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Newsletter #70 - Sep 17, 2005
 

 
Render MPEG-4 Movies with Movie Maker 2
 
Let's start with a quick primer about MPEG files:
  • MPEG-1 is the format for video on a CD disc... lower quality but great if you can't use a higher quality option
  • MPEG-2 means broadcast quality video for TV and DVDs
  • MPEG-4 is fast online streaming video.. with extra compression to achieve the quality of TV and DVDs, but using much less bandwidth
MPEG-4 is in the limelight as computers get more powerful and broadband expands. The new Google video service says it prefers MPEG-4 files at 750kbps video, with MP3 audio at 128kbps.
 
...but Movie Maker only lets you choose between WMV and DV-AVI!!!
 
Profile Picklist
The standard profile choices included with Movie Maker don't include any with MPEG.... but choices in the custom profile Video codec pick-list include ISO MPEG-4 V1
 
... that's the option I'll explore in this newsletter.
 
I'll start with some background info from assorted places, and then make a set of test files for some comparisons.
 

The standards from ISO (International Organization for Standards) are available for detailed study... but Microsoft info about WMV codecs is proprietary. I'll use Movie Maker to make a few sample video files with Digital Video (DV-AVI), Windows Media Video, and MPEG-4 codecs... and note their differences.
 
A post on one of the newsgroups this week got me thinking about that option. The poster said he was in a corporate environment and couldn't use anything but MPEG-4 encoded videos... I did a quick test and, when I found that Movie Maker would render a movie using the option, I referred him to it.
 
That triggered a bit more testing, studying, and this week's newsletter. After rendering a number of test sample files, I put two of them that used the MPEG-4 codec on neptune. Last Saturday we went to a local Civil War re-enactment for some pictures and video. I used some of the footage for these two 30 second samples. They're both from the same project file... one with the full color from the camcorder footage, and the other with a few effects applied to bring back the old time movie feelings.
 
... before getting into it, here are a few notes...
 

 
Notes...
 
When I put the two video clips on neptune I noticed the service now supports multiple videos in a single album.
 
The continuing saga of my Toshiba laptop is getting old, and it's time to close the books on it. It's back at the CompUSA repair center in Texas, who says it needs a new mother board. That's enough of another notch to officially classify it as a lemon. I'll be getting a new replacement unit next week.
 
The Persian Poet Gal continues her quest to get the world of amazing XML transitions, effects and text overlays into the toolboxes of the average Movie Maker 2 user. She expanded her Persian Page a good bit during the week. I'm looking forward to another newsletter about the topic, using her page when it's far enough along.
 
The Microsoft MVP Summit is around the corner, less than two weeks away... I may be skipping two weeks in a row. I'll let you know next week.
 
 
.... on to the main topic
 

 
Some background about MPEG-4...
 
Here are five assorted references:
 
(1) Chapter 14 of the 4th edition of Video Demystified is about MPEG-4... it offers lower bitrates than MPEG-2 for the same quality, the ability to mix natural and synthetic objects together (think 'layers' of Photoshop), and support for interactivity (2 way communication with the video stream).
 
That's as deeply as I want to go into the underlying technology...
 
(2) Going back a couple years to an extract from an April 2003 Microsoft announcement:
We have made available the final release of the Windows Media Audio and Video Codec Interfaces documentation... The Windows Media Audio and Video Codec Interfaces also enable access to some legacy codecs, including Windows Media Video 7 and 8, Windows Media Screen 7, the older Microsoft MPEG-4 codecs, and the Microsoft ISO MPEG-4 codecs.
 
Note   This documentation does not cover these legacy codecs; it only covers the Windows Media 9 Series codecs.
(3) An extract from Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 316992
Microsoft has chosen to implement the video compression portion of the MPEG-4 standard. Microsoft has currently produced the following MPEG-4-based video codecs:
 Microsoft MPEG-4 v1
 Microsoft MPEG-4 v2
 Microsoft MPEG-4 v3
 ISO MPEG-4 v1
MPEG-4 video content can be encoded and stored in an .asf file container by using Windows Media Tools and Windows Media Encoder. You can then play these files in Windows Media Player. For more information about Microsoft and MPEG-4 support, visit the following Microsoft Web site:
 
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/WM7/mpeg4.aspx
(4) The almost complete text of a well written 7/14/05 post on the newsgroup for Movie Maker users, by someone named James who works at neptune:
...MP4 is essentially an Apple Quicktime format. If you want to edit .MP4 files (without messy format conversion)... you will need a Mac. Yes you can play .MP4 videos on other media players... but only Quicktime and Apple editing programs can fully manipulate those videos.
 
MPEG-4 is a broad standard with many flavors. It's important to know that only some MPEG-4 videos use the .MP4 file extension (also described as container format).
 
Microsoft has an mpeg-4 codec format (uses .ASF), Real Networks has one (.RM), DivX uses mpeg-4 with .AVI and .DIVX, so does On2, and finally... the king of MPEG-4 (Apple) uses .MOV and .MP4 extension for virtually the same codec.
 
......
 
Last thought... do you know about Neptune.com for online video sharing?
 
I work for Neptune, and the Mediashare service accepts .MP4 files. You might want to go to Neptune.com, sign up for a free trial, then use the Easy Upload feature to upload .MP4 videos into Quicktime albums. Windows Media and Quicktime play equally well on Neptune... we get tons of MP4 files from the new Apple iMovie software.
 
