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Thoughts on MPEG support

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  • Thoughts on MPEG support

    I think you've got a great product here with Autoplay Menu Studio. I'm currently only evaluating the product, for reasons I'll get into in a second. I'd like to understand better some technical reasons why MPEG support is so hard to do in Autoplay Menu Studio.

    Currently I'm shopping around for an Autoplay solution to a CD-ROM I'm trying to release - it has a bunch of audio on it that I can live with playing through the user's MP3 player. However, before I found Autoplay Menu Studio, I'd worked quite hard developing some video for the thing that would run as a front "intro" video and an elaborate credits video. There's about 20 minutes total of video on the disc, and the only way it fits is by compressing it with MPEG. I've spent the last day re-encoding this stuff to AVI and no matter how I slice it, either the file size is 30 or 40 times the original, or the quality is unacceptable. For example, the intro video, which is 550x400, stereo audio, 3:00, is just over 16MB with MPEG. With Cinepak (apparently the only way to go due to compatibility) weighed in at almost 300MB at comparable quality.

    The credits video is 14 minutes. I won't even waste the time trying.

    I think I understand the way Windows works: They let developers write a media player in two lines of code. That calls an external media player that's (supposed to be) already installed, which can't play anything unless it loads codecs for different formats that are (supposed to be) installed. Never mind whether you have the right version. I never realized until I started creating video what a crock of crap this is. You can't just make a video and expect it to work on every version of Windows. You can't even bundle a media player with your project because 99% of them work by using the codecs already installed on the system. The other 1%, simply by basic economics, cost so ****ed much it isn't worth being in this business at all.

    I think I understand at this point that it would be difficult to include rock-solid MPEG support in Autoplay Menu Studio, and why it hasn't already. While MP3 has standardized on the audio side, and MPEG for digital video and DVD, apparently it's difficult to guarantee delivery on the PC side of anything but Cinepak AVI. And I'm sorry, but Cinepak was the solution in 1993. MPEG is the solution today.

    That being said, I want to suggest perhaps you write or license an MPEG player that is more like Winamp at the core - stand-alone, not dependent on any codecs. Can you imagine what a failure Winamp would've been if it relied on a certain version of a certain codec to be installed? It would've died the year it was released. But you can download and install Winamp on ANYTHING, because it decodes MP3s internally using its own code, and writes standard PCM Wave data to your sound device.

    Isn't it possible to write an MPEG player for AMS that reads the MPEG-format video, decodes it, and sends it to the video driver? I would think that anyone who's been in software development even for the short time I have would know that ActiveX, codecs, and plugins from another company just don't cut it in the world of hundreds or thousands of end users. Isn't the only real plausible solution manipulation of every bit of data by your code and your code alone?

    I was looking at AMS because I am overtime and overbudget on a CD-ROM project that originally had a Visual Basic frontend. The project as it was had to be scrapped because of this kind of compatibility problem. I'm trying to play two files in one of the most universal formats in existence, and some machines played it, others crashed and needed Windows Media Player 7.1 installed, others crashed no matter what you did.

    Write-a-media-player-in-two-lines, my pasty-white rear end.

    What amazes me is I reproduced the entire VB frontend (which was about a month of work or more) in AMS in an afternoon. However, if I can't do MPEG, I can't release it this way. My end users are not going to want to move the media player out of the way when the intro video is done playing. I would think also that if the video was supposed to be integrated in the app that AMS creates, it wouldn't look right to have Windows Media Player come up. Plus, I'm dealing in the humor department with this project. To have to stop halfway through a joke because you either need a new codec, or the video plays scrambled through an old or incorrect codec, that's all just unprofessional. And it's too bad too, because it looks like AMS does everything else it should. I mean, I would see this as more important than Flash support, because, quite frankly, if I knew Flash or Shockwave, I could create an autoplay app just fine using just that. :-)

    I understand that 3.0 does not do MPEG, and that 4.0, whenever that will come out, might do it through ActiveX or embedding the media player. I don't know if I like my chances with that. And I may be just another $300, and it may not make a difference whether or not I purchase AMS now or in the future, but I'd really like to know the opinions of some more experienced video people and software people on these problems.

