PapaJohn's Newsletter #50 - April 23, 2005

Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story

 

 
 
Converting MPEG-2 Files for Importing

 
The original intent of Movie Maker seems to have been that it would handle MPEG-2 source files. The MM2 Help file says you can import video files with these extensions: .asf, .avi, ..m1v, ..mp2, .mp2v, .mpe, ..mpeg, .mpg, .mpv2, ..wm, and ..wmv.... most of which are or can be MPEG-2 files... that had to assume a computer had an appropriate MPEG-2 codec that worked with Movie Maker, something not included in the Microsoft package.
 
Users started down the path looking for that codec. But it remained elusive and confusing, so we've gone down a different path, one marked with this sign: "... Movie Maker doesn't work with MPEG-2 files. You need to convert them into AVI files and use those instead....".
 
My website started with the assumption that the codec was there and things would work... and has been changing to reflect the realities of users. 3 pages of the website focus on importing MPEG-2 files from different places: Importing > Video >
        1. MPEG-2
        2. Discs
        3. Recorded TV
It'll take a few newsletters to get through the subject, and the fallout will include significant changes to the 3 pages. Let's use this newsletter to cover the first of the three, converting an MPEG-2 file to an AVI for use in MM2.
 
I added a note to the top of the three pages early this week to alert readers of upcoming changes... the newsletters are the first place to express my conclusions and the reasons for them. After the newsletter, I'll appropriately roll up info from it to the site.
 
The quest isn't for the perfect MPEG-2 codec that works with MM2. It's for the easiest and best way to convert the MPEG-2 files to AVI files that work in Movie Maker.
 
... before getting into it, a couple notes about current items...
 

 
Items of Note
 
Jan Ozer is one of my favorite authors... ever since he wrote two books about Movie Maker 2 and became my number 1 competitor as an author. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and have read other books of his since. He really feels for the needs of the readers, and presents the material in a well thought out and easy to read style. When asked by teachers which books to consider for a class textbook about Movie Maker 2, my standard short list is go with either my Zero to Hero book or Jan's Visual QuickStart Guide. Those by other authors don't come close to my short list... and yes, my Do Amazing Things book is even a better read, but more in bed or on a beach, not in a classroom environment.
 
Any new book by Jan is of interest to me... he sent a note this week letting me know of his latest: DV 101 - A Hands On Guide for Business, Government and Educators. I'm looking forward to reading it and wanted to pass along the link.
 

 
The topic of MPEG-2 files has been with me all week.... until yesterday I didn't know how this newsletter was going to come together, as my background homework had me going all over the place.
 
My 3 website pages have over a dozen pointers to software that could be used to convert MPEG-2 to AVI, and a general pointer to the DVDRHelp website for more info. If you think my website has lots of reading material, try that place. I took my own pointer this week and explored it a bit, looking for anything related to converting MPEG-2 files to AVI. It was not an easy search.
 
I ended up with 20 'How-To Guides' that used 28 software apps, most of which I didn't have. So I Googled and downloaded, rounding them up. After getting them all and taking an overview, something stood out.... my website doesn't align with DVDRHelp.
 
Of the dozen software apps on my pages and the 28 in their guides, only 2 of them appear in both lists (DVD Decrypter and DVD2AVI).
 
Our goals are similar but certainly not the same... their goal is to get videos from DVDs into Divx encoded AVI files... using open source software. With Movie Maker having problems with Divx codecs, I don't want to go to or stop with a Divx encoded AVI.
 
From now on, I'm not going to refer people to the DVDRHelp website in general... but will if there's something specific to point them to. There's lots of great stuff there, but it's a disservice to tell them to just jump in and see if they can find what they need.
 
The early drafts of this newsletter included those guides and software apps, but I haven't begun to do the installations or detailed checks... that homework fits into the next page I'll be addressing, ripping videos from discs, now planned for issue #53 of mid-May.
 
 
.... on to the main topic
 

 
Rather than making a standard MPEG-2 sample file myself, using TMPGEnc or MyDVD, I'll download one from
 
the Prelinger Archives

It's a great site and they've been making MPEG-2 files for years to provide to the public... her's some background info about their MPEG-2 files, a few items from their FAQ page (with my personal notes in blue):

Why does this site only offer such high-resolution copies that can't be easily played by everyone?

