Blu-ray on the Mac

By | Jan 25, 2008

Many were eagerly awaiting an announcement for Blu-ray support at this year’s Mac World, but sadly, no announcement was made. Does this mean you can’t use the Mac to create Blu-ray disks? No it doesn’t! You CAN burn Blu-ray video disks on a Mac.

Just a note before you start, if you are attempting a Blu-Ray burn for the first time, make sure you use a BD-RE (re-writable) disk instead of a BD-R (write once) disk. As you read further, you’ll note that producing a Blu-ray disk on a Mac can be an exercise in extreme frustration. Using a BD-RE disk will allow you to “experiment” without making a bunch of expensive coasters with the write-once BD-R’s.

While Apple doesn’t officially support Blu-ray authoring (nor playback, for that matter) on their line of computers, users might still have an option, albeit, an expensive one. Adobe’s top of the line video editing software, Adobe Premiere CS3 comes bundled with their DVD creation software, Adobe Encore CS3. Premiere can capture, edit and output HD video (as either mpg or H.264), and Encore supports Blu-ray as an output option. So will it work? With a Sony BRU-100a Blu-ray burner pirated from my old Dell XPS Pentium 4, I set to task to find out. I captured about 2 hrs of HD video from my Sony HDR-HC3 HDV camcorder. This was captured with Premiere, and as of this writing, it’s now outputting the video as an H.264 encoded MP4 file. My Mac Pro Dual Quad 3.2ghz Penryn monster has been crunching away for almost 4 hours encoding 2.5 hours of HD video, and it’s only a little more than halfway done on the first of two passes.

These screen shots just goes to show you that there is no such thing as too much computer. I always say, buy the best computer you can afford when you decide to buy one. Once the video is encoded, I’ll import it into Encore, make a quick menus, and do a test burn.

Update: Jan 26, 2008…Well, I managed to burn a Blu-ray disk on the Mac, but what a friggin’ nightmare. Adobe has produced some of the buggiest software I have seen with the introduction of the Creative Suite 3 (CS3) line of products for the Mac. The products installed fine, but the trouble began when I attempted to use them, specifically, Adobe Premiere (video editing) and Encore (DVD/Blu-ray burning). I captured video from my HDV camcorder into Premiere. After some basic editing, I output the video to the H.264 format which produced a separate .m4v file (video) and .wav file (audio). When I imported the two files into Encore, the video and audio files were about 8 seconds different in length. This resulted in the audio that would get more and more out of sync with the video. Had to try something else.
I made another attempt, this time I exported the video again, but this time in mpg format. When I imported into Encore, the video and audio were in sync. In Encore, I had the option to output to to Blu-ray using again, the H.264 format. So I selected this option. I made up some simple DVD menus and went about burning the disk. I used a Sony rewriteable BD-RE disk. Upon attempting to build the disk, Encore would simply hang, or crash, over and over again. I attempted to update the Adobe software with the built in Update feature, but when the updates attempted to install, the update would hang, or crash, and whatever Adobe application was being updated, would be rendered unusable after the update, forcing a reinstall. After repeated, failed, attempts at updating the software, I gave up. Some apps were updated, some weren’t. Fortunately, Encore and Premiere were successfully updated. Time to try a burn again.

Success! Sort of…The Blu-ray DVD burned successfully, but playing it back on my Sony PS3, the video was not smooth at all. It had this stroboscopic effect to it, where objects moving rapidly across the screen left a blurry trail behind them, and the video looked grainy and choppy. This is about as far as I got. I have a feeling I need to play around with the encoding options and wotnot. That’s all I have at this point. Need to do some research. Stay tuned…

Update: Feb 1, 2008…
Well, I made a few more attempts at creating a watchable Blu-ray disk. It took 4 tries, but I now have a good looking Blu-ray video disk. Here’s the summary of my experiences to this point:

