Thank you for reading the 52nd DVD Catalyst Newsletter.
A full year, every week and still going. I mentioned it a few weeks back in newsletter 50, but I never thought I’d be able to keep up this schedule along with the rest of my work. It wasn’t easy, but it sure was fun.
When I was creating the Newsletter Collection eBook (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/149474 , reading through them was a blast. Some things that I dealt with last year were not so much fun, such as my TV/Cable experiences, but for others, such as some of the new devices, it was interesting to read through them again.
So for this week’s newsletter, I figured I’d do a “revisit” on some of the devices that were released last year.
But, let me start with this week’s tech news:
Nintendo Emulation Patent:
Mentioned on some news-sites, Nintendo was granted a patent on emulating video games. The idea behind it is cool; it seems to indicate that Nintendo now has a patent on the “virtual console” offering it has on the Wii, however, what I haven’t seen mentioned are the consequences. Of course this gives Nintendo plenty of ammo to crack down on the plethora of often open-source emulator apps out there for its own systems, but this would likely also affect non-Nintendo based emulators, including ones that SEGA uses for its Sonic games on Android and iOS, Sony for its PS1 and PS2 games either on the PSP, Vita and even the PS3. XBOX1 support on the XBOX360 etc.
Google vs Oracle:
Google and Oracle are currently in a slap-fast in order to stand up for their work.. With the acquisition of SUN Microsystems, Oracle obtains a large collection of patents regarding Java, and with Android being Java-based, Oracle believes Google is infringing on those patents.
Apple vs Samsung:
Also still going is the battle between Apple and Samsung. Supposedly within the next 3 months, a meeting between both companies’ CEO’s is scheduled in order to address the issues between both companies. I wonder if SCO will be taking over for Samsung when this is settled
DVD Catalyst News:
This week, the majority of my time was spent on 5.1 audio. In particular I worked on a good backup option for DVDs to create video files with the best video quality and maintain the original DTS or 5.1 audio stream. Obviously not compatible with portable devices, but great for HD media players like the WDTV or a HTPC. I planned to have the update ready before this newsletter, but unfortunately, I did not make it. It should be up within the next few days though.
MovieGallery and ImageGallery news.
I am working on an update for both. For ImageGallery, the holdup is the background image selection, which is one of its most popular features, which due to some changes in the ANdroid programming tools is not working properly.
For MovieGallery, I’m reworking the video zoom function and the slide issues some people are experiencing.
Just 2 DVDs this week.
Farscape Season 1 DVD (1999-2009)
Someone starting out with DVD Catalyst 4 in combination with a Kindle Fire had some questions regarding Farscape, so I picked it up, and wrote a little how-to guide for it.
Mission Impossible 4 Ghost Protocol (2011) DVD
The new Mission Impossible movie. Personally, I didn’t care for it too much. Mission Impossible movies are known for their special effects, and with every movie, it gets more visual. With MI4, it just felt a bit underwhelming. There were some cool and interesting effects, but overall, I felt that it was missing something.
Motorola Xoom Revisited:
A little over a year ago, Motorola released the first major Android tablet onto the market. Back then, it was lacking somewhat though. The memorycard slot was non-functional and there were not many apps that would work well with the tablet formfactor.
Since release, the Xoom has seen updates in the software department, and the apps are there, and of course the memorycard is now fully functional as well. Because the Xoom was the first Honeycomb tablet, it has gotten a large following, and with releases like the Xoom Family Edition and the XyBoard, it has continued to stay relevant.
Blackberry Playbook Revisited:
Blackberry had a rough year with the Playbook. Released as a premium device, with a similar premium price point, it lacked severely in the app-department. Missing core functionality like build-in email apps, with the Playbook, Blackberry relied too much on people who were actually using it alongside a Blackberry phone, and missed the mark completely. The QNX operating system, and the 7″ size makes it (even to this day) a perfectly portable tablet, but it wasn’t until the “firesale” started that it started to gain ground. Recently OS2.0 was released for it, which finally enabled some of the core functionality, along with basic Android App capability.
Even though the Playbook was crippled on release, it still remains as one of my favorite tablets. Even with the 2.0 update its functionality is still limited compared to both Android tablets like the Xoom and Apples iPad series, but for my own use, I don’t need all that. If it plays video and does email, I got my needs mostly covered, and unlike any other tablet, the Playbook is (still) the only tablet I have that actually offers true multitasking. I can leave the movie playing during dull moments, while answering emails, and a quick swipe takes me back to the movie when things get interesting again.
Over a year and a half old now, the NOOKcolor remains relevant for me, and even though its newer brother (or sister), the NOOKtablet has been available for half a year now, I don’t see it as a true successor over the NOOKcolor. When I first started playing with the NOOKcolor, I was amazed at its capabilities. It has its limitations, such as a limited screen resolution for video playback and file-size, it is perfectly capable of playing movies in great quality. The NOOKtablet is slightly less limited, but it failed to impress me as a NOOKcolor replacement.
