Exporting for DVD with Compressor

We’ve all been there: We just finished editing our masterpiece, but now what?! Well, if you want to export for the web, I’ve already gotcha covered with my web compression tutorial. But not everyone’s intended delivery is for the web. Many people want to export for DVD as well. In fact, I am willing to bet delivering via DVD is desired more than delivering via the web. So it only makes sense that I show ya how to do it.

Being a blog targeted toward Final Cut Studio users, the programs used will be Final Cut Pro and Compressor. What I’m going to show you will work for both HD projects outputting for DVD as well as SD projects outputting for DVD.

First open your project in FCP. With the timeline of your final edit selected, go to “File > Export > Quicktime Movie.”

Of course, this brings up a dialog box with some important options.

(A) The first thing you want to do is name chose a name for the file FCP will spit out. As you can see by the name I chose in my example, I made a video for the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory.

(B) Next, choose where you would like this new file to live when FCP is done exporting. The last few settings are the important ones.

(C) Choose “Current Settings,” which refers to your timeline settings. There really should be no reason to select anything other than “Current Settings.”

(D) If you’re exporting for DVD, I don’t see why you wouldn’t include Audio and Video with this file

(E) This option allows you to include meta data for chapter markers and compression markers (if you added any), which is for more advanced DVD authoring, and therefore, a later blog post. For now, since this is a 5 minute video I chose not to include any markers.

(F) This last option seems to confuse people, but it’s really quite simply. If you check mark this box, FCP will create a stand-alone file that can be taken to any computer and viewed (as long as that computer has the right video player and video codec installed). 

If you leave this box UNCHECKED, FCP creates a file that ONLY POINTS TO YOUR ORIGINAL MEDIA. That is important to understand. This file simply tells a program where to find the original media in order for that program to do its thing. For example, if opened in Quicktime, this file will tell Quicktime where to find the original source media so that Quicktime can playback the video. If you take this file to another computer and that computer does not have access to the original source media, then Quicktime will not be able to play back the video.

So which do you choose; self-contained or non-self-contained? Well, if you’re going to be encoding for DVD on another computer, then you need to make a self-contained file (if that computer doesn’t have access to the original media). If you will be encoding for DVD on the same computer you were editing with (or on a computer that DOES have access to the original media), then you only need a non-self-contained file. (If you’re still confused [or if I’ve confused you], check mark this box to make a self-contained file [can’t go wrong with a self-contained file]). 

As you can see, I’ve left it uncheck because I’m not going to encode on a different computer.

Once you’ve chosen the settings that work for you, click Save. 

When FCP is done exporting, you can drag the new file to the Compressor icon in your dock. This automatically opens the file in Compressor.

You should already see your file loaded in the Batch window. If for some reason you don’t, go to “Add File” in the top left corner and find your file. 

Go down to the Settings tab. This contains presets that you drop onto your imported file. Look for the “DVD: Best Quality 90 Minutes” folder. This folder contains 2 presets. One preset is for creating a .ac3 file, which is an audio file. The other preset is for creating the MPEG file, which is the video file. Drag BOTH of these presets to your file in the Batch window. (If you’re project is longer than 90 minutes, then you’ll need to choose one of the presets made for longer videos).

Click on the audio preset that you that you just dropped on your file. This will load it in the Inspector window so you can make adjustments.

First go to the Encoder Pane and find the Audio tab. At the bottom of this tab you’ll see an option for “Dialog Normalization.” This is for leveling audio if you’re encoding many different videos that have different audio levels for the same DVD. If you don’t need to do this, which you most likely don’t, change this to -31dBFS to leave your audio untouched.

Still in the Encoder Pane, go to to the Preprocessing tab, change the “Compression Preset” to “None.” For some reason, this setting defaults to an option ideal for theater viewing. That’s rarely the case, so you’ll have to change it.

That’s it for setting up the .ac3 file for output. 

Now go back to the Batch window and click on the MPEG setting to load that in the Inspector window. 

First go to the Encoder Pane and click on the “Video Format” tab. Make sure the four options - Video Format, Frame Rate, Aspect Ratio, and Field Dominance - match your intended output. If you have to change any, you’ll have to click on the little gear to enable making changes for that setting. For me, I had to change the Aspect Ratio to “16:9” and Field Dominance to “Bottom First.” 

Next, still in the Encoder Pane, go to the Quality tab. 

"Mode:" should be set to "Two pass VBR Best." This means Compressor is going to analyze your project twice to see how best to compress to MPEG-2. The VBR means "Variable Bit Rate." That means the bit rate will increase during fast motion and it will decrease when there isn’t much moving in the video frame. 

To get the best Two Pass VBR, I change the Average Bit Rate to “6.8 Mbps” and Maximum But Rate to “8.0 Mbps”. 

Now, if you’re video is close to 90 minutes long, you may have to decrease these data rates, but these should be able to fit about 80 minutes onto a single layer DVD. 

Now, some people don’t know this, and even I only recently was informed of this, but you can get even better settings than this.

Change the Mode to “One Pass CBR.” This grays out the Maximum Bit Rate option because CBR means Constant Bit Rate. There is no fluctuation like VBR. So if you choose One Pass CBR and set the Average Bit Rate to 8.0 Mbps, your entire video is encoded at highest bit rate possible rather than just the moments with fast motion. This should allow for about 60 minutes of video on a single layer DVD. 

Note: Encoding at higher than 8.0 Mbps can be problematic for some DVD players. So if you encode at a higher data rate, you will run the risk of your DVD not working. 

(A) Next go to the Frame Controls Pane. In order to make changes in this Pane, you need to click on the little gear and change the Frame Controls menu to “On”

(B) Take a look at the Resize Filter option. If you’re project is HD, you are down converting to SD for DVD. So change this option to “Best (Statistical Prediction).”

(C) There should be no reason to change the Output Fields setting, so keep that as “Same As Source”.

(D) The Deinterlace option only has to do with…deinterlacing. Again, no reason to mess with this. If you’re video is already progressive scanning then you don’t need to deinterlace. If your video is interlaced, deinterlacing will actually reduce the quality anyway. So when you choose “Same As Source” in the option above, Compressor will ignore whatever is chosen in this option.

(E) The “Anti-Alias” and “Details Level” sliders have to do with Up-converting SD to HD, which you’re definitely not doing here. So leave these alone.

(F) Rate Conversion: Again, no need to mess with this. The Frame Rate option in the Encoder Pane should match the frame rate of your FCP timeline. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. So if they match, Compressor will ignore whatever setting is selected in the Rate Conversion option.

So in a nutshell, if you’re not down converting HD to SD, then you don’t even have to turn Frame Controls on.

Finally, go to the Geometry Pane.

Don’t change anything in here. Just make sure the Frame Size and Pixel Aspect Ratio match what you’re trying to output. If they don’t, go back to the Encoder pane and make sure the Video Format and Aspect Ratio options are set correctly, then check these settings again.


That It! Go to the Batch window and Click Submit. A dialog box appears, click Submit in that too, and Compressor will begin doing it’s thing.

If you’re really bored, you can watch the progress bar in the History window. Otherwise, go grab a beer (and it better be a good one. none of that Budweiser crap).

I hope that clears everything up. If you have any questions or suggestions for future tutorials, leave a comment or feel free to email me at: