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[Problems with most commercial alternatives] [Ashampoo Slideshow Studio 2013] [PhotoFilmStrip] [DVD Slideshow GUI]
PhotoStory alternatives

Problems with most commercial alternatives

The major problem with all commercial applications is that bug fixing takes second place to 'new features'. So, even after your commercial software has reached 'Version 10' it will still be full of bugs from 'version 1' (as well as dozens of new bugs from each of the 10 sets of new features introduced)

Worse is the continued 'nagging' and 'advertising' that many commercial apps. 'force feed' you in an effort to get you to 'version up' (or 'upgrade to the Pro edition')
Some vendors - such as 'Serif' - even force you to 'register' by phone so their 'marketing department' can make your life hell calling you up every month to try and talk you into buying their other software.
Others spam you via email or by opening web pages 'in your face' every time you launch their app.

The 'all in one' applications

First there are the 'all in one' applications which 'burn direct' to DVD / BD disc - and are typically only capable of generating 'beer mats' or 'coasters' (i.e. produce non-standard discs that won't play back on a stand-alone DVD player), although you will have to read the 'User Forums' to discover this (the vendors own advertising will consist of the usual half truths and outright lies)

Don't waste you time with any of these. Even if you manage to find one that generates 'real' AVCHD format it can never 'keep up' with changes in 'burner' technology (like, dual layer, or USB connected burners), so it's 'pot luck' if the software you buy will support your 2 year old (or 10 year old) 'burner' at all, let alone any new one you purchase next week (or next year)
Needless to say, to support newer 'burners', you will have to pay them more money to 'version up' to the 'newer' app that will incorporate lots of unwanted extra features whilst 'breaking;' those that you have come to reply on

The 'over featured' applications

Another issue with commercial apps. is their never-ending release of new 'versions' that pack in more and more obscure and unusable 'features'. This results in a confusing U.I with 'common' features almost impossible to find buried deep in their illogical multi-layered menu structures.

Of course, the more 'features' it has, the slower it runs. 'Top end' apps (such as Adobe Premiere) are almost unusable on anything 'lower spec' than a 64 bit multi-core system with 10's of GB's of RAM (for sure you can forget running it on a Windows XP machine)

The current 'buzz word' is '3D' .. which you will find plastered all over the 'latest and greatest' version (along with 'special offers' inviting you to 'upgrade' from the previous 'latest and greatest' version)

In response to user complaints of confusing menu structures and hard find or use features, many commercial supplications have 'dumbed down' their UI.

For example, the 'Wondershare' DVD Slideshow Builder range incorporates a number of Ken Burns 'presets' - and whilst you can 'Customize' the effect, the GUI is totally counter intuitive and virtually unusable

Don't put up with this crap-ware. The only 'simple' GUI is one that was designed for 'ease of use' at the start (rather than one that started with a hundred useless features and options that had to be hidden later)

'Lite' and 'Demo' versions

'Lite' versions exist ONLY to 'sell you up' to the 'fully featured' version. This means that they often support 'cut down' versions of the functions prominently displayed in their advertising as well as some unexpected limitations (such as movie build resolution or running time limits). Needless to say, none of these limitations will ever be mentioned 'up front' on the vendors web page 'advertising' of the 'FREE Lite/Demo Edition !'

Sometimes the limitations can be 'worked around' - for example a DVD output resolution limitation can sometimes be 'fixed' by editing the 'export' Profile by hand, and a 'time length' limit only means building 'in parts' and using a Movie Edit app. to join them together before 'Authoring' your DVD/BD disc.
Others are just 'missing' some useless component - for example, Serif MoviePlus 'starter edition' lacks the 'burn to disc' code (so no direct to VCD, DVD / AVCHD or BD output - although you can 'save to file' and output direct to YouTube or a DV/HDV Camcorder (? via IEEE1481 Firewire ?))

Demo versions (rather than Trials) are cut down "marketing only" versions that are intended to give you a 'flavour' of what the 'full' version is capable of. By all means use them to discover how (un)usable their GUI is

Many Demo versions will 'go through the motions' but refuse to 'output' (i.e. 'save') anything at all - so all you get to see is the 'preview'.
Those that do output will typically add watermarks to your movie (see, for example, Serif MoviePlus 'starter edition')
In many respects a Demo version is 'hostage-ware' - they know that after you have spent hours learning how to use their totally obscure GUI and days 'perfecting' your movie, you will 'pay the ransom' to output it (rather than start again with another package)

'Free Trial' time limited version of the 'actual' software

I actually recommend using the 'Free Trial' to check out the usability (GUI and functions) of any software you have (almost) decided to buy.

