PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #186 - Jan 26, 2008
Chasing a 'Spoiler' in Photo Story 3

RandyBradleyRandy Bradley is a professional photographer and long-time user of Movie Maker, Photo Story and other multimedia software. This picture is a link to his website...
I have a CD he sent years ago with a dozen images I could use on my website and related work. You've probably seen a couple of them... this week I started to make a Photo Story that used them all. That led to this week's topic about a gremlin, a spoiler... whatever you call it.
I stopped work on the story to chase it down and write this issue.
The pictures on the disc are 1200x800 pixels, and I opted for a widescreen story. The steps I took were...
The previews in PS3 looked great, but viewing the story in Windows Media Player showed a 'spoiler', something I've encountered before and didn't understand.
With no deadline or customer delivery for this story... I decided to set aside the project, do some detective work, and learn something.
In the dozen pictures, there were 3 with the 'spoiler'... 2 resolved by seemingly random changes in the motion settings. One was stubborn enough to hang on. It became my study piece. Here's the issue...
Again, the previews in PS3 are perfect... but playback of the saved story in WMP and Movie Maker show this blackness at the bottom of some pictures during panning/zooming. The black part suddenly pops into normal view at some point and the story continues along as it should... click the image to see the problem portion of the saved story... it starts just past the half-way mark.
the Spoiler
I like exploring unusual repeatable issues that are important to a project, something that obviously needs at least enough understanding to do a work-around. I don't expect to resolve bugs, just understand what to do to work around them.
Before going into the findings, here's...
a note...

Being always on the lookout for neat pictures, sounds and video clips, this picture of New York City is a link to a commons wiki site where I just downloaded a copy of the 6 megapixel file.
New York City
It was their picture of the day for January 25, 2008, an HDR on Photomatix, made using 3 exposures, 2 stops each. 

I'll pass along the notes about permitted usage on the wiki site... copyright issues can get sticky-wiki... This one seems OK to use.
This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License (cc-by-sa-2.0). In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it under this or a similar cc-by-sa license.
This image was originally posted to Flickr by paulo.barcellos at It was reviewed on 15:47, 21 December 2006 by FlickreviewR, and confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.
{{Information |Description= New York City at night, photographed using the HDR technique. |Source= |Date= August 31, 2006 |Author=[ Paulo Barcellos Jr.] |Permission=Fre
... back to the main subject  

Chasing the 'Spoiler' 
As mentioned in the opening section, my seemingly random changes in motion settings resolved 2 of the 3 problems, but not the 3rd.
After stripping the project of music and all the other pictures but this one set of 5, to eliminate the issue being something interactive between it and other items, the 'spoiler' was still there, 100% repetitive on both my XP and Vista laptops.
Each of the scenes used 5 copies of the same pictures... three to go into and out of the text title, followed by two for panning/zooming.

How the starting and ending positions effected it
After comparing each of the dozen picture sequences to see how the applied motion settings differed, I noticed the problem was with one that zoomed out, and the part that was cut off was the entire bottom below the starting selection. 
The previews showed the complete picture... the 'spoiler' was just in the rendered story, where the bottom part showed only blackness.
The work-around became obvious... if something is hot and you don't want to burn your fingers, don't touch it. By moving the end position to keep it above the line, there wasn't an issue. That worked as the initial work-around.
That wasn't good enough. It didn't begin to define the underlying reason, and it added too much of a constraint. You would need to stay away from a large part of the picture. Who would know about this and remember to resolve it as they rendered the story... when the previews all looked perfect?
I remembered the last time I wrestled with this issue, that time leaving it totally unresolved as I was eager to upload a story to Trip Advisor... I hadn't drawn any lines and didn't know about this work-around. That story also was a widescreen one that used the same custom profile.
I checked lots of other things, none of which made a difference. It was time to dig into the custom widescreen profile.

