WARNING 1. More and more packages will attempt to install unwanted 'extras' ('free trials' of unrelated overpriced rubbish), modify your browser settings by redirecting your 'search' (from Google to some (even worst) spam advertising site), adding 'tool bars', hi-jacking your Home Page and even installing a replacement Browser ! (usually Google Chrome). To stop this, you must always select 'Custom' install.
WARNING 2. Any package that ends it's install with 'Reboot required' is attempting to load components during 'Start Up'. Sometimes these are simple memory-hogging pre-loads .. but other times it's an 'auto-update checker' (that will attempt to contact the vendors web site and (auto) download updates). All this does is extend your boot-up times, make you computer 'run slower' and (potentially) result in a working version being replaced by a non-working one (not to mention auto-installing junk mentioned above). Use WinPatrol to prevent unwanted boot-up changes.
Video Codec checker
If your clip fails to play in VLC etc. this utility will tell you what Codec etc. you are missing.
Windows XP Codec checker - free from Microsoft
Lists the Codecs that MS software (Windows Movie Maker, Windows Media Encoder) will recognise and use. Doesn't bother to show 'non-functional' Codecs (so can't actually fix anything)
Those with Windows 7/8 can get the same data from Windows Media Player (go to the Help menu, select About Windows Media Player & click on Technical Support Information)
Lists the (3rd party) Codecs that are capable of using your Video cards GPU (see below for trans-coder using GPU)
Filmerit 30 - abandon-ware
A Codec checker with the ability to detect and remove non-functional Codecs from the Registry. Can be exceedingly slow and has not been updated since May 2008, however it works just fine (and is a lot better than Microsoft's, since it actually lists everything, even 'broken' Codecs)
Open Source de-facto standard video player (but has a really hopeless and confusing GUI). Main use is for checking that your video file plays OK (before wasting time converting / processing it toward a movie DVD).
Although VLC can 'record' (and thus trans-code), this is not recommended - VLC is optimised for 'streaming video' and will thus drop frames or corrupt the audio if unable to 'keep up' with the video 'in real time' at 25 or 30 fps
An alternative to VLC
A proper audio player, with 'convert' capability and support for 3rd party plug-ins (that allow 'conversion' between stereo, Dolby ProLogic II and 5.1 surround sound). The other main advantage over Windows Media Player is that it has no annoying 'auto-search', no album 'creation' and makes no attempts to constantly 'go on-line'
Video format conversion
PhotoStory 3 WVP2 .wmv-image format first has to be converted using a Microsoft application, such as Windows Media Encoder or Windows Expression Encoder (into 'standard' .wmv VC-1 format) or Windows Movie Maker 2.x (into .avi (DV/AVI)). From there you can use a 3rd party application to get MPEG2 (see my Converting video into DVD page)
HandBreak - Open Source
This used to be one of my firm favourites, however the latest versions have started "BSOD'ing" my XP computer, so I no longer recommend it
If you do get it to run, ALWAYS use 'Preview' with the 'System default viewer' before wasting 10 or 20 hours 'converting' a perfectly good mp4 into a garbage mp4
MediaCoder - Freeware / Nagware
Used to be Open Source but the Author got fed up with 'appeasing' non-contributors. Watch out for the installer trying to download extra unwanted garbage
Unlike most other 'nagware' products, it only links to the internet (and opens a browser window) after you have used it a number of times (most do it on every 'launch'). The 'nag' invites you to 'donate' - but, unfortunately, it uses a 'capatcha' to prevent you using ClickOff to 'auto-kill' the nag. See Wikipedia for a fuller explanation
TMPGEnc - trial (limited to 30 days of MPEG encoding)
The 'standard' when it comes to SD DVD video format conversion. However TMPGEnc is limited to 30 days of MPEG encoding (after which you have to pay for the 'Pro' version ($37)). During the free period it is fully functional. Does a good job of converting DV/AVI into DVD compatible .mpg (MPEG2 video, AC-3 audio) format.
eRightSoft 'SUPER' - adware (see note 1)
Has a very easy to understand and easy to use interface, however it insists on 'contacting' it's web site on every launch in an attempt to get you to purchase other utilities. If you 'block' this using your Firewall, it fails to 'launch'. It also 'nags' you to 'update' - again, if you ignore this 'too often' eventually it stops running (it's unclear what 'too often' means, however it became unusable on my PC after about a year)
Note 1. When you try to download the product, the eRightSoft web site take you through a series of pages presenting you with many 'download' buttons for OTHER software (mainly AVS products). This is how eRightSoft make their money (by tempting you into downloading their 'pay for' software :-) ). If the link above doesn't give you a direct download, look at the very bottom of this page
AVC - Any Video Converter - Freeware (with nag on exit)
Freeware, however it does 'prompt' you to 'upgrade to the 'Ultimate' version after each use. Other than that, it 'does the job' and appears to have no limitations
You can use ClickOff to 'auto-kill' the nag, however an extra click to close is not a big deal.
