PapaJohn's Newsletter #23 - Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 2

Anatomy of a Photo Story Project File

You can often learn a lot about the way software works by studying the various files it has and uses. A Photo Story project file is an interesting one, so different from the project files of Movie Maker.
I think the story of Photo Story project files is still evolving. Version 1 didn't have a way to save a project. It was a one-time process to produce a story. Version 2 introduced the project file so you could go back and re-edit the project.
Photo Story project files are large. In this week's newsletter I'll show you why they are so big. We'll look inside one to see what it's made of, and then in the mini-tutorial we'll explore some aspects of a project, and the effect of a large project file on software or computer constaints.
Here's a sample project to dissect. It is a simple one, using the 9 sample pictures that came with my laptop, a narration added to each, and one of the sample music files for background.
Photo Story - Sample Project
Before getting into it more, a few notes about some things going on...


• Last week's notice about my changing from a free subscription based newsletter to a paid one was pretty quietly received. I'll carry this notice for a few weeks.
Issue #26 will be the last issue for free subscriptions. See the main page of my website to continue beyond that.
The subscription will be for 52 issues, not necessarily a calendar year... those subscribing between now and issue #27 will receive 26 issues beyond #26.
• Dean Rowe of Microsoft made an entry in his Blog about Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 including a version 2.1 of Movie Maker with built-in support for burning DVDs. I've asked him for more information about it, and I'll pass it along when I get it. It might not be immediate for most of us, but it breaks the ice toward Movie Maker burning DVDs some day. 
• Until then, distribute your movies to phones. At the Windows® XP Experience More event on Tuesday, Microsoft, Audiovox Communications, and AT&T Wireless introduced the smallest Microsoft® Windows Mobile™-based Smartphone in North America — the Audiovox SMT5600. The Audiovox SMT5600 includes the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition software for Smartphones and is the first Windows-Mobile-based Smartphone featuring Windows Media® Player 10 Mobile, providing a rich new media experience that enables the seamless transfer of media from a PC running Windows XP. AT&T Wireless is offering the Audiovox SMT5600 starting today for $199.99 (U.S.) after rebates with a two-year voice and data service contract.

The Audiovox SMT5600 features the CMOS VGA digital camera with low-light capabilities, 4x digital zoom and camcorder functionality.... and it includes Windows Media Player 10 Mobile software.

....on to the topic of the week

Anatomy of a Photo Story Project File
What's in the sample project file?
I started with 9 sample pictures in the sample project for this newsletter, all jpg files that totaled 2.22 MB. I added some narration to each of them, added a title page using one of the same sample images (Blue hills.jpg - 28.5 KB), then the Beethoven background music (wma file of 618 KB).
The saved WMV video from the project is 3.1 MB, but the project file is 13.7 MB.... over 4 times the size of the combined files that I included in the story, and the WMV video file rendered from it. Here's the list of files in Total Commander, my file management utility.
Sample Photo Story - Files
Files in Story
When I was last at Microsoft, I mentioned that a Photo Story was a package of compressed files, and asked what file type it was made of. The answer was DAT, which my file utility can look into, but can't fully manage.
If I rename the PSC file to DAT (it actually works if I rename it to most anything other than PSC), Windows Explorer doesn't let me go inside it, but Total Commander treats it as a folder and goes to the next level. Here's what's in the PSC file.
Files in PhotoStorySample Project 
Inside Project File 
Copies of the 9 pictures are int it, renamed simply as numbers 1 thru 9.
The Beethoven music piece is there, now named backgroundAudio.
I had narrated each of the 9 pictures. You can see the 9 narration files... looks like they account for most of the file size. So a 75 second video has narration files that total 12.7 MB... narrations in WAV file types seem pretty costly in terms of the impact on the Photo Story file size.
What's in the XML file?
Let's take a look. Here's the lead-in code in the file, some opening script followed by a section for the the title page, then individual sections for each of the 9 pictures.
XML File in a Photo Story Project File - Part 1
After the sections about the 9 pictures, there's a final section about the background music file.
XML File - Part 2 - Bottom of File
The XML file seems more like a Movie Maker project file, with info about the pictures used and the settings for each.
The Photo Story PSC project file is a complete package. You can discard the source files if you want to, as full copies of them are in the project file.
Can you revise the pieces in the Photo Story project file and put them back in the package, instead of having to open and edit it with Photo Story?
Reasons to do it would include: substituting another narration or music background file, revising the text on the title page, editing a picture, etc.
With my file management utility, Total Commander, I can look into the project file, and copy any of the files from it. But I'm not able to delete a file in the package or copy a replacement file back into it. I guess I need another file management utility that can do that.... let me know if you have one that works.

