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Report on Pixela's PixeDV and CaptyDVD SoftwareReturn to News Page

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Reader Report on Pixela's PixeDV and CaptyDVD
(and ADS's USB Instant DVD for Macs)

Posted: 12/7/2002
Updated: 4/17/2003 for CaptyDVD 1.1.4 Update
Reader Reports last updated 11/28/2003

SVCD Tip: (from the Nov. 28th, 2003 main site news page)

" Mike,
CaptyDVD bundled with the ADS USB Instant DVD for Mac does not support authoring SVCDs. However, PixeDV can be configured to SVCD settings (480 x 480 mpeg 2 at 2.0 or 2.5 mbs) to create files that can be authored by Toast 6. There is something about the mpeg files created by PixeDV that Toast 6 says is "incomplete."
The fix is the select the video file in PixeDV and choose the "Export to mpeg" option. This creates separate video and audio files that Toast accepts and easily encodes to SVCD. The image quality looks very good.

Also, I read on Pixela's site that a new version of CaptyDVD for Mac was recently released in Japan only. It supports AC-3 encoding and certainly looks more attractive. Hopefully they plan to release this in the U.S., possibly through ADS or LaCie.
Thomas S. "

CaptyDVD DVD Authoring Software Version 1.1.4 Update (from the April 17th, 2003 main news page)

"CaptyDVD DVD Authoring software version 1.1.4 has been released by Pixela: this update supports the "RW DW-U1DA (SONY)" Macintosh SuperDrive. The download is on Pixela's site at
www.pixela.co.jp/en/products/software/packaged/capty_dvd_vcd/download.html
- if it's like other downloads on their site, the installer is in Japanese but if you just keep clicking the "okay" button it will install and run in English.
Bob H."

Pixela CatyDVD tips on Importing ReplayTV files (from the March 24th, 2003 main news page)

"Hi Mike,
I'm writing this in regards to the PixeDV/CaptyDVD thread at
http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/feedback/Pixela_PixeDV_CaptyDVD.html (this page)
specifically the MPEG Editor included with the PixeDV software that is included with the ADS hardware mpeg encoder.

The PixeDV software will not import most of the ReplayTV mpeg files. Knowing that the ReplayTV mpegs are not compliant, I spent hours (with my extremely rusty C++ skills) writing a utility that added sequence headers, readjusted the bitrate settings in the sequence headers, added new system headers and program stream maps, and calculated the proper first name of Cosmo Kramer. Nothing I did to the program streams seemed to work.

...until.... I used a MacOS 9 hex editor to make a simple modification. Suddenly PixeDV could import the file! I incorporated the fix into my utility, but when I tested it, it didn't work again!!!!! I finally figured out that the simple act of saving the file with a Classic program made the file visible to PixeDV.

I created an autotyper using the venerated by obviously still useful utility "FileTyper," and now every ReplayTV mpeg (so far) that I've run through the autotyper has been successfully imported into PixeDV and to the MPEG Cutter.
I dunno why. All I can figure is that PixeDV looks for a resource fork in the mpeg file. I'll let people know if I figure it out.
Dave"


ADS Software CD 1.2 (not latest Pixela Software) (from the 3/27/2003 news page) Last month here I noted a version 1.1.3 update to CaptyDVD (at http://www.pixela.co.jp/products/application/capty_dvd_vcd/download.html, latest version there is 1.1.3 still) but this reader said he received a v1.2 CD from ADS (Pixela software is bundled with the Mac version of ADS's Instant USB DVD for Macs).

" Having just discovered your site from a tip from another Capty DVD user, I wanted to let you know that ADS Tech Support just sent me a version 1.2 CD of their Pixe DV and Capty(DVD) software. It does not include a "changes" log. I will be experimenting with it this weekend to see what differences I notice.

In answer to another question, I do compile DVD using Capty quite often on my Powerbook G3 (firewire) to save a DVD image on an external firewire HD. I then move the HD to my wife's iMac G4 with Superdrive to use Toast to burn to DVD (lesson to be learned; don't give your wife the best Mac in the house!!!)

Using "low" resolution setting on Capty (4 bits) with digitized MPEG2 files from Pixe DV of settings of 2 or 3 bits, it can take up to 4 hours to create the DVD image file. I use the lower setting because Pixe really wants a G4 to digitize, but the G4 is not in the same room as my DirecTiVo. Once the wife goes out of town this weekend, I will be swiping her G4, move it to the den and start digitizing and compiling some higher bit rate DVDs.
Regards, Michael L.
I asked Michael to check the actual software versions on the CD - since I have seen other ADS product CD "versions" that refer to the CD revision, not the software version on the CD - Mike)

Good point, Mike.
I noticed that the versions from the original "V1.1" CD were actually v1.0 on the applications.
On the "v1.2" CD the Pixe applications are v1.1 and Capty is 1.03!
Regards, Michael "

So the latest ADS CD is still far behind the Pixela CaptyDVD download page v1.1.3 that was released last Month.

Lacie now selling CaptyDVD: See the Feb. 19th, 2003 news page for details ($149 separately, $79 they said for buyers of Lacie DVD-R/RW drives in the past 30 days (from Feb. 19th, 2003). Bundled with D2 DVD-RW Firwire drives purchases now.

Comments on CaptyDVD/Encoding time vs ADS Instant USB DVD See the Feb. 28th, 2003 news page for details.

