PapaJohn Productions

Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story
Newsletter #85 - January 7, 2006

A Photo Story with 300 Pictures
You probably know by now that I enjoy checking the limits of Movie Maker and Photo Story... and seeing how to work around, break through, or put them to good use...
The Photo Story 3 limit of 300 pictures is one I hadn't checked beyond seeing the message it gives when you import the 301st picture... 
300 Pix Limit
I don't do large stories, as I mainly use Photo Story to make video clips for movie projects. But I've seen many posts by those who are using it for large slide shows, and are constrained by the limit... they ask how to work around it. 
The limit is an easy one to address... when you reach it, you stop. Make two or more stories and piece them together in Movie Maker or use them as separate chapters in a DVD.
There's the more elusive limit of a story, the amount of computer memory needed to preview or render it. It's an issue similar to Movie Maker, something I've run into a couple times and have often thought about, but I've never really explored it in Photo Story 3.
Let's take a look at it by using a batch of 50 pictures from a 5 megapixel camera, a fairly standard sized camera today... and see how much memory is needed to preview and render a story. I'll do it in steps, feeding the same batch of 50 pictures into a project over and over until I'm at the limit, and noting what's happening with memory usage at each step. 
... before getting into it, here's a significant note...

It's time to start looking at Movie Maker in the upcoming Vista operating system. My first chance at taking it for a spin came with the 12/16/05 Beta 2, Build 5270... the December 2005 Customer Technology Preview (CTP).
Here's a view of my Vista desktop with 6 open windows... you can scroll/flip through them with the mouse wheel... and they are all 'live'.
Vista Desktop
I've been told it's not beta quality release... more a preview of progress towards Beta 2. Vista - new effectsWhatever it's called... I welcomed my first chance to explore its features. Next week's issue will be an initial overview of what I see and how it works... 
A few things I see are:
  • a meter that reports the number of frames captured and the number dropped during digital video capture. I did a full hour tape without it reporting a single dropped frame.
  • seeing each frame rather than every other frame during clip splitting and timeline editing.
  • full quality rather than draft quality project previewing.
  • DVD and High Definition options when saving a movie.
  • a few new effects and transitions.
  • a nod to those in PAL-land... the two sample pix are 576 pixels high, not the 480 pixels so standard to NTSC people. You all know who you are. 
Publish OptionsThe newsletter will be the first of many about the Vista version as its development finishes and beta test results roll in. 
It looks like it's off to a good start. I'll be adding a little info to the Setup > Vista page of the website, but covering much more in next week's newsletter.
As I review it, I'll be thinking of any structural changes needed to my website.
.... back to today's software and the main topic...

the 300 picture Story...

I'll use 50 of pictures from our recent trip to New York City, taken with a 5 megapixel camera. We shoot in high quality mode, saving to JPG images that average a bit over 1 MB in size...
The set of 50 totals 54.6 MB. I'll use this same batch of pictures six times to get the story up to 300, previewing and saving it after each batch is imported. I'll check memory usage, and how big the project files are.
Photo Story doesn't economize on info when you use multiple copies of the same picture in a story... each time you use one, it gets copied into the project file, so using 6 packs of 50 or one pack of 300 is the same in terms of file sizes and memory needs.
I drag the set of 50 pictures from my file browser into Photo Story as a batch... taking just a few seconds to import them. I noted the time to add a batch doesn't increase as the story gets bigger.

baseline memory use
With Photo Story 3 and my usual software apps open (Outlook Express, IrfanView, Total Commander, personal database), the system was using 382 MB of memory before importing the first 50-pack.
This baseline figure, and all memory numbers, will vary a bit depending on what software is open, what I'm doing with them, and when I last rebooted the computer.
I'll give the numbers I see, but you should consider memory usage figures as approximations rather than exact amounts... if you did it a second time the numbers would be somewhat different. What I'm looking for are overall patterns in usage as the story is created, previewed and rendered. 

1st batch - 50 pictures total
For this first pass, I was watching memory usage carefully through all steps of the processes. Memory usage moved up slightly as the pictures were imported... only 2 MB was needed... putting pictures on the film strip, one picture or 50 at a time, uses minimal additional memory. 
The first time I previewed the story, memory usage jogged up significantly... to 477 MB within the first few pictures, but it stabilized pretty quickly and drifted downwards through the rest of the preview.
Saving the project hardly effected memory... 439 MB at the time.
When rendering the story... using the profile of 640x480... memory usage started at 444 MB and peaked at 713 MB toward the end. It fell back to 421 as soon as the saving process finished.
I kept an eye on the temporary files created by Photo Story during story creation and saving, but didn't see anything there significant enough to talk about.

2nd batch -  100 total
Memory usage was at 423 MB before adding the next set of 50 pictures... previewing moved it up to 576 MB within first few pix, and drifted down during the rest. The pattern was emerging, similar to what I saw in the first pass.
Closing the preview monitor window dropped usage back to 425 MB.
Rendering the story peaked at 718 MB toward the end, not much higher than it did with 50 pix.... back down to 426 MB when finished. A minimal extra (2 MB) was used when saving the project, updating the existing project file. The patterns were emerging... just had to see them and confirm them through the next 4 passes. 

