PapaJohn's Newsletter #9 - Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 2 - July 10, 2004

File formats:
Which ones work in MM2?
What formats are needed for discs, tapes, etc?
This newsletter topic was requested by one of the subscribers. I figured that was almost too easy for a full newsletter... until I sat down to write it. It's enough.
I thought I knew what a file format was, but when I did some homework in MM2's Help file, I find it hard to distinguish a file format from a file type from a file extension.
Searching MM2's Help for 'format' shows that the word is used to distinguish PAL digital video from NTSC. But it also uses the word in the context of 'Windows Media Format' video files (WMV) versus other formats such as MPEG. It says that you can capture source material into Windows Media format or import other common file formats. It refers to video WMV and audio WMA files in the context of them being part of the underlying technology of Windows Media Format (so maybe one format and two file types?).
The 'Getting Started' page of the Help file says that the page about supported file types lists the formats that you can use, and then proceeds to tell you what file types are supported by giving a list of file name extensions. And this kind of relates to the pick list of file types/extensions you see when you go to import one.
I'll chew on such things in this newsletter, but won't get hung up in a semantics debate where there are individual preferences but no standards.... I'm interpreting the request to mean the various file types and extensions, not the formats (I hope anyway).

A couple things before continuing with the weekly topic:
4 of the newsletters sent out last week bounced, 3 of them to hotmail accounts. Free email space for hotmail accounts is limited, and your folder of sent emails counts toward the total. With HTML formatting and embedded pictures in the newsletters, I can understand them being too big for your hotmail account. I'll just note it.... and leave it up to you to manage your mail. I've had some change from their hotmail account to another. I won't be sending follow-up notes to let you know your newsletter bounced.
The topic of the first newsletter was High Definition and I've continued to explore it. I've studied the properties of many of the new dual disc DVD/WMV-HD packs, and added a new branch to the website - WMV-HD. I think High Definition is here to stay and at least some Movie Maker users are interested in it. I developed custom profiles which emulate the 720p and 1080p video files and put them on the website for your downloading.

Some Basics about Source File Types
The 3 kinds of file types you can import are shown in the 3 lines of the import pick list: audio/music, pictures, and video. Movie Maker 2 handles each of these differently.... the only hybrid type is an animated gif file that MM2 handles a like a still picture when first importing, and then like a video clip once its in.
File extensions are sometimes unique for a file type... sometimes not. You are free to rename a file extension to anything you want. Changing a file extension doesn't change the real nature of a file.... it's the same file type. You might swear that you have an AVI file, but it might just be an MOV file that's been renamed.
I just played a DV-AVI file, then renamed it to change the extension to MOV. Double-clicking it in my file browser still results in the file opening and playing fine in my default player. But, if I try to play it in the Quick Time player, here's the error message I get.
Can't Open
A real MOV file would open in the Quick Time player.
There are thousands of different file extensions out there. Here's one reference site:
Windows checks the file extension to determine what software should be used to open a file, but the software checks the internal information in the file and knows what to do. The file extension is a great clue about the nature of the file, but it's not an absolute.
Sometimes I see posts about someone saying they changed a file by renaming the extension.... and it worked for what they were doing, reinforcing their belief that you can convert a file simply by renaming it. You can't, but the issue can be cause for confusion, especially when it works.

Exercise - What Happens if you Change the Extension Name?
Let's take a test clip, a WMV file with both video and audio in it. With the extension of WMV, Movie Maker will import and use it as a video clip with audio.
Rename the file to WMA before importing and Movie Maker will treat it mostly as an audio file. It won't create a new collection for it, and it'll use the generic music note thumbnail. The only exception will be that, when previewing it, you'll not only hear the audio stream, but you'll see the video as if it were a video clip.
But try dragging the clip to the project timeline and you won't be able to use it on the video track. You called it a WMA file so MM2 will consider it an audio/music clip. The basic nature of the file comes across when you preview it in the collection, but the file extension stops it from being used as a video clip in a project.
Rename it again, this time to an MOV extension, and MM2 won't import it. Here's the error message.
Still Not
Yup, it's still a WMV file, but now you can't get it into a collection. MM2 obviously doesn't like MOV files.
Staying with this one a bit more, rename it again using AVI (or MPG)... and it'll import, but act almost just like a WMA file. Previews OK, gets the generic music icon and only goes onto the music/audio track. The only difference is that MM2 creates a new collection for it.
So you can change file extension names and get files to be treated differently, but you can't change their nature. Movie Maker 2 likes video source files that are both the right type and with the appropriate extension.
Is this so for still pictures too? No!!! Take a JPG file and rename it to BMP or GIF. MM2 will import, preview and use any of them fine. Open them in IrfanView and it'll tell you that the BMP and GIF files have the wrong extension, and offer to change it (but it doesn't make you). MM2 doesn't seem to notice; I guess a picture is a picture, regardless of extension name.
The only purpose of these exercises is to drive home the differences between file types (which I consider the basic nature of a file) and it's file extension. It reminds me of someone who changes their last name; same person, same nature, just a different last name.

