Category Archives: Quality Freeware

Not intended to be a comprehensive list of freeware, this category will instead recommend only high quality freebies . . . once in a while.

How to Transcode .mov Files using Matrox Codecs

Not too long ago, I posted an article on how to transcode .mov files from a Canon t2i using Avid’s DNxHD codec. Overall, that was a good solution (and still is) but I think I’ve found a solution I like more.

I noticed on Eugenia’s blog that she discovered a way to trancode .mov files using the recently released Matrox codecs. The solution works, but it’s very cumbersome for the average user (no offense intended; I’ve learned much from reading Eugenia’s blog). I’ve discovered a significantly simpler (and less time-consuming) solution (in my opinion) with the help of a professional videographer who prefers me not to use his name.

This solution should be appropriate for anyone looking for an excellent intermediate format for editing in Sony Vegas or another non-linear video editing program (NLE). It’s fast, easy and free.

A couple quick words (before I start) on why transcoding for editing is a good idea.

There are different codecs for different purposes. There are capture codecs (H.264, AVCHD, etc.). They encode fast but decode slow. Thus, they’re excellent for capturing but terrible for playback. There are editing codecs (DNxHD, Matrox, Cineform) which create large files but which don’t lose much information during the color grading / editing processes. Then there are delivery codecs which compress efficiently while maintaining visual quality. These files are high quality and small.

Professionals will transcode for each step of the process, unless they shoot something at four o’ clock and they need to roll out a finished product by five o’ clock. But to maintain optimal quality, transcoding for each step is necessary. It is often possible to edit .mov files directly, but if you do much color grading and editing you’ll end up with a far inferior product than if you’d transcoded to an appropriate intermediate format.

O.K. There’s my reasoning (mostly given to me by my friend, the professional videographer). So let’s get started on this tutorial.

First, you’re going to need two items. You’ll need Prism Video Converter (free version) and you’ll need the Matrox codecs. Be sure to use my link. Don’t google it or you’re likely to end up with an older version of the codecs. That’s all you’ll need.

If you have any problems, you may need to download a few other things, but for now, let’s start with the two previous items. Download and install the items. Start up Prism Video Converter. You’ll see the following screen.

Prism Video Converter

Click on “Add Files” in the upper left and select the videos you want to transcode. It’s easy to select multiple videos at once by holding down the “Ctrl” button on your keyboard while clicking each video clip you want. After you’ve selected the clips you want, click “Open.”

Select Your Videos

Next, you’ll want to change the “Output Format” to “avi.” Since this tutorial is primarily focused on making intermediate files that will play nicely with Sony Vegas, it’s important to create .avi files. Why? Sony Vegas likes .avi files and gets along with them, that’s why.

Output Format

Now it’s time to set the “Encoder Options.” Be sure that your “Video Compressor” is set to “Matrox MPEG-2 I-frame HD” and set your “Sound Format” to “48000 Hz, 16 bits, stereo.”

Encoder Options

Before closing out your encoder options, click on “Video Compression Settings.” Set your data rate to whatever you’d like (I use the maximum, but that really is overkill; 150MB/sec is a good starting point) and set the frame rate to match your source file.

Video Compression Settings

Under “Video Options” set the size to match your source file. You shouldn’t have to do this, but if you happen to get an error message when converting, this is something you can try. Tick “resize video” (even though we aren’t really re-sizing). Tick “shrink or enlarge the video to the selected size.” Untick “constrain proportions” and then type in the numbers to match your source file (e.g., 1920×1080). Then re-tick “constrain proportions.”

Video Options

Click the “Browse” button (lower right) to choose your output folder. I typically choose the desktop because it’s a nice temporary location. Remember, we’ll be deleting these files after we edit them. There’s no need to save these monstrous intermediate files.

Set Your Output Folder

You can now click “Preview” if you’d like. It’s an optional step. What it does is convert the first few seconds of the video and place the clip into your output folder. If you get any errors at this point it’s time to try something else. It’s a good idea to try this step before converting a huge batch of files.

Preview

If you don’t run into any errors during preview, it’s now time to hit “Convert.” Prism will do it’s thing and you’ll end up with some quite large Matrox .avi files on your desktop. You’re now ready to edit!

Convert

If you do run into errors, don’t panic. There’s something else to try. Go to “Options” then click on the “Conversions” tab. Under “Decoder Options” tick the box that says, “Use FFMPEG decoder (try this if you are having problems converting or playing the file).” Try converting again. If you still continue getting errors, this is where things can get dicey.

If you’ve tried all the above and you still can’t convert your files, you probably have a codec issue. Either you have codecs you shouldn’t have or you don’t have codecs that you should have. You can try downloading ffdshow tryouts, installing it (stick with the defaults), then attempting this process again. I typically don’t like codec packs and avoid them whenever possible. I’m running Windows 7 without any codec packs. The only extra codecs I’ve installed at this point are the Matrox codecs. If all else fails, you can try re-installing Windows (you should do that once in a while anyway). It’ll make your computer run like new and alleviate any codec problems that you may have inadvertently created.