G3 owner comments on CaptyDVD lack of Pause/Quit/Resume (from the Feb. 26th, 2003 www.xlr8yourmac.com news page)

" Mike,
I finally heard back from LaCie's tech support. After several consultations with at least three people there, they told me that CaptyDVD's software-based MPEG-2 encoder *does not* have a "pause/quit/resume" feature (like iDVD and Formac's Devideon do). This makes the LaCie bundle of limited value to people like myself, who have a single G3 machine that they use for all of their computer needs. For folks with a G4, or a separate (hardware or software) MPEG-2 encoder, it is probably still a terrific solution. As nice as it would be to have the chapter support features of CaptyDVD, I just can't leave my iMac alone for four days while it encodes a DVD. I'm going to have to go with the Formac.
Curt
(I asked Curt about the "days" of encoding comments)
Using both M.Pack (under OS 9) and the demo of Formac's Devideon, my encoding:playback time ratio is ~50:1 on a 400 MHz G3. So, yep, days to produce a DVD. (I ordered the Formac yesterday.)
This seems to bother a lot of people, but I figure it's just part of the package. That it can be done *at all* on a G3 makes me happy, and DVD's certainly aren't the most important thing I use my iMac for.
I figure that I'll just keep saving my pennies for a Mac with superdrive, and hopefully about the time my current machine becomes "really" obsolete, there'll be dual-layer 9.4 GB DVD-R's, and I won't have to curse myself for buying too soon :-)
Thanks,
Curt "

iDVD requires a G4 CPU (and internal supported DVD-R drive) and takes about 2 hours or so here on a G4 tower for a full DVD-R iDVD project to encode/burn typically, but I don't know how long a G3 CPU would take to encode a full DVD disc with CaptyDVD. If any G3 Mac owners have tested that, let me know (include your system/CPU speed and details in any reports. Thanks)
If you have an internal DVD-R drive and G4 CPU already, the cheapest option for DVD authoring software currently is the $49 iLife package which includes iDVD3. (I'm waiting to see what Roxio's future DVD authoring package will cost since CaptyDVD from Lacie separately is $149 (but bundled with their new FW DVD recorder drives). Roxio's mac package might be an attractive option for owners of external DVD recoder drives which are not supported by iDVD if the price is $99 or so.)

CaptyDVD v1.1.3 Update Reports: (from the Feb. 20th, 2003 www.xlr8yourmac.com news page)
Here's the 2nd report on the CaptyDVD 1.1.3 update:

"Mike, Good to see that tip about CaptyDVD 1.1.3. I downloaded that and after figuring out the Japanese-language installer, the software installs as an English language version.

This version is dated Feb. 12, 2003, which may explain why ADS has not yet offered it. They did recently send me version 1.0.3 (the USBIDVD bundle came with Version 1.0). I could not detect any difference between 1 and 1.0.3, but 1.1.3 is a major upgrade if for no other reason than that - as your reader reported - you now have Quicktime player controls when setting chapter markers and can not only play and scroll through your video but also hear the audio. This makes a tremendous difference when when setting chapter markers.

Other features in 1.1.3 include:

  • the "Layout Panel" which allows you to set and use grids for precise alignment of buttons when you don't want to use the default button alignment
  • when you click on the button for a movie or chapter, in addition to having menu tabs for "Button, Text, Style" there is a new one with a filmstrip icon that gives you details of the movie or marker. For a movie it will show file name and size, date created, audio and video data rates, movie length, etc. There is also something under this menu tab called "Lock aspect ratio for resizir [sic]" and that has checkboxes for "Unlock, Letterbox, Pan & Scan." I will do some tests to see if I can figure out that one.
  • there is now an option for adjusting the opacity of the drop shadows on text

Just before I downloaded CaptyDVD 1.1.3 I had just finished encoding yet another video with the USBIDVD encoder and burning it to disk with CaptyDVD. I have encoded several hours of VHS, SVHS, Hi 8 and 8 tapes with the ADS hardware encoder and I am very pleased with the results (and as the consultant for the makers of a software MPEG2 encoder, I don't say that lightly). I usually use "half D1' resolution (352x480) and can get great results at as low as 2.5Mbps. Tonight I captured 121 minutes of video in realtime, spent about 10 minutes putting it together with a simple menu in CaptyDVD and then it took an hour and 40 minutes to compile the video_ts folder and burn it to DVD. If you select the option to "save DVD image" it will take longer, but otherwise I think the time to compile and burn is pretty reasonable.

I have read and heard from the users with complaints about the software (and the hardware) but I think most of that is related to poor documentation (I also found that OS X Firewire issues caused some initial problems I had). Since I provide much of the support for BitVice, I can imagine what a tough time ADS (and now LaCie) have as primarily hardware companies providing support for brand new software created by another company. With its Windows USBIDVD product, ADS could at least bundle software that was in general distribution and there are other avenues for those seeking support. This new Pixela software is a whole different ball game. I am planning to write a detailed users guide, but even after my experience with BitVice and spending many hours working with the software engineers to understand advanced options, I am still a loss, for instance, to understand some the seemingly very advanced options offered in PixeDV for controlling the MPEG encoding.

But, I believe that once you get the basics figured out, it does a pretty good job. As you mentioned, Roxio is working on a version of Toast with DVD authoring, and they just released their new Windows equivalent: Easy CD & DVD Creator which has an impressive array of features. However, I still like the idea of being able to encode analog video to MPEG2 without having to first convert to DV (or without needing an analog capture card and lots and lots of drive space to capture with 3-to-1 or less compression), so the USBIDVD still seems like a good solution.