Which ones work in MM2?
The full process of making movies, from taking pictures and video to watching your production on a TV or monitor, has lots of parts and can be pretty complex, as you know.  
But, if you're like me, most of the files you work with will be coming from usual sources, and you know how they work in Movie Maker. If they need conversion first, you'll have your standard tools to do it. And you tools will probably be different than mine. We learn by testing the tools we have and using those that give good results. The more files you handle, the more proficient you'll be in doing the process, and the better you'll be at spotting the file exception, the one that doesn't act or feel right.
I'm assuming that you're over the hurdles of starting up your MM2... no hardware acceleration, codec or Direct X issues that cause your program or system to crash or run poorly. If you can easily and successfully edit short movies (a couple dozen clips, a few minutes for the timeline, with transitions, effects, text, narration, etc.), then you can assume that issues with imported files reflect more on the files rather than your system or MM2 installation. But you shouldn't blame any issues on file formats, types or extensions if you have basic problems with MM2 itself.
When I'm working with the first file from a new source, such as one e-mailed to me from an MM2 user to help resolve a problem, I'll first run a virus check on it, then I'll look at its file properties, then import and check it in MM2. If it's a video, picture or audio file, it might work... and it might not. It's easier and quicker to try it than it is to figure out if it's on the approved list.
When a file seems to import and go into the project OK, but the project acts up during editing or saving as a movie, it's usually related to a codec, and the source file should be converted first. In conversion of video files, aim toward AVI files, even if it's already an AVI (like an AVI compressed with the Divx codec converted to another AVI file using a different codec).
The Help file with MM2 says you can import video files with these extensions: .asf, .avi, .m1v, .mp2, .mp2v, mpe, mpeg, .mpg, .mpv2, .wm, and .wmv..... but it's not a given that a file will work if it has one of those extensions. The MPEG2 file type that MM2 has problems with may have an .mpg extension. If it's on the list, but doesn't work.... you'll still need to resolve it.
For picture files the types listed in MM2 Help are: bmp, dib, emf, gif, jfif, jpe, jpeg, jpg, png, tif, tiff, and wmf.
Picture files don't need to be cropped or resized unless you don't like black borders. If that's the case, then you need to align their shapes with the standard 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio that you're working at.
Animated GIF files deserve a few words - a GIF file might be a still image or an animated one. Movie Maker doesn't know which one it is until it's imported, so it imports it as if it's a still picture. But once in the collection it knows its like a video clip so it treats it as a video from that point. This is great for getting your animation into a Movie Maker project, but unless it's shaped like the aspect ratio you use, it'll be squeezed or squashed as needed to fit the working ratio. If it continued to treat it as a still picture, it would be shaped right with black borders.
And per the Help info, audio files with extensions of aif, aifc, .au, .mp2, .mp3, .mpa, .snd, .wav, and .wma will work. The more difficult issues with such files have to do with bitrates, sample rates and other audio file properties.
MM1 narration files are captured as WAV files. MM2 narrations are WMA. So I'd expect those two file types to work the best.

What formats are needed for discs, tapes, etc?
Tapes are easy, assuming it's a digital camcorder tape, either mini-DV or digital8.... the file on the tape is the same as a DV-AVI file on your computer. When you use MM2 to save it to tape, it makes a temporary DV-AVI file on your computer and copies it to the tape.
You can also save it first to your hard drive as a DV-AVI file, and then use a utility such as WinDV to copy it from there to the camcorder. Doing it in two steps lets you more easily try again if the saving process wasn't successful or camcorder tape playback isn't smooth. You don't have to render it again.
There have been lots of positive posts about experience using the WinDV utility. Here's the link to download it:
Disc burning to play on computers is also easy.... just copy a saved WMV file to a standard blank CD. It'll play on other computers just like it plays on yours.
The world of TV viewing is different than computer viewing. Those discs require MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) files, MPEG1 for VCDs and MPEG2 for SVCDs and DVDs. Save your MM2 movies using either WMV or DV-AVI formats, and use your disc authoring/burning software to convert them to MPEG files.
DV-AVI files are the best quality if headed toward a DVD.... but the differences between starting with a DV-AVI file and a high quality WMV file are not significant.

That's as far as I'll take this subject in this newsletter. It would be easy to take off into other topics such as codecs, audio issues, the steps involved in converting files, and other related items. But I'm trying to limit it this newsletter to file types.