Assessing Video Files and
Codecs with GSpot
Codec issues abound.... the newbie runs into crashes and hangs, and resolves
them by having to find some codec(s) to take out of the equation, not necessarily knowing it's a codec
or why it needs to be done... the intermediate user is comfortable making movies and can talk about codecs,
but understands little if anything about them... the advanced user is looking for a better codec or learning
how to tweak the codec settings to get the best playing movies.
Most multimedia files are compressed. Uncompressing them on the fly as they play requires
decompression codecs . Rendering a new file requires compression codecs. You
may not know which ones are needed or being used, and probably don't care as long as things go well.
are usually files you don't open directly... they can be an .ax or a .dll
file, a program module used by the software that you open.
There are a number of utilities that help you assess the codecs needed to open a file... the
GSpot Codec Information Appliance by Steve Greenberg is one of the
GSpot started as an app to assess avi files. Its latest beta version has expanded to include MPEG
The screen shot at the left shows it with an MPEG-1 VCD file open, one I made with
GSpot says it's an MPEG-1 VCD file with a standard aspect ratio of 4:3, that
the filters used to play it are in the quartz.dll file (lingering over the items in the two lines of
the proposed codec solutions info box at the lower right keeps pointing to that DLL), and testing with
it is successful as it plays fine in the monitor when the number 2 button is selected.
Quartz.dll is one of the files in the c:/windows/system32 folder. Check its properties and you'll
see it's a Microsoft DirectShow Runtime file. If you had a problem using this MPEG-1
file, the Quartz.dll would be a key file to check for proper version, corruption, etc. GSpot's info would
lead you to it. That's why you use GSpot.
In this newsletter I'll illustrate the complexity of codec-related issues by using
a real world video file that needed conversion, and almost didn't make it... and then use GSpot
to look at a variety of sample files.
I won't take you into the technology of how codecs work, or deeply into any of the hundreds or thousands
... before getting into it, here are a few notes...
I installed the beta 1 version of Vista on one of my desktop computers, and checked
with Microsoft to confirm its OK to take screen shots and publish info about what I see. It doesn't need
a full newsletter to tell you that the Windows Media Player in it is the same version 10 you are already
using, and Movie Maker is essentially the same version 2.1 as we've been using. It's 2.1.4029.0 of 7/20/05.
I'll let you know more when I see or hear about the beta 2 version. One new thing... a version 7 beta
1 of the Internet Explorer.
My Toshiba laptop was in Memphis on its way home from the CompUSA repair facility
in Houston... it'll be here Tuesday with a new DVD/CD drive and TV Tuner (both of those were replaced
on the last trip just 3 months ago). It's actually a good thing for this newsletter to be working on
my older Dell laptop which has a basic operating system with a minimal number of codecs. It's easier
to find audio and video files that won't run, so I can collect more interesting screen shots of error
I finished my first reading of Learning VirtualDub this week. Having written the
first chapter which introduced the whole book, I was more than curious to read the rest to see the rest
of the story.. The 10th and final chapter was about codecs and relates to this newsletter issue. The
book has more than enough good material for me to refer to on a regular basis. Mostly what it does
is inspire me to try lots of new things I've been thinking about but hadn't gotten around to trying.
.... on to the main topic
Downloading and Installing GSpot
a GSpot download link.
I downloaded fresh copies of the latest stable version v2.21 of 17 May, 2003, and the v2.52 beta version.
The files are small, less than 200 KB.
I'll use the beta version which includes the assessment of MPEG files.
The license includes a statement about distribution: You may distribute an unlimited number
of exact, unmodified, individual copies of the SOFTWARE to anyone you wish... by making such copies available
for download ( e.g., via the Internet, on-line services, bulletin boards, etc.).
The _read_me file includes a very short Beginners Guide to Using GSpot:
1. Use File > Open to open the AVI file of interest (or drag & drop the file into GSpot).
2. Look at "Codec" section in "Video Format". If the "Status" says "not installed", you will probably
have to obtain the codec shown. The same goes for the "Audio Format" section - if the appropriate
"audio codec" is not installed, you may get no sound.
The first step needs expansion to include MPEG files... I agree with drag and drop being a great way
to open a video file in it.
go into it in a bit more depth than the beginner's guide...
There's some interesting reading on the GSpot website, including the
The first question kind of sums up what GSpot is all about.
My video doesn't play - how do I use GSpot?
