VCD vs. DVD, or CD-R Question Two

First, thanks to those who responded to this question in its first form. The insights helped me decide what hardware and software I have to buy.

If there are any new readers to this question, my goal is this: I’d like to get rid of my old videotapes by converting them to digital media. In the process I’d like to improve the quality of some of my older tapes, while enhancing the quality of the newer ones.

MPEG-2 seems to be the standard image file format found on most DVD disks. Everything I’ve read about VCDs says that when you burn a VCD, you’re burning MPEG-2 files. So my next question is, what’s the difference between a DVD and a VCD? If I’m burning MPEG-2 files onto a VCD, aren’t I essentially creating a DVD? If I’m not, would there be a way for me to make a “real” DVD, that is, a digital version of my tapes that is of the same quality as a DVD movie? Your help is greatly appreciated. :slight_smile:

Burning MPEG-2 files onto a VCD is not the same as making a DVD. CD-ROMs have a much much lower data density than DVDs. A VCD is simply a CD-ROM with very low-quality MPEG-2 video on it.

You can create DVDs with a DVD-RAM drive, but they are very expensive still, and you need good software.

Don’t confuse the medium with the stuff on the medium :slight_smile:
There are two types of those round shiny disks - CD and DVD. A DVD holds much more data than a CD. You can store any type of data on either one. If you store MPEG-2 files on a CD, you’ve got a VCD. If you store those same files on a DVD, you’ve got a … um, a DVD - there’s no word to distinguish a DVD with video on it from a DVD with the encyclopedia Britannica on it, but only one of them will play on your DVD player.

I’m not sure if a DVD player will play VCDs (a computer CD-ROM reader can certainly read them, though). You’ll want to burn DVDs if you want to store movie-length video on one disk.

You can buy a DVD burner for $500-$700 dollars, or you could wait a year or so, when they’ll be down to $150 :slight_smile:


[sub]If that link doesn’t work, go to and search for dvd recorders- they’ve got at least a dozen in the $500-700 price range.[/sub]

Arjuna34 and friedo–thank you again. If you don’t mind, I have more questions. (Others are encouraged to respond as well–I’ll take all the help I can get.)

My concern isn’t entirely with storage–none of the videotapes I’d like to record are longer then an hour. I’m very concerned with quality. This leads me to a question for friedo–you mentioned that a VCD is low quality video. How low is low? One site mentioned that it’s better than VHS but not as good as DVD. If higher data density or a larger storage capacity determines the quality of the finished product, then should I buy a DVD-RAM drive?

Arjuna34–I was looking at DVD-RAM drives when I first got this idea, and you’ll probably be surprised to know that Creative Labs has a DVD-RAM package (with a decoder card and a SCSI card, I think) that retails under three hundred dollars. Buying it will sting my poor undergraduate wallet for a time, but if you believe that it will improve the quality of my finished result, it’s something I’ll have to consider. :slight_smile:

Again, remember that technically, the medium (CD vs DVD) is unrelated to what you put on the medium. The MPEG spec lets you encode video with varying levels of quality- the lower the quality, the less storage space required. Thus, VCD videos tend to be lower quality, so you can pack more onto the limited CD space. It doesn’t have to be lower quality, though- you could put high quality video on a VCD, but you wouldn’t get much recording time (maybe a few minutes)?

I doubt you could fit an hour of video on a CD (i.e. a VCD) with any reasonable quality.


If you’re talking about this recorder, I’m not sure that the disks it creates can be played in a standalone DVD player. It looks like it can play DVD movies, and the disks it creates, but that the disks it creates won’t work in a normal DVD player.

I’m not sure about that, though.

If your tapes will hold out for another year or two, your recording options should be much better …


check out It has lots of helpful information.

Anyways, how are you going to transfer the information to VCD/DVD? Some sort of video capture card? Try making a short movie at the card’s best quality, save it to the hard drive, then see how big it is.

Also, how are you going to watch the video? A standard DVD player probably wouldn’t be able to play the discs made from a DVD-ram drive. If you decide to go the DVD route, You’ll have to either watch it on a monitor, or get some sort of VGA to S-video adaptor. That is, unless your video card has a TV out (most don’t)

I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that the VCD format made use of MPEG-1 files, not MPEG-2. Hence the vastly inferior quality (albeit definitely watchable).

