PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #185
From DVD to Movie Maker 6... in Vista's Home Basic


As new cameras and software keep rolling out, options for consumers are better and more... but figuring out how to get files from the gadgets into Movie Maker is more challenging and a daunting learning curve for many. The mini-DV camcorders that work so easily with a firewire connection and Movie Maker are fading into the background as still cameras that also take video have gotten so good, and hard drive/DVD camcorders keep selling well.
It's only when users hit the point of wanting to edit their clips that the realities of file conversions hit home.
One customer mailed some video files this week... on a DVD with copies of video taken on his Sony DCR DVD 505 camcorder.  
Using GSpot to check the VOB files showed they were standard in pixel sizes... NTSC 720x480 pixels. The audio was Dolby. Conversion should be pretty straight-forward, using my long used procedure on my website's Import Movie Source Files > Video > Discs page. I wanted to do a quick turnaround, put a draft of something on my website, and send a link... so I used my XP laptop and these 'routine' conversion steps.
  • copied the VOB files on the DVD to my hard drive
  • renamed the copies to change the .VOB extensions to .MPG
  • using TMPGEnc's MPEG tools features... ripped the audio to Dolby ac3 files and the video to MPEG m2v files
  • using VirtualDubMod with the Panasonic DV codec, converted the m2v files to DV-AVI
  • using BeSweet, converted the ac3 files to WAV
  • married the video DV-AVI and audio WAV files together in Movie Maker into a new DV-AVI file..
  • That might seem like a lot of steps. The important thing is that each step works well and as expected. Once you have them down as routines, the steps are easy and quick.
    That got the job done, but it wasn't a sufficient story for this newsletter. For a new challenge I went to my Vista laptop to explore the future... what will I do when I have Vista systems without XP to fall back on? Will my conversion utilities work in Vista?
    Rather than go to my Vista Ultimate system, where using VOB files should be easy, I thought I'd learn more by using my Home Basic laptop, which doesn't have the new Microsoft MPEG-2 codec or Windows DVD Maker... heck, it doesn't even have a DVD burner. I'm checking things here at Barnes & Noble without being networked to my other systems.
    Two of my utilities used in XP, TMPGEnc and BeSweet, had issues in Vista. TMPGEnc was acting a little quirky, and the BeSweet GUI wouldn't open as it couldn't find a DLL it needed.
    As I thought about what to do, I checked online info. Between reviews of the camcorder and forum posts about the audio stream being difficult to deal with, even with the software that comes with the camcorder, Picture Package version 1.8.1... that kind of finished framing the scope of the challenge.
    I'll go through the success story after...
    a couple notes...

    Support activities are in the limelight this week.
    Support Space software keeps evolving. I just went through a training session about changed and new features.  
    Also in my personal support space is my website and the services I provide from it. Traffic keeps going up to new record levels... with about 70% of the visitors living in other countries than the United States. Training and support activities are also increasing, and I feel good about helping with the what seems like little things to many, but means so much for those needing help.
    This week's activity included one user who runs a professional video processing service who needed help using my custom title overlay package to add a logo on each video she processed. Another thought she needed to break her 1 hour project down due to complexity... as it didn't successfully burn to a DVD. In an interactive session, it was clear she didn't have an issue with memory when saving the project to a DV-AVI file, but one with the disc burning segment of the process.
    The one with the DVD burning issue didn't know how to contact me... so she did it in a novel way... by using the PayPal button to pay for a session in advance. It was PayPal who told me that xxxxx was looking for help. Good point!! I just added my email address to the top part of my Products and Services page.
    ... back to the main subject  

    Vista Home Basic - from DVD to Movie Maker 6 
    Note: as systems vary in the codecs and other software on them, the procedure that works on one may not work on another. This newsletter is about what worked or didn't on my Vista Home Basic laptop, a Toshiba Satellite L35 running with User Account Controls disabled. 

    Step 1 - VOB Files on the DVDDon't copy the VOB files from the disc... leave them there.
    Here's a snapshot of the key files on the disc...
    the Video_TS.VOB file is the menu
    the other .VOB files are those with the videos in them... and the VOB files include the audio

    Step 2 - Install the Panasonic DV codec if you don't already have it on the system.
    It installs fine to XP and Vista systems. You'll need that to save a file in DV-AVI format when using VirtualDub.

