by Russil Wvong
If you have a question about Video CDs that isn't already in the FAQ, I probably don't know the answer! I set up a Video CD Forum several years ago as a place where other people could answer questions that I couldn't. Unfortunately the database server which drives the forum has now died, but all of the posts made to the forum are still available.
For information on burning your own VCDs, see www.videohelp.com.
A Video CD is a kind of CD. It looks the same as a music CD or a CD-ROM, except that instead of music or software, it holds movies, using compressed MPEG-1 video. Its resolution is 352x240 (NTSC) or 352x288 (PAL), which is roughly comparable to VHS.
Compared to Video CD, DVD provides much higher resolution (720x480 for NTSC or 720x576 for PAL), comparable to laserdisc or even better. DVD movies use MPEG-2 compression, rather than the MPEG-1 compression used by Video CDs. For more information on how MPEG compression works, see the MPEG FAQ by Frank Gadegast. For more information on the actual structure of the Video CDs, see this page from the MPlayer documentation (via Guentcho Skordev). For more information about DVD, see the DVD FAQ by Jim Taylor.
A single VCD disc can only hold about 70 minutes of video, so for a typical movie, you need two discs. You can play VCDs back on a Video CD player connected to a TV, or on a fast PC with a CD-ROM drive. Some DVD players can also play VCDs.
Video CD was introduced by Philips and Sony in 1993. It never caught on in North America, but it became hugely popular in Asia, where most households didn't already have VCRs. In Asia, Video CD players are roughly as common as VCRs in North America: China alone manufactures 2 million VCD players a year.
Prior to the introduction of DVD in 1997, one reason to get VCDs was in order to watch Hong Kong movies. If you're a Hong Kong movie fan in North America (like me), and you don't live in a city with a large Chinese population, it's not so easy to find HK movies locally. But because VCDs are so popular in Asia, almost all HK films released in the last few years are available on VCD: you can easily order them by mail for US $10-20.
Today (March 2000), however, Hong Kong movies are being released on DVD, so I find there isn't so much of a reason to bother with VCD.
The other big advantage of Video CD versus DVD is that it's relatively easy to create your own Video CDs (e.g. from home movies), using a CD-ROM burner. There's a lot of discussion in the Video CD Q&A; forum on this topic.
Finally, Video CD is creating a big problem for the movie industry, analogous to the problem that MP3 has created for the music industry: it's very, very easy to create pirate copies of movies using Video CD. When a new movie is released in the theaters, pirates will smuggle in a camcorder and point it at the screen while the movie is playing. Or they make VCD copies from laserdiscs, DVDs, and "screener" copies of movies (sent to video rental stores for previews before they decide to buy movies).
Pirate VCDs sell for $1 or so in places like Hong Kong, Malaysia, or China (since it only costs 5 cents to duplicate a CD). This has been crippling to the Hong Kong movie industry: why pay $5 or $10 to see a movie in the theater when you can get a pirate VCD for $1 and watch it with your friends and family, as many times as you want?
Personally, I dislike piracy and what it's doing to the Hong Kong film industry. I don't buy pirated Video CDs. If you want to know where to get pirated movies, or how to create them yourself, please don't ask me.
If you're interested in creating your own VCDs, the place to check is probably www.videohelp.com.
More specifically, VHS resolution is about 300x360, whereas VCD resolution is 352x240 (NTSC) or 352x288 (PAL). Henrik Herranen has an interesting page comparing the resolution of DVD, laserdisc, broadcast video, VHS, and CD-i which shows what this means in practice.
Comments from Rainer Hofmeister (rhofm AT net4you.co.at):
The quality depends on the content of the picture. If there are many details (like in a street scene) or fast movements the data compression affects the quality. You then have an effect like in JPEGs with higher compression. Generally the quality is beneath that of a LD. I have lots of VCDs and I think the quality of the picture is good enough even if you donīt consider the very low price.For HK movies, two of the major distributors are Mei Ah Laserdisc and Universe Entertainment. According to Charles Amith (amith AT kingsnet.com), Mei Ah VCD quality is typically 8 out of 10, while Universe VCDs are more like 5-6 out of 10.
