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Old June 29th, 2007, 05:14 AM   #1
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Do you like a good puzzle?

A few months ago I became the video manager of an International charity that deals with humanitarian and NGO type issues. Whilst this might sound impressive what it really means is that I am a bit of a one man band, i.e. shooter, editor, sound, lighting, etc and my budgets are quite small. As you can imagine I don't always have too much time on my hands. That's why I'm about to throw myself on the good natured souls that frequent this forum. You see next week I have to make recommendations to the media board of the charity on how to distribute our videos to end users in the next couple of years. I've been mulling this around in my head but right now I have no crystal clear recommendations.

Before I came into this org they had been producing film/videos for nearly 60 years. However given the jumps in technology over the last decade their previous video manager had been trying to play 'catch up' with the ever increasing demands/complications of distribution.

Currently they distribute videos on standard DVD (although we do shoot in HDV and down convert). Usually there will be four 6 min promos on each of the DVD's showing them org's work in the four highlighted countries.

There are basically two type of end user. 1) A member of the charity showing it to small audiences to promote interest, 2) A member of the public who has been given the DVD to view at their convenience. Obviously the same physical DVD is used in each case.

All sounds pretty straight forward and logical so far. Well about 2 years ago it was decided that our videos would have subtitles in 6 different languages. This is where it started to get complicated. The task fell on one fellow colleague to sort it out and it took him a whole year to get just one DVD subtitled. He had to send transcripts out to six of our international offices to get translations and then when they came back (in text form) there were issues over just what had to be synced up with which parts of the video. Imagine trying to look at Chinese text and determine which characters fit which English words!

So the net conclusion of this is that I have to try and advise the board on how we can streamline this process and shorten the turn around time. So there's problem No.1

Problem No.2 might be easier to solve. A few months ago I conducted a survey with our members (the first end user) to find out how they used our videos. It turned out most of them stored our videos on their laptops in some sort of compressed file format (obviously to save space) and they just weren't using the DVD's very much after converting them.

So I am currently trying to decide whether to issue our future DVD's with both VOB files (to play on a standard DVD player in someone's living room) and some sort of compressed PC friendly video file as well (wmv,mpeg,avi?). Both sets of files would reside on the one DVD. But this is where the subtitle issue raises it's ugly head again. Obviously we can create 6 language subtitles that are selectable through the DVD menu (assuming we actually sort that all out), but what about the compressed files? They won't have a DVD menu and so they all need to be duplicated with 6 languages individually burnt in to each one. Therefore on each DVD we would have to fit 28 separate files (the four 6 min long VOB files, the four six minute long compressed files and the 6 subtitled duplication versions of each of the 4 compressed files). Are you still following this because there is now one last problem to consider. Half of the distribution is into PAL countries the other half is NTSC. Therefore it could help a lot if the compressed PC files are fairly universal and can be converted (if necessary) for viewing on one or other of the formats in TV mode.

So this is what I am basically asking;

1) Has anyone had experience with multiple language subtitles (even those with none western characters) and can advise a good workflow or method for creating them? Heck there might even be some professional service that does it all for us (we are based near London incidentally).

2) What is the best way to get all of the options described above onto a DVD? Will they all fit even and is there a particular file format suited to our needs?

3) Given the other two questions and the issue of NTSC and PAL are there any other options that spring to mind.

Finally to add one last dimension we are currently in the process of building an online video library where eventually all of our videos will be downloadable in two files sizes (high and low quality). However this service is still some way off and in the mean time we still need to get the stuff out there on DVD.

If you've got this far, thank you for your diligence. I really do appreciate any input/ideas you have and you might just save me a few more grey hairs!

Last edited by Nigel Davey; June 29th, 2007 at 01:33 PM.
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Old June 29th, 2007, 07:45 AM   #2
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I've produced multi language DVDs using Vegas and DVDA so I have some concept of the issues and yes we did both PAL and NTSC versions.

First things first. When getting someone to create subtitle files the simplest way is a spreadsheet, one column for timecode and the other for the text. I've then converted these files into .sub files that DVDA and no doubt most authoring programs can read. If you need a subtitle to run from one point and then have no subtitle, just a TC entry with no text fixes that. Needless to say test everything and make 110% certain your workflow will work. Being a bit handy with simple programming with say VB can help a lot too.

Supply the people doing the subtitling a DVD of the program with burnt in TC. They play it back in a PC with a spreadsheet open at the same time. They can pause the playback while they type the TC and text into the spreadsheet.

For the non DVD output from memory there's some scripts that can read the .sub files into Vegas and create burnt in subtitles. But also from memory WMV files support subtitles although I've never seen one that used them, so again, research and test.

I can't see much point though in having R50 and R60 variants of WMV files, if they're only for playback on a PC one of either is all you need, all video projectors will cope with 25p, 30p, 50 and 60i as far as I know. For that matter most PAL DVD players and TVs (or at least the more recent ones) will play NTSC and PAL DVDs, can't say the same for most NTSC gear though. Still these things are very, very cheap and the cheap players and TVs / monitors tend to be the ones that are multistandard. So save yourself some grief and just release NTSC DVDs or 24p DVDs if you can, 24p playback is mandated in the DVD spec I believe.
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Old June 29th, 2007, 07:55 AM   #3
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Nigel, remember me when you retire... I always wanted to live in the UK! A long time ago (1995) I lived in the UK for 5 months (about 40Km west of London, near Redding)...

