Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story
PapaJohn's Newsletter #53 - May 14, 2005

Converting MPEG-2 files - Part II (Ripping/Converting DVDs)

Welcome to the second part a three part series about MPEG-2 files. The first (issue #50) focused on converting standard MPEG-2 files to AVI's for importing into Movie Maker 2. We used a downloaded MPEG-2 file from the Prelinger Archives, and converted it into a DV-AVI using VDubMod with the Panasonic codec. In this issue we'll start with files on DVDs.
DVDs come from many sources and I'm still working toward my personal 'standard conversion procedure'. I selected discs from 4 different sources to see how they responded differently and similarly. The testing gets me a big step closer to where I'm hoping to be, maybe even all the way there.
Results were good, and the steps no longer use Movie Maker as the primary audio conversion utility, with its random crashing during it. Here are the 4 DVDs I used... with links to 10 second WMV snippets made by Movie Maker 2 from the converted files. They're low res snippets but give you some idea of the results.
  • the latest DVD I made... just last week using MyDVD 6.1 (the low quality/pixelization was from the original footage - digital8 shot in low light does that)
  • a mini-DVD disc recorded by my son on a Sony DCR-DVD200 camcorder (the camcorder that burns directly to a disc)
  • 'Be Like Mike', a DVD made by a friend who does lots of great home video work... I don't know what software he used but I'd guess ULead
  • 'Step into Liquid' - a professional commercial DVD which didn't successfully convert with the tools used. The video file created from it ended up with each frame looking like this Step Into Liquidpicture... the encrypted file precluded conversion.
I'm not taking the extra step in this newsletter to decrypt it, but I'll leave it in the sample group to see how it acts when you try to handle it like the others.

DVDs adhere to a standard file structure... which makes the first step easy, StepIntoLiquidFilesfinding the file on the disc. It's a VOB (video object) file in the Video_ts folder... the file names don't really tell you much, but it's easy to find the one you want by playing them. The file numbers are in the sequence they play on the disc.

Playing a VOB file
The Video_ts folder of the 'Step into Liquid' disc has 182 files in it, about half of them vob's... but only a few are the main feature. The partial list of files at the right includes the 4 largest files, which are obviously the main segments of the movie.WinDVD The files in the folder total 8.3 GB, so these 4 use about half of the disc space.
Double-click a vob file in the file browser and it'll open and play in your computer's default DVD player software.
On my laptop, it's InterVideo WinDVD 4. They all look and sound great.

Importing a VOB file into Movie Maker 
Try importing a vob file into MM2 and you get an error message about it not being a supported file type. Vob files are MPEG-2, packaged to meet the standards for a DVD. VOB import Error
Importing a VOB file into MM1 works.
Some of the .vob files looked and sounded fine in MM1. But all had the thumbnail of a music file. Consistent with that, they went only to the audio track of the timeline.
This illustrates more the tightened controls of MM2 rather than MM1's ability to use .vob files.

Importing a Renamed VOB File
MPEG-2 files have different extension names on computers than they do on DVDs. Rename a ..vob file to .mpg and Movie Maker and other software will try harder. In some cases it'll partially work, but in most cases it'll work just enough to get your hopes up, and then result in confusion and frustration. Up until now I'd been using Movie Maker to convert the audio track to a WMA file even though it crashed more often than not.
The renaming is important when it comes to ripping the video and audio files from it using TMPGEnc.
Imported VOB
The MyDVD .mpg came into MM2 as an audio clip and went to the timeline as if it was an audio file. It sounded good, so good that I'm confident I can save the MM2 movie as a WMA audio file. It's duration per the clip and timeline aligned with the DVD file.
The properties of the imported 'Step into Liquid' file in MM2, shown above left, shows audio properties but has no info about the video.
The Bottom line about renaming from .vob to .mpg: 3 of the 4 imported, but none of them gave any indication of having a video track. The audio properties and the way it acted was different for each of the 3. Only the MyDVD file acted so well that it seemed as if the audio could have been ripped from the file using MM2 (I didn't try). 

Where do we go from here? Into the ripping and converting... the right ways.
... before that, here's a couple notes...

Someone e-mailed a much easier way to animate a map-route clip... using just 2 images instead of a big pack of 20 to 30 images that I used a while back in a Photo Story project.
Sure enough... works easy and well: use the same image twice, the first with no marking and the second with the fully marked route. Let's say it's going generally from left to right... set the transition between the two clips to a long duration (10 seconds or so) and the transition type to 'reveal right'. The story will show a nice smooth route marking rolling out. You can do it in Movie Maker also, as it has a 'reveal right' transition... no need to make a story first.

In issue #50 I asked what MPEG-2 decoders you have, and if any green lights or positive comments were indicated in the decoder utility. There were minimal responses and no-one reported a green light.

