Perfecting video conversion for the Zune HD

video_conversionFor you diehard videophiles who want the perfect video conversion, I think I’ve finally perfected the process of taking TV show recordings and turning them into WMV files for the Zune HD. There were lots of challenges to getting this to work, especially finding the right combination of tools and settings.

Now, the objective is to convert a TV show recording (WTV file from Windows 7 Media Center) into a WMV formatted file for my Zune HD media player. My TV recordings are in standard NTSC format (4:3 ratio) which is a squarish picture. The Zune HD has a wide-screen display (16:9) so I need to configure the conversion to handle this situation. One option is to stretch the picture side ways to fill the screen, but then the displayed image is distorted. Another option is to crop off part of the top and bottom of the TV image to create the 16:9 size. For my process, I decided to do the cropping option.

So, my first step is to convert the WTV file to the older DVR-MS format because most of the available conversion tools are compatible with DVR-MS and not WTV format. This is done by using a conversion program (wtvconverter.exe) that is supplied with Windows 7. Note, that the TV video resolution is 720×480, so we need to do some cropping to get it down to the 16:9 ratio size.

For this operation, I chose to use a freeware program called FFMPEG which is designed for video conversions. My goal in this step is to crop off 38 pixels from the top and bottom of the image, and then shrink the image down to a final size of 480×272 (which is the Zune HD screen resolution). I also want to convert the DVR-MS file to MPEG2 format at the same time. To do all this, I use the following command line with FFMPEG: Continue reading

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My video conversion process

video_projectorOn a daily basis I record TV shows with my TV Tuner card and convert them for viewing on my Zune HD media player, so I automate the process using a wonderful utility called DVRMSToolbox (DTB). In conjunction with another great tool called ShowAnalyzer, I have a process of scanning through a recorded TV show file to find commercials, strip them out, and then convert the edited video file to WMV format for my Zune HD. All completely automatic.

Now, with a video conversion there’s lot of different converters, options, and settings you can use. For the Zune, I have the option of generating WMV or MP4 formatted files. I prefer using the WMV format, since it is designed to run on Microsoft OS devices. The MP4 is equally good, and is more universal as it can run on the Zune as well as the Apple iPod and other video media players. I opted for WMV because I can add more metadata (e.g., TV Show title, category, etc) than with the MP4 format.

With regards to playback quality, I’m not sure which of the formats (WMV or MP4) is better. That is one thing that I want to investigate in the future. Along with picking a format, there is a multitude of settings you can use. Video bit rate, Audio bit rate and frequency, frames per second, smoothness settings, keyframe rate, etc. are some of the different settings you can use. Each setting will affect the video playback quality as well as the final file size, so there’s a trade off. If you don’t care about file size, you can jack up the settings for the best quality. If generating a smaller file size is important, then you need to dial down these settings.

Being the stickler that I am with my videos, I’ll sacrifice having a larger file size if I can get better video quality. It really annoys me when the video I’m watching has a lot of video tearing, pixelation, bluriness, or jumpiness. I want a really smooth and high quality video for playback on my Zune. Continue reading

SOLVED: Issues with running Windows Media Encoder

videosAfter doing a clean install of Windows 7 on my main desktop PC, I installed Windows Media Encoder 9 to assist in video file conversions to WMV format for my Zune. When I tried to run this command to do a batch conversion,

c:\Windows\System32\cscript.exe “C:\Program Files\Windows Media Components\Encoder\WMCmd.vbs” -input “C:\Users\Public\Recorded TV\ER_TNTP.mpg” -output “C:\Users\Public\Recorded TV\ER_TNTP.wmv” -loadprofile “c:\Dave’s Files\VideoTools\zune_profile_hd.prx” -v_clip 0 2 0 0

this error message dialogbox appears on the screen,

wme_error

 

This error is related to the Data Execution Protection feature in the Windows OS, and the system won’t run the VisualBasic script to do the conversion. The proper corrective action is to use this HotFix supplied by Microsoft titled, “Hotfix entitled: FIX: You may experience issues when you use Windows Media Encoder 9 Series on a computer that is running Windows Vista”. After installing this HotFix (originally designed for Vista), I can run this conversion script with no issues.

So if you’re running Windows 7 or Vista and you see this error when trying to use Windows Media Encoder in batch mode, here’s your fix! 🙂

Zune Software 3.0 will convert WTV files automatically

One thing that I learned with all the video conversion investigation I did today, is that the latest Zune Software (3.0) will automatically convert your recorded TV shows to Zune format for your Zune. What you need to do, is add your “Recorded TV” show folder as a monitored video folder in the Zune Software settings. Then, whenever a WTV file (new format for Windows 7)  is found in that folder the Zune Software will automatically begin the conversion and syncing process. Easy!

It actually converts the video in a reasonable amount of time, especially if you have two or four processors in your machine. I know that some users in the past have complained that the background conversion program (ZuneEnc.exe) is running with a very low priority (and thus runs slow), I didn’t see much slowness on my system. Of course, I have an Intel Quad Core processor so that may be the reason. So if you aren’t in a big hurry and do most of your TV show conversions over night, that may be the easiest way to get your TV shows on your Zune.

