The most inter­est­ing ques­tions come your way when you’re a graph­ics geek with 15 years’ expe­ri­ence in video, mul­ti­me­dia pro­gram­ming and web design.

We’ve got an inter­nal voice-​​command mes­sag­ing sys­tem that allows var­i­ous peo­ple to be wire­lessly con­tacted and com­mu­ni­cated with. Called Vocera, I think the sys­tem is viewed as a bit of a Morton’s fork. It’s eas­ier and much more information-​​rich than being paged, but at least as irri­tat­ing as hav­ing a cel­lu­lar phone that never stops ringing.

Vocera needs a lit­tle train­ing, and to that end they sup­ply a video; but the DVD itself is annoy­ingly lim­ited. After all, it’s a DVD. How do you make it freely avail­able to hun­dreds of peo­ple any time, any­where, simul­ta­ne­ously if necessary?

Right. So here’s where I come in.

There are rip­pers out there, of course; but that is just too god­damn easy. Windows, remem­ber? See, those rip­pers transcode to MP4. Well, Windows Media Player does not han­dle MP4, at least not natively, sort of like how a rhino does not han­dle a human baby with a great deal of grace or, indeed, survivability.

This dis­cov­ery led to a whole series of steps, none of which involved too much heavy liquor use,* but many of which were unnecessary.

Thus, fol­low­ing is a descrip­tion of how to con­vert a DVD video file to a video for­mat that can be played back in Windows Media Player. Note that you do not have to fol­low all the steps I did. In fact, strictly speak­ing — and assum­ing you have VLC, a shweet open-​​source mul­ti­plat­form video play­back and transcode util­ity — you could skip straight to step 16.

But golly, what’s the fun in that?

Oh — I’m run­ning Mac OSX 10.4.10, which sig­nif­i­cantly lim­ited my range of transcode options.**

  1. Copy the nec­es­sary VOB files from the DVD to your desktop.
  2. Using VLC’s con­ver­sion wiz­ard, try transcod­ing them to MP4.
  3. Test play­back in Windows Media Player on WinXP.
  4. FAIL.
  5. n = 1; fmt = [MPEG, AVI/​DivX, AVI/​XviD, MOV]; while n < = count(fmt) {goto 2 (fmt[n]); n++;}
  6. FAIL.
  7. Explore the many, many fine entries in the pro­fanisaurus. Choose sev­eral suit­able scat­o­log­i­cal terms. Employ them liberally.
  8. Download ffm­pegX and give it a try instead, using sim­i­lar codecs plus Flash video.
  9. FAIL.
  10. Google for infor­ma­tion on what the hell native for­mats WMP actu­ally can play. Groan at the mon­go­lidism involved in the fact that you’re lim­ited to ASF, WMV and WMA and their per­mu­ta­tions. Modern eso­ter­ica*** applied to AVIs or any MPEG transcode are FAIL.
  11. Using the pro­fanisaurus again, avail one­self of mul­ti­ple cre­ative terms refer­ring to the act of mater­nal cop­u­la­tion. Suggest that the engi­neers in charge of cod­ing WMP must be prod­ucts of such an unholy union. Then remem­ber they received their direc­tives from On High. Wonder if Bill Gates is really all he’s cracked up to be. Decide he is not; fuck him. Decide not to, unless it might involve 250 KV and a lib­eral appli­ca­tion of spikes. Yeah, oh yeah, you like that, scream, scream for me, you col­lege drop-​​out punk-​​ass bot­tom bitch.
  12. Resolve to stop putting so much Irish in your cof­fee. I mean, god damn, it should taste like Folger’s, not an oak-barrel’s dregs. Besides, the dreams are get­ting … dis­turb­ing. Even the ones that don’t involve Bill Gates dressed as that weird bald guy from the Six Flags com­mer­cials a few years ago, and any­way, what the hell was up with that?
  13. Wonder if this is worth blog­ging about.
  14. Naah.
  15. Armed with a shock­ing under­stand­ing of how brutally-​​primitive WMP actu­ally is, relaunch VLC.
  16. Use the con­ver­sion wiz­ard to transcode using WMV 1 for­mat, sav­ing as an ASF-​​encapsulated file.
  17. WIN.

Here are screen­shots of the two rel­e­vant pages from the VLC transcode wiz­ard. These set­tings pro­duced a Windows Media Player-​​friendly file that had begun life as a VOB from a DVD.

Transcode settings for VOB to ASF

There are about 20 dif­fer­ent transcode options that VLC will give you for the video. All of them work beau­ti­fully on OSX. Virtually all of them are teh puup on Windows. And — here’s the clincher — even the ones that will work on Windows won’t in WMP if you don’t go with absolute base­line, generic set­tings. For instance, try­ing to encode AVI with DivX and MP3 for the audio results in WMP think­ing the video file is actu­ally an MP3 music track, which makes it play it back in the WMP Visualizer.****

Setting the video transcode option to WMV 1 and select­ing a ratio­nal bitrate is only the first part; the audio options are myr­iad as well. MP3 at a 64 KB bitrate is more than ade­quate for LAN-​​streaming video.

Encap settings for VOB to ASF

Don’t even bother with any­thing but ASF encap­su­la­tion. Windows will sim­ply not han­dle any exotic formats.

The fail­ure on both MP4 and Flash video (via ffm­pegX) was quite dis­ap­point­ing; WMP is a stun­ningly lim­ited player given the unde­ni­able fact that many, many non-​​MS pro­pri­etary for­mats were avail­able for use when they were cod­ing the damned thing; and that, since then, even more have become widely available.

I feel quite con­fi­dent that the Vista release of WMP will prove to be every bit as irri­tat­ing in about three more years. And that, sure as shit in a thun­der­mug, it’ll be in use by too many peo­ple to number.

With any luck, it’ll be able to han­dle DivX and MP4, at least.


* I was on the clock.

** In much the same way that a per­son flu­ent in 30 lan­guages nev­er­the­less finds his com­mu­ni­ca­tion options crip­pled when speak­ing to a mono­lin­gual, slightly retarded child.

*** Here, mod­ern means any­thing invented after 2002.

**** Really.


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