PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #45 - March 19, 2005

Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story

 

 
 
Sonic's PS3 DVD Plugin and MyDVD 6.1
 

The subject of making DVDs with your stories and movies remains in the limelight in this issue. I'll explore Sonic's Photo Story 3 DVD Plugin and MyDVD v6.1, burn a DVD with 6 different copies of last week's condor story, and compare them for quality differences. Condors Story - DVD
 
Photo Story 3 is great software... its been over a year since I started playing with an early alpha/beta version. It lets me do with still pictures what I can do with Movie Maker... easily put ordinary things together in amazing ways.
 
Shortly after the release of PS3, posters were expressing concern about the quality of DVDs made from stories rendered with the DVD profile included in the software. I made a set of custom profiles to use as alternates when heading toward disc... and feedback was extremely positive. My profile renders NTSC files at 720x640 versus the 640x480 used by PS3, and uses a smoothness value of 100 instead of 98.
 
A couple things were converging on me... my 'new' laptop, now going on 2 years old, had my first DVD burner and an OEM installed version of Sonic's MyDVD 4.5. They had handled PS2 stories and MM2 movies well... I don't burn lots of DVDs, but my successful DVD burn rate was up over 95%.
 
But MyDVD 4.5 doesn't support the newer v2 image codec used by Photo Story 3 or the discs burned by Photo Story 3 with the Sonic DVD Plugin. My only choices were to re-render the stories to WMV or DV-AVI files with Movie Maker, or create MPEG-2 files using TMPGEnc... not bad options, but I'd been used to going directly from WMV files to MyDVD, the easiest path.
 
I'd been thinking about upgrading my DVD software to get features such as chapter points, and I had just finished a 30 day trial of Adobe's Encore when Sonic's new DVD plugin for Photo Story 3 was released. It offered another option. At $20, even if I didn't end up using it regularly, I wanted to have it installed to be able to write about it...
 
Moving forward to new computer hardware and software is great for the new features, but the path to the next solid ground often has slippery rocks, mud holes, streams with no bridges, and other hurdles. Getting my laptop from Photo Story 3 to the Sonic DVD plugin, and then to version 6.1 of MyDVD was no exception... now that I'm on that solid ground looking back, I can offer some hints and comments. 
 
Before talking about the issues, let me mention that all of my DVD burns with the plugin and MyDVD v6.1 have been successful...
 
... now to share some stories about getting there. I'll start with the Plugin.
 

Sonic Folders
 
the Plugin
 
Installing the Plugin resulted in a new folder in my set of Sonic folders...
 
It's a plugin, a behind-the-scenes software app... you don't get a new icon, and you don't open it directly. It's made to automatically work with Photo Story 3.
 
After it's installed, the next thing you see is an added item in the Saving Story wizard of PS3, one to Save your story to a DVD for playback on your home DVD player:
Save Story - Plugin
 
The plugin installation and first DVD burn went fine...
 
... the DVD played great on my computer and my test machine (my son's X-box and 27" TV).
 
From that point I wanted to do a few things with the DVD that the plugin didn't provide... (1) add more stories to the disc... a 3 minute story doesn't seem to justify a whole DVD, especially when I'm not sending it to anyone, a personal hang-up that I'm quickly getting over (2) fix my typo in the story's name, and (3) replace the Sonic logo at the lower right of the DVD's main menu with my own graphic.
 
That was the smooth part of the path... I'll cover the rest of it in a minute.
 
... before doing it, a few notes...
 

 
What's Happening?
 
Personal Database - Some readers took me up on my last week's offer for a free copy of my personal database. One of these days I'll put together a special extra edition of the newsletter to cover how to use it. Until then the notes are in the database itself should be enough to get you started.
 
Visualizations captured from Windows Media Player 10 and iTunes, and using them in videos, continues to intrigue me. Last night over a mocha at Barnes & Noble, I was doing my normal video doodling... capturing some visualizations and mixing them with other things in Movie Maker. I liked one of them enough to put a copy on neptune and another on my website (for those who have problems accessing neptune)...
 
I used the post to it to commemorate my 2,000th post at Rob Morris' WindowsMovieMakers forum. Between Rob's site and other forums and newsgroups, my total posts about Movie Maker and PhotoStory are now over 10,000... and my website was meant to relieve the chore of the routine postings!!!
 
