DVD Burners: Do You Really Want One Now?

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Over the past number of weeks, I’ve been futzing around with a DVD burner.

If you’re thinking about getting one, and you want a relatively brain-free experience “backing up” movies, don’t, yet.

Yes, the technology basically works, but if you want it all with minimal hassle and no compromises, it’s not here yet.

If your desire is “I just want to copy a DVD like I do a CD,” you simply can’t with what’s out there. Yet.

Dual-Layer DVDs Mean Inherent Difficulties

The core problem is that you can’t make an exact duplicate of a typical current movie DVD with current technology.

The reason why you can’t is that current movie DVDs consists of two layers of data, while current DVD writers only burn one layer of data.

What this effectively means is that to record a typical movie, you’ll have to follow one or more of these three approaches:

  • Try to cut out non-essentials to try to squeeze everything into a one disk (which depending on how well or badly you cut, leaves you a nominally to very broken DVD).
  • Use video compression to try to squeeze all the data into one disk.
  • Use multiple disks to record a movie.

    All these approaches can work well sometimes. None of them work well all the time.

    The reason for that is every DVD is different

    Some movies come in one DVD. Some come in two. The size of the movies I’ve examined can be as little as 3 or as much as 7.5Gb. Some movies give you both standard and widescreen formats, others don’t. Few movies will be found on just one DVD layer; parts of the movie are usually found on both DVD layers.

    There’s much more logic to the arrangement of a DVD than there is to a CD. You can’t just throw up the parts you like in any order you like you can with a CD.

    This means each DVD needs its own strategy. One size does not fit all.

    No strategy is terribly ideal. You’ll always have to make some kind of sizable compromise no matter what approach you take.

    It could be losing the extras, or finding that you compressed the video a bit too much and ending up with artifacts, having DVDs that freeze because someone clicked on a feature that is no longer there, or spending a lot of time using twice as many disks as is in the movie package, and needing to change DVDs in the middle of a movie.

    Sometimes the compromises will be no big deal. Sometimes they will.

    You’ll likely find yourself spending more than a bit of time figuring out what to do with a particular DVD. That takes time, and the more futzing you do with a disk, the longer it will usually take for the computer to get the job done. This is especially so because:

    The Software Isn’t Ready Yet

    There’s no one piece of software out there that will let you easily follow the three approaches. They tend to be focused on doing just one of the three tasks.

    No one has come up with a program that is reasonably user-friendly and reasonably flexible to multiple approaches. Right now, I’m forced to use four different programs to handle the three different tasks. This is ridiculous.

    The software is also buggy enough to lend one pause. Not fatally buggy, but when a program tells you it can’t find an English soundtrack for an Eddie Murphy, or will only burn 4X media at 2X when other programs burn the same disks at 4X; we’re not talking bulletproof.

    There are also smaller problems.

    Smaller Problems…


    Media Is Iffy

    Buying media can be an adventure. There’s a lot of garbage out there, and many brands will sell fairly high quality media one day, and sell low-quality stuff the next. There’s little to no consistency among brands; it’s definitely worse than the CD-R market.

    Burn Speed Isn’t Total Time

    Right now, unless you’re extremely adventurous and need extra coasters (these burners are rather sensitive to you doing other things while burning), burn time is only part of the experience. DVD burning is not reading and writing, or even reading, then writing. It’s reading and processing, then writing. Real-world time on a fairly current machine per disk is more like forty minutes per disk, and if you want multiple disks from a single CD, it’s longer than that.

    Don’t assume your software program will let you skip at least some of the steps when you make multiple copies, either. Some do, some don’t.

    Because there’s other time-consuming steps to copying a DVD, burn time is actually relatively minor. You might think an 8X single-layer burner would be faster than a 2.4X dual-layer burner (speed at which they’ll first come out), but in real-time start-to-finish, it will probably work out to about the same (you won’t have the time processing video compression or burning two DVDs), and you’ll have a “better” product with the 2.4.

    Word To The Wise: Get Dual-Layer After April

    If you want a DVD burning experience which is no more complicated than CD burning, you really, really ought to wait for dual-layer recorders to come out, which ought to be around next April or so.

    A lot of these difficulties and unpleasant compromises will go away once dual-layer recording is possible. I strongly suspect a lot of the problems people are now reporting will go away, too, when they stop attempting to author, and just start copying.

    Yes, they’ll probably be expensive to begin with, and media will cost more, but the hassle level will drop even more.

    The Ironic Legalities

    Yes, of course this is illegal, but one has to look with near stupefaction at how the adults are enabling all this thievery, doing some side ripoffs while they can.

