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Call it nationalism, pride, healthy competitive spirit…or…pig-headed stubbornness, but most of the nations where television started decided to have their own, completely different, completely non-interoperable standards for broadcast video signals. The ripple effects of that decision has been trickling down and causing headaches for video content producers for almost a century now.

I should probably clarify that it wasn’t entirely based on any of those things mentioned above. In fact most of it had to do with the way electricity is generated and sent to homes in each of those places, and THAT decision can probably be chalked up to pig-headed stubbornness. In North America, for example, the electricity in your outlets is a form of AC current that is delivered at 110 volts and 60 Hertz, or cycles per second. In many places in Europe, including the United Kingdom, the domestic juice is of the 220 volt, 50 Hertz flavor.

It’s entirely reasonable to say, “So what? I get a little doohickey that plugs into the outlet and then I can plug my phone into the doohickey and everything works, right?” Well, yes…but technology has evolved pretty tremendously in the last, oh, eighty years or so. Today, you can even get televisions and computers as well as other electronics that have a switch on the back that lets you plug them into 110 or 220 volt outlets. The complex electronics in the guts of your device clean, rectify, step down the power and provide exactly the type of electricity that particular device needs.

But back in the 40s and 50s, televisions were already pretty cutting edge things, even with their huge, heavy cathode-ray and vacuum tubes. The idea of transistors was just starting to form in the scientific community, and if you’ve ever opened up a television made before 1980, you might notice it looks like something from the movie “Wild Wild West.” So instead of complex electronics, televisions relied on the electricity coming out of your wall to do important things to the broadcast signal, like synchronize it with the electron beam that scans across the glass on your set and makes the picture. If you live here in the U.S. the signal scans odd lines once, and then even lines once using the 60 cycles per second frequency of the electricity in the wall. It takes both odd, and even lines to make a picture, or one frame of video, so you end up with 30 frames of video per second, as dictated by our 60Hz electricity signal in our homes. Conversely, in Wales, they rely on their 50Hz electrical signal, and they also need to scan the whole screen twice to make a frame, so they get 25 frames per second, instead of 30. But, if you’re English, don’t worry, 10 Downing wouldn’t let you settle for an inferior signal, you get MORE resolution than us Yanks, enjoying 625 horizontal lines of resolution to our meager 525 lines.

And if you live in, say, Marseille, you thrill to the technological standard known as SECAM. (North America and The United kingdom use NTSC and PAL respectively.) SECAM, which has the same numbers as PAL encodes its color and brightness information differently than NTSC and PAL, and it comes in three different variants depending on which country you are in.

Obviously, this is a headache. But there is good news. We’ve touched on this before so let’s recap a bit. The first positive in this discussion is that computers don’t really care what standard you’re using, they have the processing power to play video at nearly any frame rate or resolution. Yes, they can be prevented from playing certain content by using various digital rights management schemes, but that is an option for content producers, not a requirement.

The next piece of good news is that people in most parts of the world, really love North American movies and television. As a result it has been commercially advisable for device manufacturers of both DVD players and Televisions to include the ability to play NTSC Video in most parts of the world, regardless of what their national television standard is, or how their electrical outlets work. (Unfortunately the reverse is not nearly as true, making playing European content here much more difficult.)

The final piece of good news is that we have crossed over to the hi-definition revolution, and hi-definition does away with all of those silly national boundaries. Occasionally we still have a few issues between 25fps hi-def content not being converted to what is considered “Film Standard”, but in general Hi-def content is equally playable on Blu-Ray, streaming services, and more both here and abroad. I must admit, there are multiple flavors of “High definition” video and that becomes confusing in itself, but, at least it doesn’t depend on archaic standards from the era of vacuum tubes.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t leave a short summary of what that means for someone who just wants to distribute their content to the widest audience possible: If you’re making a DVD in North America and want it to be viewable in as many foreign countries as possible, you may not even need to convert your video to multiple standards. If time and budget permit, doing so will ensure both compatibility and the best possible video quality, no matter who is watching.