If nothing else, with Roxio's product on the way someday, LaCie selling CaptyDVD by itself, and ADS with its hardware/software bundle, it's good to see that Mac users no longer have to settle for the limits of iDVD or the expense of DVD Studio Pro. Thanks for the space and time you've devoted to helping the Mac community learn about their new options.
--
Bob Hudson,
Consultant to Innobits"

(from the Feb 19th, 2003 www.xlr8yourmac.com news page)

" I was one of the people who's comments you've posted about this software. I've since gone to the pixela company's Japanese site and downloaded version 1.1.3 (which looks to be about the 6th version of their software) and installed it. Surprisingly it works just fine on my machine, I was worried it wouldn't work, since the page I got it from was entirely in Japanese. I went this route since ADS seems to have no interest in updating nor supporting the software that goes with their USB Instant DVD for Mac product and getting no response to emails I've sent to their (ADS) tech support folks since the middle of December when I first sent my reports on this product. As an aside, I wonder if LaCie would be willing to support those of us who made the mistake of buying the ADS hardware product?
The URL I got the software from is (I had already installed the ADS version 1.0 of the software):
http://www.pixela.co.jp/products/application/capty_dvd_vcd/download.html

They've fixed a number of issues I had, particularly those with creating chapter markers. The original version 1.0 software only allowed for randomly placing a marker then moving it in set increments (of .5, 1, 5, 10 seconds, etc). The newer version allows placing the marker based on time and sports a QT player type interface, so you can place the marker at about the right spot then hit play and watch til you get very close then use the 0.5 second movement option to place it exactly. There still isn't a way to define themes and the editing of labels/video text still feels very PC-ish. They have added the option to change the frame displayed on a movie if you use a icon (which I generally don't do) a-la iDVD now. There's a slider which works very similarly to the one in iDVD. The few dialog boxes that didn't have English localizations have been cleaned up also.

I didn't go looking for a newer version of the PixeDV product (the software that drives the capture device).
Brian O. "

previous updates follow
(Note - this page is already getting too "heavy" so I created another page for a Innobits consultant's comments on the ADS Mac Instant DVD Encoder and software.)

Brian sent a "part 2" of his review of the ADS USB Instant DVD for Macs which includes the Pixela software. (Another reader's comments are added below also.)

" ADS USB Instant DVD for Mac take 2:
After using this tool this weekend to produce a few more DVDs and to capture a few more shows, I have the following observations about software, hardware and image quality of the DVDs I've produced.

I haven't taken the time to have CaptyDV generate MPEG from DV to make a direct comparison to what iDVD produces, I use it purely as an iDVD replacement. Since I know your readers would be interested in this, I'll give it a try over the next 2 weeks, both on animation and live video source.

The documentation is overly sparse. This program does things that aren't written down or described in any of the documentation. The help files are a must read, as there is more info there than in the manual. AC3 audio is mentioned in the help, but I'm not sure how one would get a file with AC3 audio, short of ripping from a commercial DVD. There's the discrepancy between the MPEG audio produced by the hardware and the help system claiming DVDs really should have PCM audio that I mentioned before. All in all, these programs would be greatly improved just by improving the documentation.

I erroneously thought, because of the documentation, that CaptyDV will transcode PixeDVD produced MPEG files, but this doesn't seem so, in fact, it seems that as long as the MPEG file is 'good' (which isn't clear, lack of documentation again) it won't be touched, other than converting it from a MPEG to 1 or more VOBs as necessary. I tried a project defined as having PCM audio with the Instant DVD produced MPEG audio and the DVD still has MPEG audio, not PCM, so it seems pretty obvious that MPEG files aren't touched when producing the DVD.

I've decided I can't live with the MPEG editing capabilities of this program. The 1 second granularity of the editing is just way too coarse for any real work. I've fallen back to this workflow to produce DVDs I'm rather pleased with. Import via DV into FCP (although into iMovie is an acceptable alternative) and edit. Export completed movie. 'Edit to tape' the completed movie via DV. Import the movie via the Instant DVD and the PixeDVD program and edit out leading/trailing 'blankness'. Create the DVD with the CaptyDV program. I've chosen this convoluted workflow because the MPEG produced via the Instant DVD hardware is noticeably improved from that produced via iDVD.

I've been unable to figure out why Instant DVD has jerkiness within the first few minutes of animation I've captured. It doesn't show up with live action video and, more oddly, doesn't show up after the first 2 or 3 minutes of capture. I've taken to printing 'dummy' video and a bit of black video before my 'real' animation video in the FCP -> DV step above which makes a big difference and produces very good results for me.

I feel the MPEG produced by the hardware is a distinct improvement over that produced by iDVD. Even at 'lower' bit rates compared to what iDVD would produce I get smoother motion and produce less 'visible' artifacts.

By smoother motion I mean that even 60 minute (or less) iDVD produced DVDs seem to have a problem with 'fast' motion within the video (more noticeable with live video vs animation, the exact opposite of that I saw with Instant DVD hardware) which can be quite jerky given the right or wrong, depending on your point of view, source.

By visible artifacts I mean those that are obvious from just watching the DVD in my home player on my TV. There are also artifacts that can be seem with single stepping my DVD player, but aren't noticeable to me in playback with DVDs produced by either method and I don't consider these as 'important' enough to complain about. If I compress enough to put 90 minutes of video on a DVD with Instant USB it looks better than the MPEG produced for a 50 minute DVD via iDVD. There are artifacts with both, but it is much less noticeable with the Instant USB MPEG over the iDVD produced MPEG.

I really do prefer the hardware solution, enough that I use the miserable workflow I've described above. Now if only Apple would take that $20 extra MPEG2 QT6 add-on and allow it to export MPEG2, I could reduce my workflow steps by quite a bit, but I'm sure that will never happen, considering Apple's anti-copying stance.

