2008 - About Codecs - Part 3 of
Making AVI Files
Last week's newsletter ended up a bit too
techie even for me. Let's follow it this week with another in the
series about codecs, but at a lighter more
VirtualDub is one of my main conversion tools when it comes
to making AVI files that work in Movie Maker. VirtualDub itself
handles incoming AVI files from digicams and websites, while VirtualDub
MPEG2 handles VOB files from DVDs. The compression choices when saving
the new AVI files are the same in both.
As the world turns, the codec air is getting
more rarefied. There are more file types with specialized codecs,
and those that work with VirtualDub to make AVI files for Movie
Maker products are fewer... to the extreme of having no practical
choices on a Vista Ultimate system out-of-the-box unless
you install additional non-Microsoft codecs... one at a time or in a
package. But at the same time, 3rd party codecs are available and work well.
Overall video stuff gets better and better.
It's harder for average users to know what to do.
My support services are more and more about helping users
get over codec hurdles. Maybe it's just me seeing the world from a
different perspective as I swim in codecs trying to understand them.
Let's do some testing...
With my well seasoned XP laptop, a newer Vista
Home Basic laptop that is used every night at Barnes & Noble, and a clean
install of Vista Ultimate SP1 on a desktop system... lets see how
conversions using VirtualDub work today.
The test input files are on an external hard
drive, which I'll move from one system to the other... so it's always
the same test files.
My goal is always the conversions to AVI files that play in
Windows Media Player 11, import into Movie Maker 2.1 and Movie Maker 6,
preview in collections, mingle with other file types on the
project timeline during editing sessions, and render completely to successful
This list shows the compression options in VirtualDub on
the XP laptop. I don't remember where each came from... some were on
the system when new and others added by assorted
software installations. The list changes as I add and remove
With most of these selections, there are optional settings.
For example, Cinepak lets you select a quality level along with color
versus black and white. For this exercise I'll use whatever the
defaults happen to be.
Here's the test plan...
Using a 303 MB type II DV-AVI file made by Movie Maker 1, I'll
render a set of AVI files using each of the compression options in
I'll play them in Windows Media Player... version 11
on each of the computers.
Import them into Movie Maker 2.1 and MM6 and check how they
preview in a collection
Copy them to the project timeline... split each into a
few parts and add transitions at each split point.
Render them to WMV and DV-AVI files and check that the
saved movies play well in WMP11.
Windows Media Player doesn't let me turn
off selected codecs as Movie Maker's compatibility list
WMP, in the file properties, tells you which codec it's using
when playing a file. Movie Maker doesn't. We can guess, but it's
not necessarily using the same codecs as WMP uses.
... before going into the details, here's...
a couple codec notes...
Both of these notes are about
codec related things from today.
I started my morning with
a sample file emailed from someone who had an issue he couldn't
resolve in a year of trying. He was trying to use it Movie Maker on
It was a motion JPEG file
from a Canon PowerShot S3 IS camera. Here's what happens on 3 of my
XP... it works fine in WMP and
Movie Maker. WMP11 says it's using the PICVideo MJPEG
decompressor... and no audio codec (GSpot says the audio is PCM uncompressed
and doesn't need an audio codec). MM2.1 has all the line items in the
compatibility list unchecked, including the one for PICVideo MJPEG, so maybe
it's using something else.
Vista Ultimate SP1... a squeaky
clean system... WMP11 can't handle it and the web help says I've encountered a
C00D11B1 error that might be related to 5 reasons... all of which are
about the sound device or audio codec (remember GSpot said no audio codec was
needed). MM6 plays and uses the file fine, so there's no need to get hung up
in the gloomy picture painted by WMP11 if Movie Maker is where you want
Vista Home Basic... plays fine
in WMP11 and MM6... as results were different here versus Vista Ultimate,
I explored things by taking away codecs I had added... one at a
WMP11 said it was using the
ffdshow video codec... a line item unchecked in MM6 to stop it
from using it.
I renamed the main ffdshow folder
to stop it from being found... WMP11 continued to play it fine
by switching to the PICVideo MJPEG codec. MM6 also
continued to handle it fine with that line item in the compatibility
list also unchecked... none of the line items are checked.
I renamed the pvmjpg.dll that
contains the PICVideo MJPEG codec to take it out of the picture. I
got a surprise when opening the file in WMP11. Instead of giving an
error message like I got in Vista Ultimate, it automatically ran the
Pinnacle Video Spin setup program which added the
PICVideo MJPEG codec back, and then played the file using it.
