Encoding videos for FL350 with Windows Media Encoder
Before you read this tutorial you should read our Windows Movie Maker tutorial. It will show you how to get the most out of your MiniDV tape or DVD disc. Remember, your encoded videos will only be as good as your original file and that tutorial will teach you how to get the best image quality when transferring videos from your camcorder to your computer. After you are finish reading there you can come back to read this tutorial.
Windows Media Encoder (WME) is Microsoftís own encoding program for their Windows Media format. Itís available as a free download for all Windows XP users on this page. Its main advantage is that it offers a lot of configuration options to tweak the encoding for best results, while most video editing programs only offer WMV encoding with predefined profiles. These often have fixed bitrates, which donít allow the videographer to take full advantage of the 800kbps bitrate supported by FL350. Encoding, like all steps involved in video processing, has a great influence on the final video quality. Itís the step that will discard part of the original videoís information to keep the file size reasonable. If not done properly, encoding can ruin the best work.
Please note that WME, even if it gives out very good quality files, has a couple of negative points. The first is that it works well only if the input file is in
DV-AVI format. Itís supposed to accept other formats, but is very touchy and will often crash if it doesnít like it. Anyway, in order to keep the best quality from your video, it should be processed all the way in the camcorderís native format until the final encoding. Most of todayís camcorders use the DV format, which should be used from capture time to output from the editing program. If you own another type of camcorder (DVD or hard drive-based for example), the supplied software is very likely to offer a DV export function.
Having lots of configurable features has a drawback, which is to be highly repellent to beginners. Thatís why we have made some ready-made profiles in order to render the task as easy as possible. Advanced features for experienced users who use non-standard settings like progressive or widescreen modes will be explained as well later in this tutorial.
Weíve prepared a file that has all settings adjusted to match the default configuration of most camcorders, that is 4:3 interlaced format. The profile uses the maximum bitrate FL350 will accept, thus limiting the length of the video to 10 minutes in order to fit in the 60Mb file size limit. Most videos donít exceed this duration, however donít panic if itís not the case. We will explain the little modification required to pack up to 6 minutes later! The encoding settings are 128kbps audio, 800kbps total, 2-pass encoding (for better quality). The output resolution will match the input one for optimal results.
There are 2 separate versions of the profile according to the video system used, that is PAL or NTSC. PLEASE use the correct one, or the video will look "laggy" and might get flawed by a "comb effect".
Windows Media encoder
FL350 NTSC 800kbps profile
FL350 PAL 800kbps profile
* The profile files are in a compressed (zip) format. You need to uncompress them before being able to use them. You can download Zip Genius if you don't have a zip utility program.
Letís get to it!
Now you have installed WME, and your DV video file is ready along with the correct profile, you can proceed to the next step.
- After you unzip the downloaded files, double-click on one of the profiles (FL350_799_NTSC.wme or FL350_799_PAL.wme). Windows Media Encoder (WME) will open, and kindly greet you with 2 successive error messages. Dismiss both of them, the reason is that WME wonít let you save a profile if no source is defined. Obviously there is no file named like our example on your computer, thus the errors.
- You will then see this window:
Change the path to the source video by clicking on the "Browse" button and choosing your video file.
- When this is done, click on the "Output" tab. Enter the destination filename.
- You might want to click on the "Attributes" tab and fill in some info about the video. This is optional, but would embed the info in the file so that people who download your video to their hard drive would be able to see it in Windows Media player.
- Click on the "Apply" button, and on the "Start Encoding" one. Here you are! Not too difficult is it? Now you can go and have a nice and big cup of coffee, as WME needs a pretty long encoding time in order to keep your video in the best possible condition. Working time of course depends strongly on your computerís power.
- Once everything is finished, you can open the result file and check everything is OK while enjoying your work once more. If all the video processing has been well done you should even be able to watch it in full screen without being disgusted by squares! After the encoding is done, check that the file size is less than 60Mb, login to your Videographer account, and upload your video.
Here are a couple more options that can be useful to videographers who like to go a little further. The use isnít much more complicated, and anyway those who will need these certainly will know what it is about. All of the following "tricks" will start from the unmodified downloadable profile. Itís recommended to start over each time, but you can still save your modifications in a new file for future use if you like. Thatís however NOT valid for the widescreen one, because of a bug in WME! If you save the profile and open it again the settings will seem to be kept, BUT if you start encoding the result file will be "squished" into 4:3 format. Itís painful to spend an hour of processing time to get an unusable result, so please start over each time when using this feature. Youíve been warned ;-)
FL350 accepts videos that have a bitrate between 700 and 800kbps, and a maximum size of 60Mb. The default profile uses the full 800kbps, and this will accommodate around 10 minutes of video in a single file. In order to store up to around 6 minutes we will reduce the bitrate to 700kbps.
