VCD & Toast: Digital Video For The Rest Of Us

Apple has this digital hub thang down cold, all the bases are covered. Weive got iTunes to manage your music, weive got iPhoto to manage your pix, weive got iMovie to help you manage the movies you take with your digital camcorder. And then thereis iDVD, an app which allows you to create DVDs that are playable on any consumer DVD players. Cool! The only problem with iDVD is that you have to buy special media in order to make your anywhere-playable DVD. Of course, thereis the fact that most folks canit afford the pricey Macs that iDVD require. OK, thatis two problems with iDVD, but letis not get bogged down with numbers. Then again, maybe we should.

iDVD is rather expensive for a free application: the media costs a bunch, the DVD equipped systems are not cheap, and even the camera you have to use can set you back a pretty penny. True enough, Apple did recently reduce the price of the media to US$25 for a pack of 5, but thatis still US$5 a disc. It is also true that the cost of DVD making Macs dropped significantly when Apple introduced the new iMacs, but it will still lower your bank account by US$1800 for the top of the line iMac. Whatis more, a low to medium quality digital camera will set you back at least another US$500. While we may want to be a part of the Digital Revolution, many of us just donit have the price of admission.

Now, consider what you are likely to be sharing by way of disc-based video. You might have some movies of your camping vacation, the one where you caught that 8 pound bass. Definitely video worth sharing. After condensing the hour or so of footage youive taken, you may end up with a good 5 to 15 minutes worth of video. 15 minutes of video on a US$5 DVD seems like an awful waste when you consider that DVDs can hold nearly 5 gigs of data, or about 2 hours of high quality video. Thatis ideal for archiving videos of your vacations for the last 5 years, but far more than you need to show your pals, Ralph, George, and Skippy your prize winning fish. And at US$5 a head, showing off you bass could get really expensive very quickly.

You also might want to create a nice video photo album to send to Aunt Unice in Ithaca. Again, the numbers get funky. For instance, if I use iMovie or iPhoto to create a slide show of all of the pictures taken at the highest quality my 2.3 megapixel Kodak camera is capable of, I may never click enough pix to fill even one 5 gig DVD. So again, big waste, and Aunt Unice would get bored to tears just getting through the first few dozen.

Now, how about those of us with digital cameras that can take QuickTime movies? These great little snippets of life often are more meaningful than those taken when we have our movie cameras available. I can get several 30 second movies on one 64mb Compact Flash card. iMovie wonit let me make a movie of them, but QuickTime Professional will let me stitch them together. And, while itis nice to be able to put my little movie on the Web via my Apple homepage, Aunt Unice may want to keep the memories I was able to capture. More waste if I put them on a DVD.

Enter VCD and Toast.

Thereis another video media out there that is woefully underused and is ideal for the average Joe and Joyce who wants to share homemade video without hemorrhaging from the wallet or pocketbook. Itis called Video Compact Disc (VCD). Apple and, it seems, the rest of the computer industry has all but ignored the VCD format. Commercial movie distributors ignore it because CDs canit store enough video data on one disc, so they must resort to using multiple discs and use lower quality video compression if they want to release a movie of VCD format. Not good, but you can find some commercial movies on this format (apparently, VCD is very big in Asia). VCD, in my estimation at least, is ideal for the movie-making consumer for every reason DVD-R is not. The media is cheap, VCD uses standard CD-R discs. The system to make VCDs are cheap, any Mac with a CD-RW drive can do it. And I betcha didnit know that VCD will play on most consumer DVD players as well as all computers with a CD player. Howis that for compatibility? Now, all we need is an app that will allow us to create a VCD.

Unfortunately, I only know of one app that will let you create a VCD on the Mac. Luckily, that app is Roxiois Toast 5. Roxiois Toast 5 is a must-have if for no other reason than the fact that it will let you make VCDs. Also, it now runs in OS X. I say luckily because Toast has been a Mac app for a long time, long before any of the i-apps appeared. Roxio still seems willing to continue to make a Mac product even though Appleis iTunes and CD Burner apps have all but taken the Mac consumer CD market away from them, and thatis a good thing.

Toast 5 is cool because you can still use iMovie to create a VCD. Toast provides a plugin for iMovie so that the movies you create with iMovie can be automagically burned directly onto a CD, or, if you prefer, just drag any QuickTime movie onto the Toast icon and badda bing, badda boom, instant VCD. The quality of the video is not as good as what you might get with iDVD, but itis good enough. The only thing missing is the ability to make some cool menus like in iDVD. But if you think of the money youill save, itis a small inconvenience.

Of course, Apple could come along and give iDVD VCD creation capability, but thus far, Apple seems uninterested. Thatis OK by me; Roxio seems to have done a good job in filling this void in Appleis Digital Hub.

I should mention that thereis a Web site that caters to the creation of disc based video (VCD, SVCD, and DVD). Stop by vcdhelp if you are looking for general information about all things VCD. There is a wealth of very useful information on how to capture video, create VCDs with various products on both the Mac and PC, and how best to play your videos back.

Now, your dear Aunt Unice in Ithaca can vicariously enjoy your vacations, your new house, your 8 lbs bass, your kids, your dog, or your gerbil, and it wonit set you back a small fortune. You can afford to send video updates often, which is likely to make you her favorite niece or nephew.

Vern Seward is a frustrated writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. Heis been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.