I like having chapter stops and have found that if I define chapters but don't define a chapter menu, the stops will be encoded to the DVD and the next and previous buttons on my DVD player will work to skip around on the video. This way I can have my 'play the movie' button but still get the 'skip over the opening credits, this is episode 20 and I've already watched them 19 times already' functionality I want. Along with the 'skip the ending credits, I want to see the "on the next episode" stuff.' *grin*

So far I've always chosen to create a Toast image and burn with Toast, as that way I'm able to have Toast verify the newly created disk. Both CaptyDV and iDVD lack this verify feature, a sorely lacking shortcoming of both products, IMNSHO.

This brings me to a few of my pet peaves and a wish list of features I'd love to see in the whole USB Instant DVD for Mac package.

    The software. These is where the most improvement can be made.
  1. Allow for at least a default font/color/size/style. This would help reduce the number of clicks required to author a DVD greatly.
  2. Get rid of PixeDV taking over the whole screen, make it behave like a 'real' app. (I even had to force quit it once, the screen saver turned on during a lengthy editing session and the menu bar was now visible and since all the navigation controls of the program are where the menu bar now was, I was unable to save/edit/quit the program.)
  3. Style sheets! Need I say more?
  4. Editing, editing, editing. This is the area that most needs improvement. I can live with a bizillion clicks to author my DVD but I can't live with 1 second editing granularity. I know that the program needs to make waypoints to be able to edit, perhaps it can create finer waypoints in a selected area, to keep from having to produce waypoints, at say frame granularity, of the whole file.
  5. More editing, editing, editing. I'd also like to be able to put chapter markers at a finer granularity. Again, perhaps selection a section of the entire video for the finer granularity waypoints would keep the program from having to waypoint the entire file.
  6. I'd like to make "Hollywood" DVDs. Ones like I described in my original review. Would it be that hard to have both a play button and a chapter menu? Or a 'back to the title menu' button? Granted, I can spent a grand and author 'real' DVDs, but that really is overkill, I just want to make DVDs that have more of a "wow" factor.

  7. Clean up the documentation, particularly in the sections dealing with the interaction between CaptyDV and PixeDVD.
  8. Capture in 'letterbox' or 'widescreen' format. There are a number of shows being broadcast in widescreen, and it'd be nice to capture non standard aspect ratios. This would allow for better playing on HDTV (assuming you have a player which can deal with it) and for higher quality/M of file size since the black bars won't be taking up video bandwidth. And of course, make CaptyDV accept these non-standard aspect ratio MPEGs when producing the DVD.

-Brian"

Another reader's comments on ADS's USB Instant DVD for Macs and how it differs from the nearly 1/2 price PC version (other than the obvious software bundle of course).

" Hello Mike. I have some info regarding the ADS USB Instant DVD and related software.

I just spoke to ADS tech support, and had a couple things cleared up...some of which corrects (or at least contradicts) the info in the latest reader report linked above.

1) Neither PixeDV nor CaptyDVD transcodes or converts source files. That is, if you capture MPEG2 files with USB Instant DVD at a certain bitrate, that bitrate and encoding style will not change in PixeDV's edited output. The capabilities of PixeDV are basically limited to capturing and cutting, and therefore no transcoding or re-encoding or other conversion is required. (I asked a Brian about this since it wasn't clear if it was re-encoding or not from the original comments.-Mike)

2) A maximum bitrate of 6 Mbps is supported by the USB capture device. This is higher than the PC version, I believe. The PC version supports a max of 5 Mbps. (The ADS PC and Mac USB devices appeared identical at first glance, and I expected them to be exactly the same hardware-wise. I'm surprised that they'd do a separate Mac model since the mac version probably sells less than 10% as many as the PC version, making it hard to justify a revised model for a Mac I'd think. But that may be why there's a big price difference.-Mike)

3) Both CBR and VBR encoding types are supported by the capture device. However, the VBR encoding method is still real-time capture (not multi-pass encoding like some of the expensive VBR encoders out there). That being said, there are reports of the PC version of the ADS device that indicate very good quality even at 5 Mbps. See http://www.guygraphics.com/reviews/instantdvd.html.

4) The Mac version of ADS USB Instant DVD apparently solves the audio sync problems that plagued the PC version of the product. This is mainly due to the fact that audio inputs are included in the capture device in the Mac version, while the PC version requires separate audio capture through a sound card.

5) Regarding audio sync issues. I asked the Tech specifically about possible sync problems associated with long captures, as well as sync problems arising from PixeDV editing. He assured me that both situations have been tested in-house and no problems were found. I think that these would be good tests for a user to do and report back on.

6) Regarding audio capture formats. USB Instant DVD has the ability to capture audio in uncompressed PCM format, as well as several compressed mpeg-1 layer-2 formats (192, 224, or 384 Kbps). As you may or may not know, the DVD standard for NTSC DVD players does NOT explicitly require players to support compressed audio (The PAL DVD standard apparently DOES require mpeg audio support). The Tech told me that most modern players (presumably including computer DVD drives) do support compressed audio anyway, but that some very old players may not. The downside of uncompressed audio, of course, is that is takes up more space and reduces the maximum video length per DVD.

