DVD authoring software makes it easy to create and design template-based DVD menus. But many of those templates have limitations and drawbacks that may produce a less-than-acceptable DVD menu. At some point you may need to abandon templates and create your own custom designed menu. This may seem intimidating at first, but if you have the design talent and the right guidelines, it’s really not difficult at all.
With the advent of desktop video editing, it’s quite common that a DVD producer does not come from a video or film production background. The first step in creating a professional and easy-to-read DVD menu is understanding the basic principles of DVD authoring and designing graphics for TV.
Broadcast Safe Colors
Televisions have a limited range of colors that will display correctly on a picture tube. This color range is referred to as Broadcast Safe Colors. Since NTSC is the standard for North American television, we will focus on these for this guide.
When setting up your DVD menu, choose at least 24 bit (if possible) and limit your RGB colors to 233 or below. Also limit your saturation to below 90% and keep luminance values below 80%. It’s much easier to limit your colors now, rather than to try to correct them later (especially after your client has approved the menu).
Why limit colors? Colors outside of the broadcast safe range are considered “illegal” and can tend to bleed, buzz, flicker, or crawl. Visually, this translates to images that seem to move or shake. Not only is this unpleasant to look at, but it can make text illegible.
By limiting colors, you help ensure the viewer will be able to read your menu without straining their eyes. Bear in mind that just because you have created Broadcast Safe Colors doesn’t mean your menu will look good on a TV. There are many factors that can affect how your menu will appear on a TV.
Safe Levels for Black and White
In addition to Broadcast Safe Colors, there are limitations on white and black levels (called luminance). White levels that are too high (referred to as “hot”) can cause buzzing, bleeding, crawling, and flickering, just like “illegal” colors. Be sure to set your white RGB levels no higher than 233 (luminance values below 80%) and black no lower than 16. White set to 233 may look gray on your computer monitor, but rest assured it will look white on a TV.
When talking about graphics not displaying correctly on TVs, we refer to artifacts or artifacting. Artifacts, as they apply to DVD menus, are distortions or errors created during compression, during the process of building the DVD (mixing), or created by the interlaced scanning process. Essentially, artifacts are any visual distortions not desirous in the image.
The terms used to describe artifacts (distortions) are Twitter, Buzzing, Mosquitoing, and Crawl. These terms all apply in general to artifacts on a TV but there are subtle differences. Twitter refers to a flickering that happens to a thin horizontal line. The line actually appears and then disappears in a cycle creating a flicker. Buzzing originally referred to the audible buzzing noise created in a TV signal when white levels were above the NTSC limits or “too hot.” It now refers to the edges of a graphic or font that appear to shimmer, glow, or move – also referred to as Mosquitoing. Crawl is when part of an image appears to move or crawl across the screen.
These artifacts are difficult to explain so it’s best to look at menus to see for yourself. Start looking at DVD menus, even professional ones, and you’ll see plenty of examples of artifacting. Look at what works and what doesn’t. See if you can determine patterns. Are there particular fonts, colors, or designs that work or don’t work? As you start to look closely at professional DVD menus, you’ll start to notice that artifacting many times is unavoidable. Designing DVD menus is not about eliminating artifacts but learning how to minimize them.
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