PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #112 - July 15, 2006
Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition Beta

Powerful tool for video professionals uses VC-1 for the creation of high-quality offline encoding.

LAS VEGAS — April 24, 2006 — Today at the National Association of Broadcasters convention, NAB2006, Microsoft Corp. announced availability this week of a new addition to the Windows Media® tools family, Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition. The beta encoder is a powerful tool for video professionals, optimized for the creation of high-quality offline encoding using Microsoft’s implementation of the VC-1 video standard (Windows Media Video). Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition beta provides the key features necessary to create next-generation video content and capitalize on the growing importance of optical media and video-on-demand scenarios.

“With the final standardization of VC-1, Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition will prove to be an invaluable tool for the offline encoding community,” said Amir Majidimehr, corporate vice president of the Windows® Digital Media Division at Microsoft. “This is another example of how Microsoft is providing the end-to-end solutions for content creation and meeting the evolving demands of the professional video community.”

that's the lead-in to this Microsoft website page...

It sounds pretty techie and important. Some of us use the version 9 Windows Media Encoder for things like screen captures, so this new tool might have something for Movie Maker and Photo Story users. It's been a couple months since the press release, and the beta software is available for download. Time to take a look.
It's been almost 4 years since the version 9 encoder beta was released. The Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition is being developed in parallel with Vista, where the high definition profiles are included in Movie Maker, but the beta version of this encoder can run on Windows XP-SP2 systems.
The Encoder, the old or this new beta, isn't for everyone as its user interface is a bit more geeky than Movie Maker.
Computer system requirements and recommendations are healthy... the website says a 3.0 GHz CPU is required and a 3.6 GHz one recommended (I make the 3.0 on a few systems, but don't have any at the 3.6 GHz level). High-performance, high-speed disk arrays are recommended for storage (I guess that's a notch above my USB2 external hard drives). 1 GB of RAM is required, and 2 is recommended.
For software it requires Core XML Services 6.0 and Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0. Get them if needed from links on this Microsoft website. I already had both on my laptop.

The app opens with a working window with a single Project tab. Click the Add Video Track button (you can only do that once) and the Add Audio Track (that one you can do up to 99 times.
Project Tab
That gets the window to 3 tabs, and later adds a 4th tab to optionally re-encode a segment. Let's start with the Timeline tab, as Movie Maker users may relate to it.
I've added some source files (drag and drop from a file manager doesn't work; bring them in via the Add Source button), and dragged one from there to the timeline (a clip from last week's visit to Chicago - the scene is going down an escalator at the Water Tower Place shopping mall). I've also added a few audio tracks.
The app's limits are one video track and up to 99 audio tracks.
Note that the built-in features include blackness for the video track and silence for the audio... transitions in Movie Maker terms. 
The goal is to take source files and encode them to new files... like we do in Movie Maker.
Encoding Studio
We'll be taking an overall look at the app, not getting into heavy techie stuff like the optional encoding settings. If you end up using this software, you'll need to get to know these features. Maybe that'll be for another newsletter someday after the final version of the Encoder is released.
... before getting into it further, a few notes...

Vista Corner... The website and DVD project for the Renaissance Wedding is complete. I wanted to use the cool new look of a Vista DVD, but playback issues with it were such that I used Roxio's MyDVD Premier 8, which was kind of slow and clunky, moving along like a project in Movie Maker that's overly complex and hitting the big slow-down point when it starts using virtual memory. There were some errors and other issues along the way in MyDVD, but the discs ended up fine and given to the couple 6+ weeks after the wedding.
I rendered the DVD project to an iso image file on my laptop, and use MyDVD Studio Deluxe to burn discs from the iso file, which is a big compressed file with all the files needed for the DVD in it. The iso is 4.4 GB in size, and the DVD plays for 67+ minutes.
It took a few hours to render the MPEG-2 files to the iso image, but takes only about 10 minutes per disc to burn them from the image. The most important thing is the discs burned cleanly and play well (6 of 7 anyway... one had a playback issue on my cheap DVD player, my final check point, so I tossed it).

My first for-sale video on Google Video... submitted May 3... still has the status of "Video is verified; stay tuned - it will be live shortly"... it's been over 2 months in the queue to be online.
I've stopped checking it's status every day and now taking bets as to whether or not it ever gets to the next step of 'being live'.