The links to the Visualization Snippet are: neptune and PapaJohn website. The one at neptune should play smoother, but they are both the same file... 48 seconds. See if you can figure out which of the 3 WMP10 visualizations I used.
 
... on to the main topic
 

 
the Sonic DVD Plugin
 
DVD Burning - PluginIn the intro above, you saw the new menu item in the saving wizard of Photo Story 3. When you go to the Next button from the DVD option, it'll build the story project to a set of temporary files... then give you 4 more options:
 
View the story
Save a copy to your computer 
 Continue to a DVD
Create Another Story
 
Continuing toward the DVD gets you to the wizard page at the left... with the Create DVD button to do the transcoding (from the WMV format to MPEG-2) and disc burning.
 

 
The offer to include picture files Picturesused in the story results in a folder on the disc with the originally used pictures in it...
 
The picture files are copies of those in the story project, named with numbers from zero upwards, in the sequence they appear in the story. They won't have the original file names of the pictures you imported into Photo Story 3
 
You can view the pictures on the disc or copy them from it... but the DVD won't have a feature to show them as a slide show on your TV. The only button on the DVD menu is to the story, and each DVD disc is limited to having one story on it.
 

 
You can opt to burn as many as 20 copies of the DVD from the plugin wizard.
 
The plugin uses a different profile to render the story than the one built into PS3... the plugin's profile results in a WMV file at 720x480, more aligned with my custom profile. The plugin profile is coded in a DLL and not editable with the Profile Editor.Playing DVD
 
The image at the left shows my first DVD burned with the plugin, playing in WMP10. It plays great on the computer and the X-box.
 
Yes, I spelled 'Arithmetic' wrong... but changing it, changing the style, and adding more stories are all beyond the features of Photo Story 3 with the plugin. For those, you need to use DVD software, the reasons I ended up moving up to MyDVD v6.1.
 
MyDVD 4.5 wouldn't open the disc burned by the plugin for me to take it from there.
 
Sonic told me I needed a newer version to edit the burned disc. I had been in touch with them to resolve a couple registration and support issues about the plugin. In addition to promptly resolving them, they sent an evaluation copy of MyDVD Studio v6.1 to help me with this newsletter...
 

 
MyDVD v6.1 isn't a free upgrade for version 4.5 users. It has a $69.99 price tag from Sonic at:
 
Sonic My DVD Studio
 
I have to admit that I'm not heavily into DVD burning and TV viewing... I prefer viewing my work and DVDs on computers, and going to the movies weekly for inspiration. But I do video projects for others, and making DVDs is a routine part of many... 
 
Over the 1-1/2 years I used MyDVD 4.5, I've been extremely pleased with its performance. Over 95% of my discs burn successfully, and I could easily open a DVD to add to or change it (to another disc). Discs burned using WMV source files instead of DV-AVI files were so close in quality that space management issues often determined which type of source file to use.
 
MyDVD 4.5 worked and worked well. There's been similar feedback from many... 
 
I was about ready to go to the next level of software for DVD production when the PS3 plugin came out... to me it was another confirmation that the relationship between Microsoft and Sonic is such that... for whatever synergy the products have, it's worth riding with... so I find myself, because of Sonic and the plugin, now using another MyDVD v6.1, not Encore.
 

 
the Upgrade to MyDVD 6.1
 
The upgrade process went smoothly, but with an unexpected and significant side effect... a seriously crippled Photo Story 3 plugin.
 
The v6.1 installation wizard said v4.5 needed to be uninstalled first, offered to do it, and did it fine. Then it told me the same about the installed Sonic Update Manager, and automatically took care of that also.
 
What it didn't tell me was my PS3 Plugin needed to be uninstalled also, and then reinstalled from scratch after v6.1 was in place... I learned that the hard way, starting with this first clue in Photo Story 3... the icon to burn a DVD was still there, but the words associated with it had disappeared.
 
Crippled Plugin
Selecting the option without the words, and going to the next step resulted in PS3 abruptly closing... the plugin DVD process didn't work anymore...
 
Reinstalling the plugin over the first install didn't resolve it... nor did a repair process... it was only by uninstalling it completely, and then installing from the originally downloaded file, that the plugin was back to working fine.
 
I reported it to Sonic, who did some cross-checking. They couldn't duplicate it so we assume it's a system-specific issue... My Toshiba laptop is running the MCE version of XP and is up to date with SP2 and whatever updates happen daily behind the scenes.
 