3nd batch - 150...
Confirming the patterns... 428 MB at the beginning... preview jogged up to 654 MB within the first few pix, and drifted down. Closing the preview window dropped it back down to 438 MB.
Rendering the story peaked at 727 MB toward the end... down to 436 MB when finished. 2 MB extra to save the revised project file.

the next day, a new session... different apps running in the background...
4th batch - 200...
362 MB at the start... preview jogged up to 687 MB within first few pix, and drifted down. Closing the preview monitor window dropped down to 395 MB.
Because this session started with the opening of an existing project, another temporary folder was created with all 150 pix in it. Want to know how many pix your project currently has? Save it, then reopen it, and the temp folder will have copies of them all... your file browser gives you a count.
Rendering the story peaked at 697 MB toward the end... back down to 403 MB when finished. And as usual, a minimal extra 2 MB when updating the existing project file.

5th batch - 250... 
405 MB at the start... up to 767 MB within the first few pix when previewing, and drifting down afterwards. Closing the preview monitor window drops memory needs back down to 406 MB.
Chart - Memory versus Pictures... rendering the story peaked at 701 MB toward the end... back down to 407 MB when finished. 
Minimal extra 1 MB when updating the existing project file.

6th batch - 300... 
408 MB at the start... preview memory usage up to 839 MB within the first few pix, and drifts slowly down afterwards.
My laptop has 2 GB of RAM... if it had a more normal 512 MB, the previewing wouldn't be smooth.
Closing the preview monitor window dropped memory usage back down to 412 MB.
Rendering the story peaked at 703 MB toward the end... back down to 410 MB when finished. Minimal extra 3 MB used when saving the project.
By now you couldn't miss the patterns if you tried.

File List
Story and Project file sizes
Here's the file list of the six rendered stories and the final saved project with 300 pictures. The stories were all rendered to the Profile for computers - 2 (640x480).
As you'd expect, the size of the story goes up directly with the number of pictures. 
The overall playing duration of the 300 picture story is exactly 25 minutes.... with default settings for picture duration, transition type, and transition duration.
The memory needed for Windows Media Player 10 to view the stories is minimal. Playing the largest story showed peak memory usage of 442 MB.

the price of music in memory usage...
I re-rendered the 300 picture story using computer generated music throughout... with 414 MB being used at the start... the rendering is now a 4 step process:
  • 1 - preparing video - 484 peak
  • 2 - generating the 25 minute music file - 424 peak (minimal memory needs but it's by far the longest of the rendering steps... really really long... I didn't time it but perhaps over 15 minutes when the other steps took only a few.
  • 3 - mixing the audio... quick with 431 MB peak...
  • 4 - rendering the story.... very quick compared to making the music... peaked at 701... no more memory was needed to do it with added music than doing it without.
The file size was 53.1 MB versus the 40.0 without it... a healthy increase in file size... but that's the price of music. If file size was an issue for you, a custom profile could reduce the audio quality its contribution to file size.

Chart - Profile Selectedthe price of rendering higher quality, and the savings to render lower...
The rendering so far has been to the 2nd option for quality when saving to a computer... a file of 640x480 pixels.
Let's render the 300 pix story to the one lower and 3 higher quality profiles included in Photo Story 3.
Starting at 422 MB, the peak memory usage when rendering was:
  • Profile for computers - 1 (320x240) - 501 MB, over 200 MB less than for the 640x480... a considerable amount.
  • Profile for computers - 3 (800x600) - 880 MB
  • Profile for computers - 4 (1024x768) - 1140 MB
  • Profile for computers - 5 (1200x900) - 1412 MB
The file sizes for the 3 higher quality profile stories were 51.6, 91.9 and 109.2 MB versus the 40.0 MB of the 640x480... larger sizes but fairly easy for the computer to play them with the low bitrates of story files.

Motion Settingthe memory cost of custom motion settings...
Setting just the first image to use motion settings as shown in this image, and saving to a 640x480 story...
Memory usage went up to 724 MB at the start of the rendering, peaked at 741 midway... and stayed up there at 741 toward the end...
I went back a couple days later, and added similar motion settings to the next 4 pictures... 
The extra memory needed when rendering the story didn't change significantly from that needed when the motion setting was applied only to the first picture. 
Custom motion settings like this, applied to 5 megapixel pictures, don't require more memory.

Conclusions and Closing
Rendering a story with 300 pictures should be easy for most computers.... if you can do a story with a handful of pictures OK, then going to 300 shouldn't be a problem.
If you have 512 MB of RAM, do your test renderings to a low quality 320x240 profile and the memory needs will fit within your physical RAM and go quickly...
If you routinely make stories of 300 pictures and render them to the higher quality profiles, and RAM is reasonably priced for your system, upgrading your system to the 1-1/2 GB level would result in significant time savings.
Months ago, I used a 60+ megapixel file in Photo Story and did the kind of panning I did above. The  previewing or rendering needed enough memory to crash my system... at least it did my older Toshiba laptop. I thought it would be better to keep this issue on a reasonable practical level, not trying to fully test it to the point of crashing... 
Photo Story is a great tool... I look forward to testing it in Vista. That's part of next week's newsletter.

Have a great week...