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.
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
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
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
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
.... on to the main topic
Rather than making a standard MPEG-2 sample file myself,
using TMPGEnc or MyDVD, I'll download one from
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
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
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
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:
on the world of Divx encoding - another challenge for
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
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
Opening the MPEG-2 file in the GSpot
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.
Convert the MPEG-2 to
After opening the MPEG-2 file in VDubMod, there are 2 settings to
apply before rendering the new DV-AVI file.
Lately I've been using VDubMod
v184.108.40.206 to convert MPEG-2 files to AVI. I've also been successfully using
the Panasonic DV
lately for many things, so I'll use
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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?
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.
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.