    First, the burner manufacturers. They’re basically pushing burners that will be obsoleted within six months. Then they’ll sell you the real deal.

    One might think the economics of renting a DVD for $5 just to copy it doesn’t make much sense if one can just buy the DVD for $15-20, but do not fear! Video stores are or soon will be offering “all you can copy” monthly plans where anyone decently motivated will be able to rent Hollywood for less than $30 a month and copy dozens of DVDs a month.

    You then have the sanctimonious warnings, subtle or even not so subtle, from the software producers who make the whole copying process possible, saying, “You’re not going to copy movies, now, are you (wink, wink)?.

    Finally, we’ll have the movie makers, who will look at all this, know they can’t effectively do anything about it for the moment, who’ll be out to shift to HD-DVD as quickly as possible for new encryption standards as much as anything else (and certainly will be right there with the RIAA to demand DRM right away).

    As movie copying moves from geekdom to Joe Sixpack speed, the MPAA will join the RIAA as the most evil, greedy people of all time.

    And then the cycle resumes all over.

    Movie piracy will be rather different than music piracy. With one big exception, movie piracy is unlikely to become a heavily cyberspaced activity, simply because movies already have an efficient, low-cost real-world distribution network that is far more convenient and far less easily detectable than the Internet.

    The exception will be prereleased movies, and draconian legislation (at least in the US) is already being proposed to stop that.

    In the long run, though, movie piracy is likely to eventually hurt the movie makers just as much as the music makers. The proceeds from DVD/VCR sales are now much greater than those from theatrical release, and they’re no longer considered gravy but an essential part of the movie budgeting process.

    I would predict that about two-three years from today, movie DVD sales will start suffering the kind of hit music sales have gotten. Unlike the music industry, though, this kind of piracy will mostly be perfect copies of the original, which doesn’t leave Hollywood much to sell.

    The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name…


    Rethinking Intellectual Property

    The upcoming boom in movie copying will just add more fuel to the intellectual property fire.

    Up to now, no legislature has given serious thought to the issue of what should happen to intellectual property in a digital world. They’ve either ignored it, don’t understand it, or just apply the old rules to a much different situation.

    Right now, we have a mishmash of rules. You can copy some things this way, but not that way, with no intellectually coherent principles behind them.

    On the other hand, it is corrosive to a society’s values to have a world in which you can’t steal, and one where you effectively can, to say, “Thou shalt not steal except in cyberspace.”

    So what do you do about it?

    We need to take a new look at intellectual property laws. We need to ask, “What do we want to achieve with intellectual property laws today, and how can we ensure that these goals are achieved? What rights should creators have, and what rights should the society have?”

    What are we protecting, and who should we be protecting? How do we protect, and how do we ensure effective protection? What will be the price of protection? Just what are we protecting, anyway, and who do we want to protect? Are we really protecting intellectual property, or are we just shoring up the practices of monopolistic industries providing mass entertainment in a post mass-entertainment era? Can we protect one without effectively protecting the other?

    What should fair use be in a digital world? Can you practically define it more broadly than in the non-digital world, and if so, can those new limits be enforced (or find acceptable boundaries)? Or does the inherent nature of digital products mean that you have no choice but to make it more restrictive than in the non-digital world?

    What happens if we don’t protect? What will happen to content-creation industries if we don’t? Do we care? What happens to the values of a society if we say, “Stealing is bad, except if it’s digital?”

    There are two sides on this issue. What are the motives of those on one side or another? What are their agendas, and how compatible are those agendas with the core values of the society?

    These are just some questions, there are many more that could be asked. This is an issue that needs to be revisited in its entirety, not one that can just be patched here and there.

    No one has given this serious thought. No one. A handful of ideologues have screeched about it from one side of the pole or the other, but they just ignore anything inconvenient to their side, or talk about tangential issues like copyright periods which are 99% irrelevant to what’s actually happening on the cyberstreet.

    If you think you can answer this in twenty-five words or less, you can’t. Period. These are very, very hard questions, and there are no easy good answers. If you think there’s an easy answer, you just haven’t given it any serious unbiased thought.

    So far, no one is even trying to come up with realistic answers at all.

    I think it would be constructive and educational for legislatures to take a new look at copyright in its entirety. In the U.S., the last time it was really done was 1976.

    If nothing else, it will force a lot of people on either side to take a look at the other side, understand that the other side has some legitimate points, understand that their side has faults, and finally, realize that neither side deserves or ought to fully get their way.

    For some, it might also provide an opportunity to acquire some much needed maturity on the issue, to see how their arguments and approaches fare outside the ghetto.


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