Making Movies – the Right Way

Maybe you read my post Back from Vacation – Making a Photo “Video” and started looking into how to do this with your own videos. Well if you did (or if you didn’t) I’ve come to a startling conclusion – er well – my conclusions weren’t exactly wrong per se, but it became obvious to me one late night while slamming my head on the edge of my desk that perhaps there was a better way to make a video.

It turns out there is and its called Nero Ultimate Multimedia Suite 10 HD Platinum Edition. Not only is that a big name – its a big set of products (and downloads).

What was wrong with my original strategy?

Everything was great with my original selection of Picasa 3 – it was simple, free, and seemed to work well. However once I figured out how to get my movie distributed to people (myself included) the complaints about the audio quality started coming in. On many PC’s, especially those with surround sound systems, the audio was not good – the quality was terrible and there were random white noise sounds coming from the left rear channel/speaker. Very odd – but no good at all.

Other people commented that the pan and scan, while kind of cool also panned or scanned sometimes in a bad direction. Some people thought that some pictures should go faster than others. Some people thought that the motion was not smooth and/or that the pictures looks grainy.

Open Source vs. Commercial Product

I’m a big open-source guy and I’ve been that way for many years. I’m also a realist and during my years of software development and engineering work (many years at this point I guess), I’ve always focused on being a pragmatist about buying software. It seems to me that you need to know when to invest – what’s worth a price, what’s not, what’s worth getting involved in from a time/community perspective, and use these factors and more to decide on what products to get. Open-source is not “free” really, its a different way to invest. Many open-source proponents think commercial software is “evil”. I’m not one of them.

If you read my posts on Java GUI development – I came to the conclusion that paying some bucks for IntelliJ was a good idea (no pun intended). I find myself in a similar state now – Picasa was the best open-source tool I could find. I looked to the community for advice, and determined that an investment commercial product was the way to go.

Nero Ultimate Multimedia Suite 10 HD Platinum Edition

That’s a mouth full! Anyway – I’ve used Nero products for years to burn CDs and crap.  I turned right away to these tools as the place to go (plus all the guru’s on Picasa/Google boards said this was the way to go). You can get all the tools for about $129 – currently (12/17/2010)  they are $109. You will get a complete set of tools for multimedia management, CD/DVD/BluRay burning, labeling, picture/video/audio management, audio mixing, backup, and a bunch of other things.

Downloading and installing all of this takes a while – 1.5 GB and then 100s of MB for all the updates, but it did go smoothly and I had no issues. Installation was a snap and everything got cleanly installed on my Windows 7 64 Home Premium HP desktop.

Using Nero HD

Believe it or not I did RTFM, but I found it a bit confusing coming from the simple world of Picasa to this new set of like 25 tools. The manuals are pretty good, but they really need some better tutorials on the website – they do have some so I would definitely recommend to go and start there. I also joined the community – which has an equally clunky discussion board in terms of its operation. However the participation from “experts” on the board is fantastic. Kudos to Nero for that – very fast answers to my newbie questions.

Starting off, the main program to use is Nero MediaHub – that is the media management tool. You open it directly or use Nero SmartStart. I opened that up and it started off by sucking in all my iTunes music and grinding thru my computer. I quickly stopped that, it was easy to remove all the iTunes stuff, and then get working on my project. To do this click the hammer in the upper right corner and de-select and/or remove the libraries that you don’t want in the list. (I may go back and add my iTunes and photo library back in – but I have a lot of stuff and I wanted to get going.) It really should ask you before doing this – I always worry about these programs fighting with each other.

I copied all the pics for my project from my main Picasa library into a folder and then put my music in there as well. I have about 315 pics and 10 music files that I want to integrate into a slide show video.  In MediaHub just click the hammer button and you can add folders as libraries for pictures or music and it will add everything right away. Select the pics and you can add them to a slide show. You can have one transition style. You can add one title slide too. You can set a standard duration for all the slides. Sound familiar? This is basically equivalent to Picasa’s functionality. Hmmm….argh…WTF!

Using Nero Vision

Once you are done figuring out the limitations of MediaHub you can either start over from scratch or click “Advanced Edit” and it will transfer what you have done over to the real tool – Nero Vision. In Vision you have it all – mixing photos with videos, adding multiple soundtracks, adding narration, adding text slides, adjusting individual times for each slide, changing up transitions, 12 different options for pan and scan directions, a whole slew of other transitions effects.  Wow – you can go crazy!

With all that you would think it might be hard to deal with this tool, right? No – its not really. What I did was take about 20 pictures and two songs and experiment. In Vision you can click the import button and “Import from “Media Hub” to grab your suff. It will import the files and you can grab and drop them into the timeline. To re-arrange the pictures just drag them around. Click on one and then click the clock to change the duration. Select one and then another with the right mouse button and change the whole range. Pretty easy – but no joke if you want to make a great video the editing is a time consuming process – I guess that’s why they give Oscar’s out for this crap. You can also change the defaults by clicking the “More” button in the lower left and then the “configure” button. That a bit tricky to find the options. After a quick test I dragged in all my pics and lay my music tracks in the timeline through simply dragging and dropping them.

Rendering to???

Once you’ve got everything arranged, then what? My first shot was saving it to a WMV file. Its pretty simple – just hit Export button and click “go” – then go get a snack or two and a book. I’ve got a decent machine and rendering a 1080p video  at 29.97fps takes about 5 hours. I noticed that WMV cannot do a 5.1 output so I’ll have to try some other formats to see what the deal is. I looked at the performance footprint a bit and a faster disk system would probably help me a bit – faster CPUs ( I have an Athlon II X4 2.80 GHz processor) would definitely help the most I think. I have plenty of RAM with 6GB. I couldn’t find any options to increase Nero’s use of RAM. While running it was taking 1.3 GB.

I checked a few of the options and it does make a big difference when you push all the settings to the max. On my second render Vision did crash and my video was toast. I ran it again and it worked. Then I tried an MPEG-2 render. I used all the max settings for resolution and used the 5.1 Dolby output too. I ran the job overnight. It is just fantastic! Amazing – and the file is 6.3 GB so watch out.

The Final Product

Well I can say that I am very happy with the final output. My $109 was well spent. I’m amazed by the improvement of not just the audio tracks, but the resolution of the pictures. If you have a desire to make these kinds of movies with pictures – go for it – you will not regret it. The video picture quality is amazing, the sound is fantastic, and when I get my blue ray burner I will be able to create a real 1080p disk that I can mail around to family.

Hopefully I’ll get my new LG blu-ray burner installed and working great with Nero when it arrives in a couple of days.

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