If no 'free trial' exists, you can be sure the vendor is hiding something that makes it unusable.
The 'Free Trial' will reveal how well the 'advertised' features 'work', or, more often, don't work (or at least not quite as expected) - and thus save you wasting your money
Note that you can NEVER totally install a 'Free Trial' = if you could, there would be nothing to stop you re-installing it as many times as you like to get as many 'Free Trials' as you want.
The problem is that the 'bits left behind', which often includes their obscure non-standard Codecs and DRM code, can continue to 'interfere' with your movie 'build', playback and DVD/BD access 'for ever' ...

Be aware that some vendors insist you 'register' using a real email address to get the Free Trial 'key'. This is, of course, so their 'marketing department' can spam you for the rest of eternity ...


Ashampoo Slideshow Studio 2013 (commercial)

Windows 7/8/10 users are referred to the Ashampoo Slideshow Studio 2017

Ashampoo offer a confusing number of different 'Studio' packages (Burning, Music, Movie, Slideshow HD), however you want "Slideshow Studio 2013" because it's "free". Whilst you must use a valid email address (to get the licence key), once you have the key there is nothing to stop you sending all further email from 'softonic.com' straight to your spam folder

The main drawback is that Slideshow Studio 2013 only generates 25fps VC-1 + 2 channel WMA output (despite my best efforts, I was unable to find any way to get anything else out of it). The good news is that whilst it comes with only a single low resolution output profile setting, it's quite capable of generating HD (and even HD 2k) output and it's an easy task to set up the required Profile.

On install, the output 'profile' file, slideshowstudio2013.xml (found in the C:\Program Files\Ashampoo\Ashampoo Slideshow Studio 2013\profile folder) contains a single 'set'
The output video format is always VC-1 wmv, and the resolution is set by the (big joke) 'Quality' slider (which effects both resolution and audio bit rate) = whatever setting you choose, actual output 'generation' is exceedingly slow

Fortunately, the profile .xml format used is the same as the Ashampoo Slideshow Studio HD 2 (and, no doubt, Ashampoo Slideshow Studio HD 3) 'slideshowstudiohd2.xml' profile. This means (in theory) you can use the Profile from Studio HD 2 to get HD from Studio 2013

Whilst it's a simple task to copy the contents of 'slideshowstudiohd2.xml' to 'slideshowstudio2013.xml', the only settings that are 'picked up' by Slideshow Studio 2013 are the 3 'wmv' settings (I suspect the problem was that the other Codecs were 'missing' i.e not installed), however these 3 settings are 'all' that you need to 'point the way' to getting HD.
To get hold of the 'slideshowstudiohd2.xml' file, I downloaded the 'Trial' version of Ashampoo Slideshow Studio HD 2 = it's no longer available from Ashampoo themselves, so you will have to find it from a download site (such as freedownloadscenter = but don't be tempted to give them your real email address - unless you want even more spam)
Be warned that many 'download' sites (such as the well promoted 'Softonic') will actually send you their 'downloader.exe' and not the actual software you are seeking. These 'down-loaders' are 'trojans' designed to hijack your Browser 'search' settings and trick you into installing their crap-ware advertising spam application (or worse)

Rather than muck about trying to find the 'Trial' version of Ashampoo Slideshow Studio HD 2, you can just download my hand modified replacement Profile from here: slideshowstudio2013.xml (this contains a set of 4 settings = DVD, half HD, HD and HD+ (HD 2k) see photo, left (in each case the video resolution is 'fixed' so the 'Quality' slider only effects the Audio bit rate)

Note that Ashampoo Slideshow Studio 2013 always encodes directly to VC-1, CBR (single pass) at 25fps (rather than the AVCHD 23.976)
I was unable to find a 'fps' setting anywhere = it's not 'language specific' (since changing the setting to US English still generates 25fps) and whilst there is a '<display-system norm="pal" ..> setting in the .sedprj project file, changing the entry "pal" to "ntsc" just resulted in the application crashing when I opened the project
The output profile has a "maxbitrate" setting, however this appears to have no effect (I set it to 18000, however output was still limited to less than 8mbps). On the other hand, changing the 'param name="maxbpp" value=' to "0.60" resulted in output with a 42.1mbps bit rate :-)