    I hope my tone in this message isn't too standoffish. I'm not mad at anyone here, or at Indigo Rose. I think AMS is a superb product, and I probably would've already purchased it if I hadn't hyped myself up on these videos that I really, really want to include. I'd just like some information on perhaps what I'm missing in my train of thought about all this, or where to turn for understanding.

    Keep up the good work on AMS.


    [This message has been edited by DJ7T (edited 04-29-2002).]

  • #2
    Re: Thoughts on MPEG support

    You've actually touched upon a lot of the issues that are involved. A few of points that I can toss in from an "inside" perspective:
    • licensing code from those standalone players (like, say, Bink) is expensive enough for normal uses (like licensing it for a game, which costs $10,000+)...but AutoPlay is a development tool that people use to build little AutoPlay applications that they distribute -- and that kind of "redistributability" sends licensing costs through the roof.
    • writing an MPEG player is no small's actually surprising how little code there is out there (everyone just embeds WMP)
    • the Windows Media Player ActiveX control actually works pretty darned well...and the chances of it being on a given system are really quite good (for example, it's installed with IE4sp2 and up, and with Win98SE and NTsp5, too). Bear in mind that you don't need WMP to be installed or even associated with any extensions for this to work -- all that's required is some version of the ActiveX control to exist on the user's system.
    • you can always distribute any codecs you need (assuming you have a license)
    • MP3 players aren't really a fair comparison, since MP3s are all pretty much decompressed the same I understand it, MP3 codecs only really matter for encoding, and not decoding.

    --[[ Indigo Rose Software Developer ]]


    • #3
      Re: Thoughts on MPEG support


      Nice first post! and welcome to the forum. I am one of those who has spend hours (no, days) over the past several years on the video on CD issue. Researching the net, trying out codecs, and cutting untold version of video clips. One or two points stand out, so I'll just jump in. First for me the compatibility issue is first. I want any CD I create to play on everyone's computer (95 up) because I certainly have been in situations where someone saids, "It doesn't work!!". Especially since you're not able to know what type of machine it is going to end up on. So, that leads to compromise. I don't like it either, but for most of these software/hardware issues that's just necessary once you've gone as far as you can go. The standard codecs on windows machines have been listed here many times (just do a search). I have personally tried them all (that's where the time went) and have not always been happy. I have had to lower the size of the video, pay special attention to framerate (this is a big issue, since CD Players differ in processing), reset keyframes, adjust color and gamma, play with quality settings, and then see the difference between playing off the harddrive and burning and testing from the CD on various machines.

      I agree that mpeg is the way to go. However, if you use mpeg1 for video, attempting to go fullscreen, you're still left with vhs quality (at best) and certainly are limited to ~18 minutes of video. (See It also requires a player. Mpeg2 requires a DVD player. So, the mpeg4 v2 has been useful once the codec has been installed (same problem you refer to). My problem was getting 60 video clips (variing lengths (most 3-5 minutes)on a CD). I simply chose to use the IR3.2 codec on all 95 and up machines, adjust the size to about 320x240 on average (introvideo much larger) and use trial and error to find an acceptable end result. Further, I did try processing through other video equipment (even used wavelet codecs and gone in and out of the digital camcorder trying to improve the overall quality.)

      Finally, let me add that I too think IR is doing a fine job and has a great piece of software in AMS. I'm looking forward to mpeg video without an outside player and dependency on codecs on the user's computer. I know now that after much work my compromise is working for me....maybe not for you, but I wanted to wage in. I really want digital DV and DVD quality on CD. That's not going to happen. At least at this point. (I'm building DVDs when I want that quality and settled on using both platforms (CD and DVD)and choosing when to use to use them based on the audience.

      I wish you the best of luck with your work.

      my $.02,

      [This message has been edited by Michael (edited 04-30-2002).]