Not too long ago I could not get this method to work. I couldn’t get any of my files to convert – no matter what. I finally installed ffdshow and only then would Prism convert my files. But without ffdshow it simply would not work. Over the course of the last year I’ve downloaded lots of different codecs for this reason or that reason. I also tried a few different codec packs. Over time, I collected a lot of conflicting codecs and codec packs. Simply uninstalling them didn’t fix my problems. The solution? I re-installed Windows and only installed the codecs I absolutely needed. For now, the only additional codecs on my computer are the Matrox VFW codecs. That’s it. And now this solution works flawlessly every time.

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How to Transcode .mov Files

*** Update ***

I created a new tutorial on how to transcode .mov files using the Matrox VFW codecs and Prism Video Converter. There are some advantages to this method; .avi files are created which are perfect for editing in Sony Vegas, and the Matrox codecs support additional framerates, most notably 29.97 at 1920×1080, an option not found with the Avid DNxHD codec. It’s a more complete solution for PC users and it’s faster than DNxHD.

Check it out here: How to Transcode .mov Files using the Matrox VFW Codecs


Some video files aren’t easy to edit on a PC.  That’s especially true of .mov files produced by Canon compacts and DSLRs.

What options do people have?

The best option I’ve found (if you use 24p or 720p) is MPEG Streamclip in combination with the AVID DNxHD codec.

First you’ll need MPEG Streamclip.  You can find it here. Choose the Mac or PC version, download it and install it.  Then download the AVID DNxHD codec.  You can find the codec here. Choose the Mac or PC version, download it and install it.  You’re ready to go.

Open MPEG Streamclip.  You’ll see the following screen.  Click “List” at the top.

MPEG Streamclip

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Next, click “Batch.”

MPEG Streamclip Batch

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Then, the following screen will appear.   Click “Add Files” in the lower right.

Add Files

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Next, hold down the control key and select the files you want to transcode with your mouse.  Then click “Open” in the lower right.

Select your files

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After clicking “Open” you’ll see the following screen.  Make sure it says “Export to Quick Time” in the dropdown box.  Click “OK.”

Export to Quicktime

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Choose the location for your future transcoded files then click “OK.”  As you see, I chose the desktop.  That’s where I’m going to find my transcoded files when the process is complete.

Future location of transcoded file

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After clicking “OK” the the “Movie Exporter” screen will appear.   In the “Compression” dropdown menu, make sure you have selected “AVID DNxHD” codec.  Then click “Options” in the upper right part of the screen.

Choose the proper codec

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Next, click the box that’s only barely appearing in the Codec Configuration screen.  I don’t know why AVID released software with such a buggy interface but that’s neither here nor there.  Click it.

Buggy Interface

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Once you’ve clicked the almost invisible box, the following dropdown will appear.  Choose the profile that’s appropriate for your video.  I record (typically) in 24p with my new t2i.  Sometimes I record in 720p.  If your configuration isn’t there you’ll have to use Neoscene.  Sorry, goodbye.  Have a nice day.  I hate to say it, but 1080p at 30fps isn’t there.  There’s a profile for 720p @ 30fps.   Why is this?  I have no idea.  Back to it.

Anyway, since I record in 24p, I’m going to choose the option that says 1080p/23.976 DNxHD 175 10-bit (best quality).  Once you’ve made your choice, click “OK.”

Choose the Correct Profile!

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After clicking “OK,” you’ll be back at the “Movie Exporter” screen.  Make sure your quality slider is at 100%.   Make sure your frame size matches your video. Uncheck “Interlaced Scaling.” Finally, click the button in the lower right that’s labeled “To Batch.”

Choose Proper Options

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After you’ve followed the above steps all that’s left is to click “Go” on the last screen.

Click Go!

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Open up Sony Vegas (or whatever program you’re using) and edit your files. If you don’t know how to render them, ask me and I’ll tell you.

Firefox 3.6 on the Horizon

Today (Friday) Firefox announced availability of its next release – Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1.  According to the lovely folks at Firefox,  the release is for developers and testers only.  But who cares?  It’s fun to try new stuff.

Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1, codenamed Namoroka (you’ll have to figure out what that means for yourself), boasts some minor changes.  Purported improvements include a faster TraceMonkey JavaScript engine and faster startup times (among other minor things).

This isn’t a major overhaul (like 3.5 from 3.0).  It’s an incremental improvement.  Google Chrome keeps updating their browser, so Firefox had to do something too (to look cool and hip and keep techno-nerds happy).

