PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #190
Sony's ACID XPress - Music Creation and Mixing

SplashSony's website says "...XPress products are basic software versions that you can download and use for free. They give you a great introduction to the full-featured versions of the software...".
Who can pass on a free app that lets you create and mix music? I downloaded ACID XPress and installed it on my XP and Vista laptops. All was going well and expectations were rising.
Things went downhill bit by bit... feature by feature. It's not that things didn't work... it's that the deeper I got, the more I felt I was looking at a sales pitch rather than a software app. Most of what I tried ended up with a pop-up message saying in essense '... if you want to do that, you need to get the paid-for version...'. I got so used to them they became entertaining and educational. They were notes about what this version can and can't do. They were much easier than reading a help file.
I thought of changing subjects, but decided to keep going to see if there were any valuable nuggets for Movie Maker and Photo Story users.... and there are. 

I'm not out to compose my own music... but love having items in my library that are copyright and royalty free. Sony provides some.

My sample video this week is one that uses music clips from two free samples. It's a remix of my penguin flick showing one gathering rocks for a nest. Click this link or the XPress splash screen above to listen to the segments. I've annotated the video to tell you where they are.
Sample Video 
Sony provides 2 downloadable free sample ACID project files each week that are easy to render to WMA files, and take to your movie or story project. Here's why you want to get the software and register.
Free Downloads
The WMA files you can render the projects to are lower quality WMA file, less than CD quality but better than what you hear from YouTube.
The background music for a home movie or story doesn't need to be at the quality level an audiophile with big earphones expects. 
I'll show you the app with some of its features and sales pitches.
... before going into details, here's...
a couple notes...

I completed a review of Presto! Video Works for Bright Hub... thumbs down for, but as with Pinnacle Studio... lots of neat things that Movie Maker doesn't provide, such as 3D text with easy and unlimited positioning.
The final release for manufacturing version of Vista Ultimate SP1.... is now on my test system. The installation went without issue. It's connected to my best stereo speakers and I've been enjoying the videos at the Photo Story Magic channel at vimeo, using the vimeo player widgets I added to a website page. Start the first video and it'll play all the videos on the channel as if it was a video slide-show. 
Changes in Movie Maker are too slight to warrant a minor incremental version number. It's still at 6.0.6000.16386, the version everyone already has in Vista.
... back to the main subject  

ACID EXpress
Limited to 10 TracksHere's the main working window with a project file open in ACID EXPress. Project files have a file extension of .acd-zip.
The tracks are all for audio. Here's one of the many pop-up ads that tell you the limits of this version, and offer more by purchasing ACID Music Studio. 10 tracks here... unlimited tracks in the full version.
The software is well done, as are the pop-up ads. It ended up being fun to bump into a limit when least expecting it. Coming from Movie Maker and Photo Story, 10 audio tracks sounds like heaven, but in this version of ACID EXpress it's a limitation.
Main Working Window
I'm not out to start developing skills as a composer, so I'll jump right into rendering the free downloaded projects to wma files that are usable in movies and stories.
Rendering Types
The rendering choices are to these 5 file types... with limitations of course.
Select one and learn a bit more about the limits for it.
At this point it seems that a WMA file is a great choice. MP3 has a limit of 20 encodes/renderings. Or should I be reading this note as it being a limit of 20 to any or all file types?
WMA Quality Limit
Render to WMASelect WMA and opt for the default quality template of 128 Kbps stereo...
... just when you think you're home free, here comes the WMA quality punchline...
WMA Bitate Limit
PickList - WMA settingsAccording to the dropdown pick-list in ACID EXpress, 48 Kbps stereo is for 56 Kbps modems... a couple notches below that of 128 Kbps CD quality. As I write this I'm listening to an Internet radio station streaming in at 96 kbps via iTunes on my Vista Ultimate SP1 system. Maybe not CD quality, but plenty good for my movie backgrounds.
The 48 Kbps is what I had to settle for here... you heard the results in the sample video. I'm hoping the visual of the penquins is sufficient distraction so you don't have concerns about the audio quality.
Rendering audio files is always a pleasure if you don't want to wait long... in 4 seconds this one is 2/3 finished.

Add WMA to other tracksBack to the main working window for a few other points....
So it goes, on and on like a broken record, as you learn which features you don't have yet. You can't bring in a midi file... you know the beat by now... not until you get the full Music Studio.
Try to Open WMV
What can you do? Among others...
Even with the extremely limited features, there's  plenty to explore. 

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
Did I mention that ACID XPress takes a long time to open. My usual way is to double click an ACID project file to open it in the app. The app always opens and works fine. There are no codec crashing or hanging issues on either XP or Vista. Memory usage with an open project is in the 50 MB ballpark.
A benefit of having the software and being registered is the ability to go online and download current freebies. I just downloaded an ACID package with a project file and 19 WAV files. 10 of the WAV files are restricted by DRM and don't work in WMP or Movie Maker... but 9 are unrestricted and work fine. Being uncompressed audio files, they are full quality and don't need to go through the ACID EXpress rendering process. I took the 9 of them into my Movie Maker collections.
Have a great week....