PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #155 - June 23, 2007
Tweak PS... Under the Hood

Main WindowMark's Tweak Photo Story utility has been in use now by many, including myself, for almost 2 years. I've mentioned it before as an essential tool when making some special projects such as a 'quasi-movie' with hundreds of quickly flipping pictures looking like animation.
But I've never done a newsletter using it as the focus... this issue is for you Mark, even though you didn't ask for it.
I'll start the comments with the picture at the right, a link to Mark's website where you can download the latest version 1.0.4. Use it to go to his site, where his really old screen shot doesn't include the button to Remove Transitions. Nor does it mention that it installs and runs on Vista in addition to XP.

One early version of TweakPS had an expiration date of Dec 1, 2006. That was followed by another that turned into a pumpkin on June 1, 2007. 
Mark gave up on embedding an end date, so this newest version 1.0.4 released this week will run forever. More importantly, this is the first version that also installs on Vista. We now have both Photo Story 3 and TweakPS running on Vista, where I've been able to render stories that wouldn't render on XP. I've credited it to Vista's better memory management as the apps are the same.

Project ContentsThis utility works by tweaking selected items in the xml file embedded in a Photo Story 3 project (the saved wp3 file). 
The picture at the right is a look inside a sample project for this newsletter. It has the 100 JPG pictures, 3 external music files, and the text-based xml file... the super-script that runs the rendering process to make the story. 
TweakPS has 4 options
As the app becomes more popular, and extends it's useful life through Vista, there are some rough edges that can run into real issues. I'll explain below.
Before getting into more details, here are...
... a couple notes...


Vista Corner
My new Vista laptop works well, and I find myself alternating nights at Barnes & Noble with it and my 'Hummer' XP laptop. Having moved my current working projects onto a little SimpleTech external drive helps.
It's getting to the point that it's not a matter of which computer I'm using, more of where the originals of the project files are located.
Yesterday's USA Today had 3 separate articles that focused on or included video in a big way... continuing the expanding interest in it. Part of that interest rubs off onto Movie Maker. I see it in my increasing website traffic and daily comments in my YouTube inbox.
Online Ventures
In parallel with online videos, new internet-based organizations are evolving. I'm actively working with two of them.
Support Space will soon be providing online support services for Windows-based users in North America. I expect to be one of the experts providing such service.
The other is an online provider of software reviews. It's too early to provide a link, but I'm finishing my first drafts of reviews of some audio editing utilities.
.... back to the main topic...

Under the Hood
the download from Tweak PS - Photo Story Tweak Tool is a small 1/2 MB msi file... open it to do the automatic install.
The install went smoothly on both XP and Vista laptops.
On my XP system with the previous version, the default installation was to a different folder... TweakPS versus the previous one in TweakPhotoStory. As the installation wasn't over the previous version, and it didn't remove the old version... I have two installed versions, one that won't open because it expired, and the new one.
I quickly forgot which was which... the working windows look identical unless your computer clock is current and you can't open the expired one, they don't show the version number, and don't have a pull down menu with a Help > About item to check.
It was hard to find the version number of 1.0.4 as it's buried someplace inside the main executable.
Control Panel
VersionSelecting 'Click here for support information' is the only place I found it. 
Right clicking on the main executable and checking the Version tab shows it as version 1.0.2728 19455.
I've uninstalled my older version now.

