By Lance Ulanoff  |  Posted 2003-01-23 Print this article Print

Go"> One Down, One to Go

Back at home, I decided to tackle another nagging DVD problem. I typically use version 3.51 of Sonics MyDVD to create video DVDs from my older 8-mm analog and digital tapes. I tried to take two one-hour digital tapes and compress them onto one DVD. To fit as much as possible on the DVD, I used MyDVDs lowest quality and bit-rate settings. I ended up with a DVD that could play on my PC, but not on my two-year-old Toshiba SD-2200 player (I got a menu screen, but the video wasnt viewable). When I spoke with Sonic senior vice president David Habiger at Comdex, he theorized that my problem might actually not be in his companys software or even in my playback hardware, but in the size of my project and the quality of my DVD discs.Sonic MyDVD

Larger, more complex projects (a 2-hour DVD fits into the larger category) tend to push the limits of DVD-drive compatibility, according to Habiger, who says DVDs with more movies, slideshows, menus, effects, and so forth are less likely to play on a variety of set-top DVD players. Habiger adds that even player manufacturers differ in their interpretations of the DVD specs, so makers of DVD authoring software have to work even harder to account for the vagaries. But wait; theres one other little hitch in the wild west of DVD playback ability—the quality of the discs themselves. When I told Habiger I paid roughly $20 for my 20 DVDs, he said he thought the reason for my playback troubles was bad media. He has concluded that low-quality discs, which he says often have flaws that some players cant tolerate, are even less equipped to handle the vagaries of DVD compatibility than name brands. (With some players, you can get a problem disc to work by taking it out and putting it back into the player in a different position.)

Interestingly, some of the feedback in our own forums echoed this claim. One visitor said that "pinkish-blue" dyed disks appeared to work with more of the set-top players than any other he had tried. But Harbiger also told me that Sonic is constantly working to broaden the pallet of acceptable media and players and theorized that installing the latest version (4.0) of MyDVD and burning the project to another DVD disc (even from my same batch) might do the trick.

As suggested, I installed and used version 4.0 and found it a nice change from the previous version. The interface is both more attractive and streamlined, and Sonic has—like Sony with Click to DVD and Pinnacle with Expression—added the ability to include slide shows in your DVD projects. Unfortunately, my test results were the same: I ended up with a disc that could play on my laptop, but not on the Toshiba set-top player. As in the first test, the DVD menu could display, but the video was garbled.

In some ways, DVD authoring remains one of the best new technologies Ive seen in a long time. Yet with compatibility surprises lurking around nearly every corner, it can be one of the most frustrating as well.

Lance Ulanoff is Editor in Chief and VP of Content for PC Magazine Network, and brings with him over 20 years journalism experience, the last 16 of which he has spent in the computer technology publishing industry.

He began his career as a weekly newspaper reporter before joining a national trade publication, traveling the country covering product distribution and data processing issues. In 1991 he joined PC Magazine where he spent five years writing and managing feature stories and reviews, covering a wide range of topics, including books and diverse technologies such as graphics hardware and software, office applications, operating systems and, tech news. He left as a senior associate editor in 1996 to enter the online arena as online editor at HomePC magazine, a popular consumer computing publication. While there, Ulanoff launched AskDrPC.com, and KidRaves.com and wrote about Web sites and Web-site building.

In 1998 he joined Windows Magazine as the senior editor for online, spearheading the popular magazine's Web site, which drew some 6 million page views per month. He also wrote numerous product reviews and features covering all aspects of the computing world. During his tenure, Winmag.com won the Computer Press Association's prestigious runner-up prize for Best Overall Website.

In August 1999, Ulanoff briefly left publishing to join Deja.com as producer for the Computing and Consumer Electronics channels and then was promoted to the site's senior director for content. He returned to PC Magazine in November 2000 and relaunched PCMag.com in July 2001. The new PCMag.com was named runner-up for Best Web Sites at the American Business Media's Annual Neal Awards in March 2002 and won a Best Web Site Award from the ASBPE in 2004. Under his direction, PCMag.com regularly generated more than 25 million page views a month and reached nearly 5 million monthly unique visitors in 2005.

For the last year and a half, Ulanoff has served as Editor, Reviews, PC Magazine. In that role he has overseen all product and review coverage for PC Magazine and PCMag.com, as well as managed PC Labs. He also writes a popular weekly technology column for PCMag.com and his column also appears in PC Magazine.

Recognized as an expert in the technology arena, Lance makes frequent appearances on local, national and international news programs including New YorkÔÇÖs Eyewitness News, NewsChannel 4, CNN, CNN HN, CNBC, MSNBC, Good Morning America Weekend Edition, and BBC, as well as being a regular guest on FoxNewsÔÇÖ Studio B with Shepard Smith. He has also offered commentary on National Public Radio and been interviewed by radio stations around the country. Lance has been an invited guest speaker at numerous technology conferences including Digital Life, RoboBusiness, RoboNexus, Business Foresight and Digital Media WireÔÇÖs Games and Mobile Forum.

Lance also serves as co-host of PC MagazineÔÇÖs weekly podcast, PCMag Radio.


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