Creating a video CD (VCD) from a YouTube video

As a Christmas gift for my father, I transferred a YouTube video of a public service announcement that he remembered fondly from his childhood to optical media so he could watch it on the television instead of on the computer.

There were some unique sets of constraints that made this an interesting project. First, I came to my parents’ house with only a Dell Mini netbook (with no optical drive) running Ubuntu Linux.  None of the computers had DVD writeable optical drives, but they could burn CDs.  My parents’ DVD player can play video CDs (VCDs) so I decided this would be a good option.

Capturing the video

I downloaded the YouTube video using the UnPlug extension for Firefox.  I chose to save the MP4 version of the video.

Transcoding the video

Since I would be burning the video on my mom’s notebook, I read the help documentation for the CD writing software to determine which video format the software needed to create a VCD.

VLC is usually my go-to tool for working with video, but I got errors about not having the correct codecs.  Rather than messing around, I wanted to just get the project done.  So, my next choice was FFmpeg.   It was a good choice because the software, though a command-line utility, has a preset for creating an mpeg file suitable for burning a VCD.

ffmpeg -i High\ Flight\ \(John\ Gillespie\ Magee\ Jr\ Poem\).mp4 -target ntsc-vcd high_flight.mpg

I was able to do this with the version of ffmpeg included with Ubuntu 10.04, but as ffmpeg is cross-platform it should be straightforward to do this on other platforms.

Burning the VCD

I copied the file to my Dropbox and downloaded it to my Mom’s computer using the services web interface.  Her burning software allowed me to just drag-and-drop the file into the burning program’s window.