Kindle Fire Revisited:
The Kindle Fire, as a tablet alone, is somewhat limited, but combined with the superior integration with Amazon’s additional services , it truly comes to its rights. Unlike Blackberry’s Playbook, Amazon opted for a strategy that involved its 2 biggest competitors, Google and Apple. After the Kindle, Amazon spent its time and resources on developing (and testing) its music, ebook and appstores on both Android and iOS platforms, fine-tuning, and learning from the competition, and tied all the pieces together in one device, the Kindle Fire. Spec-wise, the Fire is limited, however, with all these additional services available, it pushed itself in line with Google and Apple, forcing both companies to open their eyes, and start paying attention.
Acer A100 Revisited:
With most companies still releasing Tegra2-based devices, the Acer A100 still remains an interesting choice. Next week, it will take a new step towards staying relevant in the tablet market with the update to Ice Cream Sandwich.
Tip: make your video files smaller.
On a regular basis, people ask me how they can make their video files smaller. For most devices (Android, iPad, Kindle Fire, NOOK, Vita etc), DVD Catalyst 4 uses the AVC video format to create video files, which produces the best quality for smaller file-sizes. DVD movies often take up 4000-8000MB, and DVD Catalyst 4 manages to maintain the same quality level while making these same movies around 1000MB.
So how can you make these movies even smaller without losing much of the quality?
I’ll write a more detailed article on this somewhere this week, so I can actually show the differences rather than just writing about it, but if you want to play with some different settings yourself, here are some tricks you can use.
Let me start with explaining more about video.
As a child, you might have played with the corner of a notepad, drawing an image on each page, one slightly different from the next, and afterwards, flipping the pages fast made it look like a small cartoon.
Video, like movies and TV shows, is nothing more than a collection of pictures shown in rapid succession. Making use of the limitations of the human eye, these images are changed at such a speed that we see this as motion.
Similar as taking pictures on a digital camera, each individual picture of a movie, called a frame, takes up space. A picture consists of a lot of individual dots, and in order to show the picture in its full glory, the color for each of these little dots needs to be stored in the file. The larger the picture (resolution) the more pixels, and the larger the actual file.
In order to make the pictures smaller, there are different picture formats, such as BMP, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TGA etc. Each of these formats uses different techniques to read (and store) the pixel information in a file. These formats offer different compression levels and even amount of colors, in order to store the data. Some formats store the color information for pixels in larger blocks, others use formula’s to store the data, and of course this results in smaller files than the formats that store each pixel individually, but it also means that some pixels do not contain the exact color information of the original, but something close to it.
Similar as with images, there are different compression formats for video. DVDs use MPEG2, AVI files often use DIVX or XVID, and most MP4 files, such as the ones you can get from online stores like iTunes, contain AVC video.
Each of these formats have their advantages and disadvantages. MPEG2 (DVDs), was created when the technology was not yet at the high performance parts we have now, and as a result it offers a low compression technique that works well on older hardware. AVC, the newest compression format, was created only recently, and as of such, it relies on a lot more “power” than MPEG2, but in return, it offers a lot better compression.
Video compression in general works by storing differences between frames. So-called key-frames are images stored in their full glory, and then for a number of successive images, only the differences between the key-frame are stored. The bigger the difference between the key-frame and the following image (like fast-action scenes) the more data is required to store those differences, resulting in a larger file.
The main thing that affects the filesize is the video quality setting, or video bitrate.
In order to store the differences between frames, there has to be enough data available. By using a low video quality setting, there might not be enough to store these differences, which will result in a lower quality video.
The visual video quality is directly tied to this and the screen resolution. The higher the resolution of your videos, the more data is required to store information for the individual pixels. By lowering the screen resolution of your video file, you will get a better representation of your original video if you are using a low video bitrate setting.
Here is how you can make your files smaller while still having them look good:
1. Lower the screen resolution for your video files a bit.
Example: If you are converting a movie of 640×480 pixels and with a video quality of 1200Kbps, you end up with a great looking video file, but a 2hour the movie ends up around 1200MB in size. If you want this movie a bit smaller in size, say 600MB, you will have to lower the video quality setting to 600Kbps, but, because there is less (not enough) data available to store the differences between the images that make up the video, the video quality will not be that great. It will be watchable, but you will notice quality issues.
If we take the same movie, and still want it to look good at half the size, we can reduce the screen resolution by half as well. If we change the screen size to 480×320 (half of 640×480), only half the amount of pixels of the original video are stored in the created video file, so the 600Kbps will provide the same amount of data as you would get with 1200Kbps for 640×480.
Of course there is a bit of a difference in size, but most video players on tablets automatically fit the video within the screen limitations of the device. The fewer amount of pixels will be zoomed (made larger) a bit, but a high-quality lower resolution video will look a lot better than a large-resolution video that looks bad.
In DVD Catalyst 4, you can lower the video quality (bitrate) setting, as well as the screen resolution by tapping on the “Modify” button directly underneath the spot where you select your smartphone/tablet/nook/xoom etc.
2. Use a variable quality.
All movies and TV shows have slow and fast moving scenes. By using a fixed quality setting, slow scenes get the exact same amount of data as fast scenes. For slower scenes, the differences between frames might not require as much data as that is made available for it, while for faster scenes, more than what is available might be needed in order to produce a great-looking file.
