Newsletter #148 - May 5, 2007
First Look at the Expression Media Encoder...


Microsoft formally rolled out the Expression Suite at the Mix07 conference in Los Vegas this week... the suite includes
The buzz I've read from press releases and attendee blogs ranges from positive to glowing.

Sample Silverlight package...
Silverlight package produced by the Encoder is a set of 15 files, a video wmv file that we're familiar with, and others that are mostly website code.
I haven't used the new Expression Suite tools to make any graphic or animation yet, so I used clips from my current library... making a 'header', a 'main feature', and a 'trailer'. The encoder puts the 3 parts together into the wmv file.
The main feature uses some of my jellyfish footage from the Monterey aquarium... the leader and trailer are from tweaks of one of my video doodles. I did the tweaking and ran the Encoder on my XP laptop, using MM2.1. You can install the Encoder on either XP or Vista.
The complete Silverlight package of files needs to be rolled out to a website, not just the wmv file. Here's the set of them for this sample.
the Package
Unfortunately my sample plays fine locally on my laptop, but the online copies don't work... yet!! I'm still in the learning phase. The link to the Default.html file is what's supposed to kick off the Silverlight player with the video playing in it. Maybe it'll be working for you by the time you read this.
The best I can give you is a direct link to the wmv file in the package... which plays as usual in your Windows Media Player rather than in a Silverlight player nestled in your browser. At least you'll see how the 3 parts work in the video.
Jellyfish Video
There's a 30 second leader, a 110 second main feature with a logo overlay, and a 30 second trailer. The leader and trailer are standard aspect ratio, and the main feature is widescreen.
That's the concept, and the start of real-world implementation... let's take a closer look at the Encoder.
Before getting into it, here are...
... a couple notes...

Vista Corner
Sticky Note... Making Movies with Vista! a six page article in the Spring 2007 Special Edition of MaximumPC, is on bookstands now to May 29, 2007. Starting on page 78... the article covers the movie making process from camcorder tape to viewing on a standard video DVD.
Interactive features between still cameras and Vista are things I'm just starting to explore, aided by a couple Microsoft loaner cameras I just received.
I'll be using the cameras for a few months. If you want any specific info about either of them, or how they interface with Vista, send a note.
Our best current camera doesn't offer an option to save as a RAW file. I'm looking forward to doing some comparisons of RAW to high quality JPG files.
.... back to the main topic...

the Expression Media Encoder
A full-featured 60 day trial version of the Encoder was released this week. Here's the link... to a small 6 MB installation msi file. All of the Expression installation packages are pretty small. 
Expression Media Encoder
Here's some info from the Encoder website...
The Encoder is an engine that produces the online content... either as stand-alone wmv files, or in packages that work in browsers with the Silverlight plug-in.

First Tests... Gather Some Videos to use as Inputs
Before I made the above sample, I did some checking of the Encoder's capabilities.
Internet Archives
Downloaded FilesI went to the Internet Archive and downloaded a file of TV commercials from 1948.
The Archive offers 8 copies of the file, in various formats and quality... see the chart with links at the left.
Note the cute logo warning "No Rights Reserved"... a refreshing and opposite position than the usual "All Rights Reserved". You're free to use them however you want.
The file has 23 commercials, which I remember watching in those early days of TV. The file's total duration is 9 min 18 seconds.
Checking the Downloaded Files
I played the 6 files by double-clicking each to see what player opened, and how they looked and sounded. It was to do some benchmarking before using them in the encoder.
1 - MP4 file - played in Quick Time player - small file size and pixel dimensions... 160x120... stereo AAC audio
2 - MP4 file - played in Quick Time player - bigger file and larger pixel dimensions... 320x240... stereo AAC audio
3 - AVI file... Divx encoded... played in WMP11... 320x240 with good video/audio sync...
4 - RM file... I don't have a player for it 
5 - MPEG-1 file... played in WMP... 352x240... MPEG-1 stereo audio
6 - RM file... I don't have a player for it 
7 - MP4 file - played in Quick Time player... 5 times the file size of #2... 320x240... stereo AAC audio
8 - MPEG-2 file... played in WMP... it was the largest file, but the audio/video was pretty much out of sync, as is often the case with MPEG-2 files... 368x480... MPEG-1 stereo audio
If I were heading to Movie Maker with any of these files, I'd need to convert it first to something that would work in MM2.1. Let's see if and how the encoder handles them.

Inputs to the Encoder... 
The Encoder User Guide includes this info about file formats:

Supported File formats

Expression Media Encoder supports the following file formats for import:






















*Requires Apple QuickTime

**Requires MPEG-2 decoder

***May require MPEG-2 decoder

I dragged and dropped the downloaded files into the Encoder from my file manager utility. 6 of the 8 went, but the 2 Real Media files didn't... as expected by the User Guide info.
Main Window
They each previewed well.
You save your work at any point... as an Encoder 'Job'... File > Save Job
A 'job' file is a small text xml file. It's simply a list of the input files with instructions about what to do to each during the encoding. Edit it with notepad if you like.

the Outputs (Targets)...
The purpose of the encoder is to take the input files, select the desired part of each item, add an optional leader and/or trailer, add an image/logo overlay, and produce wmv files with the selected profile.
Beyond that, it'll produce packages of files that align with the Silverlight browser add-on... for enhanced browser-based cross-platform viewing.
Scrolling sideways in the bottom section of the Encoder shows the default target filenames, which align with the input files.
When ready, press the Encode button and do other things while it creates the files. All of them in this job finished and played well.  

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
The Encoder does what it's supposed to, and does it well.
The Expression suite, and the Silverlight plug-in give you more tools to create and distribute your material. That still leaves the bigger, most important parts for you to do... creating your content. With the viewing experience bar moving upwards, it'll motivate you to raise the quality of your content.
I can see my video doodles evolving into a library of personalized leaders and trailers... wrapped around the main features. 
Movie Maker and Photo Story are still the tools to use to make video content... the Encoder can do things like trim (using one trim start and one trim end point), crop and resize the inputs, but it can't do the more detailed editing, like splitting a clip and discarding an unwanted section.
It's another great tool for your ever-growing video-editing toolbox.
Have a great week and enjoy your video work...