So what does "5-6 out of 10" mean? Well, I've got a copy of The Bride with White Hair on VCD from Universe. When I play it back on my VCD player, you can see blockiness in the image if you're close to the TV, but it looks fine from a normal viewing distance. A bigger problem is that the subtitles are extremely small, bordering on unreadable (at least on my 20" TV).
Through the Internet:
Stores in specific cities:
I've also bought VCDs from New Sandy Records & Gifts, 1126 Grant Ave., (415) 989-4964.
Others: Happyland Company, 141 N. Atlantic Blvd., #105, Monterey Park, (626) 458-9857. There's also a small store in the shopping center opposite the old location of TLC Laser Music at 250 W. Valley Blvd., #C, San Gabriel, which sells Video CDs. Finally, Gameland, which has a number of stores in the area, sells some Video CDs. (Information from Eric Gustafson.)
If you want to get more information about a movie, see the Hong Kong Movie Database or www.lovehkfilm.com.
For an good overview of Hong Kong movies, see the book Hong Kong Action Cinema, by Bey Logan.
Note that if you want to be able to create your own VCDs and play them on your DVD player, you'll need a DVD player which can read CD-R or CD-RW discs.
If you want to buy a DVD player and be able to watch Hong Kong VCDs on it, be careful. There's two TV standards, NTSC and PAL; NTSC is used in North America, PAL is used in Hong Kong. Hong Kong VCDs are sometimes encoded in PAL format and sometimes in NTSC format -- people in Hong Kong usually have dual-standard TVs.
VCD resolution is 352x288 for PAL and 352x240 for NTSC. Video CD players can handle the PAL-to-NTSC conversion, but some DVD players cannot. On some early DVD players, if you played a PAL VCD, the extra 48 lines would simply be cut off the bottom of the image.
Some Video CD player manufacturers:
If you're running Linux, Rocky Bernstein provides the following comparison of open-source Video CD players:
... having worked on a couple of VCD players for some open-source projects (VideoLan's vlc, xine, and VCDImager), I'd like to offer this comparison. You mention VideoLan's vlc and and MpegTV. Probably more popular in the open-source software world are Mplayer (http://mplayerhq.hu) and xine (http://xinehq.de) which both can play Video CDs. A couple of years ago (circa 2002) playing a Video CD meant being able to play the individual MPEG tracks that appear after the first track. (The first track contains Video CD information such as a list of entry points, playback control navigation, still frames - used for menus, and may also contain MPEGs). And even playing MPEGs, media players were not able to show subtitles that are possible in SVCDs and CVDs. As best as I can tell MpegTV is in this category.An earlier note from "Uncle Prawn" (an alt.asian-movies regular), about playing VCDs on PowerMacs:
In the last couple of years however VCD support has gotten more complete, particularly with respect to xine and vlc. Of the 3 that I am familiar with -- mplayer, xine and vlc -- I'd say that xine currently has the most extensive VCD support. It can handle playback control (pretty much - default menu selection hasn't been done), still frames, and play MPEGs in the first MODE2/FORM2 XA track. SVCD and CVD subtitles can be shown too. However for that you need to get a plugin http://subhandler.sourceforge.net/ that is not part of the main core (xine-lib). Since this is not part of the core, some small changes to the source code may be needed to get it to work with the most recent version of xine-lib.
Since the completion (mostly) of full VCD support for xine, I started focusing my attention on vlc using the player-independent code I developed for xine. Although navigation code is all there, vlc currently has a problem with still frames and switching between still frames and motion MPEGs. However the subtitle support in vlc is very good. Because both xine and vlc use my libcdio library they both have the ability to play disk CD images such as the CDRWIN BIN/CUE format, the cdrdao TOC format, and Ahead's Nero NRG format. These are useful for people who author VCDs to catch potential problems before burning a CD.
