Tuesday, November 28, 2006

MP4 versus WMV and why the Zune won't fly.

So in my spare time (sometime around 9pm, and ends somewhere around 2am) I picked up a fun new hobby/gig. I became the producer, editor and consultant to an online company. I have been around the internet for awhile and have learned a thing or two; so this opportunity really called out to me. I record video clips of physical trainers and models, edit them with Final Cut, add some background music (original score by me) using Soundtrack Pro and then hand it off to the web admin to have posted on the site. When the site officially launches I will point you in the right direction. As part of this I have stumbled across another gig, helping put together a DVD for sale that has training information for Professional Mountain Bikers.

So as one of the requirements to the content delivery I need to offer video clips to the widest audience I can. To do this I obviously want to hit the Video iPod market, and with the introduction of the Zune (it sucks!) I need to include them too. I happily started off encoding everything to mp4 directly from FC5 and was very happy with the results, everyone was happy, amazed (one of the models seemed shocked that I knew what I was doing!)

The Zune arrives and we decide we should encode to the best format for the Zune. Same video size as the Video iPod, with more compression. I start encoding and look at the results. They are horrible, artifacts everywhere. I go back tweak the settings higher, encode again. Results only mildly better. I decide to push the limits of the device and crank it up, encode and I get tolerable. I am really upset by this point, figure I am missing something. I grab my Zune, and head off to the Apple store, catch up with a Apple Pro and show them the final WMV product - after they laugh and point at the Zune - we start discussing my settings. The Pro says I have maxed the FC5 settings, that the windows media codec is giving me what it is going to give me. This really depresses me.

If I was going to introduce a product that i expected to compete with Apple I would try to deliver something that rocked. What was Microsoft thinking - the video is really horrible, and even doing encoding using the MS tools and using the best draft copies to encode with I got nothing better. The Zune while kind of cute will probably get returned to Best Buy because I can see little to no use for the device.

On a side note: my Zune software loaded without a hitch, although the Windows XP Pro computer was only two days old - I needed something to look at my WMV product and figured that the Dell in the corner was getting lonely.

Here are the recommended Zune WMV settings:

Audio: 128 Kbps, 44.1 kHz, stereo CBR
Video: 320x240
Video Bit Rate: 500K

Not pretty so I tried

Audio: 128 Kbps, 44.1 kHz, stereo CBR
Video: 320x240
Video Bit Rate: 1000K

not that much better so I tried the max the Zune will run with

Audio: 128 Kbps, 44.1 kHz, stereo CBR
Video: 320x240
Video Bit Rate: 1500K

I was still unhappy - blacks were ugly, colors not holding true. I did this all from the Windows Media Encoder 9. Until someone sits down and tweaks the codec, MS is going to have problems convincing anyone that they want a Zune for video content.

I will keep you updated as I play with the codec looking for a way to make things look better - just not ready to write MS off, I believe they can figure things out or I can find a suitable enough shim to make everyone happy.

*This is not a paid advertisement - I use a Mac for everything, but MS is kinda cool in a hurt puppy kind of way*


Jason said...

Test comment...

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. The Zune is supposed to be able to play almost any format. Coincidentally I am a personal trainer and I make videos specifically for cell phones, ipods, and other mobile devices. But I have the reverse problem. The quicktime codec I use in post (win xp) on Adobe's Premiere Elements prints a poorer quality video than the codec for wmv formats. Wierd.