MPEG-2, a widely accepted standard for video playback, is a full-screen, full-motion compressed video format, most familiar to consumers as the format underlying the digital video disc (DVD) and digital satellite television (DBS). The image quality of MPEG-2 encoded files is far superior to files encoded in other formats, especially low-bandwidth streaming video.

The Archive's goal is to make high-quality video copies of the movies available to everyone. Unlike the thumbnail (less than full-screen, full-motion) quality offered by many sites, whose movies are usually subject to many rights restrictions, our video files can actually be downloaded, recorded to videotape, and displayed on TVs or monitors or even projected. We have sought to prove that the Internet can be a delivery medium for high-quality video without payment or restrictions. The high quality of the video files we offer makes them too large to stream, but technology marches on and this may be possible within the next few years.

....the MPEG-2.... movies have mono audio tracks. (probably because the old movies were mono - the one used for this newsletter is mono but uses both audio channels for full sound)

How can I use the MPEG-2 files to make my own movie?

This has been challenging in the past, but we are told that Final Cut Pro on Mac OS-X 10.2 (jaguar) will import the MPEG-2 file with the optional MPEG-2 plugin module... (you can see the Mac/Apple orientation when they think about video editing software. Rich Prelinger and I exchanged some emails a couple years ago and had no concerns about me using posting WMV versions of the videos)

What is an editable file?

An editable file is a file which can be downloaded and used in an editing program. The MPEG-4 are the highest bitrate versions we could do with the linux mpeg-2 to mpeg-4 conversion tools we use. These files can be read directly into FinalCut-Pro from Apple, and can be converted to mov using Quicktime-pro and read directly into iMovie from Apple. (again the Mac/Apple slant - but we can use the higher quality MPEG-2 files)  

Excellent resource websites for DVD creation and video file format conversion:

http://www.doom9.net  (focuses on the world of Divx encoding - another challenge for us)
http://www.videohelp.com (aligns with doom9 on using Divx - see my closing notes later)


Selected MPEG-2 Sample
 
I browsed the site and selected a video. The Prelinger Archive site had 5 quality choices for me. You can tell from file sizes which ones are higher quality... the rule of thumb is bigger is better, so I downloaded the 305 MB MPEG-2 file.
          • MPEG-2 - 305.5 MB
          • Divx - 37.4
          • MPEG-4 - 28.2
          • MPEG-1 - 115.2
          • MPEG-4 (editable) - 183.6

 
MPEG-2 File Properties
Checking the Sample MPEG-2 File
 
It played fine in Windows Media Player 10. Checking its file properties there shows a video size of 368x480 pixels... higher than it is wide and not aligned with the 640x480 or 720x480 sizes we're used to considering normal. 
 
Playing in WMP10, it looks as if it's a normal size 640x480. That's because WMP10 reads an aspect ratio tag in the file and shows it at the normal 4:3 ratio.
 
Opening the MPEG-2 file in the GSpot utility shows the info at the left.
 
See the little test monitor in GSpot... it doesn't do that intelligent resizing... it shows it as it is... tall and skinny when playback in WMP10 views it shorter and fatter.
 
I can import it into Movie Maker 2 with no error message. But that's as far as I can go. Previewing the clip in the collection... sounds fine but you don't see any video, just blackness.
 
When dragging it to the timeline of MM2... it automatically goes to the Audio/Music track, not the Video track. That's one of the standard issues when trying to use the MPEG-2 file in Movie Maker without converting it first. For this file, MM2 will treat it as an audio file.
 
MM1 gets just a little further. It previews fine in the collection, both audio and video. But its thumbnail icon is a music symbol, and it acts like music when you drag it to the timeline, just as it does in MM2.
 
It's acting like a typical MPEG-2 file in Movie Maker, and needs conversion to an AVI file before using it as source material for a project. I'll do the conversion to an AVI file using VDubMod.
 

 
Resize Option
Convert the MPEG-2 to DV-AVI
 
After opening the MPEG-2 file in VDubMod, there are 2 settings to apply before rendering the new DV-AVI file.
 
Resizing
 
Lately I've been using VDubMod v1.5.10.1 to convert MPEG-2 files to AVI. I've also been successfully using the Panasonic DV codec lately for many things, so I'll use them together.
 
Converting to a DV-AVI file means the standard of 720x480 pixels needs to be adhered to. When I tried it without resizing, the saving process stops cold with no error message... and you scratch your head.
 
