3000 kbps) converted from MPEG-2
using TMPGenc Express
6 MB High Quality
DivX AVI (MPEG-4, default settings, 1200 kbps) converted from MPEG-2
using IMtoo
3 MB Good Quality
*** Real Media (768k DSL or Cable setting) converted from DivX
using Real Producer 10
1.6 MB High Quality
Real Media (768k DSL or Cable setting) converted from DivX
using Real Producer 10
0.8 MB Medium Quality
Real Media (150k LAN setting) converted from DivX
using Real Producer 10
0.4 MB Poor Quality

 

VOB and MPEG-2 Players

When testing, and even when creating DVD's you often need to play a VOB file separately, or play an MPEG-2 file.  Sounds simple - but it is not.   VOB files contain video that is streaming at very high data rates . . . about 6000 to 9000 kbps. A lot of players, even if they accept VOB format, can't keep up.

*** Number 1 --->  MPC - Microsoft's Media Player Classic v6.4.9.0 - works well, and you should definitely get this freebie.  It is the old "Active Movie" player.  Someone dug it of the archives because people like us needed to be able to play many different video formats, and WMplayer just was not engineered correctly and has never been able to decode the more complex formats such as MPEG-2 and MP4.  Mplayer Classic does a good job of playing most VOB, MPEG-2, and even MP4 files (get the 3ivx codec to play these).  In addition, if it can't keep up with the VOB data rate, there is a "Decrease Speed" button on the console.

WMP - Microsoft's WMplayer - whether you have v9, 10, or 11 - you will not be able to play MPEG-2 files properly with WMplayer.  Forget about it.

VLC Media Player - this has been dubbed the "it will play anything you throw at it" player.  For files it does not have a codec for - it uses "Fake codec" as a workaround. 

VOB to MPEG-2 Converters

The Mixed Menu VOB File ( VTS_01_0.VOB )  is the biggest challenge for conversion.  It is often called a "mixed VOB" and it is normally the first VTS_01_0.VOB file.  The problem with conversion is that it can contain still menus, motion menus, menu transition clips, etc.  Only Womble, which is not even a "player" per se  .  .  .  successfully converted those files.   In fact, only Womble played them properly.  I was able to play them with MPC, but had to slow down the speed quite a bit.

Nothing worked on Menu Vob's except Womble !!  Video Redo, TMPEexpress, and TMPGenc Plus all failed.  With Video Redo Plus I was able to convert the menu VOB to MPEG-2 but it converted only the first 5 seconds of the 15-sec VOB, and the rest was lopped off for some reason.  I opened that MPEG-2 in TMPGenc Express and it could only see the first frame !!  It played through the clip and audio was fine, but only the first frame showed.  Then I tried opening the converted MPEG-2 with TMPGenc Plus - and it also showed only one frame - but that frame was the "last frame" of the MPEG-2.

*** Number 1 for Menu VOB's --->  Womble MPEG Video Wizard - this was the only converter that converter the Menu VOB file perfectly.  The only diff was that the converted file's duration (13:26) was a couple of seconds less than the original VOB (15:08).  This is due to the first 4 "still menu" frames.  In the VOB, as I single-stepped through the I-frames starting at the beginning:

  1. the 4 menus were shown as still images - the timing for those first 4 stills was spaced apart by 1/2 sec (00:00, 00:15, 1:00, 1:15) - not sure why
  2. then the first video clip played starting at 2:00 - which is the first menu-to-menu transition video - the I-frame steps at that point were sequentially timed at 30 fps (2:00, 2:01, 2:02, etc)
  3. after that, the other menus transitions played, one after the other until done
When I used Womble to convert this VOB to MPEG-2, the converted file had the first 4 menu stills as successive I-frames timed at 0:00, 0:01, 0:02, 0:03, and then the first video began running at 0:04 and ran normally at 30 fps.  This is why the final converted file is 2 seconds shorter than the VOB !!

*** I am not sure why the menu stills are placed 1/2 sec apart in the VOB.  Perhaps that is a DVD structure standard so that the player can identify them as Menus, and NOT videos.

