pirate's little helper
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digital video
without the copy protection

VCD (Video CD) is the prototypical late-20th-century unauthorized data carrier. The format is simple, beautiful even: an MPEG-1 data stream burned onto a CD in an ISO 9660 file system format (also known as White Book). VCDs are cheap to make, easy to smuggle, and reasonably well-supported by a variety of home media devices. They are also one of the most popular video formats in the world thanks to the format's success in China, where something like 20 million households have a VCD player. In the Occident, VCDs are becoming the favored medium for permanent storage of decaying home movies.

To its credit, the VCD format has no encryption (unlike DVD), no copy protection (unlike DVD), and you can make one with just about any old CD-ROM writer--all of which adds up to a thriving pirate market at your local Chinatown. To its discredit, VCD has a blurry picture resolution of 352x240 (NTSC, 352x288 for PAL) and A/V data is stored in an MPEG-1 stream that that looks--well--not so great, really, but is perceptually little worse than VHS. (Weird geometric compression artifacts are another bonus, particularly during scenes of quick movement.) And where DVDs merely look like CDs, VCDs are CDs--the media is the same, the only difference is the data format.

So the quality is not so great, but definitely acceptable. What makes VCDs cooler than that is their egalitarian playability:

  • many DVD players support VCD playback (check the specs)
  • you can buy a dedicated VCD player (a CD deck plus MPEG decoder chip and video out) at the same place you bought your bootleg Jackie Chan VCDs
  • you can use your factory-fresh Pentium or PowerMac (slower than 100Mhz is unacceptable) and play VCDs with the system-supplied multimedia tools (Media Player on Windows, Movie Player on MacOS)
  • if you own a Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn or Nintendo 64 (or even Amiga CD32 or Goldstar 3DO), you can buy an MPEG/VCD decoder attachment of debatable playback quality
Given this reasonably widespread access to playback, distributing video/audio data on VCD becomes attractive. If you can digitize a video stream on your computer in MPEG-1 format, you can take the resulting data and burn a VCD with off-the-shelf CD-R software (Adaptec's Easy CD Creator Deluxe or NTI CD-Maker have been recommended). The result: supercheap full-motion video that plays anywhere, especially China.
BBS-style Video CD forum
Russil Wvong's VCD FAQ
Trixter's Desktop MPEG-1 Authoring FAQ
Pirating DVDs to VCD: it can be done

MpegTV: VCD/mpeg player for Linux/Unix
Adaptec Easy CD Creator Deluxe
NTI CD-Maker (free trial version)

Dr. V64 manufacturer, US distributor
Playstation and Sega Saturn VCD adapters

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