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Creating CD Projects for Video
With CD burners becoming just as cheap as ZIP drives, sending out a CD reel of your DV work has become an excellent alternative to sending out a video tape. Media specialist Mark Evans explains how to create a CD that works for you.

By Mark W. Evans
Mar 7, 2003

With CD burners becoming just as cheap as ZIP drives, sending out a CD reel of your DV work has become an excellent alternative to sending out a video tape. Media specialist Mark Evans explains how to create a CD that works for you.

Meeting Expectations
Inserting a Compact Disc into a PC can be an engaging and powerful experience, or it can be a big let down. There is a certain expectation people have when inserting a CD-ROM into their computer, similar to loading a DVD or VHS movie. If you develop a CD in such a way that you meet or exceed the recipients expectations, your content will be received much more positively.

Many video producers are overwhelmed by the task of creating a CD for their business, organization, or personal needs. This article will look at the decision making process for determining the project type, as well as looking at some tricks, techniques and sources of tools and information.

The Decision Making Process
First you have to ask yourself: “What kind of CD project do I want to create? What is the goal of creating this CD and how will I distribute it? What is the intended audience? What are their needs and what do I want to communicate to them?” If you can answer these questions, you’re well on your way to narrowing down some of the tools and techniques you can employ to make your CD project a success. Maybe you just want to put a few files on a CD-ROM and have it autostart when you insert the disc into the drive, or possibly create a completely interactive CD with animation, 3D buttons, and video. Most likely, you want to produce something in between these two extremes.

Project Types
A wide range of projects are suitable for CD. CD’s can contain videos in a number of formats (AVI, MOV, MPEG, WMV, ASF), as well as 2D and 3D animations in Flash or Director formats, HTML documents, Adobe Acrobat documents, URL links, executable programs, and many more types of files. Here is a brief compilation of a few types of projects you might want to produce for CD-ROM:

Business Card CD's - Small form factor business card CDs are hot! Exciting images and video that introduce you or your company while providing examples of what you do. Obviously, you can put documents like your resume on the CD also.

Demo Reel Portfolio – While most video professionals create their demo reel for distribution on VHS tape, a CD is much less expensive to ship; only $0.57 for first class postage. A VHS tape cost about 4 times that to ship. You can include your “demo video” on the CD as well as the full versions of the individual videos used to create the demo. Instead of just putting a bunch of MPEG, AVI or WMV files on the disc, you can create a nice interface for browsing the CD and learning background info on each piece, as well as giving the user a way to view the video. Be sure to encode your videos at a data rate that can be played from a 4x CD drive. Not everyone has a 48x drive. Note: See section below on data rates and encoding.

Promotional CD’s – Almost anything can be promoted on CD. Almost every business professional has a Windows PC these days. Videos, text, bitmaps, 2D and 3D animations, documents, and web URL links can all be presented via CD to effectively promote a product, a business, an event, etc.

A Word About Video Data Rates and Encoding
The video encoding algorithms available today are far superior to those of a few years ago. One example is Microsoft’s Advanced Windows Media encoding format, which produces video files with the WMV or ASF extension giving incredible results with very low bandwidth. Unfortunately, videos encoded with newer video compression techniques may require newer computer or a computer with updated media player software to successfully play back the video. Before creating your video files for your CD, it is important to decide who your audience is, or create your video files with the slower and older PC’s in mind. Another option is to plan for both older and newer computers by putting both types of files onto one CD and letting the user determine which files he will play back.

One way to ensure that both Macintosh and older PCs with outdated media players can view your videos, is to encode your video in QuickTime (MOV) or AVI format.

Saving your file in the right format.
The majority of video editing programs can export to multiple file formats, ie QuickTime, AVI, etc. For most video editing programs, the task is very simple. Go to the file menu and select export (or export timeline). From there, you will probably be presented with many options, or the chance to select an additional “settings” menu. Find the menu where you can choose the type of file format and make more adjustments (most likely found in an additional settings or advanced settings menu). It is important to select a file format such as QuickTime or AVI. If you choose the AVI format, you must then choose a codec for compressing the video file.

Adjusting your codec
While it is possible to put your full resolution (720x480 pixel), 30 fps DV video on a CD, the file sizes and data rate required to play it back is impractical for CD. Reducing the resolution and frame rate while increasing the compression ratio will make file sizes and bandwidth requirements more reasonable. To address this problem you must compress the file using a video codec. A video codec is a type of video algorithm used to reduce file sizes with different mathematical techniques. There are many different CODEC’s to choose from, I like choosing Cinepak. In my experience, the Cinepak codec is the most versatile, and most compatible of all the codecs you can choose from, mainly because it has been around so long. However, simply choosing a codec is not enough, it is necessary to adjust the options of a codec (resolution, frame rate, and quality setting) so that your video plays smoothly from a CD drive.

Data Rate
The “Data Rate” is the amount of data in kilobytes per second that can transfer from your CD-ROM to your computer. In order to ensure your movie plays smoothly, you want to adjust the data rate of your video to be lower than the maximum data rate of the target audience’s CD-ROM drive. If you create a video with a higher data rate than the drive can handle, the video will be choppy, loosing frames as it plays from the CD-ROM drive.