*** Number 1 for Movie VOB's --->   Video ReDo Plus - converts the VOB files from a DVD to MPEG-2 without having to re-encode.  So it does it extremely fast.  Actually, it is the fastest VOB-to-MPEG2 converter out there. The reason is simple . . . it DOES NOT RE-ENCODE !!! VOB is not MPEG2, and you cannot merely change the extension to convert. Video Redo strips off the VOB header from each frame, leacing the MPEG headers intact. Typical converters pull the raw video data from the VOB, and then re-encode that data into MPEG-2 frames, which takes about 45 to 60 minutes to convert a single, 1 GB VOB to an MPEG-2 file. Video Redo takes about 3 minutes. In addition, Video Redo can scan the video and mark the beginning and end of commercials - allowing you to the cut those out.

Conclusion - you just can't convert a "menu VOB" to MPEG-2 100% correctly.  There is no 1-to-1 relationship because of the way Menu stills are placed every 1/2 sec in the VOB, and that spacing is lost when converted to MPEG-2.  And you certainly can't edit a converted menu VOB in  MPEG-2 format, convert back to VOB, and expect it to work.

Addendum - VideoRedo Problem

VideoRedo will convert 352x240 MPEG's to VOB but it makes completely unusable VOB files.  None of my many VOB-to-DVD authoring programs will work with these VOB files.  So I opened them in VOBedit and got the following results (see image below and attached - it is just the first few lines shown).  As you can see the files are all messed up !!

 

Video Conversion Utilities that do not Re-Encode

*** Number 1 --->  Video ReDo Plus - converts the VOB files from a DVD to MPEG-2 without having to re-encode.  So it does it extremely fast.  Nothing is as fast as Video Redo . . . nothing. We're talking a few minutes for a 1 GB VOB file to MPEG2 conversion. It is a bit expensive for a 1-trick pony ($50), but it is a must for any DVD video buff.

Problem - it does not work properly on VOB files with menu transitions - in a test sample I used several Root menu to sub-menu transitions in both directions.  DVD-Lab placed the still menu images and the video transition clips all into the same VOB (VTS_01_0.VOB). 

***  BUT it works fine for all other VOB's (the video VOB's) - and those are the VOB's you will be using it for anyway - not the Menu VOB !!!

Boilsoft Splitter & Boilsoft Joiner - this combo allows you to rework the MPEG clips for a DVD movie where you just want to cut out and keep portions - FAST.  You can actually join "n" clips in DOS using "copy /b file1.mpg+file2.mpg+  .  .  .  .+filen.mpg  fileout.mpg" - but you cannot split them.  The Boilsoft joiner makes it much easier and faster than using DOS.

MPEG-2 vs VOB

Some people think that a VOB is an MPEG-2 and all you have to do is change the extension.  WRONG !! This is a myth.  They're very similar, but a VOB has extra data and different headers.  The truth is that a VOB is an MPEG-2 wrapped in VOB headers, which is why it is possible to convert a VOB to an MPEG-2 quickly, if you use a converter that DOES NOT RE-ENCODE.  VOB stands for "Video Object" as defined in DVD specifications. Although a vob file is also an MPEG file, it has additional data that a standard MPEG decoder will not understand, e.g., the private data, which only a DVD decoder will understand. Those data include information about the file offsets and time duration of all chapters included in the VOB file.

Video Conversion Utilities that Re-Encode (i.e. "transcode")

*** Number 1 --->   TMPGenc Express 3.0 (they now have 4.0 released) - this is the hands-down winner and the undisputed king  of video converters.  The other ALL have multitudes of problems, and there are so many problems that it is truly unbelievable.  But not Express 3.0 - it is almost perfect, and as far as the converted files - when it says "standard" it means it !!  You can count on these conversions - you can rely on them.  They work and they look great.  And most importantly - the DVD Authoring Utilities will accept these files !!!

