Newsletter #45 - March 19, 2005
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
doing it, a few notes...
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
. 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
In the intro above, you saw the new menu item in the saving
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
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
used 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
You can opt to burn
as many as 20 copies of the DVD from the plugin
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.
The image at the left shows my first DVD burned
with the plugin, playing in WMP10. It plays great on the computer and the
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:
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
The upgrade process went smoothly,
but with an unexpected and significant side effect... a
seriously crippled Photo Story 3 plugin.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Story Quality - Comparison
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.
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...
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.
Using the Sonic plugin, saving a copy and giving the WMV
file directly to MyDVD.
Rendering the story with my custom NTSC profile, and using the
WMV file in MyDVD.
(from lower left) Taking the rendered WMV file from my custom
profile into TMPGEnc to make the MPEG-2 files, and giving those to
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.
My custom NTSC profile again, but this time to Movie Maker to
render a DV-AVI file and use it as the input to
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
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
I made a story from the 500% sized view of the same
images... here's a link to it:
... 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
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...