We'll check GSpot using some sample files... WMV files from Movie Maker and Photo Story, types I and
II DV-AVI files from MM1 and MM2, and a little collection of test files from camcorders, digicams, cell
phones, and ones made with other software.
I've been collecting samples as I come across them... to assess the types of files they really are
underneath the file extensions, the codecs needed to play or use them in Movie Maker, and the software
that can successfully convert them to usable AVI files as needed... my goal is to get them into Movie
Maker for editing, not just to view them in a player. GSpot comes in handy often.
Before checking the test files, I'd like to take you through the story of a particular one... how
it acted and how it got resolved.
A Real-World Challenge...
Here's the long story about a file I wrestled with recently. It illustrates many of the issues you
can run into when trying to assess and convert a file. Even with the needed specialized codec provided
by the hardware supplier, success wasn't guaranteed.
Codecs don't always act like you want them to. If you can play a file, it doesn't mean you can convert
it or use it in a video editing environment.
Up front, I thought the file would be easy to convert.
was a test ASF clip I was helping someone convert, from a Samsung DV Recorder
SCN-103. Samsung tech support had sent a copy of the needed G 726 decoder.
I tried playing it with Windows Media Player 10 before installing the codec, to see if I really needed
it. The error message at the above right confirmed I needed something more... the G 726 is an audio codec.
Audio is often the more difficult of the two streams (video and audio) to deal with.
Movie Maker 2's Help File says supported file types include: Video files: .asf,
..avi, .m1v, .mp2, .mp2v, .mpe, .mpeg, .mpg, .mpv2, .wm, and .wmv
... this was an asf but, when trying to import it into MM2 without the codec installed, the error
... and the clip didn't make it into the collection.
What the MM2 help file really means is that it supports ASF files that align with Microsoft's version
of ASF files, when it's used as the wrapper for WMV and WMA files... not newer files that might use the
file extension with other type files.
I installed the G 726 codec, but MM2.1 continued to get the error message, and the
clip couldn't make it to a collection.
MM1 imported it into a collection and showed an appropriate thumbnail, but when I tried to preview
the clip, an error message said "an invalid media type was specified".
I looked at
with GSpot... which expects an ASF file to be a container for our familiar WMA and WMV files. GSpot and
many open source apps often don't handle Microsoft file types, and won't provide complete info about
the file inside the wrapper.
Fishing around with GSpot... a partial render failure was noted when checking which
codecs could play it...
After the partial render failure, I tested it further with GSpot and saw the visual playing in the
but I didn't hear the audio, even with the specialized G 726 audio codec installed.
GSpot was not being fully effective at assessing or playing
the clip... after all, it was tagged as an .asf.
I tried playing it in Windows Media Player 10... with the codec installed, I was
able to both see and hear it... this was the first time I heard its audio. But the viewing success was
short lived... as soon as the clip finished playing, the error message below popped up.
Getting it to work in Movie Maker 2 now seemed at best a remote a possibility. Conversion
to an AVI or WMV file was my only hope.
I tried converting it with the usual tools... TMPGEnc and RadVideo Tools.
I could get the video, but kept striking out with the audio. These utilities didn't effectively use the
I finally succeeded by converting it to a WMV file using the Windows Media Encoder...
I've seldom had to give up when converting other files, but I was about ready to quit with this one...
What does this mean? Here are a few things:
- An older ASF file extension can contain something other
than a Windows media file inside. File extensions don't always tell you the type of file inside.
- A needed codec can be obtained from a camera or camcorder
supplier, or from an internet site
- Even with the codec installed, a file can play in a player,
but not import into Movie Maker. A codec can dictate the extent it can be used... it might let you
play a file, but not edit it...
- Codec issues can bite you before, during, or after playing
a file... I often hold my breath until the conversion is over.
- Assessing a file and the codec needed isn't always a straight-forward
logical task. There's a lot to learn... often by checking and testing... and then doing it again
with a different tool
- Conversion of a problematic file is the best course of action...
don't expect to get it to work in Movie Maker just because you got the codec you were missing
- The last thing you try in your conversion toolkit often
works... as you only need one conversion tool to work, the one that does is usually the last one
- You can successfully convert a problem file... try something
else if you think you can't.
- Once you're converted one, the rest of the clips from the
same source will be easy...
- GSpot isn't the magical all-purpose tool... it's one of
many. It won't assess Microsoft and some other file types... but it's still evolving.
