HandBrake – My new favorite video conversion tool

Since moving to an Apple iMac a few months ago, my new favorite video conversion tool is HandBrake. I still use ffmpeg, mencoder, and AtomicParsley as my batch-processing tools, but for queuing up multiple video files for conversion from AVI to MP4 format, I like using HandBrake (with its easy-to-use GUI). The version I have (64-bit for the Mac Snow Leopard OS X) runs very fast and produces excellent output. It also has numerous controls for adjusting the converted output video.

Note, that HandBrake is available for the Microsoft Windows OS, and I in fact used it a few times on my Windows 7 machine in the past. However, when I used my Zune HD I primarily converted my videos to WMV fomat which is something HandBrake didn’t do too well. So if you’re looking for a robust and fast video conversion tool for either the Mac or Windows machine, I recommend using the freeware Handbrake product and converting to MP4 format (for the Zune or iPod device).

Zune software NOT coming to the Mac

It turns out that the report of the Zune Software coming to the Mac is not true according to this blog posting. There will be an Apple Mac application that will sync media from the Mac iTunes Library to the Windows Phone 7 device, but not to a standard Zune Media device.

So, it seems that Microsoft is still keeping their Zune devices segregated to the Microsoft PC world, but opening up their Phone 7 devices to the Mac platform.

UPDATE: I just downloaded and tested the Windows Phone 7 Connector app for the Mac, and it does indeed NOT work with a standard Zune HD device. It will only work with a true Windows Phone 7 unit.

Microsoft Expressions Encoder 3

expressions_encoderMicrosoft Windows Encoder 9 has been my workhorse for encoding videos to WMV format for my Zune. It has a graphical user interface as well as a command line interface (which I mainly use), along with its own SDK that can be tied into custom applications (like the VisualBasic code, Media Encoder Batch). Unfortunately, in 2003 Microsoft decided to stop development to WME9 in favor of its replacement, Microsoft Expressions Encoder.

This evening, I decided to check out Expressions just to see how it compared to its predecessor, WME9, particularly for creating high-quality WMV files for the Zune HD. As it turns out, Expressions is designed to generate such files for the Zune HD. Below is what the main interface looks like with Expressions. It is actually a much cleaner GUI than WME9, in my opinion.

expression_0

Among the various predefined output settings, was one for the Zune HD and another for the Zune HD playback on a AV-Dock. The settings were defined as:

expression_1

One nice thing, is that Expressions can convert native WTV files (recordings generated by Windows 7 Media Center) which WME9 could not do. Also, you can use the Expressions to cut out commercial segments manually if you wish before the conversion process. As a test, I tried converting a WTV file which was in standard 4:3 format, and the default Zune HD conversion settings generated a 480×272 WMV file with black bars to the sides of the video (preserving the aspect ratio of the original 4:3 source). The quality of the playback was very good.

The only bad thing I see with Expressions, is that the version 3 does not have a command line interface. So you either use the GUI they provide or write your own code to interface with the Expressions SDK.

Most importantly, Microsoft Expressions Encoder 3 is free. You can download it from this link and run it on your Vista or Windows 7 system.

So if you want to use Microsoft’s latest free encoder software to create WMV files for your Zune, here it is.

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! 🙂

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.