PapaJohn Productions

Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story
Newsletter #74 - October 22, 2005


Photo Story 3 Profile Choices and Making a DVD
It's been a while since a newsletter about Photo Story. This isn't really a good title for one, but in it I'll check my new HP notebook... nick-named "the Hummer", to see how it handles making a DVD... and we'll use Photo Stories from PS3 rather than movies from Movie Maker. In the process we'll compare the quality of the various PS3 profiles you can choose from.
I hadn't checked things before I started writing. I didn't even know what DVD software came on the Hummer. As always, I'll share the journey with you... the good, the bad, and the unexpected.
It'll also be a cross check of the standard aspect ratio profiles for Photo Story 3, those included with the software and the 6 custom profiles I made to enhance the quality when heading toward a disc.
... before getting into it, here are a few notes...

The 'Hummer' is working well. Here's a couple positive experiences I had with it during its first week.
  • When I plugged it into the library's projection system for the technology fair on Saturday, I didn't need to change the screen resolution or lower the hardware acceleration as I'd been used to doing with the Toshiba. The laptop and the View Sonic projector figured out the needed settings and changed things automatically. Beyond that, when I played movies in the Windows Media Player, I still saw the player and its controls with part of the desktop on the laptop, but only the movie was displayed on the big screen. It knew the focus of attention was on the movie. Whenever I closed the player, the system settings changed and the desktop showed again on the big screen. A nice interactive experience.
  • With the faster CPU (3.4 GHz versus the 2.4 on the Toshiba) screen captures of iTunes visualizations at higher settings - 640x480, 30 fps, to a 1000 kbps wmv file - are done with minimal if any dropped frames. I'll have higher quality screen captures from now on.
I added a Setup > Vista page to the site. With the beta 1 version of Vista, there isn't much to say about it yet... but that'll change as the beta updates roll out. That'll be the page where I start sharing what I see in the beta.
Mark Coffman released a Tweak PS utility for Photo Story 3. If you sometimes want to do a batch change of the picture durations in a story, remove motion settings, or randomize the picture locations... go get a copy. The installation is quick and easy, as is its use.
.... on to the main topic...

sample Story
To get started, I took eight 6-megapixel JPG images and two MP3 music files, and packaged them into a 60 second story project... there's a note on my site about PS3 not being able to initialize MP3 files properly. We'll check it, and use other music if they don't work.
14 profiles come with PS3, and I have 6 downloadable custom ones on my website to use when heading toward a disc (VCD, SVCD or DVD for NTSC or PAL)... I used each of the profiles to render the same story 20 times. That gives us enough stories to do some quality comparisons.
I'm not using the 3 custom widescreen profiles as they don't fit into this round of testing.
The file list below-right shows the rendered stories in order by file size. If quality equals file size, a good rule of thumb for WMV files, at this point the PAL DVD story looks like it might be the quality winner... if you want to judge them yourself, here's a set of links to online copies.
Samples by Sizecomputer playback
portable devices 
They all looked and sounded as I'd expect, and the audio from the MP3 files seems to have come through OK.
Stories heading for discs for TV viewing don't have square pixels... so the can appear to be the wrong shape when watching them on your computer... they are sized to align with the MPEG-2 standards for files on the discs, and they should look OK on TV. Don't judge the WMV files as they are just intermediate steps needed to get to the discs.
Next is to see if the DVD software that came on the Hummer accepts PS3 stories as inputs.

Making the DVD
The new laptop has Sonic's DigitalMedia Plus v7. After opening and registering it, I opted for the Create Project > DVD (which said I can store up to 3 hours of high quality video). Selecting that opened Sonic's MyDVD Plus version 6.1.0
I added the 20 sample files... got a message that new menu page and buttons were added.... again and again and again... 3 times... the number of menu buttons in MyDVD is limited to 6, so 20 stories on a disc needs a total of 4 menu pages. 
A project preview showed the menu working and all stories playing fine.
You have to save the DVD project file before using it to create a DVD Folder (the same files as on the disc, but on the hard drive). Then, saving it as a folder:
  1. builds the files needed for the menus
  2. transcodes the video/audio WMV files to MPEG-2 files
MPEG-2 Files on DVDThe process took about 20 minutes... on a 3.4 GHz system. During transcoding the CPU ran at 100%.
After saving the project on the hard drive, the first disc burn was a success, just like my early days with MyDVD4.5, but now with the ability to include stories made by PS3, something that MyDVD version 4.5 couldn't do.
The list at the right shows the VOB video files on the DVD. I commented above that file size is a good indication of quality... yes, for WMV files but not MPEG-2 files on DVDs. 
The WMV files ranged from 0.3 to 5.2 MB, a considerable range, and the sequence by size is consistent with the order by quality.
The MPEG-2 files on the disc (with the VOB extension) are all the same size. The sizes are the same because each story is 60 seconds, and file sizes on DVDs are more about video duration than about quality.
How's this for a fact? The sum total of the file sizes for the 20 stories is 2/3 the size of just one of the VOB files. And the quality isn't any better. But it's a necessary price to pay to meet the MPEG-2 standards for a DVD.

