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Introduction to Easy CDs and DVDs

Introduction to Easy CDs and DVDs

You probably picked up this book in the computer department. But I bet that most of you are interested in it because you have also ventured into the consumer electronics area, looked at CD audio and stereo devices, or either rented or purchased movies on DVD. Or maybe you bought a DV camcorder or digital camera and you want to burn movies or images to CD or DVD.

The PC users among you, whether sophisticated or not, know that for things to work on a computer, they must follow many rules and principles.

Some of these concepts seem mysterious, and we like to keep things simple. We just want to point and click—like we do on a consumer electronic device such as a TV remote control or a stereo. But there's always more to it than that. For example, there are manuals for computers and then there are manuals for TVs. With a TV you connect a few wires, turn it on, and you're good to go. With a PC, you connect your keyboard, monitor, and mouse, turn it on and…wait a minute. You've just switched on the hardware.

Using a computer still requires a different level of knowledge and experience, which involves working with software.

Many of us have learned enough about PCs to write letters, surf the Web, and maybe even scan photos or do finances. But now we also know there's a lot more we can do. We know that we can burn, or record, a digital disc that can store most of our data, and what's more, the disc may also store music that plays on CD audio devices and movies that play on DVD!

In other words, we can escape the computer's rigid rules and regulations and sing and dance on dumb devices with simple manuals. And we also know that if we can do this, we can probably store (and safeguard) our most valuable “stuff” on the computer so that we can easily recover it if the computer happens to crash.

(Has that ever happened to you, or someone you know?)

But how do we do this magic? How do we create our own CDs and DVDs, and how do we know that they will play our music or our movies in the places we want and expect?

That's what this book is all about—making these tasks easy to follow and understand.

Although we will be going through three popular programs step by step, the concepts and projects we will cover are universal. Hopefully, you will benefit from this book whether you use the same programs, slightly different versions, or even entirely different tools to create your own CDs and DVDs.

Before we begin, we need to take matters just a bit further. I'm sure most of you “get” the difference between hardware and software, and many of you also understand some important distinctions within the world of software. What I am referring to is the difference between programs (or applications) and the files they create. (It will also help immeasurably to know where these files are stored.)

Understanding these concepts is critical to your success in doing the tasks in this book.


Because the stuff that you eventually burn to an audio CD or a true DVD is really none of these. It is not a computer program, and it is not a “normal” file. It is simply a glob of digital goo that an audio CD player recognizes as music and that a DVD player recognizes as music or a movie. Geeks call this ISO 9660 or UDF 1.5.

But, back on your PC, where you're creating this stuff, before it's finally done, this digital material needs to adhere to very specific rules.

Just as Microsoft Word (a program) creates a very specific file (a “DOC” document file), and a Web browser reads a different kind of file (HTML), on the PC a music file (in order to play) must be either a WAV (Wave), an MP3, or perhaps a WMA (Windows Media) file. If it's a movie, it needs to be either an AVI or an MPG file—okay, or possibly a QuickTime (MOV) or maybe a Windows WMV (highly compressed for the Internet) file.

“Sure,” you're saying, “but my PC plays audio CDs and DVD movies.”

True, but when it plays them from a disc that can also be read by an audio CD or DVD player over in the stereo department, it's because the PC is really smart; but here's the thing to understand:

Your PC can't edit digital audio and DVD video in their native format because they're not files it understands—they're digital goo.

This is also true in terms of acquiring, or “capturing” digital music or video.

You've got video on a camcorder or music on a CD that you want to work with on the PC. What does it need to do? It needs to extract, capture, convert, or whatever you want to call it, that digital goo (be it video or audio) into the files that the PC programs understand. Again, if it's audio, that's Wave, WMA, or MP3. If it's video, that's AVI, MPG, MOV, or WMV. If it's not one of these animals, your PC will only play them, and you can't do any of the magic covered in this book.

I know, some of you smarty pants are saying, “but some video is analog.” Then let's just call it photographic goo. It's still not stuff a PC understands until it's a file. In the case of audio, that's *.WAV, *.WMA, or *.MP3, for the most part, on the PC. If it's still digital audio, the PC is, for the most part, clueless about it. Until it's a file, most programs (except such things as your PC CD player or Windows Media Player) will spit it out like last week's meat loaf.

Because many of you have scanners or digital cameras, let's go back to photographic goo for a minute. When a picture is placed into a scanner, it's a piece of glossy paper that your computer has no clue about. What does the scanner do? It converts it into a file—JPG, BMP, or TIF most of the time—that you can crop and edit in a program such as Photoshop, PhotoDeluxe, Paintshop Pro 8 or PhotoImpact.

Many digital cameras are a bit smarter. They store their goo as JPGs right in the camera, the memory stick, or other media—and it can be downloaded as a file. (Some cameras already store video as MPG files, and if these movies are downloaded to the PC from these devices, you can do some simple editing.) But for the most part, we need to know that the stuff we are using on the PC—the material that the programs we cover in this book understand—has specific names and qualities.

Suppose you're a plumber, and your supplier gives you a bunch of rubber or plastic tubing to install in a house that specifically requires copper pipe. You can have all the skill and tools in the world (software), but if the products you use aren't copper pipe, they're not going to work. On the other hand, plastic or rubber tubing might be perfectly fine for moving water or air through an automobile engine or even a fire hose, but what you use in that house (or your PC) had better be copper or lead pipe.