Now, if you want to have the commercials stripped from your shows before converting and syncing to your Zune, you’ll need to use a different process (like I do, using DVRMSToolbox) and some procedure scripts.

Video conversion issue just a glitch?

I’ve spend all day today working on this out-of-sync audio issue I have with my video conversion process. I explained the issue in my previous posting, which I find strange since I was very careful to not install any codec packs. After my fresh install of the Windows 7 OS, I installed DVRMSToolBox along with Windows Media Encoder 9 and its SDK. It might be that WME9 could have installed some DirectShow Filter or codec that is causing this problem.

So, I ran several tests today converting my 1-hour WTV file (Stargate Atlantis TV Show) with different settings. Ultimately, here was my final solution:

  1. Installed the freeware called InstalledCodec which I used to display all the audio and video codecs as well as DirectShow filters installed on my Windows 7 machine.
  2. Using InstalledCodec, I sorted the list of items by installed date, and then disabled all of them from working. Since I very recently install the Win 7 OS on my system, it was easy for me to identify the new codecs and filters that were installed after the OS by date.
  3. I then ran my various conversion tests, using many different methods.

Now, under these conditions I should have only the basic codecs, splitters, encoders, filters, etc. working on my system. Essentially, everything that was supplied by Windows 7 (and any downloaded updates). So after running my various tests, I still was unable to rectify the out-of-sync audio situation for my test file. So I began to think that maybe the test file was messed up when it was recorded (even though my TV Tuner card has it’s own built-in MPEG encoder) with a previous installed codec, splitter, etc.

Thus, I manually recorded a 30-minute news broadcast to a WTV file, and use that file for a 2nd test. After the conversion process, I examined the generated WMV file on my Zune HD, and low-and-behold the audio appeared to be in complete sync with the video from start to finish! So, maybe it was something on my system before the “big purge” that was causing the WTV file to be messed up. But that is really strange, since the converted video files on my PC played back fine.

I can’t explain it… I’ll just hope that by removing all those 3rd-party Codecs and filters that my system can convert videos once again without making the final product appear to be like an old English-dubbed Bruce Lee movie! 🙂

If I continue to have problems in the future, I’ll need to keep disabling any MPEG and audio -related items shown in InstalledCodec until I find the one that is causing the problem. It actually might be a Windows 7 installed item, which I might need to replace with a 3rd-party codec. Time will tell…

Video Conversion Issues with Win 7 Install

videosAs you’ve read in my previous postings, I use a utility called DVRMSToolBox (DTB) to convert my recorded TV shows from DVR-MS format to WMV format for my Zune HD. My previous Vista 32-bit system worked great using this conversion process, but since upgrading to the Windows 7 64-bit OS I’ve had a slight problem with my video files.

First, Windows 7 Media Center now creates WTV files instead of DVR-MS, so I need to add in an extra step in my conversion process to convert the WTV files back to the DVR-MS format for my utility to process them into WMV format. That seems to work ok, using the converter called “dtvconverter.exe” provided with Windows 7.

The issue, is that the created WMV file has a slight audio delay when I play it back on my Zune HD. The audio is out-of-sync with the played video by about 2 seconds, which is really annoying. Now, the same video file plays ok on my Windows 7 desktop PC, but it has the 2-second audio delay when I play it on my Zune HD.

So, I’m not sure what the problem is, as it could be a number of things. To rule out the converter program, I tried using several different methods at my immediate disposal (e.g., Windows Media Encoder 9 x64-bit, Microsoft Live Movie Maker (that came with Win 7), DVRMStoWMVHD (supplied by the makers of DTB), and also the ConvertToFile action included in the DTB utility). None of them created a WMV file that didn’t have the 2-second audio sync problem.

I’m now thinking the problem might be with the Audio or Video Codec that is installed on my Win 7 system. Since installing codec packs can be troublesome, I was trying to use whatever was installed on my Win 7 by default. But, that may be the issue. So, I’ve installed AntiPack, which is a set of codec filters by the maker of DTB which I hope will fix the problem. I’m currently running some conversion test cases now, so I’ll report back if I’m successful.

My Zune HD locked up last night…

restartAfter watching two videos on my Zune HD last night, I decided to delete them by doing a tap-n-hold on the video and selecting “Delete”. I’ve done this several times since getting my Zune HD (and I love this feature), but this time my Zune locked up after I deleted both video files. Actually, it didn’t freeze up but rather constantly rebooted itself. Even when I turned off the Zune, it rebooted over and over again.

So to resolve this, I needed to put my Zune HD into Recovery Mode by doing these steps:

  1. Hold down the top power button for about 10 seconds until the Zune reboots.
  2. Immediately hold down the media button (left top side) AND center menu button.

The device then shows a screen that says, “CONNECT ZUNE TO YOUR PC”. Once I do make the connection and start up the Zune software on the PC, the software begins to install the latest software on the Zune and I have to go through the setup process again.

So, it seems that something strange happened to my Zune HD when I deleted those movie files. So if you run into the same situation, check out this Microsoft Knowledge Base Page. Luckily, I was at home and could sync my Zune to my PC. Now if I was on a trip or business travel, I would have been screwed! 😦