OK.. what will MM6 do? I renamed
the DLL again. When I clicked on the file in the collection, it too auto ran
the Pinnacle setup to put back the DLL... followed by it
successfully previewing the file. It did it even with the line
item remaining unchecked in the compatibility
I'd been wondering where the
PICVideo MJPEG codec came from... now I know, Pinnacle Video
My guess is, if I uninstalled
Pinnacle Video Spin so WMP and MM6 couldn't reinstall the codec... WMP
wouldn't be able to play the file, and would act like it does on the Vista
Ultimate system... but MM6 would continue to use the file OK with some unknown
I went back to GSpot to
scratch my head... its proposed codec solutions and tests on my XP and Vista
Home Basic laptops show 3 options for decompressing the Motion JPEG
video... ffdshow, PICVideo MJPEG, and quartz.dll. Could quartz be what MM6
in Vista Ultimate is using, as it doesn't have the other two?
Maybe WMP is flip-flopping
with available codecs, but not able to use quartz for this file?
Maybe MM6 is using
quartz? But if it's using quartz and the PICVideo MJPEG codec
line item is unchecked in the compatibility list, why is it installing
Pinnacle Video Spin and getting the other codec back? Why isn't it just
getting on with using the file with quartz?
In my responding email,
I encouraged the user to install the ffdshow codec... he was thrilled
that it worked... his final line in his response was "... I've downloaded and
installed this codec in the past and it caused me nothing but grief. It works
like a charm now....". Yes, I had sent him the latest experimental version of
ffdshow that seems to resolve everyone's issue when using Motion JPEG files on
both XP and Vista. It's a third party codec that seems to have gotten better
The other note is about an
interactive support session this afternoon, setting up the work flow for
someone who needs to routinely get from DVDs going into her business to Movie
Maker... in XP. Her conversions of the VOB files from the DVDs got AVI
files but they didn't work in Movie Maker.
I setup VirtualDub MPEG2
and the Panasonic DV codec and could open the VOB files on discs
in her DVD drive without copying them to the computer, and save them to
DV-AVI files using the Panasonic DV for compression. The DV-AVI files worked
perfectly in MM2.1.
I'm going to do one
more test, and if successful, make this my first recommendation
to get videos from DVDs to Movie Maker.
... back to the main
Render a Set of AVI
Files and Place Your Bet on a
My XP system, after years of accumulating software,
had the longest list of compression options. It was the starting gate for
this horse race. 25 lined up, 17 took off, and 8 stayed at the
This chart shows which worked, the
saving/rendering times, and the error messages received for those that
didn't... as my bet was on my favorite Panasonic DV codec I selected a
DV-AVI input file of 720x480 pixels to be sure it wouldn't stumble over the file
dimensions as it took off.
VirtualDub is an AVI making machine...
all outputs have that file extension, even those compressed with the
Microsoft Windows Media Video 9 codec... which you might expect to have a WMV
extension. It would if you made it in Movie Maker, but it's AVI if you make it
The error messages for those that didn't work are
pretty cryptic. Enough took off, so it's easiest to just leave the 8
behind and keep going.
Here's the 17 files that were produced, sorted
by size from largest to smallest.
The red line is the size of the input file being
converted, a DV-AVI file made by Movie Maker 1... 302 MB.
5 of the new files are larger than the
starting DV-AVI file and 12 are smaller. The biggest ones might be too
cumbersome for movie editing.
The smallest ones might be too hard to edit because
of the compression algorithms... we'll get into those in future issues in
this series... they may also be too compressed to provide suitable quality
through a number of editing steps.
1st Lap - viewing them in Windows Media
As the files produced are on my XP system, that's
the first place I'll check them, using Windows Media Player 11.
Most played well... with these
the uncompressed file played very non-smooth, as
you'd expect for a big file that isn't made for viewing... it's for video
the Indeo video 5.10 and TechSmith Screen Capture
files played fine if you just let them go from beginning to end... but
wouldn't let you jump to another point in the file part way through the
the Intel Indeo Video 4.5 acted similar but did
let you select a mid-point... it just took a long time to respond when doing
the NewSoft H.263 file dropped out of the
race... the playback was fine but it was only showing the lower left
quadrant of the video.
After this lap, a few were limping and one
more had dropped out.
2nd Lap - importing into Movie Maker
2.1 and previewing in the collection
I was running Movie Maker 2.1 with all line items
in the Compatibility list unchecked... limiting Movie Maker to codecs
available without those in the list.
There were 67 line items in the Compatibility
list... codecs that might have helped some of the files get imported and used. I
wanted to let in only thoroughbreds. Doing this forced some more to drop
the uncompressed file didn't drop out... in fact
it was invigorated such that it played a bit more smoothly in Movie Maker's
preview window... but just a bit.
