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Authoring 5.1 Surround DVDs

DVD Authoring from The Creative COW Magazine


Creative COW Magazine presents - Authoring 5.1 Surround DVDs



David Roth WeissDavid Roth Weiss
Los Angeles California, USA

©2008 David Roth Weiss and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:

You may not sell a million copies of your DVD... but at least it will sound like a million bucks. In this DVD authoring tutorial, David Roth Weiss explains how to author 5.1 surround DVDs with Compressor and Soundtrack Pro 2.




You've spent vast amounts of time and money meticulously editing, mixing and color grading your labor of love in Final Cut Pro.

Delivering and marketing a high quality professional DVD with professionally mixed Dolby 5.1 surround sound isn't simply very cool, it's imperative: any distributors worth their salt will demand that producers deliver a market-ready DVD with 5.1 surround sound.

This brief tutorial will show you how to author your DVD in Dolby 5.1 surround with the tools in Final Cut Studio, using files exported from Pro Tools or some other DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) provided by your favorite professional audio mixer after completing your surround mix.

Why not do this yourself? Setting up a studio for proper 5.1 surround mixing isn't nearly as easy putting together a room equipped for stereo mixing. It can be a cabling and acoustical nightmare, even for those who are quite tech-savvy.

Plus, while Apple touts the addition of surround sound capability in version 2 of Soundtrack Pro, STP isn't Pro Tools, and it may never be in that class.


FROM YOU TO THE GURU

Before heading off to do the mix with your local Pro Tools guru, you need to do a few things. First, picture and sound must be "locked." That means no more editing, period. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. This rule is carved in stone.

Next, ask your mixer what video codec you should export for them to sync to during the mix. All of them will want timecode; most will request a low-res QuickTime video file, because they want to devote most of their system overhead to your audio rather than your video.

So, you'll need to export your video twice, once at low-res for the mix, and once at your current settings, for encoding the MPEG-2 file for your DVD.

As far as audio is concerned, you should provide your mixer with an OMF file, either with all tracks, or with split tracks: separate music, effects, and dialog files, preferably with 2-pops (beep-beeps) two seconds from the head and tail of each to indicate sync.

The most important thing to remember is, both audio and video must be exactly the same length. Make sure the in and outs remain the same for the export of every audio and video element.

Your friendly professional mixer will EQ (equalize) where necessary during the mix, and perfect the relative levels of the various tracks and individual audio elements.

Then, the surround mix itself begins, with the mixer directing various sounds and mixes of sounds to each of the five speakers plus the subwoofer.

The mixer can also pan any sound in 3D space as required to best create a sense of movement as dictated by actions, things or people, either on or off screen.


FROM THE GURU BACK TO YOU

After the mix is completed, the mixer will export six separate audio files sometimes called "print masters," usually handed over on a DVD. Final Cut Studio prefers AIFF files, so be sure to request AIFF exports.

The six files are typically labeled in a standardized way that indicates the channel or speaker assignment of that particular file.

Look at the list of AIFF files in a directory from a mix on a project I edited, "Rush to War." (RTW, in following.)

AIF files

The first file with ".C" indicates this one is the center channel. ".L" is front left speaker. ".R" is the front right. ".Lf" is the low frequency or sub-woofer channel. ".Ls" is the left surround or left rear channel, and ".Rs" is the right surround or right rear channel.

Next, you'll see exactly how those file/channel designations will come into play when we use Apple Compressor to simultaneously encode our video to MPEG-2 and our audio files to a single Dolby 5.1 surround file.


IMAGE AT RIGHT Compressor

Open Compressor and drag and drop the video file of your completed project (either a reference file or self-contained file at current settings) onto the droplet with the arrow in the Batch Window.

That's all it takes to load your video.

Click on the Add Surround Sound button at the upper left of the Compressor toolbar.

That opens a small drop-down page containing six droplets, which correspond to each of the six surround audio channels and thus to the six audio files created by your mix facility.

Drag and drop the appropriate file on the appropriate droplet to assign it to its proper channel. Couldn't be easier now that you know how do it, right?


DRAG. DROP. ENCODE.

First, click on the file tab on the far left side of Compressor that says "Settings." There, you'll see two folders. Click on the small black triangle to the left of the one marked "Apple."

Next, click on the triangle to the left of the DVD folder. Ten folders will drop down, each representing a different DVD preset. Select one that says "Best Quality," with the running time close to, and exceeding, the length of your project.