Finally, a comment on your comment in the PixeDV reader report:
(mention of Dazzle and Canopus Analog/DV Firewire port devices for importing NTSC video from tapes, etc. into iMovie, etc.-Mike)
For capturing mpeg2 (for DVD's or whatever), it is probably better to capture straight from analog to mpeg2, rather than capturing to DV first and then reconverting to mpeg2. Although the initial quality of DV is of course better than mpeg2 (the bitrate is 5-10 times higher), the recompression of DV into mpeg2 can cause DV artifacts to be magnified in the final result. I have experienced this myself when I was using my Formac Studio analog-DV capture device. Expert opinion also agrees with this analysis. See www.videouniversity.com/wwwboard/macvideo/messages/12630.html
That's all for now. If/when I buy this product I will send in more info.
Thanks! --Krishna "

(Brian's prev. report follows)
I wish ADS's USB Instant DVD for Macs ($399 list) was priced like their PC version ($229 list, $199.xx at Ckt City here -see above comments for notes on differences). Here's a reader's review of the ADS USB Instant DVD bundle (which includes Pixela's software):

"I've included an extensive additional review of my experiences with the product and ADS support, or lack thereof below this, you're welcome to post any/all/none of it as you see fit.

This is broken into separate sections, on PixeDV and on CaptyDVD and on the combined pair with a final section trying to sum it all up.

PixeDV:
I bought this as an alternative to iDVD and FCP for import via my Camcorder's analog/DV on the fly conversion, to do old video and LaserDiscs. It seems like a great offering, capturing directly into MPEG format, so there won't be any encoding step, much faster than capture to FCP, edit and write out a DV file, run iDVD and transcode from DV to MPEG.

Problem 1: Lack of decent menu/chapter definition
I've tried to use simple graphics to describe the menu's I want, they're pretty basic, what you'd see in any DVD you bought: a play movie button, a select chapter button.

I've used PixeDV to make a DVD now, or rather, I've tried to use it. All I want is some pretty basic DVD menus, something iDVD can't do since it doesn't support chapters.

I have 3 short TV shows I've captured, originally 1/2 hour long, now about 23.5 minutes with the commercials removed. I wanted a menu to play the shows, preferably one after the other, and a menu to go to chapter selections within each show.

This is the menu setup I envisioned:

Title Menu:
--------------
| Some title text
|
| play show 1 then 2 then 3 button (don't desire video, just text on button) |

| pick a chapter button
---------------

The chapter menus:
--------------
| Pick the show 1 chapter
|
| Chapter 1 button (don't desire video, just text on button)
|
| Chapter 2 button
|
| ...
|
| Chapter 5 button
|
| Goto main button    goto show 2 button
---------------


--------------
| Pick the show 2 chapter
|
| Chapter 1 button (don't desire video, just text on button)
|
| Chapter 2 button
|
| ...
|
| Chapter 5 button
|
| Goto main button    Goto show 1 button    goto show 3 button
---------------

--------------
| Pick the show 3 chapter
|
| Chapter 1 button (don't desire video, just text on button)
|
| Chapter 2 button
|
| ...
|
| Chapter 5 button
|
| Goto main button    Goto show 2 button    goto show 3 button
---------------

My first drawback was there was no way to 'join' 3 movies to play as 1 but that wasn't too much of a liability, I can just modify my title menu to be like this instead:

--------------
| Some title text
|
| play show 1 (don't desire video, just text on button)
|
| play show 2 (don't desire video, just text on button)
|
| play show 3 (don't desire video, just text on button)
|
| pick a chapter button
---------------

PixeDV does have an option to create an 'autoplay' DVD. When the DVD is inserted into the player it will play all 3 of my movies sequentially and then show the title menu after all movies have played. So not having an upfront 'play the movie' button is not quite so bad and having the movie buttons be chapter menu buttons works out ok. Its not what I want, but its not too awful. I'd still rather have my 'like Hollywood' menu setup though.

The next drawback. The program will let you create up to 30 menus, but they can only be reached in a linear manner. That is, from 1 to 2, from 2 to 1 or 3, from 3 to 2 or 4, etc. There is no 'go home' button and no way to make one. Which means I can't have my goto main button on any of my chapter menus.

Now came the real problems. Its seems I can have a chapter menu, but only at the expense of having a plain 'play' button. The way PixeDV enables chapters is once you place the movie, the ability to define chapter marked is enabled. One then defines a chapter menu and effectively removes the ability to play the movie directly (clicking on the movie will take you to the chapter menu only). I can add the movie in again to get a play button, but then the software will attempt to encode yet another copy of the movie onto the DVD, a most unacceptable solution.

This means I need to define a chapter stop at the beginning of the show. Then this is the sequence required to simply watch a show: "Pick show from Title menu, Pick Start of Show chapter from the Chapter Menu, video starts to play." This is a completely unacceptable way of viewing a DVD.

The chapter stops can be set at a .5 second granularity (which seems odd since one can only edit the MPEG at 1 second granularity.) But setting the chapter markers is not very simple since the only option is to move a slider and look at the video on-screen. There is no way to move to "about the right spot" and then play the video and pick where you want the marker. You have to either use the slider or the move forward/back button. The forward/back button can be set to move in various jumps, .5, 1, 5, 10 second, 1, 5, 10 minute at a time.

Add onto my list of extreme shortcomings, the text of a button seems limited to about 30 characters. My buttons in iDVD are typically 2 lines, sometimes 3, and max out at around 80 characters. I found this limitation extreme, other users may find it a bit annoying or not a limitation at all.

I will reiterate what another reader said, the processes of defining menus/buttons/etc is painful, as there is no way to set any default, so if you don't want your text in Geneva 36 point plain black text, each and every button you place will require editing. Since I wanted 30 point Swing in eggplant and bold with just text no video on the button, each and every button placement required extensive clicking (including a box to edit the text of the button, no GUI based editing in this app.) This shows the app's PC roots at their worst.

Along with the limitation of text length on buttons is the limitation on disc name. Only uppercase A-Z and 0-9 are allowed. Nothing else. I'm used to iDVD creating disks with an '_' in place of disallowed characters in my project name. This isn't even an issue if the DVD is to be used in a home DVD player, but on the computer, I much prefer names with gaps in them. (So I could make a DVD called "Brian's Great DVD" and at least see something like BRIAN_S_GREAT_DVD when I mount it.)