Making a Blu-Ray? Unless your content is 25FPS, you’re in the clear. Region codes for preventing / allowing playback in various countries is yours to use as you see fit. If you ARE using 25FPS content, converting to a Hi-Def 24P file is easier than many other types of conversions.

Distributing digital content for computers? Go nuts! They are up to the challenge, provided your end user has the correct playback software, and most of the time that software is free and readily accessible. These days, televisions and home entertainment equipment is so sophisticated even content meant for computers can be played back on a television equipped with a USB slot, or a gaming system or a digital media hub like Roku™ or Chromecast™.

In 2014 we still live in an amazing era where, in a few cases, we are still hobbled by technological standards adopted a century ago. The situation is improving and there are multiple technologies and strategies to get your product out to as many people, in as many places as possible. iDea Replication is here to help you take advantage of these options and find the one that is right for you and your project.

When certain issues occur, master CD duplication can go from being a smooth process to a major disaster within a matter of seconds. The most common issues in which could delay a smooth duplicating process are not being able to read or identify the cd’s data. Facing these issues will lead to a serious delay in project delivery deadlines. To avoid interrupting a smooth process, there are 10 easy steps to help with preparing your master cd for duplication below.

The first thing on the list is to make sure the use of a high quality CD-Recordable is at hand. In other words, there are certain discs brands you should consider in order to ensure production of superiority and stable masters. If you are not sure as to which CD-Recordable are of quality then run an eye test on them by holding it directly towards any light to see if you can see through them. If so then, the CD-Recordable is not of quality thus more likely to cut corners and cause major problems during duplication. If you find yourself not having much time to spend on the eye test there are great brand to consider Sony, JVC and Maxwell.

If you decide to use a laptop computer for CD duplication, it is highly recommended to plug it’s power adapter in. Since the speed of the drive fluctuates during the writing process, use only the laptop’s battery will cause CD compatible devices to have a hard time reading the CD’s data, image and so forth. Before giving your drive permission to write on the CD-Recordable, you should adjust your computer’s write speed to 16x. While the fastest speed option could go up to 52x, it would be best to use the lowest to prevent read errors while ensuring that your CD will have a more consistent data stream.

For best results, it’s very important to use software such as Nero or Toast and make sure you are using Disc-at-once mode. Doing so will allow your disc to have music/ data transferred from the computer all in one sitting. For the most important step, always make sure the CD has been finalized before ejecting.

Labeling is important, however it is recommended to use circular sticky labels or a special CD-R marker pen. If you have a desktop inject printer that allows you the ability to run your CD through for label then do so. Make sure you test you masters before sending the CD off. You want to ensure that compatibility issues are resulted along with any missing files or songs. To decrease any problems that may occur make sure to create and send off 2 copies just in case one CD becomes corrupt or damaged while being transported or in the process of being test by duplication facility.

Once you have gotten everything in order, you will need to ensure that your CDs are in the appropriate package before mailing. Some CDs come with jewel cases, clam shells, DVD case and so forth for protection. Make sure you have access to either before mailing your CDs off to the duplication facility.

A disc should be stored appropriately to protect it from scratches and dust that might interfere with its playback. If your CDs and DVDs are lying plain, you need to consider buying a clean storage for a new beginning. You need to start with the positives of what type of storage will go well with the CDs and open your imagination to the possibilities of organizing it attractively and safely.

As a first step, think about what are the good options for storing your discs. Many companies prove themselves to be an illustrative case in point with their wide range of solutions for CD storage. Some successfully use a variety of materials and finishes on the storage cases to offer extra protection. In today’s world, CD packaging are available in different shapes, forms and size including Amaray case insert, CD binder case, CD box case, CD jewel case, CD digipak case, CD diskbook case, CD mailer, multi-dvd case, pocket case and specilty cases. The binder case option, chosen to work with multiple CDs, set the storage scheme when space is limited. Some CD case options are made of clear plastic which allows the user to identify the disc they are reaching for. The diskbook cases give the space the character of a library retreat. Attractive in its own right, they can complement any set of books on the shelves. The CD mailers, designed for postal companies, are strong enough to offer protection against rough handling. Then there are jewel cases, which are the most commonly used CD storage solution in the market. These are made out of polystyrene that give the outer covering a clear appearance. The tray holds the disc in place through hinges and the cover is closed to store the disc. The trays are sold in different colors including black, white and transparent. Some cases hold one disc at a time, while other cases are designed to hold multiple discs.

