PapaJohn's Newsletter #29 - Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story - Nov 27, 2004
 

 
Photo Story 3 - The First Month
 
When it comes to computers I don't try to be first in anything. I only started to learn about them when the last of my kids went off to college leaving me to fend for myself. I'm not an alpha-tester... but I do beta testing. I prefer waiting to see how new hardware or software pans out in the real world before purchasing or trying it. I don't subscribe to all the RSS feeds to be among the first to be aware of something new.
 
I observe, study, reflect on the information provided with the software, see what the world says as marketing info blends with feedback from early wave adopters. I play with the new item, test its limits, decide how it fits into my toolbox for the long run... and share my info with the community of users. This newsletter has become the main way that I publish my latest info.
 
Photo Story 3 is a keeper. It's not without it's shortcomings or wish-list of additional features. But it provides some unique things that I can't do with other software.... and it doesn't crash.
 
This first month of Photo Story 3 has been interesting. I'll cover what I know and include a mini-tutorial about making widescreen stories.
 
... before getting into it, a few notes about some things going on...
 

 
Notices
 
 This is a new record on publishing this newsletter early... Thursday is Thanksgiving Day here and it's a long 4 day holiday weekend.
 
 I ended up biting the bullet on my Toshiba laptop over the weekend, reformatting the hard drive and starting over at T=0 (May 2003) installing all the software and updates since then. As usual, it's easier to do than to think about doing. What I didn't want to live with forever was the way the hard drive was partioned when it came back from the repair shop with its new hard drive... an 8GB C drive and the other 52GB not in a partition. I was constantly squeezed by too little free space on the C drive.
 
I redid it such that the 60GB drive is all in C.
 
 I have 6 computers on my desk, but only 4 monitors. Some computers have to share one. Two of the monitors are now dying, to the point that I'm shopping for my first flat panel one... my only criteria is that the 1080 high definition WMV movies look good on it.... of course price is also a factor.
 
....on to the topic of the week
 

 
What I learned about Photo Story 3
in no particular order
 
Photo Story 3 renders stories using v2 of the Windows Media 9 series image codec. Photo Story 2 uses the original image codec. The differences in codec versions make for some significiant things when it comes to playing and distributing stories.
 
 It's a wonderful tool for making slide shows and clips for movies... we knew that going into the release, and the first month's use validates it. You can see that I've totally adopted it into my Movie Maker website and intend to include it in future books, magazines, newsletters, etc.... Now that it's here, it can only move on and get even better.
 
 It's rock solid... no crashing or hanging. 
 
 It's more limited when distributing and viewing stories... the special WMV viewer for Macs has the codecs hard-coded into it and it doesn't include the newer v2 codec that PS3 uses...
 
...the direct VCD burning feature of PS2 wasn't carried forward into Photo Story 3. You'll have to think more about your viewers and take extra steps to get your story to them.
 
I have version 4.5 of Sonic MyDVD, which can use stories rendered with Photo Story 2. With those from Photo Story 3, I get an error message and Sonic says to run the story through Movie Maker and use a DV-AVI file. The newer versions of MyDVD support the v2 codec and the new stories.
 
When something plays a PS2 story and not a PS3 one, it'll probably be the codec version.
 
 Stories on websites start playing almost instantly when the link is selected.... versus the time delay needed for a movie to start.
 
 Playing a story smoothly seems more difficult on the computer than playing a comparably sized movie... something that needs some more studying... I have some thoughts about why that's the case but I have some more exploring to do.
 

 
Understanding the Limits  
 
If you know the limits of software, you can get much more use from it and know when to use a different sofware tool... here's some info about the limits of Photo Story 3, a list I had fun putting together: 
 
 Source pictures imported into a story are limited to a minumum of 1 pixel (1 pixel high by 1 pixel wide).
 
... and they are limited to a maximum of 7200 pixels wide and 7200 pixels high (52 megapixels). 
 
 The maximum size of a Photo Story 2 project file is 300 MB, and it's been raised in PS3. There's still a limit but its way up there. I don't know the exact number yet, but we should be OK.
 
When PS2 reached that limit it treated it like an odometer rolling over with no feedback, just starting again from zero with no notice if you're not watching. PS3 won't roll past the limit without giving you a message (something I haven't seen yet). 
 
 When saving a story, there are 13 built-in profile choices... and you can add more custom profiles. When making a custom profile:
 
The minumum size is 16 pixels high or wide. 16x16 is the smallest story you can render.
 
The maximum size is 2000 pixels high or wide. 2000x2000 is the biggest rendered story.
 
All stories require audio and video channels. You can't uncheck the audio option in a custom profile and go with just video, but you can opt for CBR with a zero bitrate setting... close enough to nothing.
 
 A good use of  a custom profile is to make widescreen stories at the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio... I'll take you through the details in the tutorial.
 
 You can make any size and shape story as long as it's rectangular and the width and height are between 16 and 2000 pixels, and you use even numbers...
 
 On playback, a pleasant surprise was that Windows Media Player 10 plays a story at the actual pixel dimensions.
 
When you make a movie with Movie Maker, there's a tag in the file that tells the player which aspect ratio you had selected in the options window - standard 4:3 or widescreen 16:9. The player reads the tag and forces the video into that aspect ratio regardless of the files actual pixel dimensions. I use embedded browser players to show non-standard movies at their actual size.
 