Is it possible to make VCDs from MPEG-2s?

Yeah, I think that MPEG-2 VCDs are called “SVCD” or something similar.

VCDs use MPEG-1 to store video at a resolution comparable to VHS. This enables an hour of video to fit on the 650-or-so megabytes on a CD. I gather they are still quite viewable though, and they’re makeable by a standard CD recorder.

From Russel Wvong’s Video-CD FAQ:

The FAQ links to various MPEG and software resources. Also check out CDpage’s VCD FAQ and the DVD FAQ.

I’ve put up a links page about video topics, which I’m expanding as I learn more. I want to make VCDs myself, eventually. But I have to make some content first… :slight_smile:
As for file size, I found that 5 minutes of raw NTSC video from a miniDV camera took up 1.6 GB of space as a full-resolution AVI (720 x something resolution, I think). This is much higher resolution than thew VCD would use, of course.

And I’m going to check out Thanks!

I spent weeks trying to do the same thing, after I bought an ATI TV-Wonder card. I ran into many problems and eventually gave up. Here’s a quick rundown of what I learned:

  1. VCD = MPEG-1. A CD can hold 74 minutes of MPEG-1 video, though in reality probably only about 72 since there’s a bunch of other files needed for the VCD layout (all put automatically by the burning software). SVCD = MPEG-2. MPEG-2 is better quality but takes up massive space. Can only fit a small amount of video on a CD. DVDs are MPEG-2.

  2. Many DVD players cannot read CD-R discs. The way to fix this is to use a CD-RW disc instead. I tried this and it worked.

  3. ATI sucks. I can’t capture directly to MPEG-1 from my ATI software. I also can’t use any other software, since ATI disables the sound on the TV card when you exit their TV tuner software. Other software is unable to enable the sound for capturing.

  4. Converting to MPEG-1 from AVI sucks. It took 10-15 minutes to convert a 2 min captured file in AVI format to an MPEG-1 burnable file. This translates to about 5 hours for an hour worth of video. Granted, I only have a Celeron 366 (128MB RAM), so if I had a newer computer, it may have been faster.

  5. VCD quality is fine. It looks just like playing off the VHS tape, as long as you capture it in the correct resolution (352x240 for NTSC), and the software doesn’t drop any frames.

  6. 74 minutes sucks. Every movie would have to be split over 2 cds. This fact just added to my frustration.

Eventually. I gave up. If you are able to make VCDs (or DVDs) easily please let me know your hardware/software setup, as I would eventually like to do it. I have movies that will never be available on DVD that I’d like to convert (Mafia Vs. Ninja for example).

Good luck with it.

If you don’t want to do it yourself, can do it for you.

ATI cards can use many other video capture programs but I notice mine, which is really old, still has MPEG raw as a capture format. There is an ATI multimedia center that has better capture formats, I think.


c_goat: using a Radeon VIVO (video in/video out) in a fairly standard Pentium 3 PC, I’ve made a few VCDs from video sources. I used the Radeon to capture in MPEG using white book (NTSC) spec for bit rates, resolutions and, I think, FPS. (As for that, I’m not sure if I had it as an option in the MPEG capture options - it was there for the AVI - either way, it did capture at 29.97 fps, so I guess it didn’t matter.)

Trying to make a VCD from the resulting MPEG yielded reference clock errors, so I ran it through a second program (whose name I’ll give you when I get home), and this outputted the MPEG with the correct values. I still have no idea what the deal is with this, but perusing a few video editing forums revealed that it’s common with ATI capture devices (all in wonders, etc.). Then I used Adaptec’s Easy CD Creator’s VCD creation tool and voila, shiny new VCD.

As for improving the quality of old tapes, I agree with Kilgore. Unless you intend to splice in frames of porno (a la Fight Club), in which case you can do it with ease. :wink:

KKBattousai: Thanks for the info. So it’s probably not my TV card then. I tried capturing to the NTSC specs, but it always made the video choppy due to missed frames, and the Adaptec software (same as yours) said it was in an invalid format. The only way I could get it to not drop frames was to capture to AVI (took up too much disk space) so I couldn’t capture more than 10 minutes without running out of space. I think I used TMPGEnc+ to convert the AVI to an MPEG1 file. I just got fed up with running out of disk space and having to wait so long to convert the file to MPEG1 so that I could burn it. I would have to record 10 minutes, convert, record 10 minutes, convert, record 10 minutes, convert ad infinitum.

