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Edited by chromatic
February 2003

Digital Video has been hot on the Editors List lately. With the spread of Mac OS X and apps like iDVD making DV recording affordable and easy, it seems like just a matter of time before a real consumer revolution takes place. A recent thread on the list sparked a different discussion, though. Does the increase in storage space make it worth considering publishing DVDs with books, or even as a stand-alone product?

Simon St. Laurent:

My computing and woodworking interests usually cross over only at the bulletin boards, but this struck me as a sign that digital video may have some huge impacts in sectors we wouldn't necessarily have guessed:

"Woodworking at Home Magazine is published on DVD just like all of the new movies you find at your video rental store. The DVD is mailed to you just like ordinary print magazines, however, that's about where the similarities stop."

They transcribe all of the video segments into PDF, and plans as well. Pretty wild stuff, and I think it'll probably appeal to a lot of woodworkers. I'll be curious to see how this does, but I'm impressed by its very existence. There are a lot of fields where this would make a lot of sense.

Tim O'Reilly:

What this suggests to me is that we should think about what kinds of books would really benefit from the ability to ship significant supplemental material on DVD.

This might range from (in the case of say, David Pogue) just his entertaining talks, to a hardware hacking book with plans, component lists, etc.

Mike Loukides:

Well, since you've mentioned that, I have a couple of concerns. What would we have to charge for such a book? How does it increase the cost of producing a book? I assume the manufacturing cost is minimal, relative to burning a CD, but the cost of producing an instructional video telling people how to solder could be huge.

(BTW, maybe Jon put it in later, but that was something conspicuously absent from the outline on the hardware hacking book. You can't assume that people know how to solder, even if they have an Electrical Engineering degree.)

Component lists are not a big deal; there are all sorts of books with electronic projects out there, and they all contain component lists. But (sticking to the hardware hacking theme), you could include masks for PC boards (presumably GIF files).

BTW, as long as I'm rambling on hardware: I was looking at the embedded systems book the other day, and one of my first reactions was "if we're ever going to do more books like this, the art department is going to have to learn how to draw circuit diagrams." There were lots of things that weren't actually wrong, but just not drawn the way someone who reads these things all the time would expect to see them.

Dale Dougherty:

The Hardware hacks book does have an introduction to soldering.

Mike Loukides:

OK, that's good. I suggested pretty strongly that Jon add it to the outline, and never heard back.

Now, what you really need is an introduction to soldering surface mount. I've seen projects requiring that. . . .

Brian Jepson:

If we do this, consider making DVDs that will play in a DVD player. Both the Microsoft TechEd and Apple WWDC DVDs will only play in a computer. I had hoped to sit down in the living room with my laptop, pop the DVD in the DVD player, and watch the material on the TV while I did other stuff on my computer. (Kind of like being at the conference :-)

Bruce Epstein:

If anyone wants to include content on CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs, you should have them contact me. I know a fair bit about this stuff and even wrote some books on it for a well-known technical publisher. ;)

Most people confuse DVD-ROM with the movie DVDs like the "Lord of the Rings" boxed set.

DVD-ROMs are nothing more than big CD-ROMs (capacity-wise). You can put anything on them, including digital video, digital audio, etc., but they are essentially just a big storage medium and you need a computer to read them.

The DVD "video" that most home users think of as "DVD" is a fairly complex format. It supports encryption, multiple languages, etc. It has some limited interactivity, like choosing the language, but it isn't designed for interactivity like a computer DVD-ROM. Last time I checked (at least four years ago), it was a pretty limited format. Pretty much all you could do was play videos (no true interactivity). It might be more flexible now, as I think video DVDs support a scripting language of sorts. But the woodworkingathome.com DVD seems to just let you choose the video segment to play from a simple menu.

The authoring tools for the DVD video format used to be pretty expensive ($5K and up) but I think they have come way down. I think Sonic Solutions is the dominant provider in this area.

It sounds like www.woodworkingathome.com is providing a hybrid disc that is both a video DVD, such as you'd play in a TV player, and also has extra DVD-ROM material (PDFs, CAD drawings, etc.) that is accessible only from a computer. That sort of hybrid is standard fare for CD-ROMs: a CD with both Redbook audio (music that plays in a CD player) plus computer data tracks with, say, the band's latest music video.

You would burn a Redbook audio CD that would play in a car stereo. Then you would add another session that is designed only to be read in a computer. In the old days, car stereos would either ignore the computer data or blow out your speakers with static depending on how the CD was authored and whether the CD player was smart enough to ignore the data track. It took a few years for all the manufacturers of computer CD players and stereo CD players to settle on a format that worked consistently in all devices without ruining anyone's speakers or ears.