And if you want to do really cool stuff (applications), such as take a shower or flush the toilet, you need to have the right stuff in the right file format (copper or lead). That's what learning these programs is all about.

We can take this “PC Plumber” (no, not politically correct) analogy a bit further. What else is critical to the success of the pipes you install? You need to know where stuff is located and where it belongs. You can't install the toilet in the kitchen and the dishwasher in the bathroom.

How many of you have downloaded files and forgotten where they went—or scanned images and couldn't load them into your image editing program because you didn't know where you scanned them? Well, guess what. Before you can make an audio CD or back up your critical files, you will need to know exactly what and where these files are.

Did my use of the words “back up” get your attention? It should, because maybe you lost something important once on a PC. Well these new files we're going to create will take some effort and knowledge, and after you edit a video or put together a music collection, you won't want to lose it. And the beauty of CDs and DVDs, the ones that can also play on your stereo or hi-fi system, is that they can cheaply safeguard the valuable stuff you have on your PC.

So, for those of you who don't know, let's review the key elements of what we need to understand to go on:

  • We are going to use three very popular programs.

  • Two of them (Roxio's CD Creator Platinum and Ahead's NERO) burn regular CD-ROMs (and even DVD) with music, data, and in some cases, video.

  • We'll use Ulead's DVD MovieFactory to edit video and create a menu interface to successfully burn our own movies to a DVD disc that will play on a consumer DVD player.

Those are the tools of the PC Plumber.

NOTE: Some of these programs come bundled as “light” versions with CD-RWs, DVD recorders, and video capture hardware. We are using the full retail versions available in stores as this book is written; for the most part, many of the features and the basic interface will also resemble any bundled earlier versions of the software.

For the most part, these tools take a lot of the techie jargon out of the process. For example, instead of asking whether your DVD video needs to be NTSC or PAL (two different standards, one mainly American and the other mainly European), the programs we use will generally have you pick U.S.A. when you install, so you'll be okay. In PC Plumber terms, that means you won't be putting Belgian pipes into a house in New Rochelle.

Movies, pictures, and music will need to be in the proper format to be useful to the PC Plumber, and they may well be placed in folders called My Movies, My Music, and My Pictures—inside a larger folder called My Documents. These folders are like rooms (and closets or dressers) in a house. And in different houses (Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP) the My Documents folder might be in different rooms.

But in general, most houses share a common foundation—the main structure is called My Computer. The main room of the house, where most of the files (stuff) and programs (tools that make the stuff useful) reside, is called the C: drive.

Some houses have external spaces for moving files elsewhere—like a guest house, or a garage that holds a car or truck. On a computer, these are extra storage devices such as a floppy or a Zip drive, and they are assigned their own drive letters.

The floppy, as you might know, is known as the A: drive. The CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs may be drives D through Z or even higher (God help you), and the removable drives, such as the Zips and the Jaz, also share these drive letters for reference, as do any additional hard drives. To see what drives you have, double-click My Computer. The drives are listed with the letters individually referencing them.

Somewhere under the C: drive is your My Documents folder. In newer PCs it is hidden in a folder called Documents and Settings, and there you can have different individual rooms for your house (like those belonging to your family), and each family member may have his or her own Internet settings and My Documents folder.

Confusing? A little. But once you get it, the rest of what we'll be doing together will be a lot easier.

Your helpful programs might decide where to put your stuff for you—and if you're not sharp enough to pay attention, this can make your task a lot harder. For example, instead of in My Movies, they might store some files in their own folders. Just be aware of these issues.

Now we can get started because we can begin to refer to and distinguish between programs, file types, and locations. You'll learn where the programs you're using store their stuff and the types of files you will create. Then, you can decide where to store your files for various projects, whether personal or business, and what types of files they should be.

And finally, you will understand what is best to burn to your CD or DVD disc so that they will restore any lost data on your PC, play wonderful music in your car, or show your wedding or vacation video to your friends and family.

Let's conclude by taking the PC Plumber analogy a step further.

Perhaps we can think of your hot water boiler as your CD-RW or DVD recordable drive. After all, it distributes water (like your data) to the various rooms in your house. Some of your programs (kitchen, bathroom) use the water in different ways and depend on its regular flow. You can also buy bottled water, and although it doesn't go into your boiler (or your toilet), in some ways that might be like buying a new CD or DVD.

When we burn a CD or DVD, we're making our own bottled water (or personal data source) using the programs we're going to learn. And when we boil the water a special way, we're burning audio CDs and DVDs that will supply us with music and movies for entertainment (a nice hot shower; a cup of coffee or tea).

Finally, when we connect to the main water source (the utility company) it's like the Internet—and we get either a strong flow or a weak flow according to our bandwidth; literally, the capacity of our pipes.

One last thing—before we begin burning CDs, let's talk about the discs themselves. CD media are generally CD-R, which means record once, or CD-RW, which means rewritable, so that you can record over them. You might think that the latter are preferable, but CD-R discs will play on more machines, and CD-RW discs will not play in many older audio CD players and in cars. With the incredibly low cost of this media, if you want to use your discs as widely as possible, go with CD-R media. If you mess up a disc, you've lost a quarter and gained a coaster.

So let's get started with Part 1, where we'll burn our own audio CDs for music and burn CDs for data.

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