The actual release is due sometime in November (check out the Firefox 3.6 public roadmap).  I’m just installing Windows 7, so I’m excited to hear it’ll support some cool new Windows 7 features, like Aero Peek, which allows you to see your desktop through open windows.  Cool, huh?

I’m off to download Firefox 3.6.  And no, I’m not a developer or a tester.  I just like new stuff.

ERUNT – Free Registry Backup & Restore

ERUNT (Emergency Recovery Utility NT) backs up and restores your registry – completely and quickly.  Despite its name, it works with XP and Vista (32 or 64-bit).  My guess is that it’ll work fine with Windows 7 as well.

I don’t necessarily recommend everyone do this, but I turn off System Restore and use ERUNT instead.  It’s quicker and doesn’t fail (like System Restore can) if registry files are corrupt.

Windows Restore points are connected to previous points.  If one is corrupt or missing, System Restore won’t work.  ERUNT registry backups exist independently of one another.

If you decide to use ERUNT, remember, it doesn’t automatically create a backup when you do something that might harm your registry.  You’ll have to remember to run it before doing such things.

Not everyone hates System Restore, but I do.  I’ve tried using it a few times – and it’s failed me every time.

Google Chrome adds HTML 5 Functionality & Speed (but does it matter?)

O.K.  I figure it’s time to say something nice about Google Chrome.

It’s faster, yes, than it was (that was nice, wasn’t it?) and it’s added preliminary support for HTML 5. That’s it!  That’s the big news about Google Chrome.

So, it’s supposedly 30% faster than the previous iteration.  What does that mean?  Can I browse the Internet 30% faster?  I don’t think so.  It means that in benchmark tests (SunSpider, Peacekeeper, etc.), the scores achieved are higher.

Forget the benchmark tests.  They’re meaningless  (the average person cannot interpret the scores anyway, and if you can figure out what the scores are really measuring, you’re smarter than me – or, more likely, you’re a liar).  If you need more speed from your browser, I’d suggest paying for a faster Internet connection.  Here’s the best way to “speed test” your browser.  Go to nba.com or nfl.com and time how long it takes the page to fully load.  Be precise.  Open up the next browser.  Go to the same website and test the load time.  And so on.  Bingo.

I have Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.5 and Google Chrome (latest beta version) on this computer (Vista).  I shall now perform the scientific test.  I’ll get out my handy Dell Axim and use the stopwatch.  I’ll wait for a page to load in Firefox, then IE, then Chrome.  I’ll round to the nearest second.

Here goes.

Test  #1:  cnn.com

With my 1.2 mbps download speed, using Firefox 3.5,  cnn.com loaded fully in 23 seconds.  Internet Explorer 8 loaded it in 17 seconds.  Google Chrome loaded the page in 19 seconds.  Speed winner:  IE

Let’s try again.

Test #2:  oregonlive.com

Firefox:  25 seconds.  Internet Explorer:  30 seconds.  Chrome:  25.  Speed winner:  Chrome and Firefox tied!   Hmmmm.  What CAN this mean?

Test #3:  costco.com

Firefox:  11 seconds.   IE:  13 seconds.   Chrome:  10 seconds.  Speed winner:  Chrome.

What’s my point?  So what if Google Chrome is 30% faster than it was before?    It’s not much faster IE or Firefox . . . and sometimes it’s slower.  For you and me, this can only mean one thing.  If you really want speedy Internet browsing, pay for a faster Internet connection.

MailStore Home – Free Email Archiving & Backup

I’ve already told you about MozBackup, the freeware backup solution for Mozilla products.

Now I’m going to tell you about MailStore Home.  Unlike MozBackup, MailStore Home archives mail from every email account you can imagine “into one secure and persistent backup.”

It works with Outlook 2000, XP, 2003 and 2007.  It works with Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Microsoft Exchange Server Mailboxes, Hosted Microsoft Exchange Mailboxes, Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, POP3 and IMAP (including webmail services such as Gmail and Yahoo! Mail) . . . I’m sure if you try really hard, you can find some email service or program it doesn’t work with.

It’s simple, effective, compatible with Windows (XP and up) and free.

Lastly, if you don’t regularly back up your email, you should.  In the past 10 years, I’ve gone through five hard drives.  Yes, I’m hard on my hardware.  So what?  The point is, I learned the hard way.  You don’t have to.

Get MailStore Home here.

PDF XChange Viewer – Free PDF Reader for 64-bit Windows

Sick of Adobe Reader?  Do you wish you had an alternative?  Well, you do.

It’s called PDF XChange Viewer.  It’s free.  Small.  Fast.  Simple.  There’s a 64-bit version.  There’s also a portable version (meaning you don’t have to install it; e.g., it’ll work off your thumb drive).

What are you waiting for?  Uninstall the bloated software and get the good stuff.

Get PDF XChange Viewer here.