Good luck!
(5) Hack #77 in the Digital Video Hacks book says "... Three codecs gaining the most momentum are DivX, Xvid, and 3ivx... All three codecs provide excellent quality video for the bandwidth they require, and all are variations of the MPEG-4 standard..."
 

 
With that background, let's get into a sample project and a set of test files.
 
a sample/test project
 
I put 9 widescreen clips together from the Civil War re-enactment last Saturday, limiting the project to a 30 second duration. To give it an old time flavor, I added the Film Age, Older and the Sepia Tone effects.
 
I rendered some movies, all from the same project file. My first look at the simulated old videos showed that I could use another batch with color and sharpness...
 
Video Sample ListHere's the list of files:
  • the Movie Maker 2 project file - MSWMM
  • two DV-AVI files
  • two sets of DVD quality MPEG-2 files (video=m2v and audio=wav) rendered by TMPGEnc from the DV-AVI files. As usual, they are about 1/3 the size of the DV-AVI files. The video bitrate for these is 8000 kbps
  • two MPEG-4 files of 360x240 at a bitrate of 750 kbps, the bitrate I usually use for online viewing.
  • two MPEG-4 files of 720x480 at a bitrate of 1000 kbps... these are the two currently on neptune... smooth playback depends on your internet connection and computer capabilities. They are pushing the quality level for some viewers... download first if you have problems with smooth playback. 
  • two MPEG-4 files of 720x480 at a bitrate of 6000 kbps... comparable to DVDs.
  • two MPEG-4 files of 720x480 at a bitrate of 750 kbps... again my usual bitrate for online viewing, but at higher pixel dimensions... the ones at 1000 Kbps looked much better than these so I departed from my rule of thumb by not putting these on neptune.
  • two WMV files of 720x480 at a bitrate of 6000 kbps... using a VBR custom profile comparable to DVD quality.
The MPEG-4 option in the profile only works with the CBR option... probably why the rendering time is only about 1/4 of that needed to render the comparable VBR file with a Windows Media Video codec.
 

 
Playing the Sample Files
 
They all looked good. To start studying file differences, I opened them with GSpot and checked the proposed codec solutions.
 
GSpot - DV-AVIDV-AVI file is decoded by the DV Video Decoder... qdv.dll, found in the c:\Windows\System32 folder.
 
GSpot - WMVWMV file encoded with the Windows Media Video codec is decoded by the WMVideo Advanced Decoder... qasf.dll in conjunction with wmvadvd.dll...
 
GSpot - MPEG4A WMV file encoded with the MPEG-4 codec is decoded by the Mpeg4s Decoder... qasf.dll with mp4sdmod.dll...
 
GSpot - MPEG-2An MPEG-2 file doesn't have a decoding solution (per GSpot - I'm doing this on my old Dell laptop - which has no DVD software).
 
TMPGEnc is installed on the old Dell and had no problems making and then previewing the MPEG-2 files... that's what I used to make the files and get the snapshots.
 
The quality of the viewing experience depends partly on the quality of the file, the decoding software, and the player. 
 
GSpot confirmed the files were different under the hood...
 

 
Visual Quality
 
Each sample played and looked pretty good... and not surprisingly, the larger higher bitrate files looked better...
 
I took a snapshot of the same frame of each sample.. using Movie Maker for all but the MPEG-2 file. For that I used TMPGEnc. From the full frame snapshots, I cropped a small segment that had visuals to help see the differences.
 
I put the cropped segments into a collage. Except for #7, they are full-sized, figuring you could enlarge them at your end if you want to look closer. #7 was a different resolution, so I enlarged it to align with the others in size for this collage.
 
I sequenced them from the highest expected quality at the left to the lowest at the right... they met my expectations.
 
Quality Composite
Higher quality usually aligns with larger file sizes.
 
It was easier to see the differences in the playing movies, especially the transition areas and faster action scenes... more so than from the slow movements around this frame.
 
1 - DV-AVI
2 - MPEG-2
3 - WMV - 6000 kbps
4 - MPEG-4 WMV - 6000 kbps
5 - MPEG-4 WMV - 1000 kbps
6 - MPEG-4 WMV - 750 kbps
7 - MPEG-4 WMV (360x240 pixels) - 750 kbps (picture magnified to align with the others)
 
While putting this collage together, I noted the JPG snapshots of Movie Maker 2 produce files on a par with the JPG quality setting of 95 in IrfanView. I always wondered what the JPEG quality level was... not lossless but pretty good.
 

 
Conclusions and Closing
 
Although standards are necessary for full inter-changeability, not everyone is obligated to adhere to them... some are rigid in following them, some loose, and some go their own way yet claim adherence. An MPEG-4 file could come from any of them... some play with the more generic codecs and some need specialized codecs.
 
That post by James at neptune was interesting... the one I work with at neptune is also named James, who happens to be the president. I've seen him post many times and wouldn't be surprised if it was him.
 
Movie Maker works fine rendering movies with the MPEG-4 option for the video in the profile... while the audio is compressed with the WMA codec. Will it make it easier to get movies into Google? I don't know... it plays well on neptune.
 
There's no real conclusion or closing on this subject; the world is still turning.
 

 
Have a great week...
 
PapaJohn