Let's go down the options and explore what happens with each. To test the features, I made a story project with 100 JPG files from a 7 megapixel camera, using default Photo Story settings all the way, but adding some external and computer generated music.
Change Picture Durations...
At the low end of picture durations, you can run into an issue by making the picture durations less than the usual video frame durations.
Tweak PS lets you set the picture durations as low as 0.01 seconds. That means in one second you would have 100 pictures going by.
NTSC videos are typically 30 frames per second, and PAL are 25. That would mean that 3 or 4 pictures would pass by in each frame. Would the frames be a composite of 3 or 4 of the pictures? Would it skip some pictures? What would Photo Story do? You can see from the PS3 filmstrip view that it accepted the change to .01 seconds and all the pictures are still in the project.
File strip at .01 seconds
Motion Setting Window... .1 secEven after the tweak, the motion setting windows show durations of 0.1 seconds, pegged at the low end of what it can be used for... at this point we have the motion setting window showing something different than the setting in the xml file. 
The proof will be in the story which saved fine.
The wmv file properties showed it as 3 seconds long... 3 times longer than the one second for all 100 pictures. Browsing the wmv file in WMSnoop lets you see each frame, which showed the story having used one picture per frame, with a few dropped totally. Which ones? 
Story Project - same pictureThe first picture wasn't used, and neither was the last 2. The 97 pictures between the first and last 2 where each there as full pictures... one for each frame. 
To see what part of the picture is in the saved story, here's a typical one, showing the starting and ending positions of the motion settings. The picture at the left was taken in the motion settings window of PS3.
Here's the same picture in the saved story, using WMSnoop as a viewer... cropped a bit differently than expected, but for this test I'll accept almost anything, as long as it's the same picture.
Study in Snoop
Black Border Issue
For another test of the .01 second durations, I used a project with just 5 pictures, exercising the PS3 option to remove black borders before tweaking the duration setting.
When I opened the revised project and moved to the second screen I received the usual notice about having black borders... I had already removed them before the tweaking. I accepted the offer again, and somehow ended up with worse black borders than in the beginning.
As TweakPS is a third party utility not officially tied into PS3, I don't expect any such joint issues to be resolved by either Microsoft or Mark. Use the best of each app and if something doesn't work right, that's the price you pay for the benefits you get.  

The other extreme of using 300 seconds per picture for my 100 picture test project would end up with a 500 minute story... let's try it.
the effect of having music in the project...
Before tweaking, I added music... a few external pieces, and a few computer generated ones. Will it readjust the computer generated pieces to fill the expanded time? Will it continue playing the external ones that stopped early because of picture durations?
I learned something at this point. If you tweak the project and try to open it in Photo Story, it considers it corrupt if it had external music files added before tweaking. But internal computer-generated ones can go for the tweaking ride without causing issues. 
PS3 says the tweaked story project file with external music files is corrupt.
Another check with a different story project with just 5 pictures and one external music file... worked fine all the way. So I didn't get to the bottom line of the issue.
Remove Motion...
This one should be easy.... I removed the motion from the 100 pack, with music.... but got the same issue about a corrupt file when trying to open it in PS3.
Tried it again after removing the external music files... leaving the computer generated ones. Similar to the issue with music and changing durations, it worked OK.
I saved the story and checked for any missing pictures... using WMSnoop again. Everything looked good.
Remove Transitions...
TweakPS give some feedback during changing of durations or removal of motion, and said Complete when it finished.
When removing transitions there was no feedback other than the mouse-over the window turning into an hourglass while it was still working. And it didn't say Complete when done.
When really done the mouse cursor returns to normal and there's a new wp3 file and associated backup file.
The issue with external music in the project continued, and was by now a routine pattern.... the lesson learned was not to add external music to a project until all tweaking is done. 
As with motion removal, the saved story looked good.
Randomize Slides...
Again there was no feedback about the process working. Give it enough time to finish. You'll know it's done when the new project file shows up in your file manager.
The usual file corruption message when opening a tweaked project file with external music included. Computer generated music appeared to stay anchored to the same pictures it was originally assigned to, and there was a long quiet period before the first music started... unless the random first one has music tagged to it.

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
Mark's TweakPS utility is routinely used by hard core Photo Story 3 users. Thanks to him for moving it on into the Vista environment where we can't see the horizon beyond.
From my perspective the utility is just an easier way to hack the xml file of a saved story. Any such hacking is done assuming an acceptable risk of something not working right when the project is re-opened in Photo Story. I hope this newsletter helps you understand things a bit more.
Don't add your background music until after the tweaking is over and everything should be fine.  
Have a great week and enjoy your video work...