To make it very simple, you can just download one of these modified profiles, and use them the same way as the above:
FL350 NTSC 700kbps profile
FL350 PAL 700kbps profile
* The profile files are in a compressed (zip) format. You need to uncompress them before being able to use them.
If youíre more interested, hereís what has been changed from the default profile: On the "Compression" tab, click the edit button. Go to the second "799kbps" tab on the window that opens, and change the "Video bit rate" to 564Kpbs. Close the window, click "apply" and thatís it.
All camcorders will film in "interlaced" mode by default. That means each "frame" (image) is divided into 2 "fields", the odd lines and the even ones. Each of these fields is captured half a frame duration apart. That means for example with PAL (25 frames per second) that 1 field is recorded each 1/50th of a second. Thatís a need for all standard video equipment, which precisely expects this type of format to give the impression the video is smoother by displaying the fields one after another like theyíve been recorded. However, when playing back video on a computer, 2 consecutive fields are put together to form a frame and are displayed at the same time. That means first that the smoothing effect will be lost, and secondly if the camera was being moved while recording a "comb effect" will appear, as the 2 merged fields have been shot at a different moment and will thus show a different view of the subject. This effect is reduced by a software "deinterlacing" filter that blends the consecutive fields in order for the edges to look smooth. That comes with a little quality loss, but gives a much more enjoyable picture.
Now, some camcorders (relatively high-end) offer a "progressive" or "frame" recording mode. When using this, the entire frame will be shot and recorded at the same time. This will totally suppress this effect. The drawback will then be that when playing back the video on TV equipment it will look less smooth, more "cinema-like" as it will be really 25 full frames (for PAL), and not 50 half-frames per second.
So if you plan on distributing your movie only on computers you might want to record in progressive mode for best quality. If youíd like to play it on video equipment as well youíd better film in normal interlaced mode unless you want the "cinema-like" effect, as anyway deinterlacing filters like the one that WME provides are very good and will induce a quality loss that wonít be noticeable at low bitrates. Just be sure not to use another deinterlacing filter in the editing program before!
In case you recorded video in progressive mode, it will be best to deactivate the deinterlacing filter in WME, as it would otherwise add some unnecessary treatment that would do nothing but needlessly reduce quality.
In order to do this, go to the "Processing" tab, and select "None". Thatís it.
A lot of camcorders now offer widescreen formats. There are two different ways to obtain it.
Some camcorders will just add black bars at the top and bottom of the standard 4:3 video, which basically offers no real improvement as this can be done at editing time either by masking the image, or better by cutting it to avoid storing info for the black zones. The number of active lines is lower with this process, as the black bars have to be subtracted from the full frame size. In this situation, the best is either to cut the black bars in your editing program, or to do it in WME. On the "Video Size" tab, the Crop Method dropdown lists a few common formats, as these may differ between camcorder manufacturers. The best way to find the correct one is to start from the top, apply, start encoding and look at the preview. If there are still some black zones left cancel and try the next step until you find the correct ratio.
Higher end camcorders offer another mode that will use a different aspect ratio for the individual image pixels. That allows forming a widescreen image without losing resolution. The video will use the full frame size, but has to be horizontally stretched at display time to have the correct aspect ratio. The encoder must know that, otherwise the video will be displayed in 4:3. Hereís how to do that:
- On the "Compression" tab, click the "Edit" button. Check the "Allow nonsquare pixel output" box. Click "OK".
- On the "Video Size" tab, choose either "DV PAL 16:9" or "DV NTSC 16:9" depending on your video system.
Remember these 2 settings get lost if the session is saved, so do this couple of clicks every time you need to encode a widescreen video!
Note: Purists will notice that there are "DV xxx 4:3" and "DV xxx 16:9" formats. Thatís true standard DV pixels have an aspect ratio of 1:1.067 and not 1:1 as it will be used as default. That induces a very little shape error which is not even noticeable. It does simplify the process a lot not to specify it each time though. Now itís up to you if you want to use it!
About the author of this tutorial
Andre Bernet is one of Flightlevel350.com's finest videographers. He has a lot of experience with video work and kindly wrote this tutorial for us. You can see Mr. Bernet's videos here.
Thank you for reading! You are done!
The answer to "What is the new program for encoding videos?" = "WME"