I figured a new computer would solve both of those problems, and I gave up on it for now. How long did the conversion process take (to fix the reference clock errors)?

c_goat: The reference clock fix conversion took only a few minutes - say five or so - for about an hour of video (this was on a P3 600 w/ 384 MB RAM, YMMV). In that same hour of video, IIRC, I had about 13 dropped frames. Not perfect, but not too bad either. Since I’ll stick by my former statement that the actual capture is done in hardware (the card), my guess would be that the bottleneck would be the transfer to HD. Check to see if DMA is checked and, um, a good defragging might help.

Let me know what errors EZ CD gave you; that might help us pinpoint the problem.

A few more thoughts on the original question which had to do with archiving old VHS (or 8mm) onto some kind of digital media, like CD-R, or DVD-R.
1. The first thing to know is summed up as follows: Garbage in, garbage out.

If your VHS tapes (or 8mm camcorder tapes) look like, well, VHS tapes, converting them to a digital format (AVI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 etc.) won’t make them look any better. In fact, each of those digital formats uses some kind of compression to keep file sizes down, so they will actually look a bit worse than the original VHS tape version.

The question of which storage device you save these digital files on is irrelevant in terms of image quality. If you save your MPEG-2 file onto a ZIP disk, or a CD-R, or a DVD-R, or your hard disk drive, it’ll look the same.

Where storage device is important is in term of distribution. If you want to, say, send your buddy a “DVD-movie” so that he just has to pop in into his TV’s DVD-player and it is able to play it, then you have to encode the actual video file in the right way before burning that special data to the DVD-R. (For the record, it has to be encode in the MPEG-2 format with a certain bit-rate, etc.)

So what should you do now?

My advice is to wait a bit. There are two new developments which will change things a lot:

  1. A new video file format called MPEG-4 is now emerging which produces the quality of MPEG-2 images, but at hugely reduced storage space. They are still ironing out the kinks in it and no official standard has emerged. In theory, you could fit an entire MPEG-2 quality movie onto a CD-R (or CD-RW) using the MPEG-4 format. Sweet, eh?

  2. The other important development is happening on the storage front. I just read that Pioneer is about to sell a $1,000 DVD-R unit which, they claim, will produce discs that most set-top box DVD players will be able to read.

Ultimately, it would be cool to combine these two improvments to create a DVD disc that can store, say, 10 movies and that can be played on your home TV’s DVD-player.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it takes a fairly robust computer to do this.

I found that my friend’s Celeron-450 was dramatically underpowered for the job, even though it had 30 GB of free disk space available for video files, and 128 MB RAM. We had to shut douwn everything we could–screen savers, virus checkers, all the miscellany of programs that run in the background and clutter the taskbar–in order to get the system to work at all. And then we got dropped frames when rendering from Premiere, titles would not work correctly in TitleDeko, and there were all kinds of problems. We never did get a fully-finished home movie, and the source files are still sitting there, all 20 GB.

Mind you this was at full NTSC resolution…

Yes, that MPEG-4 looks really interesting. I hope when it’s finalized, existing DVD players will be upgreadeable.

As for DVD recorders, I’d watch the details very carefully. There seem to be ‘difficulties’ for hobbyists in getting full DVD-authoring recorders that can make properly-encoded DVDs that will play in any DVD-player, or serve as masters for duplication.

In What’s Wrong with Copy Protection, John Gilmore slams the Apple DVD recorder among other things:


Sun, you also need a fast HD, not just a big one. There are special Windoz setting Premier gives on it’s website to set your parameters for that sort of thing.

MPEG4 is no where near as nice as MPEG2! MPEG4 is for the Internet, e.g. web pages.

Says you.

Default video resolution (PAL)
MPEG 2: 720 x 576
MPEG 4: 720 x 576

Default video resolution (NTSC)
MPEG 2: 640 x 480
MPEG 4: 640 x 480

The max res of MPEG 2 is much higher than MPEG 4, at 1920x1152. Thing is, though, no DVDs come anywhere close to using it.