When encoding for playback off CD-ROM, target low speed CD-ROM drives to ensure that everyone can view it. While new PCs ship with 48x CD-ROM drives, a lot of people still have 4x CD-ROM drives. A very small group of PC users still use 2x drives. I would target 4x users and forget the 2x folks. They’re living in the dark ages anyway. The improvement in video quality is dramatic when you target 4x as opposed to 2x data rates. A 4x CD-ROM is rated at about 600KBps, so keep your video data rate below 400KBps (that’s Bytes, not bits) to account for inefficiencies in the computer and operating system.

Lower the size or “resolution” of your video to decrease the file size. A 320x240 video will have less than one fourth the data rate of a similarly compressed 720x480 video because the number of pixels is less than one fourth. For some applications, you can go down to 240x180 pixels, further reducing the file size.

Frame Rate
When trying to decide the frame rate, some compression schemes give you no choice. If you do have a choice, consider what type of material is in the video. A talking head works fine at 12fps. Action sequences with lots of motion will look better at a high frame rate like 24 or 30fps. Shrink the size of the video to hit your target data rate.

Quality Setting
Most codecs allow you to adjust the subjective quality setting; how good the video will look when played back. Decreasing the playback quality will reduce file size. The codec does this by increasing the amount of compression in areas of the video frame. An increased amount of compression will make the video look blocky with very visible compression artifacts while reducing the file size.

Project Design Goals Drive Everything
The project type and the intended audience should determine what technologies and methodologies you use to produce your CD. If you simply want to hand out a few CD’s to your friends with a couple video files on it, you can easily do that with an autorun file, a few compressed video files, and use the features build into some of the CD Recording Software tools to layout your CD. In this case, no elegant user interface is needed. However, when creating work for paying professional clients, you need to understand the needs of your audience and design your CD-ROM project accordingly.

Brief Overview of Potential Project Types
For this article, I have divided all possible CD projects into just three types. This is an over simplification of course, but is justified for the sake of brevity.

1. Wiz-Bang, High Interactivity – This type of CD project is the kind that when the recipient puts it in the CD-ROM drive, he is wowed by the animation, music, and custom navigational system. As the user navigates his way through the CD by clicking on buttons, or entering data, he hears sounds and sees animated effects that make him feel as if he is part of an experience with a very definite look, sound and feel.

Development tools such as Macromedia Director, Authorware, and Flash are the most popular ways to create these types of CD’s. Note: Only QuickTime (MOV) encoded videos can be embedded within Director projects.

2. Lots of Content In a Cool Package – This CD project looks and sounds slick but is more to-the-point without the heavy multimedia experience of the Wiz-Bang type. This type of CD delivers content that the recipient wants without a large amount of navigation.

Business card CDs, catalogs, training material, and video and graphic portfolios are some projects created this way. These projects have a wide range of content that is viewable using standard viewing applications, but lack the high amount of interactivity and animated effects.

3. Looks a Lot Like Web – If you didn’t know it, you might think you were visiting a web page when you’re viewing this type of CD. That’s because this CD really is a collection of HTML pages and media types (Flash and Animated GIFs) supported by the two most popular web browsers; Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. If you can design web pages using HTML, you can do the same on a CD. Shockwave movies, Flash animations, and streaming video all work better off a CD than over a slow Internet connection. Almost all PC users have a Browser installed on their PC and if they don’t, you can put the installation files for free versions of the Browser right on your CD.

This type of CD doesn’t differentiate itself from what can be done on the web, but has the unique advantage of giving you an exact duplicate of what you could additionally be putting on your own web site. Cost tends to be pretty low for this type of project and you can use HTML authoring tools like Macromedia Dreamweaver and Flash, Microsoft FrontPage, and a host of other tools.

Get Organized
Regardless of which type of project you create or the development tools used, you need to map out the structure and organization of the CD. Determine what your start page will look like and the pages that follow it. You can do this on paper or you can mock it up using an application like Photoshop. Layout your navigation network on paper as well. (ie. what button will link to what page and so on). Organize your graphic resources in folders with names that make sense. Often times, the structure of the folders on your computer’s hard drive will closely match the folder structure containing video, documents, and graphics resources on the final CD. Create folders for major sections or topics in your CD. Good organization up front will greatly speed the development process later.

CD Recording Software
Once you've got your project working the way you want it off your PC's hard drive, it's time to add an Autorun.inf file and burn the CD. A number of tools are available for this step in the development process. All differ in price and feature set, so make your choice according to what you need and your budget. Some of these even come with the ability to create your own CD labels, although I do my label design in Photoshop.

CD-RW Drives
If you’re going to be doing a lot of CD burning, invest in a decent drive CD-RW drive. Most CD-RW drives come with the software you will need to burn CD-R discs and this software should be adequate for smaller projects.

Blank CDs
I don’t have a lot to say about blank CDs other than “don’t buy the cheapest ones you can find", “buy the next to cheapest”. You can record full size disks (650 MB), mini discs (180 MB) and business card CDs (50 MB) in any of the new CD-RW drives. You will also want to buy paper, tyvex or vinyl sleeves for your CDs so you have something to enclose them in when you ship them or hand them out. In addition, cardboard mailers are available when you are ready to mail your CD's.

Creating a Label for the CD
First impressions are very important. And the first impression the recipient of your CD will receive is whatever they see printed on the CD itself. Handwriting on a blank CD with a Sharpie marker will not cut it in most circumstances.

A beautifully designed and printed glossy CD label stuck to the face of the CD can be make a great impression. It communicates the contents, who it came from, what the system requirements are for viewing the CD and protect the top side of the CD from scratches.

Just about any $200 to $300 photo quality inkjet printer can make incredible labels if printed on Hi Gloss Photo CD label stock. I use the hp deskjet 960c which can be had for $200 and does an absolutely incredible job. Labels actually protect your CD-ROMs better than silkscreen printing and give them that professional look you need.

Some printers will print directly on the CD surface so you don’t have to apply labels. These printers are super expensive (over $1000) and don’t really make sense unless you are planning on going into business burning CDs.

CD Label Design Tools
Many of the CD Recording Software packages include a label design program. One advantage about the CD Label Design programs is the ability to do curved text that matches the outer curve of the CD. I have tried using MediaFACE II from Neato, however I didn’t like the quality I was getting, or the flexibility of the program. Instead, I ended up using Photoshop and achieved much better results.

Mass Production
What do you do if you need to distribute 100 copies of a CD? What about 20,000 copies? If your quantities are small (less than 20), you can burn them on your single CD-R drive. If you will be repeatedly doing larger quantities (10 – 200), you may want to look into a CD-R duplicator. These come in a lot of configurations and can do multiple copies simultaneously. Some of these will even print your CD after the CD is burned.

For really large volumes of CDs, you need to turn to a duplication or fulfillment house. These types of companies will make an optical master to create your duplicates. These are not CD-R discs but replicated CDs. These companies will also print, package and mail your CDs out to a mailing list for you.

Hopefully, this article will encourage you to go for it and try making a CD-ROM project with some video, graphics and navigational aids. CDs are the de-facto storage medium in Windows today. DVD has not replaced CD by a long shot, and most users don’t have the Internet bandwidth to take advantage of rich media over the web. When that changes, you’ll be able to take your experience creating CDs with you. For now, design it, burn it, and wow your audience with a CD! -Mark Evans

About the Author
Mark Evans is with eVISION MEDIA, a company engaged in multimedia and video production, as well as marketing tools for multimedia professionals. Their two products, CD Viewer and MediaMagic make the development process easier for communicating information, presentations, and training material via CD-ROM. Find eVISION MEDIA on the web at:

Making the CD Play Automatically When Inserted into a Windows PC
One of the great mysteries of our time is making the CD launch your multimedia program when the user sticks your CD into his drive. Assuming the feature is enabled, it is very simple to make this happen. However, if the user’s PC has disabled the CD-ROM AutoPlay feature of Windows, no amount of wizardry will make it automatically play.

All you have to do is put a file called Autorun.inf on the root of your CD. Autorun.inf is read by Windows when the CD-ROM volume is mounted and the instructions contained in this file tell Windows to run your executable.

Use Notepad to create your Autorun.inf file. Notepad is the simple text editor that comes with Windows and can be found by clicking Start, Programs --> Accessories > Notepad. Your Autorun.inf file should look like this, just three lines.




Your application (we used the file name YourApp.exe for illustration here) is the executable file for your Multimedia program. It should be on the root of the CD also. This could be a Macromedia Projector file, or any other type of executable that you have created. You can learn more about Autorun.inf by searching for that term using any good search engine like Google or Altavista.

How does somebody turn on the Autoplay feature on a PC?
A Windows user can turn on this feature by clicking Start, pointing to Settings, clicking Control Panel, and double clicking System to open the System Properties dialog box. In the System Properties dialog, click the Device Manager tab, expand the CDROM item by clicking the plus sign, right-click the device you want to use, and then click Properties. Select the Settings tab and make sure “Auto insert notification” is selected.

Launching a HTML Browser File Automatically on a Windows PC
What if your multimedia project was done in HTML or is a Flash movie and you want it to run using the default web browser installed on the user’s PC? Here is another trick you need to know. As before you will need an Autorun.inf file. You will also need a program that will launch your browser. I’ve used a program called Shellexec.exe in the past which launched the default web browser on the user’s PC and loaded the file specified. However, I haven’t tested it on multiple Windows platforms. Also, there are a lot of different versions of Shellexec.exe out there and I cannot attest to the safety of any of them. Use these at your own risk! But suppose you find a good copy of Shellexec.exe on the Internet and you download it. Here is how you invoke it using the Autorun.inf file:


OPEN=ShellExec index.html


If you don't want to use the icon that comes with the Shellexec program, you can include an ICO file and use that instead as shown in the above example.

Good luck!

Category: Learn

Updated: Mar 7, 2003 1:58:00 AM

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