The new book about VirtualDub was published... here's a link to a press release. I'm looking forward to reading what the other authors wrote. It covers VirtualDub, VDubMod, and AVISynth... we'll be using VirtualDub in one of the conversion steps later in this newsletter.  
.... on to the main topic

The Variability of VOB Files
We've seen it in the introduction, 4 discs with files that act differently. The vob files have the video and audio streams in them, one video and as many as 8 audio streams. Some programs require that you demux (separate the video and audio streams into separate files) before you import.
Here's a well written page about demuxing and remuxing... demuxing separates the video and audio streams so you can work on them individually, and remuxing puts them back together into an MPEG-2 compliant file.
Even a demuxed MPEG-2 video file won't work in Movie Maker, nor will an extracted Dolby AC3 audio file. So for us, demuxing gets us separate video and audio files that need to be converted.
Everyone's computer system and software toolkit is different. I don't expect to be able to provide a standard procedure for everyone. But I do hope to help you understand the processes by illustrating it with my procedure, so you can more easily develop your own.
The software I'll be using is:
That'll get video and audio files of the highest quality, and file types that work very well in Movie Maker.

Available Software and Guidance
I want to stop here and review current guidance about software needed to demux and then convert MPEG-2 video and Dolby audio files. We lucked out in issue #50 as the downloaded MPEG-2 file didn't have a Dolby audio steam. But 3 of the 4 DVDs I picked for this issue have .ac3 audio files, so it's time to find a better way to convert it, better than my hit and miss use of Movie Maker. 
There are somewhat overlapping but different objectives between my website and DVDRHelp. Mine is focused on getting DVDs to source files for Movie Maker projects... theirs is more about open source software, the Divx codec and it's derivatives... ripping DVDs to get them into Divx encoded files, or to make backup discs, not how to make files that work in Movie Maker. The links and guides at DVDRHelp don't reference Movie Maker.
My 3 current website pages note 16 software apps that could be used in ripping and conversion steps. Some are my personal comments, but most are from posts on the newsgroup. It's interesting that only 2 of the 16 align with the conversion guides at DVDRHelp: DVD Decrypter and DVD2AVI.  
I found 25 DVDRHelp Guides about converting MPEG-2 to AVI... just reading their titles showed how strongly they align with the Divx community. AVI to them means Divx encoded... to me it means something akin to DV-AVI. But there's a lot to learn from the guides... and apply it to our needs.
The 25 guides cover 28 different software apps. Of most interest was BeSweet to convert audio files, and the related Be Sweet GUI, a wizard interface to run BeSweet, which is a command-line utility.
.... back to the steps need to demux and convert the disc files

Splitting the vob (mpg) file into 2 parts - video + audio (de-multiplexing)
We'll split the files into the two streams, the video and audio, and work on each separately... first the de-multiplexing. I'll start with the largest and the only one of the 4 test files apt to be protected, the one from 'Step into Liquid'.
I tried various tools... bbTools, a command line utility, then VDubMod, and settled into TMPGEnc for the demuxing.

Demultiplex - using TMPGEnc
From the main menu, use File > MPEG tools > Simple De-multiplex tab > select the file...
Press the Run button... for the largest file of the 4 vob files, the 1 GB+ 22 minute one from 'Step Into Liquid', the splitting took about 5 minutes to first make the video m2v file, and then another 2 minutes for the audio ac3 file. Demuxing isn't a rendering process... it's more of a splitting one, so it's pretty quick.
For 3 of the files, this simple de-multiplexing step resulted in two files from each of the vob's, an MPEG-2 m2v file with the video, and a Dolby ac3 file with the audio. The combined total sizes of the two files was the same as the single vob file.
The Simple De-multiplex didn't include the audio stream for the file from 'Be Like Mike'... so I moved over to the 'not-simple' De-multiplex tab shown below.
De-multiplex tab
This window shows the streams inside the file... those automatically checked are the available ones. See the note at the bottom of the window, saying to double-click the one you want to save to a new file.
I double-clicked the checked audio stream 0x00 and saved it to a file, gave it a .WAV extension and it played great.

At this point I've separated (de-muxed) the combined files into separate video and audio files. Four MPEG-2 video files with .m2v extensions, three Dolby audio files with ..ac3 extensions, and one audio file with a .wav extension.
We've ripped the files. Now it's time to convert the .m2v and .ac3 files.

Converting the video and audio files
We're heading toward DV-AVI video files and WAV audio...
Converting video
As long as I was in TMPGEnc, I stayed in it for the video. Open the m2v file in the main working window as the Video source.
Be Like Mike - Video
From the main menu use File > Output to File > AVI file > uncheck audio as we don't have that stream > Video Setting for compression > Panasonic DV Codec.
The longest of the renderings took 45 minutes for a 7 minute video (the one from the MyDVD disc).
I didn't know until my final quality check that the converted file from the Sony mini-DVD wasn't complete. It was only the first 29 seconds of a 14-1/2 minute video... more later.
The file from the 'Step Into Liquid' disc converted but playback of the avi file showed it as a garbled set of colored blocks, as we saw in the intro... due to the encryption
Converting audio
Although TMPGEnc spun-out the ac3 files, it gives an error message if you try to import one, saying it's an unsupported file type.
TMPGEnc needs a special module to convert AC3 files. There is one, but it supports other versions of TMPGEnc, not mine.
I researched the options at DVDRHelp and tried BeSweet... and it's sweet!!!