Your problem might not be as bad as it looks. Most decent DVD authoring programs have a feature called something like "add DVD-ROM content". Poking around in your help file should put you on track in less than an hour.

As far as best format, two of them come to mind. Flash has the largest support when it comes to players, some 97% of all computers have it installed (according to Macromedia statistics). Next would be Windows Media, which, according to my own tests has a better quality at the same bitrate. But you will have plenty room on DVDs so you can go with a higher bitrate for better quality - in which case the format really doesn't matter all that much, at higher bitrate almost all formats have good picture quality. Since your distribution is worldwide and your first goal is universal availability of the player software, I would go with Flash. With higher bitrate even mpeg should be fine and that's again a universal format playable on any computer.

Good luck and come back, tell us about your decision and how it worked for you!
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Old June 29th, 2007, 07:20 PM   #4
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Wow! - interesting puzzle.

stepping back for a moment I wonder if it's possible to script these films with voiceover rather than (I'm assuming) interview. It would be much easier to do a voiceover in another language, you wouldn't have the distraction of subtitles and it would be quicker.

With the different delivery methods it's begging to be distributed via the web. If you can do (or get the organisation) to do some research on the average user and find out the number that have computer & internet access you may find that you can do away with DVD entirely.

my 2 cents worth
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Old June 30th, 2007, 11:12 AM   #5
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for translation the best way to do is to get the original text version in an excel speadshet as timed for the subtitle and ask people simply to add their translation in the next column line, by line.
they will generate the different subtitle,then you just need to swap the desired language to the fist column (next the time code), selct both columns (time and text) and export as plain text.
i use subtitle workshop a great tool that can import/export dozen subtitle format.
I just add at top of the file, the missing text (header) that was into the original file, so i can keep in the excel file only the time+text on 2 columns.
The second benefits of doing this is you can keep this format to generate subtitles for windows media player. A subtitle file named the same as the video file will play with video.you just need to activate the caption line into the player.
ideally you would put that on a web server, so people can download/play the desired language just by pressing a button (a stream server would be nice)
you can also use microsoft producer to sync slides, pictures, text with video.
it is a great tool.
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Old June 30th, 2007, 11:59 AM   #6
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For those people playing the videos off of their laptops in compressed form, DivX will let you do a compressed video file with multiple audio tracks and multiple subtitle tracks as well. Authoring software is pretty cheap and playback software is free. DivX can do menus as well. Quality is top notch and the DivX code is so CPU efficient that trailing edge laptops have no problem even with high definition playback.
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Old June 30th, 2007, 10:58 PM   #7
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One potential other option for distribution is to go with multiple formats and let your end users download a version that works for them. The shotgun approach is sometimes reasonable.
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Old July 1st, 2007, 01:39 AM   #8
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I always told our new clients, 'while they're reading the subtitles they're not seeing your great pictures.' It's absolutely true and it worked every time.

So I'd get an ethnic revoicing procedure arranged asap, and it'll take a bit of doing at the start for 6 (or more) languages for ongoing programs. Here's our experience over many years.

First you need pro translators who shouldn't do the narration, after many jobs you'll find them taking shortcuts, because the good ones usually work for you after hours, tired and hassled.

Send out a DVD of the English narrated prog. to each translator, some may do two. Have each translation independantly checked for accuracy, allow at least two weeks for this stage.

Not all ethnic narrations are the same duration, from memory Cantonese can be twice as long as English, be prepared for this when cutting your pix.

Set-up the narration recording sessions, have each 'checker' at the session. Use a studio versed in doing this, it's similar to an ADR session.

After each mix send a sample DVD to the 'checker' or someone else to verify. This last stage is certainly necessary when starting the whole program. You can't rerecord a mistaken pronounciation and recall all the DVDs. And there will some of those that get by you till the thing settles down.
If it builds to 10, 20 or more languages, you can mix it in mono and put a different language on each left and right channel.

Get into web delivery asap. Good luck!
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Old July 1st, 2007, 01:40 AM   #9
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I always told our new clients, 'while they're reading the subtitles they're not seeing your great pictures.' It's true, and someone talking their own language has a much greater effect than sub titling. It worked every time.

So I'd get an ethnic revoicing procedure arranged asap, and it'll take a bit of doing at the start for 6 (or more) languages for ongoing programs. Here's our experience over many years.

First you need pro translators who shouldn't do the narration, after many jobs you'll find them taking shortcuts, because the good ones usually work for you after hours, tired and hassled.

Send out a DVD of the English narrated prog. to each translator, some may do two. Have each translation independantly checked for accuracy, allow at least two weeks for this stage.

Not all ethnic narrations are the same duration, from memory Cantonese can be twice as long as English, be prepared for this when cutting your pix.

Set-up the narration recording sessions, have each 'checker' at the session. Use a studio versed in doing this, it's similar to an ADR session.

After each mix send a sample DVD to the 'checker' or someone else to verify. This last stage is certainly necessary when starting the whole program. You can't rerecord a mistaken pronounciation and recall all the DVDs. And there will some of those that get by you till the thing settles down.
If it builds to 10, 20 or more languages, you can maybe mix it in mono and put a different language on each left and right channel.

I agree, get into web delivery asap. Good luck!
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Old July 1st, 2007, 01:54 AM   #10
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Sorry jet lagged double post.
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