Also, the included buttons and menus are awful, and I'm being charitable. There is a separate app included with the product called "Button Builder" and its obvious why they included it, what they give you is just plain bad, bad, bad.

As previously mentioned, there is no 'style sheet' or way to setup an image to appear on a new menu, each requires a drag and drop of a user supplied picture, even if its the same picture as all other menus. There is no way to define a new style or in any way create a template. More PC port roots showing.

Bigger problem 2: "In places the manual implies transcoding of the captured MPEG video"

I went to all this trouble, capturing these shows in MPEG using the CaptyDVD product, only to watch PixeDV transcode the MPEG files! Why did I bother capturing in a nice VBR 6M/s only to watch PixeDV go and convert them to 4M/s CBR files? Why wouldn't the software just use the MPEG file as is, splitting for size and "DVD formatting" only? In other words, what use is the hardware and CaptyDVD program if the work I do there to produce 'good' MPEGs is just tossed away?

CaptyDVD:

Problem 1: "Options, options, but can you actually use them?"
You can select bit rates from 1.5M/s to 6 and VBR vs CBR encoding. The software works smoothly for capture but once you have the MPEG file things get progressively worse.

As another user said, the program takes over the desktop, there is no way to leave the program short of quitting, so don't forget either the name of your captured files or their locations.

Problem 2: "You call this editing?"
Even worse, editing of those MPEG files. The CaptyDVD manual has this comment "Cutting up MPEG2 files is very hard to do and the ability to do this is a very key feature of this software package." Well if only it were so. There is a separate component integrated into the CaptyDVD software called MPEG cutter to do this "very hard" work. Another user mentioned that the software takes about 5 or 6 minutes per hour of video to produce 'edit points' as I call them. One then has a less than simple interface for creating the cut sections, but it is a usable interface. What isn't usable is the granularity of these 'edit points.' The smallest interval is 1 second. Since NTSC has 30 frames/sec, I get to choose 1 out of 30 places to edit my TV show and usually I get to leave something behind or chop off something I want. This is completely unacceptable. To call this an ability of the program is really stretching things. I believe even iMovie can edit better than this, perhaps I'm just spoiled by frame level accuracy with FCP. Even QuickTime Pro can edit at the frame level!

CaptyDVD + PixeDV:

Problem 1: "Which is which and if they work together, why don't they?"
The 'album' created by CaptyDVD is essential to being able to easily use the features of PixeDV. The album management features are sparse and name based. I found this out the hard way, I repeatedly tried to capture a section of video with my camcorder setup wrong (I had it showing a date stamp over the video.) I had manually deleted each wrong capture then re-ran CaptyDVD. When I was finished I had 1 good file but an album with 5 'files' with the same name. I figured I'd just delete the 4 back thumbnails only to find that since each capture had the same name, the first delete I did removed my good file! The PC-ishness of the program shows up yet again.

They go together, yet PixeDV won't directly use the MPEG files that CaptyDVD created to produce the DVD. Or perhaps it does, the manual isn't clear at all and offers these rather interesting yet conflicting items.

This warning shows up in the manual on the setup of a PixeDV project in the select an audio format section:

    "!Important: All files captured with PixeDV are in MPEG Audio Format. Please select MPEG audio only."

Yet this warning shows up in the PixeDV help system (where I was repeatedly referred to by ADS tech support, they obviously aren't really going to support this product) in the "Material you can record onto the disc" section:

    "The NTSC recording system does not officially support MPEG audio. Because of this we recommend you choose PCM as the audio format. When selecting NTSC as the recording system, you can compile DVD-Video by selecting MPEG Audio as the audio format, but please note that it may not play back on some DVD players."

Ok, so which is it, do I use MPEG audio because the PixeDV manual says I should if I captured the video with their device or do I use PCM audio because the online help say I'm supposed to? (At this point, I've made a MPEG audio disk but have yet to play it in my home player, but it does play in the apple DVD Player app.) If NTSC really does want PCM and this product originates in Japan (which I assume as the software company is from there) which uses NTSC, why doesn't their box make PCM audio?

Painful PixeDV Problem 3: "What? That isn't a preference?"
This above issue brings up yet another problem. If I decide I do need to use PCM audio, I will have to create an entire new project, re-define all my menus and titles and chapter markers, because the audio choice is fixed and cannot be changed, even though it isn't used until the actual DVD creation!

Good points, at least based on the manual, as I haven't tried these things:

  1. It will make VCD and even SVCD with menus.
  2. It can even produce non-standard VCDs with bitrates higher than the 2M/s standard.
  3. It can capture MPEG2 in either of CBR or VBR at up to 6M/s.
  4. It will work with any DVD writer via Toast since it can produce a toast compatible disk image.
  5. I could use my TiBook for everything except the burn itself, which I can't do with iDVD. This lets my book work while I'm using my desktop for 'real' work. With my FCP approach I can capture/edit on my TiBook, then save the file to a FW HD and use those files with iDVD on my desktop, letting me use my TiBook for some of the work.

