Chapter 15

Making a Slideshow DVD

A simple but sometimes highly effective way to distribute your bird photos is via a slideshow DVD—i.e., a standard movie DVD that plays a slideshow of your photos (ideally accompanied by music) when inserted into a standard DVD player.  Making a slideshow DVD can be very simple, given the right software.  Once you’ve made a master DVD, you can then duplicate and package it to produce a final product that can be sold to the general public or given away either as promotional tools or as presents to friends and relatives.

15.1 Software for DVD Production

Making the actual slideshow is generally quite simple, given the right software.  On Apple Macintosh systems, the iMovie and iDVD programs that come bundled for free with the operating system provide all the functionality you need to design your DVD; similar software is available for Microsoft Windows systems.
    On the Mac, the iMovie application will let you create the individual slideshows that you’ll later assemble into a complete DVD programme.  The figure below illustrates the process of creating a single slideshow in iMovie.

Fig. 15.1.1 : Creating a photo slideshow in iMovie (on the Mac).
At the bottom are the photos making up the slideshow, and below
these is the audio track that plays during the slideshow.  Photos can
be re-ordered via drag-and-drop.  The MPEG file generated by the
software can then be incorporated into a DVD programme, or can be
uploaded to video sites such as YouTube.

In the above figure, the two tracks near the bottom of the window show the series of photos making up the slideshow and the audio track (i.e., music) set to accompany the slideshow when it plays.  Adding photos to the slideshow is as simple as dragging and dropping them from a folder on your computer, using the computer’s mouse.  Similarly, you can drag an audio file (e.g., an mp3 file) into the audio track from a folder on your computer.  If you set up the audio track first, then you can just keep adding photos to the slideshow until the length of the slideshow matches the length of the audio track in iMovie (so there won’t be any leftover slides at the end with no music).  Though its possible to change the duration of each slide, I recommend sticking with the default of three seconds per slide.
    Once you’ve got the right number of photos in the slideshow, you can change the ordering by dragging them back and forth in the series.  You can preview the slideshow with the audio enabled, to see how well the music matches the progression of images.  Once you’ve got the ordering you want, you can save the slideshow to an MPEG file which can then be read in by the DVD mastering software.
    Note that some programs provide various special effects, such as fancy transitions between photos (e.g., having one photo fade or morph seamlessly into the next, or creating a page-turning effect or the like).  I’ve found these to work poorly for standard movie DVD’s (i.e., not HD-DVD's or Blu-ray disks), possibly due to image resolution issues.  Although the transitions look quite impressive when previewed in the software, after burning the DVD and playing it on my television, the images end up looking terrible; for this reason, I avoid using transitions and other special effects.
    Once you’ve made one or more more slideshows and saved them into separate MPEG files, you can import them into your favorite DVD mastering software to create a DVD programme.  The figure below illustrates the iDVD program that comes pre-installed on many Apple Macintosh systems.  It allows you to create a title screen with images and text and a continuously-looping soundtrack.  You can then add your slideshows to this main menu.

Fig. 15.1.2 : Editing the title page in iDVD.  The + button in the lower left corner
of the window allows you to create sub-menus or to add slideshow movies.  The page
can have music accompaniment that continuously loops.  Text of any color and font can
be added.  Once you've finished the design, the software burns your master DVD.  The
master can then be sent to a duplication company to make fully packaged copies for
sale to the public.

     As one example, the figure below shows a screen capture of a slideshow DVD I made several years ago.  The series of images in the middle of the screen continuously scroll from right to left, while some background music is played.  The menu items below this can be selected in the usual way using the DVD player’s remote control; each of these causes a separate photo slideshow (each set to different music) to play when selected.

Fig. 15.1.3 : The title screen of my very first slideshow DVD (2007).
film cells in the middle scroll horizontally while music plays.
The nine titles shown below this are the slideshows that the user can
select with the DVD remote control.

     The figure below shows a DVD programme, or schema, in a hierarchical representation; the blue square represents the main menu page, and the three white squares to its right are slideshows that have been added.  Note that you can create sub-menus below the main menu, and these sub-menus can then have slideshows embedded in them.  You can even make a credits page that displays your copyright notice and gives credit(s) for the soundtrack.  Most DVD authoring programs provide a number of templates that you can select from, to make it easier to find a layout that you like; the scrolling image bar in the menu shown above was created using a predefined template (though I replaced the images in the template with my own photos). 

Fig. 15.1.4 : Hierarchical schema for a DVD programme.  The blue box represents
the top-level menu.  The white boxes represent slideshows that can be played from
the top-level menu.  Sub-menus can also be created (not shown), and can be embedded
to any depth (within reason).  Slideshows can be created directly in iDVD, or externally
in iMovie or some other application.  Other DVD authoring programs are available
with the same (or equivalent) features.

15.2 Image Quality

One limitation of slideshow DVD’s is their image quality.  Standard DVD’s (i.e., not high-definition DVD’s such as Blu-ray or HD-DVD) are limited to a maximum resolution of either 720×480 pixels (in the NTSC format used in the U.S. and some other countries) or 720×576 pixels (in the PAL format used in Europe and some other places).  To illustrate how small these dimensions are, the figure below is 720×480 .

Fig. 15.1.5 : An image scaled to exactly 720×480.  This may appear sharp in the web
 browser on your small laptop screen, but when blown up to fill a 40-inch television
the fine details may not appear quite so impressive.  This is why high-definition video
was introduced.  Unfortunately, not all of your potential customers will have an HDTV.