Click on the triangle by that folder. Drag and drop the MPEG-2 icon on top of the video that you earlier dropped in the droplet. That will load the video presets.

Now, drag the Dolby Digital Professional 2.0 icon onto the "Surround" droplet.

Last, click on the "Destinations" tab next to the "Settings" tab you opened earlier, and click on the triangle to open the "Apple" folder.

From there, drag and drop the fourth drive icon that says "Cluster Storage," first onto the video droplet, and next, onto the Surround droplet.

That will send your encoded files to the same location as the files from which you're encoding.

If you want to send them to some other directory or drive, go for it. I'm sure you can figure out how to do that now that you know how Compressor works.

Bingo!!! You're all set now and ready to encode. Hit the "submit" button and go take lunch.

When you return, you'll have an .m2v file and an .ac3 file waiting for you—these are the only two files you'll need to author a DVD of your project in DVD Studio Pro, complete with Dolby 5.1 surround.

That's it! Now go and test it on a terrific home theater system with a great surround setup. If you don't have one yourself or know a friend with a good one, go to a high-end electronics store and tell them you want to demo their top of the line system.

Good luck! I hope your DVD sells millions.


PRO TOOLS. THE REASON WHY.

Apple's Soundtrack Pro is a very nice multi-track software mixer. It has a good selection of filters, a hot library loaded with useful sound effects, and some pretty decent royalty-free music cues. But Pro Tools is ubiquitous, and it is the de facto industry standard for a reason: it's a powerful, dedicated digital audio workstation (DAW), tied to time-tested dedicated hardware.

How time-tested? Digidesign released the first Mac-based DAW in 1989! In fact, Digidesign's first audio software was in 1985. It ran on the Mac 512 only – that's 512 KILO-bytes of RAM – and needed 2 floppy drives; 10 MEGA-byte external hard drive recommended, but not required. They've been doing pro audio on Mac for a long, long time.

Pro Tools provides professional audio mixers with an unprecedented level of real-time command and control of the three-dimensional surround audio image. Its powerful real-time sub-sample editing and audio processing features that put it in a whole different league from any of the current crop of software apps, including STP.

Apple probably intends to give Avid's Pro Tools a run for its money eventually, either by investing heavily in improvements to Soundtrack Pro, or by acquiring another high-end audio company with a more sophisticated software-based product.

Remember, there wasn't a soul on the planet who expected Apple to add Color, a $25,000 application, to Final Cut Studio 2 for free. So don't be surprised if there's a bold move coming soon on the audio front as well. But until that happens, Pro Tools remains the standard for surround mixing.



THE ABSOLUTE SIMPLEST WAY TO MAKE A DVD USING DVDSP

Sometimes, what you need is a quick DVD for client approval or another use that doesn't require the finesse or full resolution that a trip to Compressor will deliver. In these situations, DVDSP can do a quick burn for you that will be useful in many circumstances, even though there will often be wavey artifacts and other visual roadbumps seen.

The instructions are pretty simple and here are the steps...

Open DVDSP. Select the "graphical" tab and you will see two little monitors, one blue, one green. Select the left blue one, right click on it and hit delete.

DVDSP

Now, select the green one, right click on it and select the top option "first play".

Drag your .m2v file from the browser and drop it on top of the green monitor.

Then drag and drop the .ac3 file.

For a DVD from an HD source, look to the right side and select the "general tab" in the track editor. See the Display Mode, and select "16:9 pan-scan."

Now, hit the little black and yellow burn icon at the top of the page and put a DVD in the burner when prompted. DVDSP will encode and burn your new DVD.



David Roth WeissDavid Roth Weiss
David Weiss Productions, Inc., Los Angeles, California USA

David joined the Cow in its first week in 2001. Over seven thousand posts later, he continues to be a valuable part of the COW, today serving as one of the hosts of the Final Cut, Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums. You'll also find him posting in forums for AJA Kona, HDV and DVD Authoring, among others.



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Comments

Re: Authoring 5.1 Surround DVDs
by Sam Richards
I've been attempting, to no avail, to do what the Compressor manual suggests and "further streamline the channel assignment process by encapsulating the “automatic” method described above in a Droplet." No matter what kind of settings I bundle into a droplet (and export as a droplet), it refuses to accept any files with "-L", "-R", "-C", "-Ls", etc. in the filename. These suffixes are precisely the ones that the Compressor manual suggests one use in order to take advantage of the automatic channel assignment feature.