When I copy a non-standard aspect ratio story to my Creative Zen Portable Media Center, the Zen plays it that way too, based on the actual pixel dimensions. The viewing is consistent...
 

 
Story File Sizes
 
Something I always say is that audio is at least half of the viewing experience of a movie. Photo Story 3 is doing its best to illustrate that. I just started to explore this area and find it fascinating.
 
The total size of a saved story might be more to carry its audio content than the video. I'm not finished testing so I'm not ready to make the statement any stronger... here's what I see with my first test... rendering a 5 second story 60 times using 60 different custom profiles. I used various pixel size and audio bitrate options from one extreme to the other. The two extremes show.
The maximum 2000x2000 pixel story with the minimum zero bitrate audio is 255KB in file size.... a file that's pretty much all video and no audio.
 
The minimum 16x16 pixel story with the highest quality audio option of 48kHz stereo VBR with a quality setting of 98, using background music and narration, is 281KB in size.... a file that's mostly audio with minimal video. It's 10% larger than with all video and no audio. Removing the narration reduces the file to 259KB, still slightly bigger than the video only option.
Amazing but true!! Your story file may be carrying more bits and bytes for audio than it is for video... and the video looks so great.
 

 
Mini-Tutorial - Making a Widescreen Story
 
Original PictureA - Prepping Your Pictures
 
Making widescreen stories is easy. All you need to do is tweak your source pictures by a specific amount... and use a custom widescreen profile when saving. You do the tweaking and I'll give you a few profiles to use.
 
I'll illustrate it with this picture. At the left in IrfanView you see it at its original resolution of 4072 x 2712 pixels. That's a healthy 11 megapixels, a nice size for a story.
 
Open your Calculator and multiply the width of the image in pixels by .75117... use that percentage on any and all pictures you want in your story.
 
The width of this one starts at 4072 pixels... so resizing changes it to 3059 pixels (4072 pixels times .75117).
 
The resizing will squeeze the picture in from both sides.
 
Resized in IrfanView
That's all the prepping you need to do. It's ready to import to your story.
 
If you have lots of pictures to prep, use the batch process feature of IrfanView and use 75% instead of 75.117%... it won't take a decimal..... that'll be close enough for most pictures.
 
 
B - Create Your Story
 
Don't pay attention to how squeezed the pictures look in Photo Story.
 
All of the cropping, motion settings, and previewing in Photo Story will be shown at standard 4:3 aspect ratio... 
 
When you see your story in the Windows Media Player, it'll be widescreen and look good... provided you render it with a custom widescreen 16:9 profile. 
 
I put the original picture on the filmstrip in Photo Story, and then the resized one... so we can see them both at each stage of the process. Here's what they are looking like while editing.
 
Working in PS3
 
 
C - Select the Custom Profile
 
I developed 3 widescreen profiles to get started: 420x240 for easier playing on computers that are less capable of playing the larger ones, 825x480 pixels for normal DVD sized videos, and 1704x960 pixels for stories at the size of high definition.
 
The links to download the profiles are:
 
http://www.papajohn.org/PapaJohn/MM2/Downloads/PapaJohn-Widescreen-420x240.prx
 
http://www.papajohn.org/PapaJohn/MM2/Downloads/PapaJohn-Widescreen-852x480.prx
 
http://www.papajohn.org/PapaJohn/MM2/Downloads/PapaJohn-Widescreen-1704x960.prx 
 
 
Custom Profile 1 Custom Profile 2
 
You can study the profiles in the Profile Editor and create others for custom widescreen sizes you want.
 
I saved this sample using each of the profiles. Here are the links:
 
http://www.papajohn.org/PapaJohn/MM2/video/PS3-WidescreenSample-420x240.wmv
 
http://www.papajohn.org/PapaJohn/MM2/video/PS3-WidescreenSample-852x480.wmv
 
http://www.papajohn.org/PapaJohn/MM2/video/PS3-WidescreenSample-1704x960.wmv
 
Yes, the original picture now looks too wide and the resized squeezed one looks normal.
 
If all the pictures in a story were resized, the whole thing would look great... all looking normal but with the video at 16:9 widescreen.
 
 
D - Use the Story or Add it to Other Clips in Movie Maker
 
If it's a stand-alone story, you're done. If it's a clip to be used in a movie... let's look a bit further.
 
First I'll change the Movie Maker setting to widescreen 16:9 and import a few source files.
 
Here's a short sample project: first the 852x480 story clip, then a short 428x240 widescreen clip from my Grand Canyon movie, and then the 1704x960 story clip....
 
Movie Maker Project
 
No special settings or custom profiles are needed when using the widescreen story in Movie Maker... use it as you do any widescreen source file. 
 
Here's what it looks like when rendered with a widescreen 428x240 profile:
 
http://www.papajohn.org/PapaJohn/Newsletters/29-MixedSample.wmv
 

 
Closing
 
I'm enjoying Photo Story 3... look for that section of the website to expand as the info in this newsletter trickles into various pages.
 
For those celebrating Thanksgiving, have a wonderful weekend... take pictures and video... make stories and movies next week.
 
I can use some more requests for newsletter topics.... send an email.
 

 
Have a great week...
 
PapaJohn