PapaJohn's MVP LogoMovie Maker 2 and Photo Story
Newsletter #84 - Dec 31, 2005

Video Compression Options... Revisited

As movie editors, we live in a world filled with different codecs... and codec-related issues. This newsletter is another step toward becoming more versed in and comfortable with them.
It'll take you through a couple tests, first checking the rendering times and file sizes by using all the available compressor options on my new HP notebook, and then checking differences in visual quality.
The tests will be done using default compressor settings. 
We'll also take a look at the customizable settings for the Divx and Windows Media 9 compressors and do a special check of enhanced videos using two-pass renderings for each.
... before getting into it, here are a couple notes...

Custom Overlay Projects is the subject of a new section on the Editing > Text > Custom Overlays page of the websiteKeyboard.
In addition to the puzzle project made for newsletter #73, I made a couple more.
Keyboard project started on Christmas. One of our grands got a keyboard as a present, and I thought it would be neat to record some music from it with my camcorder. It was playing some samples by itself but the keys weren't moving, so I took a snapshot from the video and used it for something more interesting.
Countdown Overlay... another overlay project is a Countdown Clock-like one, with 10 assorted watch faces being removed as the seconds tick down.
The website page includes instructions about setting up and using the projects, and links to downloadable packages with everything you need.
Each package has a project MSWMM file, an xml file, a set of transparent png images, and batch files to install and remove them. It's a good way to explore the use of custom xml files without having to write or tweak them. Those who enjoy getting into them deeply can go as far as they want.
.... on to the main topic...

some Video Codec testing...
Choose Compressor
It's been a while since I tested all the codec options on my computer... and made a table of the results such as the one on the Importing Source Files > Video > Recorded TV page of the site. I've pointed lots of users to that table since it first rolled it out.
That table was done with MPEG-2 files as inputs. I'll do this issue using AVI files, one a random AVI from a magazine CD, and the other a DV-AVI made by Movie Maker 2.
Codecs change with time... some go, new ones emerge, some are revised... and your computer changes. For this round of tests, I'll use my new HP Pavilion zd8000 notebook with its 3.4 GHz CPU...
The computer currently has 20 compression choices in the drop down lists of video editing apps and utilities. The full list of them is in the table below.
For a user perspective, it's not about all of the codecs on my system per GSpot or other utilities... it's about which compressors show up in the picklist of choices when I use an app, and how well they work when I select them.
I'll use VDubMod to do the renderings.
Source Video
The first source file is a 17+ second AVI file from a CD in a magazine... with a file name of USSConstellation.avi. Its properties are: 520x376 pixels, 24.988 fps, 17+ seconds, compressed with the Microsoft Video 1 codec, no audio stream. 27.9 MB file size.
The frame snapshot at the left shows that the video includes black bars at the top/bottom and the right side... the quality isn't high and the video ends with the last frame offering the longer higher quality clip for sale. It'll do as an input file to check rendering times and file sizes.

Rendering Times and File Sizes...
Let's keep the same frame size of 520x376 pixels, not crop away the black borders, and use whatever default settings the compressors have... to see which ones work, how long the renders take, and how large the new file is.
Here's the tally. The rendering times that were faster than the 17+ second real time duration are on the left side of the time column. Those whose file sizes were smaller than the original are on the left size of the file size column.
The ranges of times and sizes are considerable. Some were noticeably fast, and some resulted in smaller file sizes. The 4 compressors in bold type were the only ones that were both quick and produced smaller files.
time (seconds)
file size (MB)
(Uncompressed RGB)
Cinepak Codec by Radius
DivX Codec 4.12
Indeo video 5.10
Intel 4.2.0 Video V2.50
Intel Indeo(R) Video R3.2
Intel Indeo Video 4.5
Intel IYUV codec
Microsoft H.261 Video Codec
Microsoft H.263 Video Codec
Microsoft MPEG-4 Video Codec V1
Microsoft MPEG-4 Video Codec V2
Microsoft RLE
Microsoft Video 1
Microsoft Windows Media Video 9
Panasonic DV CODEC (resizing to 720x480)
PCLEPIM1 32-bit Compressor
PCLEPIXL 32-bit Compressor
PICVideo MJPEG Codec
Zoran Decompressor
Using the Panasonic DV without resizing to standard DV-AVI size of 720x480 gave an error: "Cannot start video compression: The source image format is not acceptable (error code -2)". I added the resize filter to get past this test.
The 6 compressors with N/A in the time and size columns didn't. The message was: "error getting compressor output format size".
I imported the 14 new files into Movie Maker, previewed them in the collection, put them on the timeline, previewed the project, and rendered a movie... there were no issues.