Summation:
A reasonable hardware product matched with a set of poorly implimented, poorly 'ported from a PC' software products make a frustrating user experience. If you have an mac without a superdrive and haven't invested in FCP nor a way to get firewire/DV video into your computer, this may be a product for you as it will work with any DVD-R/+R drive that Toast supports. The final result can be an image file which can be used with Toast. Better, buy a OEM Pioneer DVR104 or the new 105 and get the iDVD upgrade from apple and replace the drive in your computer. Then spend the approximately $400 this costs to buy a digital camcorder with on the fly analog to DV conversion on eBay or elsewhere. Then use iMovie and iDVD and life will be much simpler. (Note - the Dazzle DV Bridge lists for about $299 and does analog to DV (and V/V) with no drivers needed. But no DVD burning software and it doesn't do MPEG encoding but I've used it for importing NTSC movies/VHS tapes, etc. into iMovie via Firewire. If I had to buy now, I'd much rather have the Canopus ADVC-100 which looks much better made and with reportedly better image quality. Several readers commented that USB to MPEG2 capture would result in better quality video than going from Analog to DV and then encoding in MPEG2 using software apps. (see above for an example)-Mike)

Some rough performance numbers:
My 3 shows, each 23.5 minutes, captured in 6 M/s VBR took about 2.5 hours to produce a Toast image on a TiBook 500 rev a, 10.2.2, 512M memory. By comparison, iDVD took about 5 hours to get to the ready to burn stage from DV of the same shows on my desktop DA with 867 QS CPU, 10.2.2, 1M memory.

Capture time with USB Instant DVD and FCP:
Both basically real time with pretty much zero setup time.

Editing time:
With FCP: less than 5 minutes per show. About 35 or 40 minutes with CaptyDVD, most spent waiting for the 'edit points' to be created.

DVD 'Creation' time:
2 hours in PixeDV, about half can be attributed to learning the program and its foibles, the rest to many, many clicks on 'style' type attributes. The lack of themes really showed here. 5 minutes in iDVD.

-Brian Scott Oplinger

I also asked Brian about image quality (some other readers had wondered about that) and will post his replies here.

(Previous reports follow)
The reader that sent the first report here (farther down) sent an update:

"Mike:
( ADS page for "USB Instant DVD for Mac") and the links on that page.
PS: more info, having had a chance to use it a LOT more over the weekend:

Like I said, on the Replay files that PixeDV opens, it works great. On the ones that it won't, it won't at all. So far I am unable to determine what the differences are between the files that lets one open and another not. My numbers now are three files that won't versus 25 that will. (Naturally, two of the three that won't are the ones I'm currently most interested to work with and save to DVD.) It appears NOT to be specifically the headers, but I can't tell what it is. In retrospect, it's amazing all of the stuff that PixeDV WILL open, as I found out while searching my various hard disks for files.

My question is - what software for the Mac exists to fix (problematic) Replay MPEGs to be closer to the MPEG standard? I am presuming here that the end result would be a file that PixeDV would load and work with. All of the files already play just fine with vlc and QuickTime. I do get error messages (from other Mac-ported MPEG software, not the Pixela software) telling me to try to run the files through PVAStrumento (Windows) or TMPGenic (Windows). Will these even work under emulation in SoftWindows? I've looked for Mac equivalents, made a couple of attempts with software that might do the job from a VersionTracker search, and found nothing so far. Any suggestions?
(If any readers have a suggestion - let me know for posting here.-Mike)

I did send e-mail to ADS asking if they/Pixela would be interested in adding the GOPfix capability (assuming that that's the problem) that Womble has added on the PC side and offered to send a short file with the problem, but it's a little early to expect an answer to that question.

In other news, I've worked with CaptyDVD a fair amount now, and "'iDVD' for MPEGs" still seems to be a reasonable short description. I think that the program can operate at a level a _little_ closer to DVD Studio Pro than that, but I'm not sure just how far it can go. The manual states that CaptyDVD can bring in an existing AC-3 audio file to place on your DVD, but it can't be played back within Capty for checkout. As I implied, the manual's a bit skimpy in spots. For example, I wish that there was an easy way to set a different default menu theme or change the default button type or change the default menu text color, at least for a given project, but there doesn't seem to be one. The closest I can come right now is to duplicate a ".prj" folder and the files in it, then modify the copy.

The menus and layout are not intuitive, nor do they follow Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, but after you try each of them out to see what they do, they are usable. I've found only one instance in which the "OK" button hadn't been translated from Japanese to English, and it was WAY down in the menu hierarchy. CaptyDVD at least doesn't take over the desktop, locking out any other programs from running in the foreground, the way that PixeDV does.

Once you open a project in CaptyDVD and select a theme, you can bring in the various MPEG files, slide shows, etc. that you want on the DVD. You MUST bring them in in the order you want them to cycle through with the menu jump buttons on your DVD remote. You can move them around on the menu page, but the jump button order won't change.

When you're ready, you can test the "virtual" DVD in CaptyDVD, then either save the Video_TS file to hard disk, or burn to an internal or external (FireWire) DVD-R/RW drive, DVD+R/RW drive, or Pixela's DVD-Ram drive or DLT drive. It then takes the usual long time to build the DVD file and burn it.
John"

On Dec 9th, I received another reader email with comments:

" I was interested to see a new item about Pixela's Capty DVD since I just yesterday began to use the program myself. I use a powerbook as my main machine, and have been looking for an iDVD alternative. I also took a screenshot of a test DVD I made if you are interested:

screenshot

I am using the Japanese version of this program -- I am not sure if it differs from the English one (it is completely localized for English menus and help etc, so my guess is that differences are slight if they exist). To make a long story short, I would say that iDVD is better than Capty DVD/VCD in most ways, but it is a good option for those of us that can't use iDVD. Plus it has some key features that iDVD lacks (particularly chapter markers and VCD support).

Pros: Usable with any DVD-R drive. It can create VIDEO_TS folders and DVD image files that can be burned in programs like Toast (or probably disc copy) or it can write directly to a DVD-R drive.