Note that you only get one chance to set the aspect ratio = it's when you first create the Story (choose 4:3 or 16:9). This sets both the crop box and the 'output mode' = there is no choice at output time. You can only change it by hacking the project file = it's the '<display-system norm="pal" aspect-ratio="4:3"/>' entry

In fact, it turns out that (as with most commercial rubbish) Ashampoo Slideshow Studio output is a mix of 'right' (things you can set) and 'wrong' (things you have absolutely no way of correcting)

Whilst you can set the 'DVD' profile to generate a correct 720x576 (for both '4:3' and '16:9' mode), there is no way to set the 'aspect ratio' flag (it's never set correctly in the output file header = for DVD's, it's set to '5:4' irrespective of the 'project' aspect ratio :-) )
The other 3 modes are all 'HD'. In 'half HD', my Profile gives you 1280x720 (in 16:9 mode) or 1280x960 (in 4:3 mode). In 'HD' mode, for 16:9 it's 1920x1080, and for 4:3 it's 1920x1440. Finally, in 'HD 2k' mode, you get 2048x1152 (16:9) or 1536x1152 (4:3). The aspect ratio is set correctly in all HD output file headers, however there is no way to set the fps (it's always 25fps).
Audio is WMA v2, 2ch 48 kHz (for all modes).
The 'quality slider' will set the Audio bps (from 128kbps up), however it's limited to 196kbps (despite me setting 256kbps in the Profile as the '100%' slider setting). Of course you will have to replace the Audio anyway (you need AC3), especially as Ashampoo HD video is generated at 25fps, not 23.976fps (so if (when) you convert the video to 23.976 (for AVCHD), this will likely de-sync any embedded audio)

Note - the profile xml is loaded when the application launches (if you make changes to the profile, you have to restart the app. before they are 'picked up')

Processing PhotoStory 3 .wp3 for (25fps) output

The Ashampoo Slideshow project file ".sedprj" contains an XML description of the sideshow so can be 'hacked' by hand (or a QBasic script file etc)

Unlike PhotoStory 3, the project file contains ONLY the 'path' to each photo, not the photo itself.
Ashampoo sets the same time for all transitions, however you can change the times in the project file (to eliminate a transition, you must delete the entire  <transition name ... > entry = if you just set the transition time duration="0.000000", when you 'open' the project, Ashampoo will insert an extra 'transition' with a duration = the default time :-) )

It should be relatively easy to 'process' the Project.xml in an unpacked .wp3 folder into a "Project.sedprj" and process it in Ashampoo Slideshow Studio, however since it is limited to 25fps (and I required real AVCHD 23.976fps) output, I decided not to waste any more time with Ashampoo Slideshow


PhotoFilmStrip (Open Source)

This is a very promising app as it's written in Python and you can modify it to your own requirements !

Tests with the same source JPG as PhotoStory 3 and HD output return much smoother pan and zoom with no sign of 'jitter' or 'jumps', however it's GUI is rather limited - you can set start and end of a 'Ken Burns' pan and zoom within an individual image however there is no way to set the 'start to same as previous' so it's impossible to assemble a multi-step pan/zoom over multiple copies of the same image.
The 'project file' contains a curious mix of plain text and what appears to be binary data (at a guess, thumbnails), however (as noted above), no doubt hacking the 'source' will reveal all ...

PhotoFilmStrip v2.0.0 was released on 29-10-2014 (previous was RC1, 20/11/2013), for WinXP/Vista/Win7. Both GUI and CLI versions are included. It uses the MEncoder 1.0rc2-4.2.1 XVID codec (part of the included mplayer, which doesn't need to be 'installed'), so it can exist as a 'portable' version. Output is defined by a 'profile' and is AVI (i.e. XVid, up to full-HD (1920x1080) MPEG4 or MJPEG) or FLV. An Audio track can be added to the 'video' output.