In VDubMod, use the main menu Video > Filters > Add > resize. Enter the new size in the dialog box at the right... in this case we want the standard DV-AVI size of 720x480. For NTSC files, DV-AVI files are always that size... regular 4:3 aspect ratio or widescreen 16:9.
 
Compression Codec
 
In VDubMod, use the main menu Video > Compression, and select the compression codec. You can pick any of them on your system, provided they show up in the picklist and will actually work.
Select Compressor
 
If you don't meet underlying criteria for the compressor, it won't work and it won't necessarily tell you why, as in the case of trying to save a file using the Panasonic DV-AVI codec without also resizing it to 720x480.
 
Why not opt for the Microsoft DV codec which Movie Maker uses? I would if it was available to VDubMod, but it's not in the list... I have yet to figure out how to use the Panasonic DV codec when rendering from Movie Maker, or the Microsoft DV codec when using open source software such as VDubMod.
 
See the choice of the Windows Media Video 9 codec, listed just above the Panasonic DV codec. That choice requires having the Windows Media Video 9 VCM - Codec Installation Package installed. If your goal is simply an unedited WMV copy of the MPEG-2 file, this might be a good choice.
 
But my goal is editing in Movie Maker, so I'll opt for the best quality AVI file... a DV-AVI one which preserves the starting quality.
 
File > Save As
 
From this point it's simply saving the file as a new one... select the folder and file name, and tell it to save. 
 

 
File Rendering
 
The rendering to the DV-AVI file was quick and easy. This snapshot shows it when about 2/3 complete. For an 11 minute video, taking an hour and 21 minutes for the rendering, which includes the resizing, is actually pretty quick (on my 2.4 GHz laptop) compared to other compression codec options.
 
Unlike the Windows Media Player, which displays the MPEG-2 file at standard 4:3 aspect ratio, VDubMod shows it at the real pixel size. The MPEG-2 file is being viewed at the left during the rendering, while you see the new file at the right. In WMP10 both would look the same.
 
Render
 
Checking the New DV-AVI File
 
The new DV-AVI file weighed in a 2-1/2 GB file size, normal for an 11 minute video.
 
Check Panasonic File
The picture at the right shows the new file open in GSpot.
 
The file imported and worked well in Movie Maker 2. I added some text overlays and rendered a 500 Kbps WMV file from it, and put a copy on my website. If you missed viewing it in the opening paragraphs, here's another copy of the link:
 
 
The sample is an intro video to the kinds of vintage files available on the site for free downloading and unrestricted use. Look closely and you'll see the first few frames of the Civil War video go by, the video we're using in another newsletter project.
 

 
Conclusions and Closing
 
MPEG-2 video is a difficult but very necessary subject. I changed my approach to this newsletter and the next ones in this mini-series about 5 times since I picked the topic... and, when I read the 3 pages on my website, I had to hurry up and made some excuses, adding statements about revisiting the topics and revising them. This newsletter is the beginning.
 
Many who use Movie Maker are looking for very prescriptive step-by-step guidelines or instructions. But it's so difficult, even impossible, to give them what they want. Each computer system is different... the hardware and software, the underlying software structures, and even the settings of those structural pieces. And that's before you get to differences in knowledge and skill levels of the users. What appears to be too general for one is too detailed for another.
 
On the other hand, very general guidance can be trite and not at all helpful. I feel for the newbies I've encouraged to 'go check things at DVDRHelp.com'... as if there's something over there that will pop right out at them and resolve whatever it is they are looking for. A more surgical pointer is needed.
 
I'll close with an exercise for you... I don't take many surveys. What MPEG-2 Decoders Do You Have On Your System?
 
The Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility helps you determine if an MPEG-2 video decoder (also called a DVD decoder) is installed on your Windows XP computer and whether or not the decoder is compatible with Windows Media Player 10 and Windows XP Media Center Edition. Here's the picture I see when I run it on my Windows XP MCE laptop.
 
MPEG-2 Decoders
 
If I did this check first, went down each of the five listed MPEG-2 decoders, and read the notes it told me about why the decoder isn't compatible, I might never have started to convert that downloaded MPEG-2 file. My picture has no green lights.
 
I'm interested in what you see on your computer... what decoders do you have? Any green lights or positive comments by the utility? The info might help for the next issue in this series, when it's time to convert an MPEG-2 file from a disc.
 

 
PapaJohn