This image may fit nicely in your web browser, but considering that many televisions these days are much larger than the average laptop computer screen, you can imagine that scaling up this image (without adding any additional pixel information) could substantially degrade the perceived sharpness. 
    One solution is to use a high-definition format such as Blu-ray or HD-DVD.  These latter formats can support images as large as 1920
×1080 pixels, which is larger than what can be displayed on most laptop computer screens.  The problem with HD format disks is that they take more time to burn, they require that your computer has a disk burner capable of burning that format, and many HD players will only accept one format or the other (i.e., only Blu-ray, or only HD-DVD).  Also, many people who might want to view your DVD won’t have an HDTV or HD disk player (of either type).

15.3 Obtaining Royalty-free Music

If you intend to make copies of your DVD to sell to the public, you need to make sure that you don’t violate any copyrights when selecting music to accompany your slideshow.  Unless you happen to be a musician (like me) or know a musician who will let you use his/her music for your DVD, avoiding copyright issues can be difficult.  Fortunately, there are a growing number of web sites that list royalty-free, public-domain audio files that you can use in your project.  Several of these are reviewed below.  In all cases, however, it’s up to you to ensure that anything you download is truly royalty-free and/or in the public-domain; just because you find a link to an audio file on some web page that claims the file is in the public-domain doesn’t mean that it necessarily is so. 

Fig. 15.1.6 : One of several audio directories in the Internet Archive.
Obtaining royalty-free music for use in slideshow DVD’s can be a challenge,
but sites such as this can make the task somewhat easier.  Always be careful
to read the fine print for any entry you're thinking of using, to make sure the
licensing terms are agreeable.

A good place to start your search for royalty-free music is at the Internet Archive, which is shown in the figure above.  This site indexes literally hundreds of thousands of audio files, though not all are music, and not all are royalty-free.
    Another promising resource is the Wikipedia:Sound/list page, which is shown in the figure below.  All of the music linked on this page is purported to either reside in the public-domain, or to have a copyleft license (which means that some uses are allowed, while others may be prohibited).  Whereas public domain works are copyright-free, copyleft works carry some licensing terms that must be observed; in some cases, these will permit commercial use as long as the original artist is acknowedged, while in other cases it may permit nonprofit use but prohibit commercial use.  It’s up to you to read the fine print and figure out whether a given file can be used in your project.

Fig. 15.1.7 : Wikipedia’s list of royalty-free music.

15.4 DVD Duplication and Packaging

Once you’ve designed your DVD using Apples iDVD or a similar program, you then need to find a solution for duplicating and packaging your DVD’s.  If you’re only planning to distribute a small number of them, you can simply burn copies on your home computer; for larger numbers you’ll want to have them manufactured by a short-run duplication service such as CreateSpace.com.  Most disk duplication companies can also print full-color cases for your DVD’s, and will assemble the units and possibly even shrink-wrap them as well.
    Keep in mind that even if you have a few hundred disks made up by a commercial company, the DVD’s will likely be of the burned variety (ie., DVD-R or DVD+R), rather than the pressed kind.  Burned disks are made by burning a pattern into the layer of dye that was embedded in the disk when it was manufactured, using a fine laser; pressed disks are instead made by mechanically pressing a pattern into a thin aluminum sheet that is then embedded into the disk during assembly.  Pressed disks tend to last far longer than burned disks, because the dye in burned disks is light-sensitive, and will naturally degrade over time.  I’ve seen DVD+-R’s become unreadable in just two years
time, though I would hope that at least some last longer than this. 
    When designing the packaging for your DVD project, be sure you follow the templates provided by the duplication company you select.  These templates can typically be loaded into Photoshop as a separate layer, so you can use the template’s guide lines to know where to put the spine and other elements, and then turn off the template layer when exporting the final image file for upload to the duplication company’s server.

Fig. 15.1.8 : A template for designing a DVD cover.  Note that different
manufacturers use different templates.  The colored zones indicate where
cropping will occur, where bleeding should be extended to, and where the
use of text should be avoided.  The template can be loaded into Photoshop
as a layer that can later be turned off when exporting the final image.

     Some companies can also do full-color printing on the disk itself, which can result in a very attractive and professional-looking product.  You’ll again need to obtain the company’s template and follow it carefully when designing your on-disk label.  The template will contain guide lines that indicate where cropping of the image occurs; you just need to make sure all text is at least some distance from the edge, to avoid cropping of the text.

Fig. 15.1.9 : A template for on-disk printing.

     For all of my duplication needs (including those for my music CD’s) I use a company called CreateSpace.com, which allows you to sell your products directly on Amazon.com (it’s a subsidiary of Amazon).  The setup process is done on their web site, and is simple.  They provide a proof copy that you can preview to make sure there are no errors.  Once you validate the proof copy, the product goes live on their web site; if you’ve opted for Amazon distribution, that typically takes a few additional days to go live.  When someone orders a disk through CreateSpace.com or indirectly via Amazon, the disk is burned and the package assembled by the manufacturing company, and is then shipped directly to the customer; any profits are then deposited in your account.  Keep in mind that manufacturers with high manufacturing prices can limit your potential sales, by forcing you to charge an unreasonably high price for your product.  CreateSpace’s manufacturing costs are among the lowest I’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, their printing process (for the cover) isn’t very good, but it’s reasonable considering the price.

Fig. 15.1.10 : DVD title setup at CreateSpace.  Once you’ve entered all the
required information and sent in the DVD master, the rest is up to the fulfillment
company.  Whenever a customer orders one of your DVD’s, the manufacturer
handles payment processing, manufacture of the disk and its packaging, and
then mails the completed product to the customer.