Can you create a disc with HD content without a Blu-Ray burner?
Yes you can – but not with the software that came with your Mac. You'll need to pop for Toast 9 or 10 and the optional Blu-Ray Plug-In. Toast, as you may know, is software from Roxio that takes your disc burning well past the built-in functions of OS X. For simple backup or creating DVDs, OS X and iDVD will take care of most of your needs. But if you want to do something beyond the basics, then you'll need something like Toast.
Both Toast 9 and 10 (with the Blu-Ray plug in) allow you to create Blu-Ray discs (something you can't do with iDVD). Apple's Final Cut Studio and Adobe's Encore CS4 will let you create Blu-Ray discs (but they ain't cheap at $999 and $799, respectively – you can get Toast for under $100, and while not as powerful as either of those two programs, it's enough for a lot of people). Toast goes one further – it allows you to burn discs that are formatted like Blu-Ray, but on DVDs in addition to actual Blu-Ray discs. Why would you want to do that? First off, you might not have a Blu-Ray burner – they're coming down in price, but they're still not as cheap as DVD burners, and you can't get one in a Mac from Apple. Also, check out pricing of blank Blu-Ray media – a single disc is $6.99 at one discount media store, and even buying in bulk lots of 200 makes the single-disc cost $2.75 (and you need to lay out $550.00 to get that price). Compare that to $19.99 for 100 blank DVDs.
Blu-ray discs hold 25 GBs and DVDs only hold 4.7 GB for single-layer discs, so you aren't going to get several hours worth of video on your hybrid "Blu-Ray" DVD. Toast says you can get 20-30 minutes before losing picture quality. But if you're just transferring home video shot with your camera, that's probably the most you want to see in one sitting anyway.
I've wanted to give this a try since I picked up an HD video camera last year, but I didn't have a Blu-Ray player to play it back on until just recently. Just because you're using a DVD as the physical media doesn't mean you can read these discs in a DVD player. Blu-Ray discs have a different layout from DVDs, and they use a different type of video (DVDs use MPEG-2 while Blu-Ray uses H.264).
Since I finally had all the pieces in place, I decided to give it a try. I started up a new Blu-Ray project in Toast, dragged the .MTS video files that had come from my camera (I already had them on a local hard drive, but they could have been on the camera, as long as the camera was attached to the system), set a few options, and created a disc image file rather burning to disc (I've been burned too many times in the past by odd hiccups when creating discs, so I always make disc images first).
After the disc image was created, I saw that it was under 600 MBs, so I thought I'd try using a CD instead of a DVD. Toast burned and verified the disc, but my Blu-Ray player wouldn't read it. So I went back and burned a DVD (hey, they're cheap, that's why we're using them instead of real Blu-Ray discs!). The DVD played fine. Toast created a menu with one entry for each of the three clips, and it worked like a charm. I wasn't particularly happy with the video quality though – it didn't seem all that crisp to me for HD content. My next experiment will be to clean up and export the video from Premier Pro into H.264 format and see if that's any better.
By the way, this isn't a quick process – it took almost 30 minutes to convert the AVCHD video from my camera into H.264, and I only had about 5 minutes worth of video. This was on a quad-core MacPro 3.0 Ghz, so if you've got a longer video you might want to plan on walking away for awhile.
Notice in the bubble hint above that Toast claims this will work on "many" Blu-Ray players. It may not work on yours, so be forewarned.
So while it does work, I wasn't thrilled with the quality of video (and you can see above that I had the slider set to "Best"). I'm hoping the problem lies with Toast's encoder and that converting the video first will result in better output.