FFMPEG - command-line utility
This is a the Open Source 'Codec' package that is behind almost all video conversion utilities (including TMPGEnc). Unfortunately it is a 'command line' (CMD window) utility. Fortunately various Windows 'front ends' do exist, such as WinFF
Can be used to convert from Apple proprietary formats (m4v+AAC) into mpeg only. Expect the file size to increase by at least 50%.
Freemake Video Converter - Freeware with self-promotion logo append
Use to do a simple format conversion from .wmv (with correct aspect ratio and frame sizes) into h264 .mp4 (you will need to use the 'expert settings' cog to set a decent bit rate and the correct frame rate, otherwise it defaults to about 5mbs and 30 fps)
Make sure to use the 'custom' install to avoid being 'home page hijacked' and 'tool bar spammed' :-)
Note that this free version randomly adds it's own logo to the end of your movie clip, which is only OK if you can crop it off later
Video and audio edit
MPEG Streamclip - SD only
This utility can merge files into a single movie, extract sound channels, handle files over 4Gb and even split mp4's correctly. Can also extract audio as AIFF (lossless) OK, but does not support video conversion from HD (H.264) to DVD (MPEG2).
DVDShrink - Freeware
Can be used to adjust the file SIZE (bit rate) so it will fit onto a standard DVD.
Just download the package (don't be distracted by 'free scans' or other 'temptations' designed to con you into handing over money)
Audacity - Open Source
The de-facto standard audio edit package. GUI can be a bit hard to understand / use. Make sure you 'Export' in WAV (lossless) for PhotoStory 3 use (and watch out for the 'channel order' when saving 6 ch as AAC).
EAC - Freeware
The best audio track 'extractor' I've ever found, free for non-commercial use. Even extracts WAV's from scratched or 'copy protected' CD's.
SD DVD movie authoring packages
VideoReDo TV Suite - commercial (low cost)
Very easy to edit SD mpeg's down to frame accuracy. Very fast 'save'. This is the only way I have found to (correctly) make DVD's with no menu (i.e. that will simply run & loop 'for ever').
DVDAuthor (Command-line) plus DVDAuthorGUI (GUI) - freeware ?
A command line package with a separate GUI front end. Your clips must already be in MPEG format (either 'elementary stream' split video & audio, .m2v, .m1v, .mpv video + mp2 or .ac3 audio or 'with NAV packets' (combined vid+audio .vob, .mpg, .mpeg).
DVDFlick - Open Source (abandon-ware)
One of the best SD DVD author packages around (see my Using DVDFlick page.
DVDFlick has not been updated since 2009, so includes old versions of FFmpeg and ImgBurn. You should thus pre-prepare all your video in .avi or mpeg and all your audio in wav or ac3 (unless you want to risk FFmpeg conversion errors) and avoid 'burning direct' to DVD - instead make a DVD folder or an ISO (or both), check it plays OK and then use a current version ImgBurn to do the actual burn.NB. Unlike many packages, an option exists to 'save intermediate files' which allows you to save the complete 'Video_TS' folder structure.
AVCHD (HD on DVD) movie authoring packages
multiAVCHD_4.1.exe - Donation-ware
multiAVCHD allows you to turn video (MPEG2, QuickTime MOV, MKV/AVC, AVI/AVC, M2TS/MTS, TS, TRP, M2V, VC1, 264, MP4, MPLS, IFO, etc) files into a AVCHD disc with a 'simple' 1080p menu structure. Can also 'down-convert' Blu-ray/AVCHD to SD DVD.
Has problems with sub-titles. Not Win 8 compatible. Latest version is from 27/04/2010 (so don't expect any bug fixes any time soon)
As with all 'author' packages it's best to fully prepare the HD video 'correctly', then use the author package to simply add the menu (if it has to 'process' anything you can expect to struggle with all the usual problems of setting PAL v NTSC, '24'/25/'30' fps having the audio start early / late or gradually get 'out-of-sync' not to mention 44.1 v's 48kHz and 6CH / 5.1 v's 2CH stereo
ImgBurn - freeware
WARNING - toward the end of the install 'wizard' you will be presented with a choice of 'Express (recommended)' or 'Custom Installation'.
If you accept 'Express' in the first window you will be 'infected' with the 'Snap.do' widget and tool-bars, find yourself using 'Snap.do' search (instead of Google) and your browsers Home Page will be overwritten.
The second window offers you more garbage (TuneUp Utilities'). This is quit 'normal' for most 'free' utilities these days = to avoid ending up with unwanted 'tool bars' and 'free trials' you must ALWAYS select 'Custom' install (and un-tick the unwanted 'extras') !
ImgBurn is the best ISO burner to be found = easy to use & has never failed me yet. Note that, if you choose to 'burn' a folder, by default it only burns the contents of the folder (not the containing folder itself).
ImgBurn should 'auto-adjust' it's burn settings for AVC-HD when you select a AVC-HD folder structure to burn
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