CD and DVD storage cases vary in price but if you are buying in bulk, the price of each case will run even lower. Many online retailers offer bulk pricing on CD storage cases, so if you are shopping around, you are sure to find a good deal. Local office supplies and electronic stores carry a broad spectrum of CD storage solutions in large quantities as well.

For the best storage solution with your choices, make sure that the discs are away from extreme temperatures. Some specialty cases lend themselves to normal temperature settings. Other cases work well for a variety of environment. Generally, the softer the case, the more chances of disc damage. For instance, sleeves that are made of plastic, poly and vinyl come in variety of colors but are usually soft in texture. These type of cases tend to be least expensive but at the same time least protective. The trend today for any type of CDs and DVDs are the jewel cases which recall the effects of mini suitcases with a touch of beauty.

Before we talk about archives and storage for your media projects, we should establish a common frame of reference for the process of replicating DVDs and Blu-Ray. DVD and Blu-ray projects require an authoring environment. Much like designing and programming video games requires an engine or designing a print project requires layout software, organizing video, audio and still image assets, programming navigation and interactivity requires a piece of software called an authoring tool. This tool takes all of your elements and interactivity and mixes them together into a master file that can be read by our replication machines which then create a “glass master.” Final replicated copies are made from this glass master.

The process is actually much more complicated, but there are two things that we should take away from this description for the purposes of our discussion. The first idea is that the authoring tool I mentioned earlier can be one of dozens of commercial products ranging from $100 to $10,000 in cost. Likewise, they can range in quality and capability from a tool for novice consumers to make simple home movies to the authoring tools used by major motion picture distributors to create masters for their world-wide blockbuster releases. None of these software packages work together. A DVD or Blu-Ray project designed in one software tool will have to be completely re-authored from scratch if the authoring house or production company uses different software. Projects made in some very popular mid-level products such as DVD Studio Pro or Adobe Encore, cannot be simply transferred to each other, or any other software for that matter.

This is important to consider because for various reasons, a content producer may need to use different companies to author different projects, and they are not interchangeable. Or a project may need to be re-visited later because the video or other content has updated.If the same authoring house is used and they possess the original project files and the same software, the updates can be made for minimal time and cost. If any of those things has changed, the project may need to be recreated from scratch. Similarly, if a short run version of the project was create by internal staff at the content producer’s offices, they cannot expect to simply hand a replication house the same project files and have a replication master made. The chances of the replication company using the same authoring software is slim, and as there are literally hundreds of options, no company can have all systems available. (Many of those systems don’t even create replication ready masters, and the project may have to be re-authored anyway.)

The second major point to remember, is that each step of the process alters the information from its original video, audio or image file format into an increasingly integrated format that is only designed for one thing, replication. For DVDs we send a format called DDP to the plant to be replicated, and for Blu-Ray it’s a format called CMF (Disc Descriptor Protocol and Cutting Master Format, respectively.) In both cases, the sets of files contain disc image, copy-protection schemes and other information designed for the industrial machines at the plant to read. We cannot alter these files or even open them to read, they are only useful at the plant. We also cannot add or take away things like copy protection, Macrovision ™ or other features.

So, if it’s not clear by now, very few steps in this process are adequate for archival media. Your finished product is not an adequate master to make more copies in the future; it may have copy protection or other data issues that make it unsuitable to be a master for another production run. (A glass master IS adequate; however it cannot be added to or changed.)

The files sent to the plant (DDP or CMF files), can be sent again for another run, but they cannot be updated or altered. With a very few exceptions they cannot be opened or extracted to gain access to assets like a piece of video, or a menu file.

The only adequate archive for a large DVD or Blu-Ray project is an archive of the entire project itself. This includes all original video, audio and image files, as well as the project files (descriptively labeled). These files can be stored on a well maintained archival Hard Drive, or, for longer storage and higher value assets, a tape device such as a DLT.  Records of what software was used to author the project is also essential, unless the archives are held by your authoring house.

