PapaJohn's MVP LogoMovie Maker 2 and Photo Story
Newsletter #93 - March 3, 2006
 

 
Windows Vista - Features
 

The pre-beta 5308 build of Vista is the first release that we can really dig into. It's the first one with all the features... and they work. Being pre-beta, there are bugs, but I won't point them out unless they really get in the way or are amusing. This isn't a quest for bugs, more a first look at the features of interest to Movie Maker and Photo Story users.
 
At this stage of development, Microsoft is encouraging us to submit comments about both features and bugs. I've been submitting about one a day.
 
This Microsoft Vista website gives some highlights. From the 27 bullets there, I picked 5 to explore... the first 4 starting here, and the 5th one, the Windows Media Center, in a later issue.  
 
Performance
... with new features including SuperFetch and External Memory Drive (EMD), and Hybrid Hard Drive.
SuperFetch helps manage memory to get the most out of available RAM. EMD technology helps boost performance without adding RAM.
Windows Photo Gallery
... gives you the tools to easily organize, find, and view your photos and videos. You can edit, print, and share your photos from within Windows Photo Gallery, as well as transfer photos from your camera to your computer with a simple import process.
Windows Media Player 11
... an easier way to enjoy and manage your digital music, video, and pictures on your PC. See things the way you want to see them, by CD cover art or in lists - the choice is yours. Connect to networked media devices around your home or seamlessly sync up with your portable digital media player to enjoy all your entertainment wherever you are. Sporting an improved look and feel, Windows Media Player delivers a high-quality audio and visual experience both on the computer and around your home.
Windows Movie Maker
... you can quickly and easily import, edit, and organize all of your digital home videos. New tools, such as new effects and transitions, and improved graphics performance help you manage and edit your home videos. You can include photos along with video when you create a movie, and even add narration and soundtracks. Once your movies are just the way you want them, you can easily burn them to DVD or share them with others through the Internet.
Windows Media Center
Enjoy all your favorite digital entertainment - including live and recorded TV, movies, music, and pictures - in one place with the easy-to-use Windows Media Center menu system and remote control.
 
Windows Media Center in Windows Vista includes enhancements for expanded support of digital and high-definition cable TV, an improved menu system, and the ability to create a consumer-electronics-quality living-room experience, as well as new options for multi-room access to your entertainment through Media Center Extenders, including Xbox 360.
I'm early in my exploring so I won't do more than touch on some of them, and spend most of the time in the Movie Maker corner.
 
This issue will go over a MB in size. As most of you don't have Vista, I'm including more than the usual amount of screen shots.
 
 
... before getting into it, here are a few notes...
 

 
Notes...
 
Folder Lock is a shareware utility that seems to be widely used.... a number of Movie Maker users who have been having problems importing source files, even small wmv files, have found their problems resolved by uninstalling the app. If you have it and have such issues, be sure to check the settings so you're not locking yourself from using your source files. 
 
MyDVDAbout the same day this new build of Vista was released, a Roxio Press release announced MyDVD Premier 8. I used it as a cross-check of the new Windows DVD Maker in Vista. 
 
Unlike earlier versions of MyDVD which forced the removal of an existing version before installing, MyDVD 8 installs to a different folder and co-exists with my version 6.1.0.... probably because this one goes into a Roxio sub-folder on your hard drive, while previous versions are in a Sonic sub-folder.
 
Only the previous CinePlayer needed to be removed and replaced, and the Sonic DLA removed as it is incompatible with this new version.
 
 
.... back to the main topic...
 

 
Vista Features
 
At this point, the computer performance area is better observed and noted, not really evaluated. My system may not be sufficient to do anything more than just get along. I'm happy that Vista runs on it.
 
The Photo Gallery, Windows Media Player, and Movie Maker are all fair game... There's more than enough to look at.
 

 
Performance
... new features include SuperFetch, External Memory Drive (EMD), and Hybrid Hard Drive.
 
SuperFetch helps manage memory to get the most out of available RAM. EMD technology helps boost performance without adding RAM.
Being under-the-hood features, I haven't checked into them enough to know what they are... I'll be checking them further, as they could be the most important things of all when doing complex projects and saving movies.
 
Here's a screen shot of something I noted in the Computer Management utility... XP has only logs and alerts for that item. Vista has some nice looking charts.
 
Resources during rendering
 
When it comes to computers and associated items, I tend to use what I have rather than run out to get the latest best thing... I kind of enjoy seeing what happens when you bump into a limitation, and you need to figure out how to work with or around it.
 
Low Memory NoticeMicrosoft cautions about using pre-beta software such as Vista on production computers... so it's not on my laptop. It's on a 'spare' 2 year old 3.2 GHz CPU, 200 GB hard drive, HP desktop system that started its life as a Windows XP 2005 Media Center Edition system. Good-enough but a bit short on RAM with 512 MB, and the audio device isn't detected by the Vista installation, so I need to manually install a sound driver afterwards.
 
I only did one big rendering test. Everything else so far has been working with short clips and small projects.
 