How Does Changing the Width of the Saved Story Effect It?
Standard 4:3 NTSC videos are 640x480 pixels. Doing the math for widescreen 16:9 videos of 480 pixels in height says the width should be 853.33 pixels. As you can't use odd numbers in a story or movie profile, I'd been using 852 pixels.
That was working fine except for this occasional 'spoiler'.
For testing Change widthI cloned the profile over and over, doing nothing more than changing the setting of the width. Regardless of size, the rendering of each went along with no issues except for a few odd cases as noted below.
The playback of the test stories in Windows Media Player 11 was smooth... with or without the 'spoiler'. Here are my raw notes about what I saw as I tried various width settings from 800 to 892.
the 'Spoiler' is there at widths from 800 to 858
800... checked on Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
808... checked on Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
816... checked on Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
822... got this 'standard' error message on XP about memory, disc space... whatever. It saved on Vista but playback wasn't smooth...
824... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
832... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
840... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
848... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
852... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there... this is a significant number as my published widescreen profile has used it in the past -
853.33 - the math would have you using this number for a 16:9 aspect ratio and a height of 480 pixels. This is the crossover point from stories that are narrower than reality to those that are wider.
854... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
856... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there
858... checked on XP and Vista... the 'spoiler' is there

859... tried an odd number just for fun...  an error message in the Profile Editor says you can't use odd numbers... I did it in Notepad outside the Profile Editor, and Photo Story 3 ignored it entirely, not including it in the list of choices. As Photo Story opens, it checks to be sure you haven't slipped in a profile with an odd number.
the 'Spoiler' leaves when the width is 860 or more
860... worked fine on Vista... no 'spoiler'
862... worked fine on Vista... no 'spoiler'
864... checked on XP and Vista... no 'spoiler'... this is what I revised the widescreen profile to use. I could have used something closer to the one the math suggests... like 860... but I prefer a number that nicely divides by 8.
864/8=108 and 480/8=60
If you look a bit wider in your story, you can blame the profile.
Checking even wider stories showed the 'spoiler' didn't come back.
872... checked on XP and Vista... no 'spoiler'
880... checked on XP and Vista... no 'spoiler'
888... checked on XP and Vista... no 'spoiler'
890... in XP I got the same error message as the width of 822. What's common about 822 and 890 that results in this error message about disc space in XP?... it works OK in Vista, which continues to do better than XP on many things.
To see if 890 pixels wide was some kind of maximum barrier, I did one more. It worked OK so I call the 890 size an anomaly... like the 822 point.
892... checked on XP... fine with no 'spoiler'
And for much larger stories, I tried one of my existing downloadable profiles of 1024x768... checked on XP and Vista... no 'spoiler'. That's enough for checking the different widths.

The Spoiler Exists
Yet Another Clue
Changing the profile resolved the issue, or at least provided the work-around. But I did some more checking.
By the time I was done whittling the project down to the problem picture, I had a project with a single picture... no starting transition, no music, no narration. Just one picture with a pan/zoom that I was manually setting. I was staying away from the black borders and doing fairly modest pans and zooms, letting Photo Story automatically set the duration.
These two screen shots provide another clue about the nature of the 'spoiler'.
The Spoiler Isn't There
For profiles using widths of 860 pixels or more, the spoiler isn't there no matter what the motion settings are.
For profiles with a width less than 860 pixels, the pictures here illustrate when the 'spoiler' appears or doesn't. It only appears when the starting position is within the area of the ending position.
Could this reflect a bug in Photo Story 3 or the image codec? Yes, I'd guess so.
Could this be a user-caused problem with my custom profile? Yes, custom profiles for Photo Story and Movie Maker are not 'officially' supported by Microsoft.

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
Running into 'spoilers' is challenging and fun, providing things to explore and write about. Some lead nowhere and don't get written about. This one led to a change in one of my widescreen story profiles.
The downloadable custom profile for widescreen stories now uses a width of 864 pixels, where the 'spoiler' doesn't exist.
Now I'll keep going on the story with Randy's pictures.
Have a great week....