Last and sadly least is mplayer. It has many other fine qualities, but for VCD playing, it does not have yet any sort of navigation support, can't play stills, and can't show SVCD or CVD subtitles. Hopefully that will change in the next couple of years. mplayer can however read CDRWIN BIN/CUE format CD Disc images to some extent.
First off, you need to be running the latest version of Quicktime (2.5) and have Apple's MPEG extension. If you don't have these, they can be downloaded from Apple's website.A further comment from Ivan Drucker (ivanxqz AT aol.com):
For a player, you need to use either Apple's MoviePlayer (version 2.5.1 - also downloadable from Apple) or one of the shareware players. I suggest 'VCD Player', which is available from the 'Info Mac' website or FTP sites.
Power Macintosh users running Mac OS 7.6 or later (or 7.5.x with QuickTime 2.5 plus the QuickTime MPEG extension) can play both Video CD and DV/CD-i (White and Green book) formats with any QuickTime-savvy application, including the supplied MoviePlayer. The software MPEG decoding is handled by QuickTime.For Amiga people, a comment from Gavin Dodds (Gavin AT eagle001.demon.co.uk):
I think I should point out that you can play VCDs on an Amiga CD32 with an FMV add-on. The CD32 will play both green book and white book VCDs.
My brother Curt started burning VCDs recently (March 2001) using his PC. He sent me a description of the process for the FAQ (thanks, Curt!):
I decided to investigate digital video editing for various reasons:If you're running Linux, I've been able to create Video CDs using mencoder to create a VCD-compliant mpg file, vcdimager to create the VCD image, and cdrecord to burn the Video CD.
a. Having lived in a foreign country that used a different broadcast standard from where I grew up, I found it frustrating that I could not view my collection of VHS video tapes.
b. I am also concerned about degradation in quality of my video collection.
After many hours reading the Video CD FAQ, searching the WEB for software encoders and editors and just trying out various things, here is the process that I used to successfully create VCDs:
My system specs:
1. Capture video
- Pentium III 550 MHZ
- 294 MB Ram PC 100
- ATI AIW Radeon video card
Hints - use highest quality capture setting available for your equipment - I used MPEG-2 capture on my ATI All-in-wonder Radeon. I did not have the video/audio sync problems that most AVI captures seem to experience.
[Update: Curt later found out that the Radeon also supports MPEG-1 capture.]
2. Deinterlace and resize
Reasons why this is required - see www.oldskool.org/mpeg/mpegfaq.html.
Use TMPGEnc (shareware) - can be downloaded at www.tmpgenc.com
I used TMPEnc beta 12.a, which can handle MPEG-2 video streams. Later versions (12.b, 12.c, and 12.d have the MPEG-2 capabilities disabled or available for a limited time for evaluation purposes.) [There is a huge discussion of encoders at www.flexion.org - already it appears that TMPEnc beta 12.a is no longer available at www.tmpgenc.com.]
2.1 Click on [Setting]
2.2 On the Video tab, change
2.3 On the Advanced tab, change
- "Size" to "352 x 240"
- "Aspect ratio" to "4:3 525 line NTSC"
- "Video Source Type" to "interlace"
- double click on the "deinterlace" filter and select desired filter (blend fields)
- double click on the "clip frame" filter and set desired crop settings
- click "OK"
This takes the longest time in the whole process - to encode 30 minutes of video took 8 hours. (Of course, I ran it overnight.)
- Click on Video source and select your video/audio file(s)
- Enter the name of your output file.
- Click [Start]
3. Merge & Cut
TMPGEnc has a simple utility to clip your MPEG files.
4. Pad file
- Select "File," "MPEG tools," "Merge & Cut"
- "Add" your file(s)
- "Edit" your file(s) - allows you to mark desired segments to be included in output file.
