The release of TiVoToGo has raised my interest a bit in the processes of video encoding and DVD authoring, and wow is it all complicated! In my searching and learning, these are the apps that have popped to the top of my hit list, as well as the apps that have annoyed me a bit; I figured that this might be helpful to at least one other person out there.
ffmpegX: This is an awesome OS X app that serves as an easier-to-use interface to a bunch of command-line video and audio manipulation utilities. For me, it fills in the step of “transcoding” (converting) video files between various formats, which is necessary if I want to write pretty much anything to a DVD that can be used on set-top players. The only downside I’ve found is what I’d call merely decent documentation — it’s definitely not good enough for people like me who don’t have a ton of knowledge or experience with bitrates, codecs, framerates, and the like, but good enough to be used in concert with Ye Olde Google.
Auto Gordian Knot: This is a
similarly awesome great but spyware-laden app for Windows, similarly interfacing with a bunch of command-line utilities to do its thing. It reads from a few video formats (including physical DVDs), and writes into DivX and XviD, making it ideal for taking full-size MPEG files or DVDs and crunching them down to more manageable files for taking on the road. (This is the role AGK is serving in my little production line.) Given that, on various forums, the author is relatively unrepentant about including spyware in the app and doing little to notify users that it’s there, I’d be hardpressed to recommend AGK to anyone; I’m now using ffmpegX on my Mac for this.
Sizzle: This OS X app comes highly-recommended on most Mac video-related sites, and while I like the fact that it makes writing set-top-playable DVDs pretty easy, I’m less than wild about the menu format that it imposes on the resultant DVDs (what can I say, I’m a stickler for usability!). Notable is the fact that Sizzle doesn’t do any transcoding, so after I use ffmpegX to do the conversion, Sizzle steps in to write the DVD.
XRay, HandBrake and forty-two: These are three OS X apps for
ripping backing up DVDs; they take a DVD and create video files viewable by apps like QuickTime, Windows Media Player, mplayer, or your viewer of choice. I have played with them a little bit, and they seem to do what they claim to, and do it well. (XRay will also handle a few other formats, like QuickTime and XviD, but it’s also the one of the three that isn’t freeware.)
GraphEdit: This is a Windows app, part of the DirectX SDK (or downloadable alone here), that shows you the chain of codecs that are used on your machine to decode and display a video (and audio) file. A lesser-known feature of GraphEdit is the ability to create custom chains of filters that do more than just displaying the file (for example, transcode it, split the audio and video into separate streams, or any of a thousand other things). This is a must-have on Windows, if for no other reason that debugging codec problems.
DivxToDVD and The Filmmachine: These are two Windows apps that convert AVI files (DivX, mainly) to DVD-format files, suitable for writing back to a DVD. I use the former, DivxToDVD, when I want to write AVI files back to DVD so that we can take them to friends’ homes and watch them with their DVD players.
VideoHelp.com: OK, it’s not an app, but the website is way more helpful than any app could be. Between explanations of the various terms and formats, tutorials for common tasks (much more Windows-centric than Mac, but that’s understandable), details about formats supported by various pieces of equipment, and well-visited forums (including a Mac-specific one), you can find information about whatever it is that ails you over at VideoHelp.
I’ve left comments open on this post, so if there’s anything that anyone else has discovered that’s useful to someone like me (in the beginning stages of learning), feel free to share!