I have a sample collection of surround sounds that are split file surround format (6 files each), and I would love to be able to automate the process of combining these files into a single multi-channel surround AIFF or WAV file that I can easily open up in Logic, for example. Although I can drag files named with these conventions into the Compressor app batch window without any difficulties whatsoever, what I would love to do is precisely what the manual suggests . . . but no matter what I try, the exported droplets fail to accept any files, either dragged in alone or as a group, into it's "Source Files" section.

Any thoughts on his matter, or how I might automate the process of combining these split surround files?
Re: Authoring 5.1 Surround DVDs
by Molly Breeskin
How does the process for adding a 5.1 sound mix differ when authoring a Blu-Ray with a home Blu-Ray burner?

Any advice much appreciated!

Thanks,
Molly

hiptothetricks
Re: Authoring 5.1 Surround DVDs
by Diana Sagrista
Hi David, I found your article so great, learned a lot so easyly! The only problem is I came up with a 2.0 DVD. I also tried to choose the 5.1 preset as Nicholas said, but the level was really low... Then I tried to make my own preset with a -6dbFs dialogue normalization instead of the default -27dbFs. This way I get a better level but only in the Center Channel, so the mix is completely ruined... Now I´m out of resources...
My mix has a pretty good mastering and the levels are more than good for every other system...
Any help???
Thanks so much!!!!
@Diana Sagrista
by David Roth Weiss
5.1 in FCS is a bit of a black art Diana, and a lost art at that. I haven't created a single 5.1 DVD using FCS in a couple of years now, so my recollection is fuzzy at best. I think you're probably going to have to go to a professional sound facility to get the results you're looking for.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles
http://www.drwfilms.com

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Business & Marketing and Apple Final Cut Pro forums. Formerly host of the Apple Final Cut Basics, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.
Re: Authoring 5.1 Surround DVDs
by Kim Rowley
Loved your article David and I wanted to bounce a knowingly un-orthodox question off you regarding the 5.1 technology. I posted the following few days ago in the FCP forum:

Oftentimes I edit speeches from conferences producce a DVD with various language translations. My final sequence usually has the original audio on one channel and 3 other language translations mixed on subsequent channels (2,3,4). On the DVD the viewer then selects the language they want to hear and all is well. Recently a convention center that does conferences in various languages asked me if it was possible to hear all 4 channels of the DVD seperately so they could route each one through their translation/headphone system. I immediately thought of surround sound but have never worked with it. I know it's an unconventional use of the technology to say the least but is such a thing even possible? If so, how do you go about setting up such a project? I use DVD studio pro.
Is there a better way of achieving this goal?

I tried following the instructions in your article but am not getting desired results (mixed or no audio through home theatre set-up. Before I keep testing I wanted to ask if according to you is such a thing even possible?

Dual 3 GHz Dual Core Intel, 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon X1900, Xserve RAID, AJA IO, 2 20" Cinema Display, FCP Studio 2 (6.0.6), OS X10.4.11
@Kim Rowley
by David Roth Weiss
Kim,

Sorry, but I don't actually believe there is a way to do what you want using DVD video discs, as the DVD spec is pretty much one audio track at a time.

However, an enhanced DVD might do what you want, but I'm just not sure who's actually supporting the authoring apps for enhanced DVDs these days, as it's pretty much dead in the water I think.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles
http://www.drwfilms.com

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Business & Marketing and Apple Final Cut Pro forums. Formerly host of the Apple Final Cut Basics, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.
@David Roth Weiss
by Kim Rowley
Thanks for taking the time to respond

Dual 3 GHz Dual Core Intel, 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon X1900, Xserve RAID, AJA IO, 2 20" Cinema Display, FCP Studio 2 (6.0.6), OS X10.4.11
Re: Authoring 5.1 Surround DVDs
by Nicolas Goldbart
"Now, drag the Dolby Digital Professional 2.0 icon onto the "Surround" droplet."... Is this ok? I have a 5.1 preset option in compressor. Which one should I use?
Thanks.
Great article , thanks for the
by Joe Garcia
Great article , thanks for the great how-to and tips.
One question please, when was this article written ?? just curios..
Another is,,, how do you feel about Apple Logic Pro??

Thnks
Joe


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