Nero Recode 2 - trumpeted as the "holy grail" of compression, it is not what it seems and I have not figured out a use for it yet. It is two utilities - an MP4 (proprietary codec) converter, and a recoder. Like DVD Shrink, you can use this to throw out certain parts of a DVD and recook it. But you can't use its MP4 compression for DVD's - at least not that can play on anyone player. This utility makes MP4 files in a proprietary format, that can only be played on WinXP with the Nero codec - or with the 3ivx codec installed and using WMplayer v6.4. To me, the compression is not better than DivX or Xvid - sure you can compress way, way down - but the video becomes blurry and unusable if you do that. The fact that Nero Recode MP4 files require users to have installed a special codec, makes it pretty useless for the masses. Great potential though, if Microsoft releases an upgrade that has the codec, so everyone can play the files.

Womble MPEG Video Wizard - the fastest, smoothest MPEG2 NLE (timeline) editor. You can scrub through an MPEG-2 clip smoothly on the timeline - amazing because no other editor I know of can do that. This is GREAT - GREAT !!! It lets you set up In and Out points, split, join, etc - then create a batch process to output all the clips to MPEG1 or MPEG2. I loved this program, until I saw the resulting video clips !!  Creates 352x240 MPEG-1 files with horrible "jaggies" on the edges.  Even higher resolution MPEG's have slight jagggies.  This was such a wonderful app too !!  It is the only MPEG-2 editor that allows you to smoothly scrub through and preview a huge VOB file.  Oh well, too bad.

WinAVI Video Converter - the fastest VOB <--> MPEG2 converter that re-encodes (Video ReDo does not re-encode). Su, unlike Video ReDo you can change display size, framerate, etc. Also works with RM and WMV and AVI. This is the fastest converter I have tried and I have a ton of them. However it has incredible errors in the program itself:

I emailed their "support" 3 times and they replay with "non-answers" such as "the clipping function does not work with clipping because that would slow the program down" - STUPID answer !! BUT for doing what it does - convert fast - it works very well.

IMtoo MPEG Converter - this "was" my favorite - but not any more !! It still is the simplest, smallest, and most powerful interface. and it does convert virtually any format to any format, including iPOD mp4 (both 30GB and 60 GB iPod - and it has a profile for each.   Also, it can can quickly and easily create custom conversion profiles, and can stack up videos in a list and even apply different conversions to each file, and then let it run as you go watch TV.

CuCusoft converter - works with mutiple formats but I had flashing white artifacts in my MPEG-2 converted files that had light, flowing grey backgrounds (cannot handle slightly varying shades apparently).

Total Video Converter - has many many formats, but I do not like the interface. You have to go to a separate window to select the format and then come back to the main window.

Ultra Video Splitter - converts and splits VOB files to MPEG1/2, AVI, WMV. It has major drawbacks !!! Here they are:

File Type    Bitrate    MPG Size    Burned VOB Size
MPEG1      352x240      1522 kB          1401 kB
MPEG1      352x480      1510 kB          1387 kB
MPEG2      352x240      1381 kB          1502 kB
MPEG2      352x480      1397 kB          1518 kB
MPEG2      720x480      1503 kB          1635 kB

I used Gspot to verify the resolution of the files and they were all correct. BUT The resolution of 352x48- is twice that of 352x240 yet the file sizes and bit-rates are basically identical. And even the full 720x480 file is not much larger than the 352x240 !!!

These are the smallest size 720x480 MPEG-2 files I have ever seen - if only they were "real".   But as stated this is done by faking it.  The 720x480 is actually large blocks (4x4, 8x8 or maybe 16x16 - not sure) of identical pixels.  DO NOT USE THIS UTILITY !!!

Real Producer Plus 10  -  although Real Media files cannot be used for DVD's - I am including this converter here, just as I included Nero Recode - because it can create extremely small file sizes with excellent quality.  In fact . . . nothing comes close to rm files as far as high compression with high quality !!!  It is amazing to me that the web authors have chosen WMV and FLV instead of RM.  RM is pretty much gone these days . . . with just a smattering of sites that still use it.  However, it is out there and it is ingrained into today's graphics world solidly enough so that almost all users have Real Player installed on their system.  So you can host these files and not have to worry about users being able to play them.