Can create VCDs. Didn't really play with this, but you can use the same interface to create VCDs, although a few things don't translate completely to VCD since it is a more limited format.

Can create track markers within tracks. Is this really so hard to do, Apple? C'mon! It also will allow you to display the chapters you create for a file as thumbnails to choose from, as with a hollywood DVD's "go to scene" menu.

Manages to duplicate just about every iDVD feature such as slide shows, background music, etc.

Cons: No motion menus -- you drag the clips to the creation window and they appear as thumbnails, but there is no option to have them be motion video thumbnails. Too bad.

You can't have a folder in your menu to store more clips -- the only organization is linear. You have the first menu, then the second, then the third, etc.

Included themes suck. Well, maybe that is saying too much, but they don't compare to the ones that come with iDVD. They don't include moving motion backgrounds or sound, etc. I also found that the shapes they had for the thumbnail previews were mostly unusable for me -- too cute or just too weird (what's with the one that surrounds the thumbnail with various vegetables?). Luckily you can have just a plain preview. You also can't make your own themes or save changes to the included ones, so if you would prefer to use a different background or button shape you are stuck reselecting it for each new item.

Overall a bit hard to use, since there are some things you have to do repeatedly.

But given the fact that this is the only real option aside from iDVD (DVD Studio Pro being much too expensive and cumbersone to use for the average person) this is a pretty good replacement. I imagine that they will be improving it a bit with software updates as well.

I burned a test DVD today and it played well and looked good (I used the "high-quality" setting). It did take several hours (not sure how long since I started in the morning and it was still going after a three hours or so when I left the house). This was with a 1/3 full disc on a 500mhz G4 upgraded Pismo.
iCruise "

(Original reader report follows)

A reader sent a long email with comments on using Pixela's PixeDV and CaptyDVD (mail dated Thursday morning, but I was late spotting this.)

"Mike,
FYI regarding Pixela software to allow Macs to edit ReplayTV MPEG files and burn them to DVD: (modified slightly from a post I made to AVSForum's Replay forumLast night I got my US copies of Pixela's PixeDV and CaptyDVD. I've been playing with PixeDV since I installed them last night (while not watching "Taken".) I only stopped to post this.

The Good News? When PixeDV imports a MPEG-2 file, from ReplayTV or otherwise, it "just works."

The MPEG Editor is a thing of beauty - it takes 6 minutes per 1 hour program to build a time line of all the GOPs in a file before it will let you edit that file. Once that's done, you can go in and cut and re-cut to your heart's content, and save the last set of edit points for that file. Once you've saved the edit point set (it prompts you before it will let you quit,) it will show that edit point set the next time you open that file. You can switch into and out of a previewer to double check your cuts (and to make sure that you haven't left any sound blurps in the edited sections, a worthwhile thing to do.) One thing to keep in mind, your edit point set is what you want to cut out of the edited file - it took me the first time through to figure that out. Not to worry, there's a "Invert Selections" button on the editor that will switch everything over for you if you make the same mistake that I did. Once you're happy with your edit, you create the edited file. It takes 9 minutes per 45 minute edited file, so far. The name defaults to "<original file name>-cut.mpg", but you can name it anything you want and place it anywhere you want. If you want, you can "Export to DVD Studio Pro" - it will demux the output file to its audio/video components (aif/m2v).

I haven't burned to DVD yet - I'll do that tonight and report back. So far, CaptyDVD looks very much like "iDVD for MPEGs," as described. CaptyDVD uses normal, non-demuxed MPEGs (or QT files) for its inputs. All software and manual are in English and usable.

The Bad News? Some ReplayTV files it won't import, at least on first pass. I'll try a couple of things to see if I can figure out what the problem is. My first two guesses are:

  1. bad header - I'll try chopping off the header with GOPchop and see what happens, and
  2. bad GOPs - PVAStrumento? Missing MPEG Tools?

We'll see.
You know immediately if the file will import as PixeDV will display the file's first picture as a thumbnail for the file after about a second if it can be opened, otherwise PixeDV simply shows a generic QT MPEG icon for the file. If you try to import the file anyway, you get the message "File Type Unable to Import" (Japanese -> English conversion?)

PixeDV doesn't play well with others as a Mac OS X program - it takes over the desktop and you can't switch to other programs or the Finder until you Quit from CaptyDV, so you had better know where you've saved all of those Replay MPEGs before you start the program, as PixeDV's Import function has a workable equivalent of the "Open File" window, but no substitute for the "Find File" command.

The manual could be a little longer and go into more detail, but like I said, it's usable.

The software came as "ADS USB Instant DVD for Mac" with an outboard MPEG-2 encoder that, like the name says, connects via USB port. They suggest connecting directly to the Mac's USB port, rather than via a USB hub. I haven't tried the hardware encoder yet.

Prices run $365 to $425 on the net.

Requirements: any Mac with built-in USB (MPEG-2 at 30 frames/sec requires a G4/400 (AGP/Cube/Powerbook), minimum - I've got a G4/500 AGP), Mac OS X (works with my 10.2.2), 256 MB RAM, CD-ROM (to read the software CD), 100MB hard disk space for program to capture/edit (3GB open minimum to store).
You will need a CD-RW drive to burn VCDs and SVCDs, and/or a DVD-R/RW drive to burn DVDs. CaptyDVD will work with outboard (FireWire) CD/DVD-RW drives. You must have Toast Platinum to burn VCDs.

More tonight after I continue to play,
John "

I'll post any updated comments from John here.
Our Nov. 13th news page here had some links/comments on Pixela's MPEG2 capture card/TV tuner (and USB version). Here's some related links at Pixela that were noted in that past news posting.



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