PapaJohn Productions
Newsletter #102 - May 6, 2006

Converting Movies and Stories to Flash and MP4 (iPod Video) 


Vista GadgetsMP4

Last week's issue was about distributing movies and stories via free online hosts... some of them took the WMV file and converted it to a Flash format. Let's look at doing that conversion yourself rather than the service doing it... I see variations in quality with the different services.
Let's also look at converting WMV movies and stories to the MP4 format needed by an iPod Video device. 
Why Flash? Because the format is cross-platform... Macromedia claims that 98% of today's computers can view them... if any of your viewers are having problems playing your files... toss them a Flash file.
If you're heading to an iPod Video device, or a Play Station Portable... you'll need MP4 files.
Let's assume you start with a saved movie or story in WMA format. There are always many ways to make conversions but each of us only needs one that works well.
Let's look at how to convert your files to Flash... and in doing it control the quality settings. We'll use the Riva FLV Encoder utility. For the MP4 files, we'll use the iPod Video Converter
... before getting into it further, here's a couple short notes...

Vista Corner... It's been in the news lately, but kind of quiet in my corner... it sits there day and night looking great, working fine, with a number of windows open. But my priorities are now on my laptop.
I read a magazine article that told me how to get the roll-o-dex type view of the open windows.. the Windows-tab keys goes to the view fine.
The screen shot at the right shows you some of the 'gadgets' you can park on the side of the desktop... from the top down:
The are another 8 gadgets on my system to pick from, more online for downloading, and info about building your own using JavaScript.
Wired Magazine - May Issue
Formats, players, converters, hosts... everything related to internet video is expanding rapidly... as I wrote this newsletter, the May issue of Wired magazine arrived, and there on page 120 was a 12 page article about internet-based video, calling it "...the online video explosion...".
The article points to over 100 websites, which I'm busy checking and adding many to my database of interesting places to visit.

EffectsTransitionsMy Special Edition Adorage Effects and Transitions packages got off to a hiccupping start a couple weeks ago... 
... including a corrupt file in the effects package. They are ready to go...
PapaJohn's Video Transitions
PapaJohn's Effects
.... back to the main topic...

Riva FLV Encoder 
The download is a 4-3/4 MB installation package... in addition to the encoder, it has a Flash file player that comes in handy.
For input files, this version doesn't accept WMV files... movies from Movie Maker or Photo Stories... but it does process the type I DV-AVI file from MM2. Run your story thru MM2 to get a DV-AVI file and then use the FLV Encoder. There's info about it handling WMV files in future versions.
My first test was a 7 min 40 sec DV-AVI file of 1.7 GB, using the default settings. The conversion took 4 min 40 sec on my 3.4 GHz CPU laptop, faster than real time, and produced an FLV file of 32.6 MB that played well.
Riva Flash Encoder
The online help is good, and the forums are active. The Video2Web button solicits you in purchasing a very interesting app... to make interactive web videos such as this sample mountain-bike one... which makes chapters of a video interactive with clicking a point on a map.
Settings include video sizes up to 800x600, standard frame-rates including 29.97, bitrates as high as 1600 kbps, and a large selection of audio settings. It gives you the options to pump up the quality when heading to an online service.
The 'padding/crop' option was intriguing... I tried it using crop settings of
    50      50
... and it lopped off that many pixels from the 4 sides... leaving a focused central area in a more than widescreen looking video. I do such cropping in VirtualDub, but if I'm heading to a Flash file, this is an easier way to do it. I'm not sure why I would want to 'pad' a video, maybe to get it to a standard size if it's looking mis-shaped in a viewer.
When you're ready to encode, press the 'Encode' button, the whole window turns grey, the app doesn't respond to anything, and it doesn't give you visual feedback about what it's doing....
Riva Flash Player
... but the encoding is happening.
You can watch the FLV file build up in the output folder. When it stops growing, and the rendering is finished, the working window comes back to focus, and the Result field says 'Encoding successful'.
The default audio setting was 'mono'. I did another encoding using 'stereo' and noticed the file size was identical... I'm not sure if it's mono or stereo, or if both options result in the same size file.
Your FLV file is ready for distribution.

FLV Player
Here's the encoded movie playing in the Riva FLV Player, now my default player for FLV files.
I tried opening the file with other apps, but didn't find any that would do it.

iPod Video Converter
iPod Converter
Jodix provides 4 useful conversion utilities...
The downloaded package for the iPod Video Converter is 1.36 MB... and a quick install.
It accepts movies and stories in WMV9 formats, including the newer stories from PS3.
Info about the app says it supports a many kinds of input files. I checked some and didn't find it effective at doing some. Here are the ones it says it does, and what I found.
You can add an unlimited number of files to the task list and convert them as a batch.
Conversions are quick.
The MP4 files were twice as large as my movie, which was saved in Movie Maker 2 using the video for LAN - 768 Kbps setting.
The file is ready for your iPod Video... I don't have one to test it with.

MP4 File Players
MP4 Playback
My laptop offers two options... the QuickTime Player and Internet Explorer (with an embedded QuickTime Player).... which are both the same option as far as the player goes.
The files seemed to play better in the Internet Explorer option. If both are the same, maybe it was just the warm cozy feeling from being in the Internet Explorer environment.

Rad Video Tools was the only one of my utilities that would open and convert the MP4 files to something else... I did one to a Divx encoded AVI to check it.
It converted quickly and the AVI file played well in WMP10.... that is, if I let it have my undivided attention... if I did anything else on the computer as the Divx AVI played, the video would stop where it was while the audio continued, the same kind of issue often seen when trying to use such a file in Movie Maker 2. I wouldn't have had the issue if I selected a different compressor.
I noted above that the MP4 file was twice as large as the input WMV... the Divx AVI file made from the MP4 was almost 3 times as large as the MP4 and 6 times as large as the WMV. WMV files are as good as you get for the file size...

Conclusions and Closing
The Riva FLV Encoder handled DV-AVI type I files fine, but this version can't handle WMV movies or stories... maybe it'll be in a future release... until then the DV-AVI option works well.
The iPod Video Converter did well with WMV files... so if you have an iPod video device, going from movies and stories to it is easy.
MP4 is one of the file types that Google Video accepts, so I uploaded my recent 'Mission to Mars' one, and put a 99 cents sale price tag on it, with a 19 cent price for a 'day pass'... I'm not expecting an income stream from it, more curious about the process of selling it via Google.
The Jodix 'WMA to MP3 Converter' sounded interesting enough to run a quick check. It effectively ripped the audio from Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 WMV files to MP3.

Have a great week...