Monday, November 13, 2006

Slideshow Software

This past weekend was Raymond's first birthday party. One of the things I did for Michael's first party was make a slideshow video of the best of the many, many pictures we had taken of Michael. Of course a lot of the pictures were really cute, and it's also interesting to see him grow up in the pictures. I thought I would do the same thing for Raymond.

When I did Michael's slideshow, I used my G5 with the iPhoto/iDVD integration. It's been almost two years since then, and I am no longer a Mac user. I didn't think something as simple as making a slideshow would be require very sophisticated software. I decided to try Windows Photo Story. This was a disaster.

It was easy enough to add photos, edit photos, etc. It was the music that became the first problem. First, you have to place the music in the slideshow manually, i.e. pick which picture to start each song on. There is no fit to music. It default to 5s durations per slide. So you basically have to either pick enough music to take 5s * number of pictures or edit the duration of each slide. If you go the second route, it gets worse. There is no way to change the duration for all the slides or even two slides at a time. That's right. If you wanted to make it 6s per slide and had 200 slides, then you have to change this one at a time on all 200.

But wait, it gets worse. Photo Story incorrectly calculates the length of variable bit rate mp3s. If you're like me and use LAME to rip most of you music, then most of your mp3s are variable bit rate mp3s. So for example, I wanted to include the song "Close to Me" by The Cure. If I look at this song in iTunes, it correctly shows it as being 3:40 long. In Photo Story, it was convinced the song was over 6 minutes long. So in my editing of the slideshow, it showed what slide the song would end on. Of course I picked the next slide to begin the next song, and what did I get? Three minutes of slides with no music behind them.

I thought about trying Windows Movie Maker instead, but then I figured that a more general purpose program for Microsoft would probably not be any better at a specialized task. So at the advice of my wife, I tried using Adobe Photoshop Elements.

We use Picasa for organizing our pictures, but before we switched to using Picasa, we used Adobe Photoshop Album which then became Adobe Photoshop Elements. This was a much better experience. First off, it had the coveted "fit to music" feature. However, it still had issues with vbr mp3s. All was not lost. It allowed me to simply edit how long each song was to play. So I could look at iTunes and see how long each song really was, edit it to play for that much time, hit the fit to music button and I easily had seamless music for my slideshow.

There were some things that were nice about Photo Story. It automatically did the Ken Burns effect, something I liked from using iPhoto. I'm not sure if there was an option for this in APE. I liked Photo Story's UI a little better too.

Now it was time to burn my little slideshow so I could play it at the party. Here is where things were not so good again. APE did not have any kind of DVD burning option. It did have a VCD option, so I thought I would give that a try. First it converted the slideshow to Windows Media Video file (why oh why this option) and then it tried to burn it to a CD. It took forever for it to make the WMV file and then it had an error burning the CD. I couldn't just put in a new CD for it to try again, it had start over. This was really annoying.

So instead of doing the burn VCD option, I decided to just export to WMV so that at least the fruits of the labor would be persistent. Again this took a long time. I had done this on Photo Story and it was much faster (and gave a lot more options on the quality, and it was encoding a slideshow with the aforementioned Ken Burns effect enabled, which would seem like a more complex encoding task.) The encoding did seem to make use of both cores on my computer, keeping one core maxed out and the other at around 70%, but it still took close to an hour to encode a 20 minute video.

Once I had the video, I decided to use Nero to burn it. My only option with a WMV on Nero was a Super VCD, so I went with that. Again, Nero had to decompress the video before burning it, which took awhile. Once it did that, it burned rapidly. The quality was really not that great. The WMV movie looked very good, but the burned result was so-so. I made the WMV at 800x600, the highest quality offered by APE and a much higher resolution than Super VCD supports. Still the encoding-decoding-encoding process is going to be lossy, no way around that.

So all this made me really miss my Mac! It was so nice being able to create the slideshow in iPhoto, then just export it to iDVD. The DVD it would burn was really nice, and of course I could do other fun things like create menus, etc. for my DVD. The WMV creation with Photo Story was definitely a lot faster than the similar step on the Mac, but was painfully slow from the Adobe program. I'm not sure if it was slower than the same thing on the Mac. The other steps were a lot faster than they were on the Mac, but again I'm comparing a first generation G5 Power Mac to a year old, custom built Athlon 64X2. Still, I would have gladly traded a slower encode/burn process for an easier creative process.

Now there are other software packages out there. I used Roxio Easy Media Creator at the recommendation of my brother-in-law. It was an incredibly slow program to use, and seemed very unstable. Perhaps it is better now. Still, it's really disappointing that there's not an easy way to do something like this on Windows.

No comments: