Revisiting MPEG

Why a special "encoder" for MPEG? As I mentioned in Hour 2, "Premiere Setup," MPEG-2 is the de facto standard codec for DVD movies and videos. It presents sharp video and CD-quality audio at about one-thirtieth the data rate of regular analog video and one-fourth the data rate of DV. You've seen movies on DVD and know how good they look. And you've seen those razor-sharp digital satellite TV images. Both systems use MPEG-2-encoded videos.

If you want to create similar quality DVDs to play on your home or business DVD video system, you must use MPEG-2-encoded video files. That's been the case ever since DVD movies arrived on the scene a few years ago.


Because you probably shot your videos using prosumer DV, they will not look as good as Hollywood DVD movies. Hollywood DVD movies start their lives as 35 mm (or larger) film. DV can't touch that for quality. And those great video images you see on digital satellite systems?while running under MPEG-2 compression?probably started as broadcast-quality analog video signals?also a cut or two above prosumer DV.

Only now are professional video producers embracing this technology. It took the convergence of two technological advances to bring us to this point of putting a software-based MPEG encoder in Premiere:

  • First, MPEG is asymmetrical. It takes a lot of computer horsepower to encode a DV or analog TV signal into MPEG-2 or other MPEG formats (I'll touch on QuickTime 6's connection to MPEG-4 in the following sidebar). On the other hand, decoding (playback on your DVD player) takes much less processor juice. Until relatively recently, encoding MPEG-2 required some expensive hardware, priced beyond the reach of most video producers. Now increases in processor power and improved MPEG-encoding software have eliminated the need for hardware MPEG encoders.

  • Second, DVD recorders have come way, way down in price. Pioneer Electronics is driving this continuing downward price spiral. By mid 2002, its standard DVD recorder retailed for less than $500. Along with this drop in hardware pricing, DVD recordable media prices have dropped dramatically, to as low as $3 per disc when purchased in bulk.

What this means is that now you have an opportunity to create media that will play on most DVD players and is interactive and high quality. DVDs are replacing PowerPoint presentations. You know what its like to click through menus on a movie DVD. Using Premiere's MPEG Encoder and the bundled DVDit! authoring software means Windows OS users can create that same experience for their family or clients. Mac users need to pursue some other options.

MPEG-2 on a Mac? It Depends.

Some real confusion surrounds whether Macs can create true "DVD-quality" MPEG-2 videos.

In general, only new, high-end Macs can. To create MPEG-2 videos on a Mac, you need a 933 MHz or better Power Mac G4 bundled with a DVD-R (recordable) SuperDrive and iDVD.

iDVD, Apple's entry level DVD-authoring software, puts an MPEG-2 encoder in QuickTime. That means if you want to convert a Premiere project to MPEG-2 for use on a Mac, you need to have iDVD installed.

Premiere made sure it integrated its export functions tightly with QuickTime. Because it is a separate product, I won't cover its functionality here. However, using the QuickTime File Exporter in Premiere is a very straightforward process.

Here's how you Export Premiere projects to QuickTime:

  1. Select Export Timeline, Movie.

  2. Click Settings and select QuickTime File Exporter from the File Type drop-down menu.

  3. Click Advanced Settings and specify the file type under Export. Click OK, and the encoding should begin.

QuickTime 6 Pro, which should be out of Beta by the time this book hits store shelves, features an MPEG-4 codec (if you have iDVD, it will load its MPEG-2 codec into QT 6). MPEG-4 is a relatively new video-compression scheme, created in 1998, and is strongly supported by Apple. Its developers based its file format largely on QuickTime's.

MPEG-4 has many strengths, but its largest use will likely be for streaming video and audio on the Internet. To really see and hear it at its best, you need a broadband connection. If that's the case, download the QuickTime 6 player from and then go to to see just how sharp these MPEG-4 videos look and sound, plus how quickly they start playing.

Despite my glowing take on MPEG-4, it still cannot match MPEG-2's picture and sound quality.

Some Beta testers grumbled that Premiere should have bundled an MPEG-2 encoder for the Mac as well as Windows. Adobe's explanation to me was that Mac owners who want to make DVDs have systems with iDVD preinstalled and don't need an MPEG encoder.

The downside is that Mac owners who want to create MPEG videos for media other than DVD have to purchase third-party MPEG-encoding software.

    Part II: Enhancing Your Video