Indeo video 5.10 previewed OK but advancing to
mid-points in a clip was slow
error messages about a codec not being installed
removed these from the race
Those that continued into the 3rd lap
Indeo video 5.10
Microsoft MPEG-4 V1
Microsoft Windows Media Video
PICVideo MJPEG (even with the PICVideo MJPEG line
item unchecked in the list??)
3rd Lap - moving to the project
timeline in MM2.1 and being edited
The eight that made it this far each made it
through this part fine. I split them on the timeline, added transitions,
mixed all eight together in one project, and rendered it to wmv and DV-AVI
After this final lap on the XP laptop, it was time
to move the external drive to the Vista Home Basic laptop and do the same
4th Lap - playing the files in Windows
Media Player 11 - Vista Home Basic
Those that made it through the
final checks in XP were...
uncompressed - plays but not at all smoothly, as
Indeo video 5.10 - doesn't play.... encounters a
problem > drops out...
Microsoft MPEG-4 V1 - plays well
Microsoft MPEG-4 V2 - plays
Microsoft MPEG-4 V3 - plays
Microsoft Windows Media Video 9 - plays
Panasonic DV - plays
PICVideo MJPEG - plays
I also checked the other files that didn't make it all the way through on
- Some of the files that didn't make it fully through the
checks in XP played fine in WMP11 on Vista... Cinepak, Divx 6.8, Helix,
and Xvid. They were aided by the ffdshow codec I
- Indeo Video 5.10 and 4.5, and PCLEPIXL and TechSmith
files encountered problems when trying to play them in WMP.
- The Microsoft Video 1 file is interesting... in WMP11 on
Vista it plays smoothly but upside down.
- The NewSoft H.263 file played as it did in XP... the lower
left quadrant only.
5th Lap - importing into Movie
Maker 6 and previewing in the collection
The 7 files that made it
Some files that played in WMP imported but played only the
audio... the video was blackness... Cinepak, Divx 6.8, Helix, and
Indeo Video 5.10 and 4.5, and PCLEPIXL and
TechSmith files, which didn't open in WMP, imported but played
only as audio.
The Microsoft Video 1 file, which played upside down in
WMP, and the NewSoft file that showed the lower left quadrant in WMP also
played as audio only.
6th Lap - moving to the timeline
of Movie Maker 6 and rendering to a video
The 7 that made it this far
continued to work well...
As we don't just want to go from XP to Vista, let's do some more
checking by starting in Vista.
AVI Files Made with VirtualDub on Vista
I'll do this in less detail... here's the shorter list of
compression options for VirtualDub in Vista.
All but one of the options rendered an AVI file. The
Microsoft RLE choice gave an error message 'unable to initialize the output
Playing in WMP11 in Vista... all played well
- uncompressed wasn't smooth, as usual
- Microsoft Video 1 plays well but upside down
- NewSoft H.263 plays only the lower left
Importing to MM6 and previewing in the collection... the
Panasonic DV and PICVideo M-JPEG files worked well... the uncompressed
file previews but not smoothly (as expected). The others dropped
- Cinepak - the audio plays while the video is
- Intel IYUV - the audio plays while the video is
- Intel IYUV (2nd option) - the audio plays while the
video is black
- Microsoft Video 1 - the audio plays while the
video is black
- NewSoft H.263 - the audio plays while the video is
- ffdshow (Xvid option) - the audio plays while the
video is black
At this point there were only the 3 files remaining to
take to the timeline, edit, publish to a movie, and take to the XP
system to check there. They stayed together through those final
AVI Files Made with VirtualDub on
Vista Ultimate SP1
Compression choices on a fresh install of Vista's Ultimate
SP1 has only these 6.
The Microsoft RLE option returns the
usual error message 'unable to initialize the output video codec'. The
others save fine and each plays well in Windows Media Player 11.
They import into MM6 but only the
uncompressed file previews in MM6. The others play as audio
The uncompressed one works on the video track of
the timeline as usual... those that preview as audio go
to Audio/Music track rather than the Video.
We have an Interesting situation at this point...
only the uncompressed file makes it to the movie project, and it's huge size
makes it an unwieldy option.
Conclusion and Closing... and What's
If I limited the finish to just the codecs that come with the
operating system, the uncompressed option would be the only one to make it.
That's not enough. Who wants to use video files that are 8 times the size
of DV-AVI and preview so poorly on typical computers?
Let's expand the choices by installing third party codecs
that work well in XP and Vista.
PICVideo M-JPEG - download
and install Pinnacle Video Spin
What's common to the three? Each frame of the video
file has all the data for a full image. Uncompressed
might be like using RAW still pictures in a video. DV would be
like using BMPs. Motion JPEG is like compressed JPGs.
Motion JPEG hanging in there with the other two is
interesting.... especially as today's Canon SureShot cameras, and some
HiDef camcorders use Motion JPEG.
Have a great week....