Also in those days, the computer CD drives wouldn't recognize the Redbook audio, so you'd generally have to duplicate some of the music in a different format, such as .WAV or .AIF on the data track. Now computers recognize Redbook audio, but you can't play the audio session at the same time that you are playing the data tracks. Therefore, it is still common to put extra audio in a computer format (not Redbook format) on a hybrid CD so that you can play the music while, say, watching a slide show. (This sort of "hybrid" CD-ROM shouldn't be confused with a Mac/Win hybrid.) There are other solutions, the most popular being to copy either the music or computer data to the user's hard drive and then play the remainder off the CD-ROM.

I'd be curious if you can access the woodworkingathome.com DVD's video on your computer or only on your home TV player. I'd also be curious if the hybrid DVD-ROM data on the same disc works in all computers or confuses any home TV players so as to prevent them from playing the video.

Does anyone have any hybrid DVDs designed for a home TV player that also play extra content in their computer DVD as a DVD-ROM? Does the video work on the computer too?

Brian Jepson:

If you buy a Mac with a SuperDrive, you get iDVD for free. The new iLife is $49, includes iDVD, and will work with third-party DVD burners.

I'm not sure if it can burn the hybrid DVDs that you describe, but I know you can make a DVD movie that will play in a home DVD player with these tools.

David Futato:

I have a couple of [hybrid DVDs] for music videos, and they seem to work just as intended on both the PC and the TV: I can access the interactive content on my PC, and the DVD video from either. (Underworld's "Everything Everything" being the primary example.)

Tim O'Reilly:

Apple has iDVD for some tiny amount. ($49?)

Bruce Epstein:

Yes, as I said, prices have come way down so that DVD burning is almost a commodity. At one point Adaptec actually included DVD-burning software for free with Toast, but they didn't publicize it. This was at a time when other solutions were still thousands of dollars. I asked the engineer who wrote it and he said, "It was just something I hacked together. Management didn't know what they had."

As Mike said, regardless of the cost of burning a DVD, the cost of producing content can be quite high. It wouldn't cost much to produce an instructional video on soldering, digitize it, compress it, etc. But in general, content is a lot more expensive to produce than people realize.

Video is actually fairly cheap to produce if you plan ahead for digitization (proper lighting, not too much movement, etc.). If you have a script and a competent instructor, it would be a minimal shoot (less than half a day).

Once you start throwing in other original content (schematics, animations, audio, etc.), plus nice features like making the content truly interactive, searchable, etc., it can add up. A full-fledged instructional program on CD-ROM can easily run $100K or more. Granted, you can often do it for considerably less. As always, "it depends."

Brian Jepson:

Very true, but what if we took readily available content, like video footage of talks from our conferences, did some rudimentary editing in iMovie, and pressed them on CDs? It would be good to start amassing such footage as we go, and then we'll have an archive that we can dip into (for example, pack a bunch of Perl talks into a DVD to go with a Perl book). It would be nice to do a split-screen with the slides showing. (OK, so now I've stepped beyond rudimentary editing :-)

But this is basically what you get when you get the DVDs from something like TechEd or WWDC.

I think we should be obsessive about amassing this content as it's created. Set up two unmanned video cameras in each talk, point them at the stage, set them to recording, then label and date the media. At least the material will be there in case we want to do something with it.

Bruce Epstein:

If recording a talk, you'd want the audio track recorded separately via the speaker's microphone, if possible. The quality achieved when picking it up with a video camera's microphone from the back of a room isn't usually too good. Once you digitize it, it will be even worse.

Likewise, just pointing the video at the stage won't be very satisfactory, especially if the speaker moves around a lot. Digitization is much more efficient if the speaker is relatively stationary. Lighting can also have a big effect. If the speaker is in a bright spotlight and you're filming from a dark auditorium, it won't digitize very well.

Whereas I'm all for collecting content, it is not without its costs. In NYC in 2001, Macromedia didn't videotape their conference because they would have had to use union labor and it would have been prohibitively expensive. If you are going to go to the expense to videotape an entire conference, you want to be sure that the material will be usable in a digital format. The best way to ensure this is to perform a small test ahead of time in each location. If you have a lot of different conference rooms, it becomes harder than it sounds. (Not to mention, you'd need quite a few video cameras and probably operators too.)

Unless you can sell the conference tapes to attendees who couldn't attend all the sessions, or to people who couldn't attend the conference, the cost would be hard to justify for some imagined future release on DVD.

Brian Jepson:

Good points. If we did put stuff on a DVD, we'd want it to look as professional as possible.

Nat Torkington:

I've been working with archive.org to get space for the various OSCON and OSXCON movies of sessions that I've taken. They're not edited, and aren't particularly professional (amount Nat was paid to be cameraman: $0) :-) but they are valuable records of important talks.

Brian Jepson:

That's true. My father chronicles every play at his theater using the point-a-camera-at-the-stage approach, and it works as a valuable record. Even if you wouldn't sell what you record, it's good to have a record of things that you can consult, especially if it doesn't cost much to obtain it.

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