  • Hardware used:
    • Mac Pro, dual-quad 3.2ghz Penryn processors, 2gb RAM (yeah, I could use more).
    • Sony BRU-100A Blu-ray burner (This is a 1st generation Blu-ray burner, 2x burn speed, IDE interface) installed in the second Superdrive bay of the Mac.
  • Software used:
    • Mac OSX Leopard
    • Adobe Premiere CS3 (video editing)
    • Adobe Encore CS3 (Blu-ray burning)
  • Summary
    • Adobe software was incredibly buggy. Wouldn’t accept its own updates, kept crashing/hanging repeatedly (on a Mac mind you, this wasn’t a PC. So much for all the Mac stability bally-hooing. It just goes to show you, software is written by humans, so it will always have flaws). I had to do some ungraceful shutdowns of my Mac when it became unresponsive. Just so you know this was a last resort, once when the computer hung during the burn process, I went to bed. The next morning, the computer was still hung, no response from the mouse or keyboard. I had to hold the Mac’s power button in to turn it off and restart. Hmmm…I thought only PC’s had that problem.
    • Encore had no problem recognizing and selecting my Sony BRU-100a burner by default as the output device.
    • First attempt was made encoding the output in H.264 format. Premiere produced a separate .m4v file (video) and .wav file (audio). When I imported the two into Encore, the audio was about 8 seconds shorter than the video (over roughly two hours of video), resulting in out of sync audio/video.
    • A Blu-ray BD-RE (rewriteable) disk encoded with H.264 would not play in my PS3. I don’t have any other Blu-ray player, so that’s as far as I got. Besides, the audio was out of sync anyway (see previous bullet item), so even if it did play, I’d have to do it over and fix the sync issue, although I don’t know how at this point.
    • Second attempt was encoded as MPEG2. It worked, but as I stated above, video was grainy and motion was blurred. I figured it was some encoding settings I used. For some reason, Premiere kept defaulting my MPEG2 output frame rate to 25fps. The original HDV video is 29.97fps. This disparity may have resulted in the blurry/grainy video
    • Third attempt was also MPEG2. This time I set Premiere’s output frame rate to 29.97 to match my original footage. Video looks good, audio is in sync. Too bad I couldn’t do H.264 though.
    • Burned approximately 2 hrs of video to a 25gb BD-RE disk.
    • The disk that I burned had two menus (Main menu and Chapter menu), both with photographs, and links to each other. There were multiple chapter links on the Chapter menu. All menu options worked properly and the disk played beautifully.
    • Fourth attempt was made encoding to H.264. I figured with my new-found success with MPEG, I should try and go back to the H.264 format because of how efficient it is. Once again, I made sure all frame rates were consistent across outputs (in my case, I use NTSC at 29.97fps).
    • I used the Adobe Encoder in Premiere to create the H.264 output. The separate video (.m4v) and audio (.wav) were in perfect sync this time when I imported them into Encore.
    • H.264 used a whopping 38% less disk space than the MPEG2 burn. Both burns were done at the High Quality setting.
    • In the Encore Build menu, I built a disk image first, then burned the disk using the image. When I tried burning the disk directly from the Build menu, Encore kept crashing (hanging) after about 1gb of data was burned to the disk. Good thing I was using a BD-RE rewriteable disk, otherwise, I would have had a pile of expensive coasters. So, use a BD-RE (if it’s your first burn) and build a disk image first before burning! This process ends up creating an .iso disk image file. Once the .iso is created, you can go back into the Build menu and select to burn the disk from your .iso file. If you can’t get Encore to burn the disk using the image file you created, you can drop the .iso into Roxio’s Toast 8 and burn a Blu-ray video disk from the .iso file (true story).
    • All output from Premiere was created using Adobe Media Encoder (from the Export menu). You can also simply select Export -> Movie, which gives uses a Quicktime encoder. I couldn’t figure out the settings to use for Quicktime, so I didn’t go that route.
    • Disk creation was successful, all menu options worked, and the video and audio were fantastic.

Update: Feb 4, 2008…

  • Burn Stats (Using 2hr 36min HDV video):
    • Encoding (Premiere): Encoded to H.264 format, High Quality, 29.97fps, NTSC, VBR (target bit rate 20Mbps, Max 25Mbps) 2-Pass. First pass: 6hrs 10mins. Second Pass: 9hrs 5mins. Total render time 15hrs 15mins. Resulting video file size: 21.9gb. Audio files size:1.68gb.
    • Disk Image build (Encore): 46mins.
    • Disk burn time (Encore): 52mins (2x speed, BD-RE)
    • Total BD-RE space used: 23.9gb

This is a screen shot of the OSX Activity Monitor taken during encoding in Premiere (click for larger image). Well, there you have it. Steve Jobs may be holding out on us with Blu-ray support on the Mac, maybe indefinitely, but there is hope. If you’ve got the cash, patience, and one rewriteable Blu-ray disk, you too can be watching your home video in hi-def. Good luck!

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13 Comments so far
  1. Tracy February 11, 2008 12:46 am

    Nice work. Thanks for pioneering and documenting this. What a painful and expensive experience. Looking forward to iBD, but not holding breath.

  2. Rob Collins February 24, 2008 6:28 pm

    Glad to have found this! I’m trying to duplicate your steps but am not having luck getting my Sharp BD-HP20U (-R & -RW compatible) to play the disc. How are you burning the .iso image in Toast? Thanks!

