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:

ffmpeg -i inputfile.dvr-ms -aspect 16:9 -sameq -acodec copy -croptop 38 -cropbottom 38 -s 480×272 -y  outputfile.mpg

Once I do this conversion step, I should have an MPEG2 video file with a resolution of 480 x 272 pixels retaining the same video and audio settings as the original DVR-MS file. I discovered that this is a very critical step, since I was having trouble doing this operation with other tools and generating a clean video image (in a lot of my tests, I would get a video that had a lot of “video tearing”, which is pixelation or jagged edges around fast moving objects).

The next step is to convert this MPEG2 file to WMV format for my Zune HD. The best tool I found to do this is Windows Media Encoder 9 (WME9) by Microsoft. It’s a freeware application readily available from the Internet. The key in using this product, is to define the proper video settings for the conversion. That is done using a Windows Media Profile file (.prx) which WME9 uses in the conversion process. Below are the settings that I use:

Video Codec: Windows Media Video 9 – CBR (Constant Bit Rate)
Audio Codec: Windows Media Audio 9.2 – CBR
Audio Format: 128 kbps, 44 kHz Stereo CBR
Video Size: 480 x 270
Frame Rate: 29.97 fps, Key frame interval: 1 sec
Video bit rate: 1200 kbps
Buffer size: 5 secs
Video Smoothness: 85
Decoder complexity: Auto

To make all this happen automatically, I use a freeware tool called DVRMSToolbox (DTB). This wonderful tool will monitor a specified folder on my PC for new TV recording files, and when those files are completed it will begin the conversion process that I’ve outlined in this posting. It will also cut out the commercials and transfer all the metadata (i.e., show title,description,air date, etc) automatically to the final WMV file. Here’s a link to the DTB profile that I use for this conversion, as well as the Windows Media Profile for WME9.

Note, that there’s lots of other methods and tools you can use for such a conversion (and believe me, I’ve tried most of them), but the procedure that I’ve outlined here was the only one that worked for my PC system and produced a final video that didn’t have video tearing effects, and had the audio completely in sync the video.

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2 thoughts on “Perfecting video conversion for the Zune HD

  1. WScottCross says:

    Great work on getting the profiles tweaked for the Zune HD. I noticed that your dpc file calls a SetWMVThumbnailImage.exe. Where can we get that executable? TIA

  2. zunetips says:

    I modified some sample C++ code to insert a jpg file as a thumbnail for a WMV video file. If you want it, I can make it available.

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