- Enter the name of your output file.
- Click [Run]
After all of that, your MPEG-1 file will still not be VCD compliant.
5. Burn your VCD.
- Select "File," "MPEG tools," "Multiplex"
- Change the "Type" to MPEG-1 VCD
- "Add" your file(s)
- Enter the name of your output file.
- Click [Run]
Your MPEG-1 file(s) are now VCD compliant. However, they must be imaged and burned onto your CD-R/RW media.
Nero 5.0 ($49 download) can perform both functions.
Problems may arise if your DVD player does not read certain media types. You may need to experiment with different brands of CD-R/RW before you find the one that works in your machine.
I recommend burning the final MPEG-1 files themselves onto a CD-R just in case you need them at a later date. (e.g. If you want to convert them to PAL, or edit them further. After all, you spent all of that time encoding them - and it is a lot simpler than trying to convert your VCD back to MPEG-1.)
You can play VCDs on a CD-i player, provided that it has the DV cartridge. But there's about 30 movies released by Philips on CD-i which you can only play on a CD-i player, because they use the "Green Book" standard: you can't play them on a VCD player or on a PC. These CDs are labelled "Digital Video" or "DV".
Peter Chang (pchang AT ix.netcom.com) writes that he has been able to play Green Book movies on his PC, using an older version of the XingMPEG player (1.3), but not with the latest version.
Matthew Sparby (matthew AT sparby.nu) sent the following information by e-mail:
CDi Videos (Green Book Video) is an older standard than VideoCD. It uses the same MPEG-1 encoding but it uses a different filesystem. The only dedicated hardware that can play these discs is a Philips/Magnavox CDi system with a Digital Video cartridge.
Many people express an interest in being able to play these videos on their PC's. Many older PC's are able to play these discs using software like the Xing MPEG Player or a proprietary player bundled with a hardware MPEG decoder like the Boca Voyager Movie Player. This is usually only possible under Windows 3.1, though, because Windows95 and Windows NT utilize a new 32 bit CD-ROM driver called CDFS which is incompatible with the filesystem type on the Green Book CD's. It is possible to disable the 32 bit CD-ROM driver under Windows95 and install the older MSCDEX driver which will allow you to play the CDi Videos.
Another option is the Creative Labs Encore DVD kit. This kit includes a DVD-ROM drive and a hardware MPEG decoder card and proprietary software. It allows you to play DVD's as well as VideoCD's and CDi Videos on a PC. It also includes TV output capabilities so you can watch all three types of videos on a television set. It's possible that other PC DVD kits give the same capabilities.
More information from Tom Lee (tomlee AT ee.stanford.edu):
For more information about CD-i, see the CD-i FAQ maintained by Jorg Kennis.
1) CD-i disks may not mount on a PC natively, but there are two options for making them do so. For Win95/98/Me, use the CDi filesystem driver from http://www.icdia.co.uk/sw_pc/disctools.html. For later OS versions, use ISO Buster (a download link for it is also provided on the same page). Windows Media Player seems to play .rtf movie files just fine (I used mplayer2.exe in my quick test, even though versions 6 and later are allegedly required).
2) On a Mac, CD-i disks will only mount if the OS is pre-X. QuickTime will play the movie, but you have to drag the .rtf file over the QT icon; the Open File command will not list the .rtf movie because of the incompatible file systems. I have used MoviePlayer 2.5.1 which, unlike later QT players, allows you to save the movie in a format that's subsequently readable by both Macs and PCs. I have demuxed and then remuxed the rtf movie to produce an mpeg-1 video that, once burned onto a CD-R, plays in my standalone DVD player (and everything else) just fine. For maximum compatibility, you might have to re-author it as a VCD, but my DVD player is very tolerant. [It's possible that the demuxing/muxing is unnecessary; perhaps just changing the file extension from .rtf to .mpg would also work, but I was in the process of re-authoring experiments, and didn't get around to trying that trick.]