ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Bat of Good Tidings —

Well, it has been quite an interesting few days. I knew that when I was heading down into the abyss of this production that I’d probably get hit across the face a few times with the Bat of Unexpected Tidings. I’ve been hit with said bat as expected, and picked myself when it came crashing down at the inevitable late hour or difficult event.

I have been hit with another such bat, and it has caused a few days delay. And a small but signficant bit of money. And a lot of frustration and browsing to see if in fact it’s not me, and realization it is not, and then more frustration that the situation existed in the first place. You know…. life.

First of all, let me get this news out of the way. The project is done. Done done done done done. I have generated all the content, put in all the subtitles, slid in all the easter eggs, added all the commentary tracks, and put in all the DVD-ROM material as the whole thing is going to get. It’s all in there. I can pop a DVD+R DL disc I have burned using this nice dual-layer DVD-R drive I got, and put it into my DVD player, and watch it, as you will watch it. I can do this for all 3 DVDs.

It’s great. I’m really proud of the whole look of it, the sound, the stories, and a number of style choices I’ve made throughout the episodes and bonus footage. This is a solid, COMPLETED, three DVD set with seven hours of footage on it (6 hours and 52 minutes, actually) and another two hours of commentary, along with thousands of photographs and other BBS artifacts. It’s a big thing, and it’s taken me a long time to get it all where I’m happy with it. (Like most perfectionists, I’ll never be 100% happy with it, but I definitely can watch and enjoy this a lot.)

So great, just burn out those final discs and send them to the printer and get that long cool glass of root beer and sit by the beach, right? Well, not so fast.

Warning: This gets really involved and technical, but then again, that’s what I had to do to understand what was going on, so I wanted to pass along what I went through, in the hope someone will find this information going down the same path.

My project consists of three DVD-9 DVDs. This means there’s roughly 8.5 gigabytes of information capacity on a one-sided DVD. The other DVD formats are DVD-5 and DVD-10. DVD-5 actually holds a little over 4 gigabytes of information on one side, and a DVD-10 is actually a DVD-5 that uses both sides (so it has no label, since it uses both sides). I was assuming I would have roughly 7 to 9 hours of content, and so I thought about it and went for DVD-9. This actually turned out to be rather good, considering the addition of the DVD-ROM content/photos and my ample use of bonus footage and edited-out sequences. I think that I’ll be using something like 80 percent of the capacity of the three discs combined.

The way DVD-9 works, is that there are two layers on the DVD, one on top of the other. The laser that reads the disc can focus on one layer or the other. And here we get into the problem.

Half the data (roughly 4 gigabytes) on a DVD-9 disc is stored in the first layer, and then the rest second half (also roughly 4 gigabytes). At some point, if you’re using a lot of the data, you encounter a place where data is coming in, but the laser has to switch over to the other layer. This is called, in DVD mastering parlance, the “Layer Break Point”.

Now, normally, this sort of techno-wonk information about how one of my appliances works would be of little interest to me, at least within the context of the project, in the same way I don’t really concern myself with how a CD burner works by shining an intense light on sensitive material inside plastic, or how my car works by turning gasoline into a flammable mist to cause tiny explosions in chambers that hold pistons.

But, see, DVD players don’t handle the Layer Break very well. As time has gone on, the most recent of DVD players, and most of the players that come in computers, all know how to deal with this Layer Break fairly well, having a sufficiently large buffer, quick-focusing laser, and all that, so they can bang from one layer to another. But most people do not have the most recent of DVD players.

So how do “Hollywood” DVD-9s deal with this problem? Apparently they jog around the Layer Break so that it happens in the middle of a fade-out. Or they reduce the quality of the encoding for 10 seconds before the Layer Break so the buffer has gotten enough so that it won’t be empty before the switch is done. Or they simply leave it in and that’s that.

In other words, a bunch of lame crappy hacks to deal with a problem that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

So on my DVDs, I have found the layer breaks. Of course, I didn’t KNOW they were; I was positive I’d screwed up somewhere. I could see the machine hanging on that part as I went back and forth over the point, and I simply assumed I’d broken the encoding somewhere, or otherwise had a damaged disc. Until I burnt another, and it did the exact same thing. And if I ran it on my laptop’s DVD drive, it worked fine. And so on.

Apparently, I have to grit my teeth and eat this fact of life, but I am now working with Ulead DVD Workshop 2, which, I must again state, blows, and make it shift around the files on the DVD so that these “Layer Breaks” happen somewhere other than the main episodes on the drive. It is taking me considerable time to do so, and each move is taking a lot of time to experiment with.

So basically, what’s keeping me from sending these to the Printer is my own perfectionism, my refusal to let people who buy this thing deal with a sudden hiccup in the middle of an Episode (at least with bonus footage, it’ll be an annoying thing and not a major problem) and then feel its their problem.

I hope to have this resolved very, very shortly. Like, in the next day.

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  1. Hang in there, Jason.

    While I’ve never done a documentary, I know that at the end of big projects there are always those decision that define the project.

    I think this is one of them and think you made the right decision.

    Good luck!

  2. Kizzle says:

    UBER CONGRADU FUCKING LATIONS on getting this project done. I can’t wait to order it when it’s out.