When you watch a movie converted using a fixed video bitrate setting, you might have noticed that during slow scenes (romance, talking etc) the video looks just like the original DVD, but when you get to a spot where there is a lot going on (a fire, explosion, car chase etc) you see that there are blocks and blotches in the video.
So to compensate for this, you can use a variable bitrate. During slower scenes, less data is used (saved) and for faster scenes, more is used (reclaimed), making the entire movie look a lot better.
There are 2 ways you can do this in DVD Catalyst 4.
* 2-pass conversion.
This is an older method for conversions, which uses a 2-step conversion technique. During the first step, it reads the full video while memorizing the activity in the video. Then it uses this information during the second step to adjust the setting to what is needed in order to get the same quality throughout the video. 2-pass by itself doesn’t affect the file-size (much), but it results in a better spread of the available data to maintain visual quality. So while the filesize remains the same, the video will look better.
To use 2-pass in DVD Catalyst 4, enable the “Power User” checkmark and then in “Modify” switch the
*Constant Rate Factor, or CRF for short.
Recently introduced into DVD Catalyst 4, CRF has become the choice for many of its users in order to get the best quality video files.
Similar as 2-pass, CRF adjusts the video bitrate to what is needed for that particular section in the movie, however, unlike using a bitrate as a basis to determine the quality, it uses a quality indicator to adjust the bitrate accordingly.
Unlike 2-pass, CRF does its job directly during conversion. It just looks at the differences between the frames, then based on its quality indication setting, it adjusts the bitrate to what is needed to produce the desired visual video quality. Because of this process, the file-size itself is unfortunately unpredictable, and it differs betwen movies (based on the different scene activity) however, it is possible that you end up with a movie such as a romance movie, that is only a couple of 100MB in file-size, but looks just as good as the same movie converted using one of the other methods at 4x larger file-sizes.
CRF only works for conversions using AVC MP4 files, but 99% of the devices out there, including the iPad, iPhone, NOOK, Kindle Fire and Galaxy Tab support this format.
To enable CRF for your conversions, just enable “Power User” mode, and enable it in “Modify”
The default value of 24 provides a good quality at a reasonable filesize, going higher will result in a higher compression (smaller file-size, lower quality), and using a lower value will result in less of a compression, making the video look more like the original. For most people, using 24 will produce great results. If you want your videos to look nearly identical to the original, you can use 20, however, keep in mind that this will result in larger file-sizes, and in some cases, such as for the NOOKcolor, NOOKtablet and Kindle Fire, might result in a file larger than what the device will actually play.
For comparison, I converted Iron Man 1 to NOOKcolor formatted video files using a variety of different settings.
Using the default settings for the NOOKcolor profile, Iron Man 1 ended up 850MB in size.
Using CRF at 24, the same movie ended up 940MB in size, and especially during the explosion scenes, the movie looked a lot better.
Doing a near-mint conversion of the same movie using CRF set to 20 produced a file slightly larger than 2000MB, which, unfortunately, was too large for the NOOKcolor to play.
Using CRF at 28, the movie ended up 550MB, 300MB less than that of the default settings, and looked about the same. During faster scenes, it did look better than the default settings.
Using CRF at 32, the movie was still watchable, but it just didn’t look as sharp, but, coming from an 8GB DVD and then going to a 377MB video file is quite a difference (95% smaller than the original!)
Now if we take the resolution into account as well, you can see a big difference.
Using the NOOKcolor’s screen limit of 854×480 with CRF at 24, we ended up with a 940MB video file.
Just by using CRF at 24 and lowering the screen resolution of the video to 640×480, the video file ended up only 600MB, and still looked great on the NOOKcolor.
Going down a bit more, 480×320 at the same CRF of 24(and the same visual quality for the video) the file-size ended up being only 430MB.
Now if you want it really small, while still having a somewhat reasonable quality movie to watch, you can use 320×240 at CRF 24, which produced a video file of 280MB. That is 140MB per hour, or, over 200 hours (100 movies) on a 32GB memorycard !
This is smaller than if you would use the original resolution at the low-quality CRF 32 setting, and it looks better!
But, keep in mind that by going smaller, you will lose sharpness of the video, and of course there is a quality loss.
Visual video quality is something personal. If you want your movies to look just like the original DVD, you will have to use higher quality settings, and thus end up with larger file-sizes. With the information above you should be able to find your own personal border between acceptable and non-acceptable quality. Amazing quality + large files, good quality + reasonable size, acceptable quality + small size, or anything in-between.
All over the web you see these “20% spring sale!” for conversion tools, so I figured it’d be worth mentioning that I am still running a 50% discount with DVD Catalyst 4. So instead of $19.95, it runs for $9.95.
What is CRF:
This article explains in detail how CRF works.
Updated DVD/Video conversion guides:
(includes guides for Xoom, NOOK color, NOOK tablet, Kindle Fire, iPad3 etc)
eBook versions of the guides (pdf, ePub and mobi):
DVD Catalyst 4 Bluray Guide:
And that is it for this week’s newsletter.
Thank you for reading, and enjoy your weekend,