The big test was a 25 minute project that someone paid me to sub-divide and render a few weeks ago... and with 2 GB of RAM on my laptop, I still had to break the project into 4 minute segments and build it back up with the segments.
 
Just turning my Vista system on and before opening any apps, a check of my Task Manager shows that the operating system uses more than the 512 MB of RAM.
 
Starting with no free RAM, and knowing how poorly the laptop did with the project, I expected to note the percent complete point it got to before hanging. But it made it all the way through, in a reasonable time, and the saved movie played fine. Chalk up a positive for SuperFetch and/or EMD, whatever they are, and if that's why it worked.
 

 
Windows Photo Gallery
... gives you the tools you need to easily organize, find, and view your photos and videos. You can edit, print, and share your photos from within Windows Photo Gallery, as well as transfer photos from your camera to your computer with a simple import process.
I'm such a strong believer in organizing and finding things that I developed a personal database and religiously use it... ask about any topic... in a few seconds the database search shows the info.
 
Maybe that's part of why I'm not high on software like Picasa, or computers like Apples... nor am I excited about this new Windows Photo Gallery. They all do a great job of showing you what they want to, but they don't show you everything, and sometimes what you don't see is as important as what you do. I'll try to warm up to using it... but early on I submitted a report about not being able to drag and drop from the Photo Gallery to the DVD Maker... not a good start.
 
Here's what the main Photo Gallery working window looks like. A mouse moving over a smaller thumbnail gets you a larger view.   
Photo Gallery 
I'll be back to look at the Photo Gallery in another newsletter... until then I've got some homework to do to learn it more.  
 

 
WMP Error MessageWindows Media Player 11
... an easier way to enjoy and manage your digital music, video, and pictures on your PC. See things the way you want to see them, by CD cover art or in lists-the choice is yours.
 
Connect to networked media devices around your home or seamlessly sync up with your portable digital media player to enjoy all your entertainment wherever you are. Sporting an improved look and feel, Windows Media Player delivers a high-quality audio and visual experience both on the computer and around your home.
One thing I'm pleased with in the new player is it displaying a custom WMV file in its true pixel dimensions, not forcing it into a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio as WMP10 does.
 
Here's the player with a snapshot of a bug. I had just rendered a movie in Movie Maker, and opted to see it when finished. It was playing fine, yet a short way into it, this message popped up, but it continued to play fine all the way through.
 
WMP Playing Rendered Movie
 

 
Movie Maker FilesWindows Movie Maker
... you can quickly and easily import, edit, and organize all of your digital home videos. New tools, such as new effects and transitions, and improved graphics performance help you manage and edit your home videos. You can include photos along with video when you create a movie, and even add narration and soundtracks.
 
Once your movies are just the way you want them, you can easily burn them to DVD or share them with others through the Internet.
I took screen shots of all the effects, transitions, and title animations in Vista... and put them on new website pages. There are some new effects and transitions, but not many and I won't go into them in this issue.
 
The are eager to get their hands on the Vista info needed to convert the custom xml code developed for MM2, and extend it into Vista. Lacking issued documentation at this point, they'll have to read the internals of the dll's and figure it out.
 
There are a couple things to point out in the file list at the above right:
Improved graphics performance includes such things as:
Movie Maker
 
The project editing process is pretty much the same as in XP. I tried using a file from a DVD as a source file... copied a VOB file to my hard drive, renamed it to .MPG, imported it, used it in a project, and rendered movies from it. I didn't see any issues, but didn't exercise it much. 

The built-in options of profiles to save a movie have changed a lot. Here are the choices, a streamlined yet expanded set:
5 of the choices are for WMV files with bitrates higher than the 2100 kbps highest bitrate option of MM2.1... the world of high definition, higher quality is here.
 
All of the WMV choices are rendered with a new Windows Media Audio 10 codec. When I first tried to import one into Movie Maker in XP, I got a message about not having the codec, and it couldn't get it because I didn't have the automatic option turned on to get codecs as needed... an error message making a clear and good point. I checked the option, tried again, and the codec came down. Once installed, the file worked find in Movie Maker.  
 

 
Import/Capture Wizard
 
Prereq to opening this app is having your digital camcorder connected by firewire, turned on, and set to VCR/VTR mode.
 
The word 'Import' in Vista encompasses what we call 'Capture and Import' in XP. This wizard is a stand-alone app. It can be opened directly, or accessed via the menu of Movie Maker. It's an interesting one.
 
The app's name gives a clear message that it's to get digital video. The Help file of Vista follows through with saying that, for capturing analog video, you should be using the software that came with the device.
 
There are 3 choices of format... the first one 'Windows Media Video' being what we're used to in XP when opting for WMV files, and the 3rd one 'Video Device Format (AVI)' being DV-AVI from my mini-DV camcorder. I haven't had any problems using these options.
 
The choice of 'Windows Media Video File Collection' is new. It captures to a set of individual WMV files based on such things as breaks in time-code, changes between standard and widescreen, and other factors. The data from the camcorder flows first into a temporary DV-AVI file, and from there into a set of temporary .WMV_TMP files. When the process is finished the temporary files are renamed to .WMV and the residual .TMP DV-AVI files deleted.
 
