PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #192
2008 - About Codecs - Part 3 of ??
Making AVI Files with VirtualDub


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 practical level. 
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 movies.

Compression Options
Compression Choices - XP
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 software.
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...
Windows Media Player doesn't let me turn off selected codecs as Movie Maker's compatibility list does. 
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 XP.
It was a motion JPEG file from a Canon PowerShot S3 IS camera. Here's what happens on 3 of my computers...
I'd been wondering where the PICVideo MJPEG codec came from... now I know, Pinnacle Video Spin. 
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 codec.
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 over time.

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 subject  

Render a Set of AVI Files and Place Your Bet on a Winner
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 gate.
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 in VirtualDub.
Rendering Times
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.
File SizesFile Sizes...
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 Player
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 comments
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 out.
Those that continued into the 3rd lap were...

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 files.
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 checks.

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 expected
  • Indeo video 5.10 - doesn't play.... encounters a problem > drops out...
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V1 - plays well
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V2 - plays well
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V3 - plays well
  • Microsoft Windows Media Video 9 - plays well
  • Panasonic DV - plays well
  • PICVideo MJPEG - plays well
I also checked the other files that didn't make it all the way through on XP.

5th Lap - importing into Movie Maker 6 and previewing in the collection
The 7 files that made it through WMP...
  • uncompressed - played but not smoothly, as expected
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V1 - plays well
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V2 - plays well
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V3 - plays well
  • Microsoft Windows Media Video 9 - plays well
  • Panasonic DV - plays well
  • PICVideo MJPEG - plays well
Some files that played in WMP imported but played only the audio... the video was blackness... Cinepak, Divx 6.8, Helix, and Xvid.
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 file
The 7 that made it this far continued to work well...
  • uncompressed - played but not smoothly, as expected
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V1 - plays well
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V2 - plays well
  • Microsoft MPEG-4 V3 - plays well
  • Microsoft Windows Media Video 9 - plays well
  • Panasonic DV - plays well
  • PICVideo MJPEG - plays 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 Home Basic
Vista OptionsI'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 video codec'.
Playing in WMP11 in Vista... all played well except
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 out.
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 steps. 

AVI Files Made with VirtualDub on Vista Ultimate SP1
VistaUltimateChoicesCompression 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 only.
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 Next?
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.
  • PanasonicDV - download and install
  • 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....