Visual Quality...
The test renderings above started with a lower quality video, which set the stage for all of the files to look similarly poor. To equalize the playing field for the visual comparisons, I used a different higher quality input file.
  • I made a Photo Story from a 6+ megapixel still picture, saving it at 800x600 pixels. Movie Maker converted the story into a DV-AVI file. VDubMod made a set of AVI files with the different compressors, and saved frame #390 from each as a BMP image.
  • IrfanView did a batch cropping and resizing to get larger images for easier comparison, and Paint put them together into a collage.
This copy of the collage shows the frame slices at actual sizes, a JPG file at 80% quality... if you're interested in seeing the 200% sized full quality 9.7 MB BMP file, here's a link. I recommend downloading it and taking a look.
The only thing added to the frame slices for this collage is the name of the compressors in black at the lower left; the other script was added to the original image before importing into Photo Story. 
Slice Collage
If at first glance you think they all look pretty good, I agree with you! Looking closer, it's easier to select losers such as the Motion JPEG compressor slice at the bottom of the collage... but it's too hard to pick a winner... and probably not fair to judge the overall video by looking at a small slice of one frame. After all, it's a movie, not a still picture.
Two of the codecs which made it through the initial rendering test didn't make it to through this step for visual comparisons. I got error messages when trying to use these two with the DV-AVI input file. They don't show up on my older list online either.
Intel Indeo(R) Video R3.2
Intel IYUV codec 
Enough of them made it through both tests that I didn't stop to study why these two didn't.

Divx Codec SettingsCodec Settings...
The two rounds of tests above were done with default compressor settings. Many of them have adjustable settings.
As the settings are used to balance quality, rendering speed, and file sizes, tweaking them and doing more testing could make this a full-year project instead of a few hours for a weekly newsletter. Let's take a general look at two of them.
Divx 4.12 Settings...
Here's the configuration window for the Divx 4.12 codec. You get to it when selecting the codec from the drop down list and pressing the 'Configure' button. For info about the settings, use the help file available from that button.
I did a 2-pass rendering to a high 6000 kbps bitrate to see how the saved video differed from the default in the collage.
The rendering time was much longer and the file size 4-1/2 times that of the rendered file with the default settings. Here's the same slice of the 390th frame, with the enhanced quality clearly showing that it's a good reason to go into compressor settings. 
2-pass Divx 
Windows Media 9 Settings...
Not to be outdone by the tweaked Divx compressor, here's the slice from a file rendered with equally tweaked compressor settings, a 2-pass file using the higher 6000 kbps bitrate.
2 pass Windows Media Video
The Compression tab of the Windows Media Video 9 settings window shows the default is a one pass quality based VBR file with the quality level set to 80.
WMV9 Compression Settings
Pressing the Help button gets you lots to study... for example this paragraph about the Quality Level setting:

Quality level

The quality level specifies the quality of the compressed content that the encoder should maintain when using quality-based VBR. This value ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest quality.

Not all of the values in the range have a unique meaning. The values that represent a step up in quality from the previous level are: 1, 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29, 33, 36, 40, 43, 47, 50, 54, 58, 61, 65, 68, 72, 75, 79, 83, 86, 90, 93, 97, and 100.

A few comments about these two test rounds:
The fastest render was with the PICVideo MJPEG Codec, taking only 4 seconds versus the longest time of 86 seconds, but it's a loser when it comes to visual quality (it's the bottom slice of the collage).
The smallest file size of 1.5 MB goes to the Windows Media 9 codec, just over 5% the size of the original file. But without tweaking the settings, it doesn't win the visual quality check either.
The Uncompressed RGB file is almost 10 times the size of the original. It maintains the quality but can't enhance it.
Of the 4 compressors tagged in the table above for giving both fast results and small file sizes, the two Microsoft MPEG-4 compressors held in there for the quality rankings... the other two (Divx and MJPEG) ranked lower on the visual collage.

Conclusions and Closing
Of the hundreds of codecs and filters on my system, some are used to decompress files and not compress them, some are locked from anything but use with the software they came with, some have restrictions for input files.... etc, etc. The world of codecs have a lot more complexity than most users of Movie Maker, including myself, want to get into. We usually just want to know which one to use and how to use it.
What's different since the similar testing for the importing recorded TV page of the website? For starters, I'm doing the tests on a different computer. Most of the codecs are the same. 9 compressors made it to the list the first time I did this testing, and 11 this time... PCLEPIXL and PICVideo MJPEG are new to the list... they came with Pinnacle Studio 8.
I don't know if I'm being fair to the Divx compressor, as I've used the version 4.12 for years... newer ones might be better but I'm cautious about the spyware, adware, or worse that can come with Codec packages. The version continues to work for me so I'll continue with it... and it did great in the extra test, the first time that I tweaked Divx compressor settings.
A true visual quality test would have all compressor settings tweaked for optimal performance. As utilities such as VDubMod play a secondary role to Movie Maker, there's no reason to put the effort into doing such testing. The important thing to remember is that if, for whatever reason, you find yourself using one of these compressors for a conversion... get into the settings and make the new file the best quality you can. The two extra tests I did with the Divx and Windows Media 9 compressors give me a better appreciation for the extra quality you can get with minor changes in settings. I usually prefer extra visual quality at the cost of longer rendering times and larger files.
The Panasonic DV compressor is still my current favorite all-purpose codec. Its large file size is expected when working with full quality Digital Video. Its rendering time is short, and the output is high quality. As with the Microsoft DV codec used by Movie Maker, there are no compressor settings to tweak... things are simpler with DV codecs.
Have a great New Year's Eve and New Year!!!
we'll be seeing Movie Maker for Vista in 2006

Have a great week...