 
Registering MyDVD 6.1
 
The next issue may not be a real one, perhaps just a personal perception one. It gets into the current issue of spyware. I did the MyDVD upgrade at Barnes & Noble when not connected to the internet, and at the registration step I opted for a reminder in 7 days.
 
That set me up for the next adventure. I'd been running the Microsoft AntiSpyware (Beta 1) software for over a month, every night at 2 am doing a full scan. It had never picked up anything, to the point that I was getting bored, especially knowing spyware is so prevalent.
 
The Sonic installation helped perk things up. When back at home, the nightly scan gave me this colorful and serious sounding message. Of course I quarantined it, whatever it was.
 
Warnings
 
I registered the new MyDVD software the next day and never saw the spyware threat again... I had left whatever it was in quarantine and I'm back to being bored with the spyware checking.
 
I have to conclude it was the Sonic reminder software being caught by the Microsoft software. You'd think that, with the synergy between Microsoft and Sonic, I'd get a much less threatening message, if any.
 
It seems better to be safe than sorry... so I routinely quarantine an item, prevent a popup, opt not to receive a file, etc.... when it's coming from those I don't know, and often even from those I do.
 
If Microsoft AntiSpyware software can recognize the potential problems, can't it also recognize the software from those like Sonic if all they are trying to do is remind me to register the software, something I asked it to do? Just the word Sonic someplace in the messages I got would have been enough for me to allow it rather than quarantine it.
 

 
Using the Plugin and MyDVD6.1
 ReviseDVD
MyDVD v6.1 worked in that it opened the DVDs burned by Photo Story 3 and the plugin. I fixed my typo, played a bit with new styles, looked at the newer, better features from the upgrade.
 
It all seemed great. The burn button was red, indicating it was ready to go anytime I was. All was well until I actually hit the big red burn button.... and found I was still in the learning curve.
 
The window that popped up was the one at the right. The 'Update current disc' option was grayed out and the 'Create new disc' automatically selected.
 
The Help file told me why "... If you edit a rewritable (RW) disc, you can burn the edited project back onto the original disc. If you edit a recordable (R) disc, you must burn the edited project onto a new disc....". My disc was a DVD-R, not a RW.
 
To go down this path with the same disc, I'd need to change from burning a DVD-R disc to burning an RW one. My other choice, and here's where I'm being recalibrated, is to accept the fact that if I want to change anything, I'll throw away at least every other disc when it's still over 90% empty.
 
That was enough learning for now... I wanted to make a DVD that would let me compare the quality of some of the various ways I could get from a Photo Story 3 project to a DVD, so I started a new MyDVD project.
 

 
Story Quality - Comparison Checks
 
How to compare the quality of the different stories on a DVD? There has to be lots of personal preference differences... intangibles, and not being in a well-equipped studio, I'm extremely limited in methods of comparison. But I took a shot at it.
Comparisons 
I started with the story from last week's newsletter, one made from a World Wind map snapshot and the condor pictures from my brother, and rendered 6 different versions of it for a DVD project.
 
Each started from the same PS3 project file, and ended up in the MyDVD 6.1 project. What varied was the profile used and the route to MyDVD. From the upper left...
  1. Using the Sonic plugin, opting to save a copy of the rendered WMV file, and then using TMPGEnc to make MPEG-2 files from it... and using those MPEG-2 files as the source for MyDVD.
  2. Using the Sonic plugin, saving a copy and giving the WMV file directly to MyDVD.
  3. Rendering the story with my custom NTSC profile, and using the WMV file in MyDVD.
  4. (from lower left) Taking the rendered WMV file from my custom profile into TMPGEnc to make the MPEG-2 files, and giving those to MyDVD.
  5. Using a WMV file rendered by the NTSC DVD profile included in the PS3 software, a 640x480 pixel profile... this was the only one that started with a 640x480 file... the other 5 were 720x480.
  6. My custom NTSC profile again, but this time to Movie Maker to render a DV-AVI file and use it as the input to MyDVD.
This was my first project in MyDVD v6.1... the transcoding and burning went well.
 
The sizes of the vob files on the disc varied slightly, from 87.1 to 97.2 MB, the smallest being the first one,  and the largest the second. I didn't see any significance in the size variations.
 