A new project defaults to 16:9 aspect ratio, however you can select 4:3 or 3:2 instead.
You can define the project file name (eg 'MyProject' = so MyProject.pfs) which will created in a new folder in \Documents and Settings\{your login}\My PhotoFilmStrips\{MyProject}.
When you 'render' the project (eg in HD), an 'output.avi' file is created in a sub-folder of the project folder (eg. {MyProject}\FULL-HD\output.avi).
At output time you can select 'PAL' (25fps) or 'NTSC' (29.97fps) - 'real' AVCHD / BD HD fps (23.976) is not offered, however see at end re: source code modification
You can also select from one of 6 basic video 'profiles', which, in combination with the Aspect ratio set when the Project was created, sets the resolution. VCD, SVCD and DVD output files contain pixels that have been 'squashed' into a fixed non-square form and will be re-expanded to either 4:3 or 16:9 (only) during playback, so these 'modes' do not support 3:2.
Medium, HD and Full HD outputs are all square pixel (no interpolation)
You can also select 'single pictures' or from a choice of video output 'container' and 'format', which, in combination with the Profile, sets the bps rate. The containers are :-
.MPG = (MPEG1 @ 1150kbps if 'VCD', else MPEG2 @ 2500 kbps 'SVCD' or @ 8000kbps if 'DVD'),
.AVI = (MPEG4+MP3 or MPEG4+AC3 @ 8mbps if 'medium', @10mbps if 'HD', 12mbps if 'Full HD', or MJPEG)
.FLV = (Flash video)
For the actual output resolution (which depends on the initial Project Aspect Ratio setting and then the combination of PAL/NTSC plus 'Profile' chosen at output time), see the table below (taken from RC1, not checked against the released vsn) :-

Project Aspect Ratio 16:9 4:3 3:2
Output Profile PAL (25fps) NTSC (29.97fps) PAL (25fps) NTSC (29.97fps) PAL (25fps) NTSC (29.97fps)
"VCD" 352x288 352x240 352x288 352x240 n/a
"SVCD" 576x480 480x480 576x480 480x480 n/a
"DVD" 720x576 720x480 720x576 720x480 n/a
"Medium" 640x360 640x480 720x480
"HD" 1280x720 960x720 1080x720
"Full-HD" 1920x1080 1440x1080 1620x1080

Note that the above values are defined in the photofilmstrip\core\OutputProfile.py source file (so, in theory at least, would be easy to change)

Plain text (not Unicode) Subtitles are supported and will be rendered in .SRT format (which is compatible with most media players, such as "The KMPlayer").

Subtitles are not “burned into” the final output movie.

Processing PhotoStory 3 .wp3 for output

Since PhotoFilmStrip is Open Source, the source code is available. It is written in Python (Version 2.7) = an 'interpreted' language, i.e. it is not necessary to compile the code to run the application (in the "src" folder, launch the start script "photofilmstrip-gui" to run the GUI front end).

To run PhotoFilmStrip you need:

Python 2.7
GUI framework wxPython 2.8.12 or later
Python Imaging Library (PIL)

To render your own filmstrips you need:


Whilst the use of Python may make it 'slow', it also means you can 'tailor' it to your own requirements !

One rather obvious requirement (at least for me) is to find a way to 'import' PhotoStory 3 project files.
Unfortunately, the .pfs project file is a 'Database dump' in "SQLite format 3"> format (with images 'thumbnails' embedded as 'BLOB' data), which means it can't just be 'opened' as a text file.
Although you can open and modify the database 'tables' in the .fps file 'by hand' (using tools such as the sqlitebrowser) or view it in Firefox (using the SQLite Manager add-on) manually 'converting' a .wp3 into a .pfs would be a massively complex task.
Since PhotoFilmStrip must already contain code to 'create' and 'save' the database tables, plainly a better approach would be to code a new  PhotoFilmStrip python 'module' to 'import' (process and load) the text-based PhotoStory 3 project.xml file.Note. The database is defined in \photofilmstrip\core\ProjectFile.py, loading and saving is initiated in the \photofilmstrip\gui\WxProjectFile.py file.

The actual code is left to the user :-)


DVD Slideshow GUI (Freeware, closed source)

DVD slideshow GUI is a 'front end' user interface for a collection of Open Source components, including Avisynth, Dvdauthor, HCenc, Media Player Classic, FFmpeg, Flvtool2, Mplex, Demux, mkisofs and others.

Note that you will need a live internet connection to install DVD Slideshow GUI (the installer has to download all the actual components = they are not included)

Processing PhotoStory 3 .wp3 for output

Whilst DVD Slideshow GUI is said to be written in wxBasic (the Open Source alternative to QBasic), it 'executable' appears to be a compiled code and I was unable to find the actual Source Code

If the source code could be found, no doubt it would be a simple matter to modify it so it could 'load' a .wp3 project file

Next subject :- HD from PhotoStory