The point of this entire entry can be summed up this way, DVDs and Blu-Ray are great distribution media, but they are NOT appropriate archival or backup media. For a project you plan to revisit in the future, maintain a proper backup of every step in the process. If you don’t, expect to have to repeat it later.

In the past weeks we’ve mentioned several of the benefits of USB storage media as a content delivery device. USB flash memory is compact, comes in sizes up to a massive 64 Gigabytes and gives the end user an extra bonus of additional storage space they can use for their own needs. The drives themselves can be painted and branded to fit your product or company marketing campaigns and can even be provided with high quality, custom cases and lanyards. In order to capitalize on this flexibility, however, some serious thought should be put into the end product.

Unlike some forms of optical storage media, USB drives will only be accessible if the content on the drive and the platform used to read the drive are compatible. Much like developing software for computers, differences in operating systems can create different experiences for the end user, or even render your content inaccessible entirely. The same interactive packages designed for OSX may not work for Windows…or Android, or even iOS. Content designed for a large, high resolution desktop computer screen may not be useable or legible on mobiles devices and rich media content that requires the processing power of a dedicated desktop may play sluggishly or not at all on less powerful devices. In short all of the same concerns that go into developing entertainment software or productivity applications for a computer can and often do apply here.

The good news is that there are some common distribution platforms that work well, if not identically across a number of platforms and operating systems. The Adobe Reader™ / Acrobat™ family of products allows text, images and even audio and video to be organized and distributed across any platform that has the free Adobe Reader™ software available for it. This includes iOS, Android, Windows and OSX among others. Adobe Reader also allows for external HTML linking which can keep your intended audience up to date with the latest information such as new product developments and real-time information. I should mention that some of the most advanced features such as audio / video and some external links may or may not work the same way on some mobile platforms.

Generally speaking an experienced Acrobat developer can create a package that offers similar (but not identical) user experiences across multiple environments faster and for less money than custom development for each platform. Keep in mind only that custom development for each platform can offer complete flexibility and control of the user experience if that is the end goal.

Similarly, HTML content can offer the option to create very similar user experience on any platform that has a web-browser. HTML based content can even integrate the Adobe solutions mentioned above. Finally, HTML content allows seamless integration with live web content to keep your product always up to date. A good HTML coder can optimize the content to work for the best aesthetics / usability from a powerful workstation to even a smart phone.

The last thing I should mention, before we have to end for the week, is security. As you can see by now, the USB drive can contain almost any kind of information for any kind of operating system. Unfortunately, that also means that it can contain malicious or harmful software as well. As such modern operating systems have generally disabled auto-run by default. OSX doesn’t allow any execution of code from a USB drive unless the user selects it as normal from the Finder. Windows Vista and later allow a very limited set of information to be read from the drive only for titling purposes. With windows you may control the text that asks the user what they would like to do with the drive, and what options are available, but that is the limit. With mobile systems, almost no information is read, and the user may have to navigate an arcane file system in order to access the content. While it diminishes the user experience, it is ultimately for safety. The best solution is to understand two things: Specific instructions should be clearly written on packaging or inserts that come with your drive, and you have to require basic file system familiarity of your end user.

I hope that information has been helpful and that you now have many options to consider for your next content delivery need.

In the past two weeks, we have discussed the many and varied physical formats available for media and data distribution. There almost certainly has been or will be a time when you need to take a project that has been developed, previously, for one platform, add a few updates and distribute it on a new platform. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as copying data from one medium and dumping it onto another. Like many projects, however, a little planning and research beforehand can avoid the worst of these problems.