NOTE:  the rm converter darkens the video a tad, so if you can, start out with a bright AVI or MPEG-1 file

I was able to convert DivX files that were converted using the default settings (about 3000 kbps) at a full 720x480 D1 size to about 1/4th the size . . . . and the results were excellent.  I used the Real Producer setting of 768 k DSL or Cable setting.  If that is the only stream you want to create - make sure to delete all other "Audiences", since by default, Real Producer creates multiple streams for multiple audiences, and the user's setting tells the server which stream to send him.  Of course, that is the beauty of rm files (and wmv files too, although most WMV converters do not allow multiple streams - you need the Microsoft encoder for that).

MPEG-2 conversions failed with an error message that simply said "Encoding failed to start".  No other info !!  So apparently Real Producer works with AVI but nor MPEG-2.

DVD Authoring Utilities

*** Number 1 --->     MediaChance DLD Lab Pro - I finally figured out how to use DVD-Lab Pro, and it was well worth the time to figure it out. It has so much more power than DVD Author that there really is no comparison. I now realize, is that I was wrong about the elemental streams taking forever. I had been using TMPGenc Plus to demux, and it does take a long time - but somehow DVD-Lab does it in a fraction of the time. It demuxes a 5-minute video clip in about 30 seconds. It does require twice as much drive space because it keeps the original mpg file and create one mpv and one mpa file. But with today's monster drives, even that is not a problem. Plus when finished - after testing the DVD you can delete the files.

The DVD-Lab "connections" page is extremely helpful to understand and see what is going on. It shows the complete DVD layout, along with lines and arrows that show how everything is connected. And you can change the structure byt simply drawing in your own lines. Awesome. I can link to any menu from any menu and then back again. I can play single clips and return to the menu even in "sub menus" (which DVD Author cannot do). And you can also create "Playlists", which allows the user to play any single clip and return, or click "Play All". 

Click Here to see an actual DVD Connections page
 of a very complex DVD, with 1 main menu, 3 sub-menus, and 54 video clips

I am sure there are many other high-end DVD Authoring programs that can also do these things, but DVD-Lab is very cheap, considering all that it can do.

SONIC Reel DVD - very difficult to learn and use.  Like DVD Lab Pro, it also only works with elemental streams. At least it does automatically convert program streams. BUT it took every single "DVD Compliant" MPEG-2 that I threw at it and complained about problems (except for Womble exported MPEG-2 files). The most common error was "GOP length" errors but there were a few others. Even TMPGenc converted "DVD-cinmpliant" MPEG-2 files resulted in import errors. Very confusing program too.

TMPGenc DVD Author v1.6- stay away from v2.0 (v2.1 is OK though).  The most user-friendly DVD Authoring package of all. But it has major menu limitations. Only the Main menu can contain "tracks". All sub-menus can ONLY contain "Chapters". In otherwords, each sub-menu is a single Track, and that single Track contains multiple "Chapters". You cannot create a sub-menu that has buttons that link to other sub-menus. You cannot play a "Chapter" on a sub-menu and have it return to the sub-menu when completed - it will always play ALL subsequent chapters. For example, if you click on Chapter 3 and there are 11 Chapters in that sub-menu, then it will play Chapters 3 through 11 before returning.  You cannot create a custom menu EXCEPT for those based on the Templates. When you click "Edit Menu Theme" you are shown a series of "Templates" to choose from, and you cannot add objects to them.

ULEAD DVD Workshop 2.0 - the best "all around" DVD Authoring program - great interface, very user friendly, and somewhat powerful (though not nearly as powerful as DVD-Lab because it has no "Connections map").  You can have any menu link to any other menu. Great player within lets you view every clip. But for my own case - both v1.3 and 2.0 have no sound with certain PC's, including my Dell Dimensions. I spent 2 years emailing ULEAD about this and working with them to get it fixed. Never happened - so on both of my Dell machines, it has no sound in the final DVD output (works fine in the DVDWS player). It does have sound on my other machines but they are slow. It could be the Powerleap upgrade CPU and not the Dell, because both my Dell's have a Powerleap processor installed. But I doubt it.