The GSpot utility can read parameters of the vob files on the burned disc. They were all made by MyDVD and each had a bitrate of 8000kbps. I also checked another disc, one burned directly by the plugin, and saw its bitrate as 7000kbps... higher bitrate usually correlates to higher quality but I didn't assess it closely. I kept going to check the DVD with the 6 copies of the story.
 

 
X-box/TV Playback Assessment
 
One of my sons is always watching movies, catching up on his routine backlog of shows recorded on his Tivo, and playing online games... using a 27" Sanyo TV and X-box. He's kind of picky about quality, so I gave him the DVD and asked him to rank them in quality order. I left him alone to do it.
 
He concluded that 5 of them were too close to rank, saying something about needing to watch them all at the same time on 6 screens. He couldn't remember the quality of each as he looked at the others, so he thought they were all the same.
 
The one that stood apart from the others, and you can see it in the thumbnail images on the DVD menu above, with a brighter thumbnail. It's the only one of the 6 that is rendered by PS3 to a 640x480 profile - story #5. He had 2 things to say about it:
All of them showed some kind of 'shimmering' on the first picture, as the map was being zoomed into... the shimmering being of the map's contour lines. This shimmering was least noticeable on #5, so this version seemed to be winning at this point.
But, after the first image in the story was fully zoomed into, the next picture - the same one a second time with no transition between them - is panned from left to right... He noticed an abrupt change in sharpness at that transition point... the first picture was fuzzier, and the second one abruptly snapped into place as a sharper image. It wasn't that the softer first one or the sharper second one was better or worse... it was that the abrupt change in sharpness was a negative on the viewing experience. He expected the visual consistency that the other 5 gave when moving across that 'non-transition' point.
There was no clear winner in this round, but the one loser... Let's go to round 2.
 

 
Computer Viewing Assessment
 
This round is in my corner, computer viewing on my laptop. I used the Windows Media Player 10 to look at each of the 6, paused at the same point in each, and took snapshots with IrfanView.
 
Then I cropped a 100x100 pixel square from each snapshot, including part of a condor and the lower part of one of the text letters. Sometimes lettering shows more artifacts than other parts of the video, and red lettering especially so. This was a small part of one frame, not much of a sample.
 
I looked at the snapshots at 100%, 200%, 400% and 500% sizes. Here's a collage of the images at 200%. The one that stands out again is #5, the loser of round one, this segment of the frame snapshot being fuzzier/softer than the other 5...
 
I'm tempted to call #4 the winner, my custom profile taking the side road through TMPGEnc... but I don't think that the winner should be determined by one postage stamp sized image from one frame.
 
Stories #1 to 6 - from Left to Right
Collage - 200%
 
I made a story from the 500% sized view of the same images... here's a link to it:
 
Quality Assessment - 500% View
 
... feel free to send a note and cast a vote.
 

 
Conclusions and Closing
 
Photo Story 3, the Sonic DVD plugin for it, MyDVD 6.1, and Movie Maker 2 all work great... when my personal issues are down to accepting the throw-away of a 40 cent DVD disc, things are pretty good.
 
The Sonic DVD plugin is a good option for those who simply want to burn a story to a DVD and watch it on TV, or give it to someone... it's totally easy... no complications of DVD authoring software... just realize it's one story per disc and you can't edit the DVD style, title or anything else on the disc once it's burned. But it's direct from Photo Story 3 to TV... a $20 plugin seems an inexpensive item.
 
If you're like myself and routinely use DVD software for other purposes, or to tweak the story disc, then you shouldn't purchase the plugin; apply the $20 toward the purchase of other software when you need it... or use my custom profile and process the stories through Movie Maker or TMPGEnc to get them to your DVD software.
 

 
I didn't touch on it in the body of the newsletter, but there's a fairly long list of known compatibility issues with MyDVD v6.1 (in its readme.htm file). It would be well to browse it before purchasing... if you can. In today's marketing-oriented world, the positive spins about a product are well advertised, but the rest of the story isn't found until you've purchased and opened it.
 
I had asked before purchasing the plugin if multiple stories could be put on a disc; the answer was 'yes', but I wasn't told I needed version 6.1 of MyDVD to do it, nor that I needed an RW disc. I guess I shouldn't have assumed that a 'yes' answer to me would mean a process similar to Movie Maker's ability to add multiple movies on an already burned CD. 
 

Have a great week...
 
PapaJohn