Without commercial interruption

It’s taken me a month of experimentation, but I finally managed to find the right set of tools to create commercial-free DVDs of shows recorded on my TiVo.

And man has it been a tedious process.

Before I recount that saga, here’s what I ended up with:

So, here’s how the story begins.

Immediately after I got my TiVo, I experimented with TiVo Desktop, available from the TiVo web site. After I transferred my first show to my computer, I knew immediately I wanted to get rid of the commercials and create my own DVD boxed sets.

I’m too impatient to wait six or nine months for Season Two of The Closer to be released on DVD.

At first, I got some pretty good results using the Merge & Cut tool in TMPGEnc Plus 2.5. I even bought a license, knowing full well I could use TMPGEnc to convert WMV files to MPEG (for my pr0n collection), and to edit out commercials from my TiVo MPEGs.

Over the Labor Day weekend, I tried TMPGEnc again on an MPEG of a Psych episode I had burned to DVD-ROM, but no matter what I did, the audio and video kept going out of sync. I figured the DVD-R, which was cheap, might have corrupted the file minutely enough to make TMPGEnc barf.

So I tried a number of tools.

I went to Fry’s and purchased Pinnacle Studio 10.5, which was on sale for $45 and offered a $25 mail-in rebate. I figured it was better than paying the listed price of $69.99.

I installed Studio 10.5, a task that took a while, and ran the program. Slooooow. I didn’t check the recommendations, which suggested 1GB of RAM, whereas I had the minimum 512MB. So I spent $75 on another stick of RAM to get me up to 1GB.

(I figured a future upgrade of Cakewalk Sonar would require an upgrade in memory as well. Sonar 6 suggests 1GB, so I wasn’t wrong.)

I liked the interface of Studio 10.5 far better than TMPGEnc’s Merge & Cut. I could get into the minute details of the video, pinpointing frames where the show ends and commercials begin.

Then I tried exporting the edited TV show to MPEG … and I didn’t like the results.

The picture quality was degraded, and the file was encoded in a way that was different than the original. I won’t go into specifics, but I did analyze the original and the exported files with GSpot and noted some differences.

Well, that was $45 wasted.

I tried Cuttermaran next because unlike Pinnacle Studio 10.5, it’s free. When I loaded a de-multiplexed MPEG of Psych, it kept warning me about GOP (Group of Pictures, not Grand Old Party) errors. I ignored the warning, and the audio and video still went out of synch. I downloaded ReStream to see if re-encoding the MPEG might fix the GOP errors, and it didn’t.

Then I downloaded MPEG Wizard to see if its GOP Fix tool would work. It told me there were no errors. Huh.

Having installed MPEG Wizard, I decided to give it a shot. The interface was comparable to Pinnacle Studio 10.5, although some of the player controls can be slightly unwieldy. Again, I was able to zero in on frames with far more accuracy than I could with TMPGEnc, and best of all, the program has it’s own tool to check for fades. In short, it finds the commercial breaks for you.

I was encouraged by the results, but I was sold when I exported to MPEG. Pinnacle Studio 10.5 took more than an hour to export a file. MPEG Wizard took two minutes, and it didn’t muck about with the encoding of the original file. Most importantly, the audio and video stayed in synch!

Today, I managed to author my own DVD set of the first season of Psych. This week, I will do the same for The Closer.

The only hang-up is the cost — $99. I believe I’m going to author a number of DVDs, so I’ll probably buy license. But not until the evaluation period expires.

Another item of note …

I bought a 50-disc spindle of Memorex DVD-Rs, but after a burn of the first disc of my Psych set didn’t play on my hardware player, I did some investigation.

I downloaded DVDInfo to see who manufactured that spindle, and evidently, it’s all crap. Oh, well, there goes another $16.

I went to Best Buy and got 10 FujiFilm DVD-Rs, and it was manufactured by a rather good company. So I know what brand to get now.

I must also credit Video Help for aiding me through this entire process. There’s far too much information on that site, and sifting through it all is time-consuming. But it gives you just about everything you need to know about DVD authoring and video encoding.