The MaximumPC issue with the Photo Story 3 tutorial is on the magazine stand of my local Barnes & Noble. The 7 page article starts on page 68 in the Special Summer 2006 edition. They do a great job of packaging the material...
.... back to the main topic...

Encoder Studio Edition beta 1
Downloading and installation... and WARNING
My download and install was quick, easy, and with no startup issues. The app went into a new c:\Program Files\Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition folder on my laptop running Windows XP-SP2.
The license says you may use the software only to internally demonstrate and evaluate it. No commercial use... and it has a time clock in it such that it turns into a pumpkin on Dec 15, 2006. It says content created with it won't run after that also. Maybe there's a time clock in the movies you encode with it, or maybe it just means you're not allowed to use them beyond mid-December.
Don't even think about doing anything important with the software until you've read the full contents of the release notes... that'll change your mind. As beta 1 software, the list makes interesting and daunting reading.
I especially like the advice about uninstalling this version before installing other software, and then reinstalling it afterwards, or the uninstallation of the encoder beta someday will result in your other software being removed with it. And it's talking about security updates too... which I assume includes all those daily updates done automatically by Microsoft in the middle of the night, or as my system closes or starts up. By mid-December I'll have 5 months of updates and new software installations that might go away when I remove the encoder. It's amusing to read now, but maybe it won't be fun as I'm in the middle of getting ready for the holidays at the end of the year.
Maybe it's best to read this newsletter and not try the software yourself.

Source Files and App Usage... per the help file
Source files must be in AVI, ASF or Raw video formats.

Supported video scenarios:

  • Encode an uncompressed or Raw video source
  • Encode an uncompressed WAV or AVI audio files
  • Scene-by-scene re-encoding of video
  • Frame resizing, frame rate conversion, color conversion\format transformation

Supported audio scenarios:

  • Encode uncompressed WAV or AVI audio files
  • Basic previewing and playback functionality
  • Pre-processing, re-sampling (automatically), and compression to standard Windows Media Audio (WMA) codecs
  • Note   This version of Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition does not support elementary streams. Encoded files are saved using the Advanced Systems
The app works great with uncompressed AVI files... you get error messages trying to use type I or II DV-AVI files from a camcorder or Movie Maker.
In addition to uncompressed AVI files from VirtualDub, it worked fine with WMV files from Movie Maker and Photo Story, including uncompressed WMV movies. And for some reason, it let me use some other AVI files.
Using high quality photo stories to encode to HD files might be an interesting use of the app. One of my tests was to take the story I recently made for the MaximumPC tutorial and render it to a video at 1200x900 pixels.
No, it doesn't accept VOB files from DVDs or MPEG-2 files.

Previewing Source Files
Here's a full-size snapshot of the built-in viewer for source files... viewing a WMV movie source.
Source File Previewing
Encode the Project
The Encode tab is where you select options for the new file. It's similar to filling out the settings in a custom profile for Movie Maker or Photo Story.
Resizing the source file was done by setting the pixel dimensions in the Project tab, not the Encode tab. It's a pre-processing step.
To get screen shots for this newsletter, I went with the defaults. The encoding window shows progress, along with both the source file and the new one being re-encoded.
When the initial encoding is finished, the app adds another tab 'Re-Encode'. If you want to enhance a segment or reduce the encoded bitrate of it... select it by marking the in and out points, make your desired settings, and re-encode the selection. Another WMV file is created for the re-encoded segment.
Re-encode Selected Segment
After the segment's been re-encoded, the picture changes to show the differences between the original file and the new one in the area of the re-encoding. The changes start with a key and finish with another one, even when you mark the in and out points between key.
Re-encoded area...
When you're satisfied with the project and the re-encoded segments, use the Publish button to render the full video with the re-encoded segments included.

Conclusions and Closing
It's beta 1 software... but it feels and works good!!! and it's fun to play with. Wish I had an HD camcorder to get some real high quality source material rather than using blown up oversized DV-AVI files. Photo Stories are my best bet...
I use the current encoder mostly for screen capture sessions. This new encoder doesn't include such features.

Have a great week...