Import Wizard
 
I can see the File Collection process happening, but I've yet to be successful at capturing a full tape and getting a set of finished files. I tried twice from the same tape... got 35 minutes through it the first time and 45 minutes the second time. By not successfully finishing, my computer has about 10 GB of temporary files that were never cleaned up because the normal end of the process wasn't reached.
 
I can rename a .WMV_TMP file to .WMV and it plays fine.... I can rename the large .TMP file to .AVI and it doesn't play in anything. 
 

 
Windows DVD Maker 
 
I like the word 'Wizard'... this is one too. Wizard's are smart enough to know what your system is capable of or is doing. This one taught me a lesson.
 
No DVD in DriveThe system I have Vista on is a 2 year old HP desktop with a combo CD/DVD writer, something I'd never used. When I tried to open the DVD Maker by itself or from the DVD option in Movie Maker, I kept getting a message about not having a DVD in the drive.
 
So I put one in... and got a message about it not being a recordable one. DVD not recordable  
 
I had to do some research to figure out that the drive in this computer needed a DVD+R disc, and I had only previously used DVD-R and DVD-RW in my other systems.
 
With the right type of blank disc in the drive, the app opened. I didn't understand why I needed a disc in the drive to start the app, but I'd been coming from a background in DVD making software that lets you make a DVD project or create a virtual disc on your hard drive.
 
This DVD Maker doesn't have a feature to save a project, something I've submitted a request for. It provides lots of neat visual options, but not the ability to save your work in a project file. 
 

 
To check the DVD making, I rendered a set of 6 WMV files using Movie Maker in Vista, using some of its built-in profiles...

DVD Quality - 720x480, 3000 kbps video... 3:2 actual aspect ratio with a tag to display at 4:3
DVD Widescreen Quality - same specs as for DVD Quality, 3:2 aspect ratio, but with a tag to display at 1.77:1
HD-720 - 1280x720, 6000 kbps, 29.97 fps
HD-1080 - 1440x1080, 8000 kbps, 23.97 fps
HD-1080 VC1 - 1440x1080, 10932 kbps, 29.97 fps
VHS Quality

Then I made DVDs from the set... one disc with the new MyDVD Premier 8 running on my XP laptop, and the other with Vista's DVD Maker... both transcoded the wmv files to MPEG-2 and burned the discs without issue...

When comparing how the two discs performed in various players...
Here's what the opening screen looks like playing in WMP... a cool look as the smaller rectangles take turns previewing one of the videos. The options for customizing the DVD menu's look in Vista are neat, more than I expected.
 
Vista DVD Maker - 1
 
Pressing the word 'Scenes' replaces the above look with this one... each of the 6 videos was rendered from the same project, so they all look alike... how do I know which one came from which input file? I don't know.
 
There's no project file for me to open to see which one I put where, and no titling feature to note them on the DVD  menu. Without doing the project over and keeping notes, I can't associate them.
 
Vista DVD 2
 
Here's what the MyDVD8 disc menu looks like, also playing in WMP.
 
MyDVD disc playing
 
Now you can tell them apart by their names.
 

 
Viewing CompositeWhen viewing each of the six as they played, I wasn't focusing on the quality of the visual or audio. I was most interested in how they looked overall in dimensions. They all looked the same in aspect ratio.
 
In an attempt to show you, I used WMP10 in XP to take frame snapshots from each of the videos on the disc made by MyDVD8, and put them into the composite image at the right.
 
The blue background is the canvas in Paint, where I made the composite... the scene itself and any blackness around it are from the frame snapshots in WMP.
 
One of the options in Vista's DVD Maker is 'standard' versus 'widescreen' aspect ratio. Maybe you can't or shouldn't mix the two different types on the same disc!! I have to study this a bit.
 
The MyDVD project settings give you a choice of 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio for the menu, but I'd always felt the app picked up and used the aspect ratios of the individual video files. There's no aspect ratio choice for the videos.
 
That's food for thought for another day. This week's issue is more of a sneak peak than an in-dept test.
 
... and I still have an open item between earlier versions of MyDVD using the pixel dimensions of the videos and not the standard or widescreen tags in the WMV files, and me having to force it to widescreen by making custom sizes. Scanning the images here shows them all displaying standard 4:3, so the same issue may be carried forward into MyDVD8 working with WMV files made in Vista's Movie Maker.
 

 
Conclusions and Closing
 
As most of you don't have Vista, I won't be covering it with lots of issues... you can look at the posts on newsgroups and forums, and check the emerging pages on my website.
 
Vista works.... it's great to see Movie Maker moving forward with new features and being in the mainstream of the operating system.
 
Photo Story isn't there, so it'll continue to be an added app. I didn't install it yet in this build. It worked in the previous build, not initially, but when I set it's properties to run in compatibility mode with the XP system. I'll be installing it soon in this build.
 
If you have any questions about the Vista software, don't hesitate to drop me a note.
 

Have a great week...
 
PapaJohn