  3. rcgrabbag February 24, 2008 11:48 pm

    To use Toast, select a Data disk as the type of disk you want to create. The select DVD-ROM and drag your .iso file to the Toast window. In the lower right hand corner of the Toast window is a tiny little button above the Record button. Use this button to select Blu-ray as the media type (BD or BD-DL). Incidentally, although you can burn Blu-ray with Encore, Encore will only support 25gb single layer disks. Toast will allow you to burn a 50gb dual layer (BD-DL) disk! One important note: If you are successfully burning Blu-ray disks with Encore, but are unable to play them on your Samsung player, it could be your player’s firmware. See if you can get an update for the player’s firmware, or, take your disk to a store that sells many Blu-ray players and see if you can get it to play on another player. That will at least help you determine if it’s the disk, or your player.

  4. Rob Collins February 25, 2008 9:58 am

    Thanks so much! I cannot get Encore to burn a disc either from the project or .iso. I followed your instructions in Toast and was successful, but my player will not accept either a -RE or -R. There is a firmware update available, but the player doesn’t see the file on the USB drive (probably because I used a Mac even though I formatted the USB drive “FAT” as instructed). The joys of being an early adopter! I’ll try to get to a Best Buy later to test the discs in other players.

  5. rcgrabbag February 25, 2008 7:39 pm

    What is the problem you are having with Encore when burning a disk?

  6. Rob Collins February 27, 2008 4:13 pm

    Sorry for the delayed response–I need to remember to check back here. Encore makes no progress on burning, then after moving the mouse I get the beach ball (app. not responding). I’ve let it go for maybe 20 minutes, then had to force quit and shut down.

    I got to a store and my discs burned in Toast are not playing on a PS3 or the one set-top they had hooked up. My test projects have had only 5 minutes or so of video–do you think that’s maybe an issue? I’m going to try calling Adobe when I have some time.

  7. rcgrabbag February 28, 2008 10:12 pm

    Having only 5 minutes of video may be an issue, but my original tests were only about 10 minutes. As far as your Encore burn problems are concerned, did you download and apply all of the available updates? Also, did you move any of your project’s files around to different folder/drive locations on your machine? This sometimes causes instability problems with your projects. Even though you tell Encore where your files’ new location is, it can still screw up your project and cause instability.

  8. Rob Collins March 7, 2008 11:07 pm

    Thanks so much for helping with this. My latest test has just over 10 minutes of video, but still not working. Encore is up to date, and no I didn’t move any files. I was able to update my player’s firmware, but still no luck. On my list is to try different media (using Verbatim now). Also to try a project from Premiere–now I’m taking an edited FCP video and bringing into Encore for transcoding.

    My BD drive is from Fastmac–their 4x SATA. They claim support for Encore, but may give them a call. Any other suggestions welcome!

  9. Rob Collins March 13, 2008 5:05 pm

    Update: it looks like it’s the player after all. I took a new disc back to Best Buy and it played in a Samsung BD-P1400. Same disc does not play in my soon-to-be-returned Sharp BD-HP20U, which is rated for BD-R/RE, even with latest firmware. Hopefully that might help somebody. I wasn’t able to test in a PS3, but guessing it would work. The flaw must have been in the first disc I took to Circuit City.

    An irony is that now that Blu-ray has won, I can pick up a HD-DVD player for $75 at Costco, which can play DVD-SP-burned HD-DVD’s on regular DVD-R’s. This project is a 10-minute looping kiosk video, so I could have waited on Blu-ray. Oh well.

  10. rcgrabbag March 17, 2008 9:09 pm

    Ya, such is life for us early adopters. The pioneers get all the arrows.

  11. Rob Lerner June 18, 2008 2:36 am

    when you installed the sony internal blu-ray, did you have to remove the front plate on disc tray? thanks, having doubt as to whether my new LG super multi will be able to go internal on my macpro.

  12. rcgrabbag June 18, 2008 6:51 am

    Yes, if the drive has a front plate, it has to be removed in order to fit through the drive door.

  13. Richard July 26, 2008 12:29 am

    Has anyone tried to burn short footage, like 20 minutes of HD in BR format on normal DVDs to be played back on a BR player? I have an iso image made from Encore CS3 and will attempt this once I load the new toast 9 and then report back.
    I had all the same issues with Encore hanging in the middle of burning. Wasted $20 on two BDR discs before reading the part about using BD-REs. Good thing I only wasted two.
    Also does anyone have a better source for blank BDRs, preferrably the White, Ink jet printable type?

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