For most physical media, we can divide the content distributed on them, broadly, into three categories: Standard Definition Video, High Definition Video and Interactive software. Let’s examine the simple issue transitioning between the first two items. Moving from standard definition video to high-definition video can be as simple as re-rendering the original content in high definition and putting that on a USB drive. In a common video file format like MP4, or H.264, this new file will play on a wide range of computers and platforms, including many mobile devices. But for most clients, it ISN’T that simple. The original content may not be accessible, or may not have been created in high definition in the first place. Perhaps the original content was distributed on DVD. In these cases, in order to make the most out of your content and your product, other steps must be taken. If the video needs to be up-converted, it should be done on a high-quality upscaler, otherwise just making the video larger doesn’t necessarily make it better. In fact, poor up-converting can EXPOSE more flaws in the video. You can choose to distribute on Blu-Ray instead of DVD, but there is a difference in the installed base of Blu-ray players both of the set-top variety and the computer drive kinds. If set-top use is not a requirement, a USB drive might be the better format to choose, but keep in mind, you will lose the convenient menu and presentation capabilities that come with the DVD and Blu-ray formats.

The other transition that can create major headaches is going from content created for computers to content designed for a television screen. A very common case in point is moving from PowerPoint presentations to DVD. At first glance, DVD seems like an excellent fit for PowerPoint: It has built in Next and previous controls, can pause and skip and can be played in both set-top players and most computers. There are some subtle differences, most are not aware of, that can negatively impact your content.

DVDs are standard definitions. That means they are effectively only one quarter the total resolution of an average computer screen. The amount of text that can comfortably be read on a computer screen is much more than that, which can be read comfortably on a standard definition screen. Packing a screen with paragraphs of text complete with fine and complex illustrations may work well on a wide-screen, 1920×1080 computer monitor, but that same text will be tiny and blurry, even blown up on a big screen, on a standard definition DVD.

In addition, standard definition TVs have areas around the edge defined as “title safe” and “action safe”. These take into account that many televisions have some areas of the picture that go outside the viewable area of the screen, and some areas inside THAT edge can be distorted or blurry, depending on the quality of the set. In the computer world you can comfortably and reliably move content all the way out to the edges without concern. Moving to a television, some of your content along the edges may be distorted or completely off the screen. Leaving this border area blank, as you can imagine, reduces the useable space for text even further.

Like the High-Low resolution situation mentioned above, planning ahead and making sure your content has been re-formatted with the new distribution method in mind saves time, money and makes your content look the best it can. This often can be as painless as doubling the number of slides and cutting the amount of text for each slide in half.

I originally intended to also discuss some important considerations in developing for USB storage media, but there is so much to go over, that will have to take up its own post next week. I hope you’ll check back then!

For all the talk about “convergence” in technology, it seems as though the number of storage media has increased in the last decade. As a result, choosing the right medium for your content, at least initially, may appear to be an intimidating proposition. The up side of the this situation is that more choice means, with a little planning and forethought, that you have a better opportunity to choose the best media for you, based on your content, your audience and your budget.

In addition to optical disc media, like CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray we have the option of USB drives of various sizes and speeds. With computer drives and USB ports present in everything from mobile devices to televisions and game consoles, each of these options can bring huge amounts of storage and content to a wide range of devices and venues. Let’s take a brief look at each:
The Compact Disc is the oldest of these and the grand-father of more modern media like DVD and Blu-Ray. It holds 700MB of data, or 74-80 minutes of uncompressed audio. It can even be made to store some of each, giving you the option of having an audio CD with extra data available for computers to recognize. It’s old, but that means it can be played almost anywhere, from the in-dash automobile units to the newest Xbox One and Playstation 4 consoles and most things in between. The only drawbacks are a relatively slow read speed compared to DVD and Blu-Ray, and many smaller form-factor laptops and mobile devices are being released without an optical drive.

The DVD is the next logical step in the optical media line. It offers 6 times the storage of the CD, faster read speeds, which allows for higher quality video, and much more content. It can contain BOTH DVD Video which we are all familiar with, as well as ROM data that can be accessed by computers, game consoles and more. Using the DVD Video functionality allows for random access to video and audio content through convenient, easy to use menus and navigation. That video can be played on both DVD players, game consoles and any computer with a DVD-drive and DVD playback software. It’s the most rapidly adopted consumer technology in history and is so ubiquitous it’s hard to find a household, business or public venue without one.