    Step 3 - Don't use VirtualDub. Get and install VirtualDub MPEG2.
    There's really no installation to run into any issues. Take the files out of the zipped package and put them in a folder of your choice.
    Then open the VOB files on the disc... one at a time... with it.
    ParsingI'm using version 1.6.15 (I see the download site is now at v1.6.19, but my version is working fine). Open the VOB file directly from the disc to save space on your hard drive... it parses the interleaved MPEG-2 file as it opens it. From an online reference... 
    a parser in the decoder directs the data coming in so video data portions are sent to a video buffer and audio data portions are sent to an audio buffer.
    Select Panasonic DV CodecUse the menu > Video > Compression to select the Panasonic DV CODEC. It'll stay selected until you change it or close VirtualDub MPEG2.
    Don't forget to select it each time you re-open the app. If you don't, the default will be uncompressed with files 5 times larger than DV-AVI.
    If you're in NTSC countries like the U.S. and the VOB files are anything other than 720x480 pixels, apply the resize filter to align the new file with the size needed for a DV-AVI file. In this case the VOB files were already that size, so I didn't need the resize filter.
    Use File > Save as AVI to make a DV-AVI file from the VOB.
    Save as DV-AVI
    Check the new file by playing it in Windows Media Player.
    WOW! that was too easy. A single step to go from a VOB on the disc to a DV-AVI file on the hard drive, which played fine in WMP11. What's the catch? Why so easy? We know DV-AVI files make perfect source files for Movie Maker. Keep reading and we'll get to the 'gotcha'.

    Not Playing in ProjectStep 4 - Import the DV-AVI file into Movie Maker 6 and check again.
    Preview it in the collection and on the timeline.
    It wouldn't play in either place.
    See from the screenshot that the thumbnails were there, the video track looked right, and the overall duration of the clip that shows under the monitor gave the right info.
    The position marker would move along as if it was playing... but I saw only blackness in the preview monitor and didn't hear anything.
    Going back a step to playing it in WMP11.... yup, still looked and sounded fine. The problem was only when previewing it in Movie Maker.
    It was time for some head-scratching.

    Step 5 - Do some detective work to find and resolve the issue(s).
    Properties in MM6The most unusual thing I noticed in the file properties when checking it in MM6 was that the audio had 6 channels. Movie Maker does mono or stereo.
    GSpot provided the rest of the clues...
    • it confirmed the audio as being 6 channels
    • the audio codec was Dolby AC3... I had known the VOB file on the disc had Dolby audio... what I didn't know was that a DV-AVI file made by VirtualDub MPEG and the Panasonic codec would pass along the Dolby audio file type.
    • GSpot said the audio codec was installed. I ran the Microsoft (MS) A/V step 1 check and step 2 test in GSpot... Bingo!!! the codec being successfully used by GSpot to test the file was ffdshow.
    Check in GSpot
    ffdshow is the only line item in my MM6 compatibility list that is unchecked. It's one of those historically problematic codecs that is involved in the crashing of Movie Maker. I remember it being the only one to date that crashed MM6 when left on... but those crashes happened when using other source files than DV-AVI. 
    If the file doesn't play in MM6 with ffdshow turned off, and plays fine in WMP and GSpot with it turned on, let's see what happens if I turn it back on in Movie Maker.
    Filter Status in MM6Sure enough, just checking the ffdshow audio decoder line item and saying OK was enough to instantly start seeing and hearing the DV-AVI files in the collection...
    But the clip already in the project didn't change... seems the project file was already set to not use the ffdshow codec for it. I deleted it from the timeline and re-added it, which kicked things into gear and the project also previewed fine.
    I tried editing the project a bit and didn't run into any issues splitting the clip or adding transitions and effects.
    But I couldn't go much further with my long-term history of conflicts between Movie Maker and the ffdshow audio codec... what would happen if I brought other file types into the project, the types that brought MM6 to its knees before turning off the ffdshow audio decoder? At this point, it was easy to use MM6 to convert the Panasonic DV file with its 6 channel Dolby audio to a Microsoft DV DV-AVI file with 2 channel stereo. Then I could use the source files with the ffdshow audio decoder turned off as usual. Turn it on for converting one DV-AVI into another, and off for project editing. 
    It was still a simpler process then my usual procedure in XP. Maybe it'll work there too? I didn't take the time to check it there, being happy to have a solid set of easy steps to use on my Vista Home Basic laptop.

    Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
    That worked out pretty well... 
    I hadn't known DV-AVI files can have Dolby audio streams. I also didn't fully appreciate that not having access to the right audio decoder would also effect seeing the visual. I wonder why.
    If you don't have ffdshow on your Vista system... and this might work for XP also... the version I have is a beta one from this link. I first got it to resolve the use of Motion JPEG files in Vista's MM6, and now find it lets me use DV-AVI files with Dolby ac3 audio. It's moving from being a main codec outcast to being a valuable asset. Part of the change is happening because of further developments of ffdshow.
    I thought it would be worth seeing if, with ffdshow turned on for Movie Maker, would that let me import the DVD's VOB files directly into MM6? No, it didn't. 
    Have a great week....