BeSweet and the BeSweet Wizard
I started with BeSweet and the BeSweet GUI/Wizard, and didn't need to look further. BeSweet is a command-line audio transcoding utility that converts audio files from one format to another, and with the BeSweet Wizard, the conversions went easy and well.
The downloaded files for the two software packages are small (2/3 MB total)... zip packages.
Make a folder on your hard drive named 'BeSweetWizard' and put the contents of the into it.
Then make a sub-folder under it named 'BeSweet' and put the contents of the package in it. It needs to be in that location for the wizard to find it. 
WizardRun the BeSweet GUI v0.6.exe file. When first opened, it gives you the choices at the left... I like Wizards, selected it and pressed GO.
The wizard has five steps and is easy to use.
On the first step drag (from your file manager/browser) each of the ac3 files you want to convert. I did one at a time, but the wizard lets you make a list of and run it as a batch process.
The next steps are to select the output type (WAV), the output mode (Wave-Stereo), an optional FRC Preset (None), and a look at the project settings... by default the new .wav file is placed in the same folder as the source ac3 file.
Press the GO button on the last step and in a couple minutes you'll have WAV files. I didn't run into any issues using BeSweet.

Quality Check...
At this point I thought I had all of my converted files. Just one more step, a quality check in Movie Maker... the goal is good usable source files for movie projects.
The figure at the lower right shows the pair of files from the MyDVD disc on the timeline of Movie Maker 2... zoomed in all the way to see how aligned the ends of the video and audio files are.
Perfect!! That's what we're looking for. The project preview plays smoothly, and looks and sounds good.Final Check 
Note that the video file shows no associated audio... we had opted to not include the audio in the saved DV-AVI file.
That was the only set to fully pass this round.
The 'Be Like Mike' set was close enough. The audio file was 0.13 seconds longer than the video. There was no lip-syncing to need precise alignment so I accepted the pair.
But the set from the Sony DVD flunked cold. The audio file was over 14-1/2 minutes in duration but the video was 29 seconds. The video obviously needed more work.

Post Quality Check Fix... 
Sony Disc PropertiesChecking the Sony disc vob file properties with the MPEG Tools of TMPGEnc showed it had pixel dimensions of 704x480. I hadn't noticed that before.
Our normal dimensions for DV-AVI files (NTSC), which the Panasonic DV codec needs in the input file, is 720x480.
I went to VDubMod and added the resize filter to the process to first resize the file before it goes to the Panasonic codec for rendering.
The rendering went fine and the check in Movie Maker 2 showed perfect complete files and alignment between the video and audio... over 14-1/2 minutes in duration.
This was a major post-quality check fix, but once noted it was easy to resolve.
I've learned that the Sony mini-DVDs use a slightly different standard size than DV-AVI files... looking at the standards for DVDs, the 704x480 size is included.

Conclusions and Closing
I learned a lot more about DVD specs, the types of files on them, and how better to rip and convert. It was another great exercise for me.
With today's computers and software, there are always many ways to achieve the same thing... we only need one, but one that we can trust to work consistently. Converting Dolby ac3 files had always been difficult for me; BeSweet appears to have resolved that. Here's a link to some spec info about the audio files on a DVD.
DVD Audio Spec
up to a maximum of 8 audio streams can be multiplexed into the same cell with a single video stream
NTSC - Dolby AC-3 and/or Linear PCM is mandatory, and MPEG-2 is optional
PAL - MPEG-2 audio and/or Linear PCM are mandatory, and Dolby AC-3 is optional
I learned about and tested BeSweet and it's related wizard. Two of the things I like about it are (1) the wizard makes it so easy to use, and (2) it's a self-contained package in that it comes with everything it needs to convert a Dolby AC3 file into a WAV that works great in MM2.
Many software packages, such as TMPGEnc and VirtualDub, don't come with codecs or add-ons needed to handle the AC3 files so common in DVDs.
To check the BeSweet utility even more, I installed it on my old Dell laptop, which has no extra software, can't play DVDs, and doesn't have any of the extra codecs that my Toshiba has. It converted AC3 files fine... BeSweet is now a permanent item in my software toolbox.
I'll be revising the website page as intended... I'm not sure yet what I'll say, but it'll be along the lines of '... ripping video and audio files from DVDs for use in Movie Maker remains challenging....', combined with '... I don't have a recommended procedure, as every computer system and software toolbox is different, but here's how I'm currently doing it...'.

Have a great week...