Playing the DVD
The first check is to close down MyDVD, remove the disc and put it right back into the computer... up pops the window with your playing choices, which vary by the system. The choices on my new Hummer are the Media Center software, Windows Media Player, and InterVideo WinDVD. I'll try each.
The Media Center... the navigation button to go to the next menu window doesn't function with the mouse... that's why I use a main menu with sub-menus on DVDs that exceed 6 files, and not a series of main menu screens. Most stand-alone DVD players can't execute the moving from one main menu to another.
Windows Media Player 10... the navigation buttons work to go from menu to menu... and there's a list of all 20 tracks in the now playing list at the right.
WinDVD... the menu navigation buttons work in this software too. The audio is noticeably louder than it was in the other two apps... I'll use this one to assess quality differences among the 20 stories.

Comparing the Stories on the DVD
WinDVD has a snapshot feature, saving a frame as a BMP at 640x480 pixels.
I took a horizontal slice from each snapshot and grouped them as above. I used the 100% quality level for these JPG files so as not to lose anything by compression as I moved from the BMP snapshot to the newsletter images. Here's what the slices looked like for the 4 profiles used when saving a story for computer playback. 
computer playback
Next are the profiles when the stories are heading to DVDs. The two PS3 profiles come with Photo Story 3... the other two are the custom ones on my website.
Most feedback has been very positive about the custom ones. Here's an email I received Wednesday as I was writing this newsletter. Good timing !!
"Just a quick email to say thanks for providing the PAL profile for Photo Story 3 on your website. I tried it out and the difference it made is huge. The profile for PAL that came with PS3 gave a very fuzzy output but with your profile, the pictures looked nice and sharp I could even see facial features !!"
discs - DVD
Photo Story 3 doesn't include profiles for SVCDs so I made a couple.
discs - SVCD
The top two for VCDs came with PS3, and the others are my custom ones.
discs - VCD
The 3 profiles for emails are included with the Photo Story 3 software. Magnifying them here to align with the others, you see the heavy civilization that comes with such enlarging. 
... and similar to those for emails, here's the final 3 profiles that come with Photo Story 3... on a little phone screen, the blurry videos will look good as long as you don't plug the phone into a big screen TV for viewing.
portable devices

How's the audio?
Here's a couple links to the two MP3 files I used for the story. Both 128 kbps MP3 files... you can use them to compare how they compare to the saved stories in WMV format.
As you'd expect, the audio quality goes down similar to the visual quality, hitting the bottom in the story for the Smartphone at a bitrate of 20 kbps. The stories for email have mono rather than stereo. Those for computer playback and discs are stereo.

Printing the disc
The laptop came with a Light Scribe feature... which requires special discs. Circuit City didn't have any for DVDs so I did the first test on a CD disc. It worked well. Of note:
  • it takes 30 minutes to do a single disc
  • it prints or etches in shades of gray... no color here
  • the discs cost more than others
I guess the Light Scribe is newer and cool... I'll be doing most of my discs by printing on silvery colored discs with my Epson disc printer.

Playing in a Stand-Alone DVD Player
Our DVD player is broken so I bought the cheapest one I could find at Circuit City ($29.95 after rebate). The disc played fine... all 20 stories.
The quality varies as noted above, but they all look equally great on a small screen. In addition to checking on a TV, I connected the DVD player to my camcorder and watched them on it's 3-1/2" LCD monitor.

Conclusions and Closing
There were lots of firsts for this week's newsletter... new hardware and new software. Everything worked well the first time, straight out of the boxes.
I'll go to my website and make a comment about PS3 and MP3 initializing problems being system-specific and not generic.
Now that my Toshiba laptop is history, I'm not sure if my problems upgrading to and using the version 6.1 MyDVD software on it were due to the software alone... could the 'lemon' status of the computer have had anything to do with it? I don't know, but I'm not ready to point the finger at the laptop and recommend MyDVD upgrades to others. I need a bit more experience and positive feedback from others.
I tried another screen capture on the new Hummer... this time a spinning earth in World Wind... a 70 second capture at 640x480 to a 1000 kbps file... with no dropped frames. 

Have a great week...