Mini-Tutorial: Further Analysis of the Photo Story Project File
Let's look at the properties of the Photo Story narration files, and then at the constraints encountered when making and using large projects. First the narrations.
Narration Files
I copied the narration files from inside the project file and checked their properties. They each had the same properties as seen here:
Narration Properties
Project File Size - Potential Issues
Large files can tax the software and/or computer. We know that Photo Story is limited to having a maximum of 151 pictures (150 regular ones plus one for the background of the title page). Let's explore how well Photo Story and my Toshiba laptop handle a story made with larger picture files.
I'll use a 5 Megapixel picture of Echo the owl, and some 6 Megapixel files I downloaded from the California Coast project.
Using the Same Picture Multiple Times
I added the same owl picture to a project, adding it 10 times so I could pan and zoom around the same picture in different directions.
Here's what the contents of the saved project file looked like.
 Project File with 10 Copies of the Same Picture
Ten Owls
A project file for a story with a single 4 MB JPG image used 10 times is 40 MB in size, as Photo Story treats each instance of the picture as a different file.
The Effect of Large Project File Sizes on Your Computer's Memory Resources
Of course it'll depend on how much memory your computer has. My Toshiba laptop has 512 MB of RAM, reported in the Task Manager as physical memory of 523,616K. That was more than enough to handle all of what I gave it for this newsletter.
Does the whole file need to go into memory when opened? To check that, I added some more pictures: 20 more owls for a total of 30. That got the project file size up to 121 MB. Then another 10 different 17 MB pictures (BMP and TIFF) and the project file was up to 252 MB.
All was working well, so I bumped it up another big notch by adding another 30 of the 6 MB pictures... the project was now up to 30 owls and 40 large pictures, still less than half of the 150 picture limit.
.... I was watching my Task Manager to see what effect there was on memory resources as the video was being rendered... it went well and the 9 MB video file had all 70 pictures and played smoothly at the higher 640x480 resolution.
.... but what happened while the project file was being saved really perked me up. I was using Total Commander to watch the file grow in size as Photo Story added the pictures to it one at a time. Look at what I saw.
After growing to exactly 300,000,000 bytes, a curiously even number, and stopping there a while....
Project File Reaches 300 MB
Maximum Project Size
... CPU usage increased as Photo Story thought about what to do, and then did something I didn't expect. It zeroed out the project file and started over with an empty one.
I watched it grow to the 300MB size again in the second pass, and the same thing happened, starting over a 3rd time. In the third pass, there were only 3 more pictures to add. The final PSC file was only 44 MB. When I looked into it, here's what I saw. 
 Project File After 3rd Pass by 300 MB
Partial Project File
It had zeroed the file out each time it reached 300 MB and continued on. No error message, just giving me whatever was there in the final pass. :)
When I tried to open this part of the project file, I got this error message.
Corrupt Project File Message
I wasn't surprised at the error message, but it had missed telling me about the really big constaint:
A Photo Story project file has a maximum size limit of 300 MB
If I hadn't been sitting here watching the story unfold, I wouldn't have guessed.

I guess that's enough for this newsletter. Some closing remarks
As we get digital cameras with more megapixels, the 300 MB project file constraint is more easily reached... My newest camera is 5 megapixel, so that would be about 60 pictures, a lot less than the 150 picture constraint.
If you know the limit you can work with it.... use the total size of your input pictures as a guide... add them up and make sure you're comfortably below 300 MB. You don't want to invest a lot of time into a story and then find you can't save the project file... worse yet, after an apparently successful save, go back another day and get a file-corrupt message and no way to recover the original project file.
I'll be writing to Microsoft and adding some info to my Photo Story website.

Have a great week...