The Blu-Ray disc is the newest form of optical disc storage. It continues to improve the read speed, allowing for crystal clear Hi-definition video, and a wopping 25GB of storage. New specifications allow for 3-D content in hi-def, and, like its older brother, it can also include ROM information for computers and game systems. It has a smaller installed base then DVD because it simply hasn’t been with us for as long, but most mid-range and high-end computer systems come with a drive that can read and play them today. The interface for Blu-Ray video is a much more advanced system than DVD and uses Java, to create much more interactive content that can display and access real-time information from the internet within the video.

USB storage media, is becoming as useful and widely accessible as any of the options mentioned above. It can plug into anything with a USB port including tablets and mobile devices where optical media can’t tread. Holding anywhere from 500MB to 64GB of storage, any content you can dream up can fit on a USB drive. It can hold custom developed software to interact with your user, and post results to a server. The content can be any combination of Video, audio documents, photos and interactive media. The caveats are that the price of flash memory (the storage inside the USB drive) fluctuates with the market, and any interactive or specialty media has to be developed and programmed for the specific operating systems it is expected to run on. But with printable surfaces and the added bonus that any additional storage can be accessed by the user, this is becoming a go-to choice for industry gatherings and professional leave-behind media.

Next week is the last part of this series of discussions about media formats when we’ll look at problems that could arise moving between formats.

I think the first mistake and perhaps the mistake made most often in the replication / distribution process is ignoring this question. In reality, it is two questions in one: “Who are you trying to reach?”, and, “How are you trying to reach them?” Replication or duplication can be a long process that requires a not insignificant investment. Not taking the time to choose the right format for both your product, and your audience is like throwing money away.

Using video content as just one example, many clients would love to have a disc that can play in as many different platforms and venues as possible. DVD video can be very useful for this purpose as such discs can be played in set-top players and in computer DVD-Rom drives. But if the content was originally designed for PCs, e.g. PowerPoint™ presentations, it will look terrible on the TV screen. The resolution will be lower, text will be harder to read and images may be distorted. Depending on the type of television, some areas at edges of the screen may be entirely cut off.

This would be a case of considering the audience but not the content. If your content doesn’t survive the transition to a new format, it doesn’t matter how accessible you make it to your audience. In fact, in this scenario, there are ways to convert the material to a television friendly format, but that can be a time-consuming and somewhat expensive process. Knowing this ahead of time helps efficient planning, and prevents missed deadlines.

The converse can also be true: USB drives are becoming a very popular method of distributing content, especially at live events. They can contain almost any kind of information, can be used by computers and mobile devices alike, can be branded and carried about easily by your audience. They make great leave-behinds and can be dropped into gift bags at a conference.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have their share of potential misuses though. If the content on the drive is coded specifically for Windows™, and is handed out where the majority of attendees arrive with mobile platforms such as iOS™ or Android™, the content cannot be viewed until the attendee returns to the office or to home. In this case the content was considered before the audience.

The good news is, neither of these problems is insurmountable. But in both cases, time and resources must be allocated to prevent this kind of self-defeating product distribution. The first step is to ask these two questions when you first start planning your project: “What platform was my content originally made for?”, and, “What platform will my audience use to view it?” The answers don’t have to be perfect, but they should be considered. They should be brought up again at your first contact with a replication specialist. It will help you and your contact stay on the same page, and if you have any questions or concerns, your specialist can help you solve some of them, or even suggest some options for the best combination of software and hardware to meet your needs.

For more information about this topic, check in next week. We will discuss the various advantages and disadvantages of many physical media formats, including DVD, Blu-ray, CD and Flash Memory. The following week we will discuss traps and snares when moving between formats.

Chicago, IL,  (June 02, 2010) – The Chicago-based CD, DVD and Blu-ray disc replication and packaging services company iDEA MEDIA SERVICES, in support of its partners at Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications whose networks include the Discovery Channel, is pleased to have packaged the eleven part, dual disc DVD boxed education edition of the Discovery Channel’s wildly popular natural history series LIFE .  Read more →

iDEA MEDIA SERVICES, a leader in CD, DVD, Blu-ray disc replication and packaging, is pleased to be the official media manufacturing partner for the progressive improvisational rock band Umphrey’s McGee. Read more →