.. now it can do AVI and MPEG.
Not only can GSpot have difficulty assessing some files, it can also produce
some crashes as it attempts to see which codecs work with a file.
The picture at the left shows the message GSpot provides after one such crash...
I consider crashes while assessing problem files to be kind of normal and expected. A crash can confirm
that the file or codec is a problem, and not your personal skills.
If you don't like or want crashes, GSpot gives some Post Crash info to help you avoid further unexpected
Enough of the negatives... codecs are necessary and work well for the most part.
And GSpot is a great assessment tool. Let's see what Spot reports when it checks various files.
Checking Some Files with GSpot...
GSpot's import window says it supports AVI, MPG, MPEG, and VOB files. Let's check some of them and
others, starting with files from Microsoft or Microsoft software that GSpot isn't expected to support.
- the sample video that comes with Movie Maker is an ASF... I'll open it.
The two columns of buttons at the left are for GSpot checks and tests versus Microsoft standard ones...
GSpot checks the video and audio streams separately while Microsoft checks them together... the ones
that are bold are the current active choices.
Press the square button in the MS column with number 1 on it to check the file using Microsoft's standard
The first line shows the sequence that the video track is played and the second line the audio. Linger
over any item in the sequence: it'll turn yellow and a tool tip will provide added info. Reading across
the video line, and then the audio:
= source file path and name
A = WMMedia Subtype 1... WMV1
WMVideo Decoder = qasf.dll > wmvdmod.dll
B = Media Subtype RGB565
Video Renderer = quartz.dll
Src = source file path and name
A = WMAudio V2
WMAudio Decoder = qasf.dll > wmadmod.dll
B = Media Subtype PCM
Direct Sound Device = quartz.dll
Pressing the square button with number 2 on it tests the actual playing of the file in the GSpot monitor.
If it looks and sounds good, it passes the tests... and it does for this file.
If you had a problem using this file, the suspects would include the qasf.dll, wmvdmod.dll, wmadmod.dll,
and quartz.dll files noted in the solution info.
Note that the GSpot proposed solutions and test buttons are grayed out when the ASF or WMV files are
opened. The same happens when a type I DV-AVI file is opened.
WMV - a rendered movie from Movie Maker 2 shows the same kind of info as the
ASF file except that the WMMedia Subtype 3 was noted instead of Subtype 1.
DV-AVI type I or II - GSpot assesses and plays the type I file from MM2, but
provides little info... whereas the info for a type II file from MM1 is robust. Like other apps we use,
GSpot is more adapt at using the type II files.
The previously grayed out GSpot test buttons are active for the type II files... and interestingly
the proposed GSpot solution includes use of the Panasonic DV codec... but it can't follow through and
play that solution, getting an error message (not a crashing error, just a note in the proposed solutions
field about why it doesn't work).
Now to check some files made by software other than Microsoft
- an AVI file made by MovieXone... interesting as it's the first file
that the proposed GSpot solutions can be followed up with an actual test. See that the GSpot video and
audio stream solution buttons are active, in addition to the Microsoft button.
The GSpot video and audio tests are separate tests... whereas the Microsoft test plays both streams
together... but they all play OK.
info at the left is the video codec info for the MPEG-4 file made by MovieXone...
it says the codec is installed on this Dell laptop, and the tests work.
The info at the right is the video codec info for a Stoik MPEG-4 file. GSpot says
correctly that I don't have an installed Divx codec... and to confirm it, my pressing the test button
resulted in GSpot crashing.
MOV QuickTime Files - a couple files made by Premiere had
no info provided and GSpot couldn't propose solutions or test them.
MPEG-1 - an MPG file made by TMPGEnc had info, both GSpot
and Microsoft solutions, and played fine. This was the VCD file used to get the snapshot for the introduction
to this newsletter.
Another VCD file made by avi2vcd had the same results.
MPEG-2 for SVCD - an MPG file made by TMPGEnc... showed the
info but the codec isn't installed on this Dell laptop to test it.
for DVD - an MPG file made by Pinnacle7...
GSpot provided full info similar to the SVCD file, but couldn't confirm the solution by testing as
the codec isn't installed.
I'm including the screen shot to show you the amount of info provided.
Canon A70 - AVI file which is a Motion JPEG.
The GSpot solution tested fine... but the Microsoft solution resulted in a message from GSpot that
Direct Show crashed while trying to render the file.
It also provided this tidbit "Although GSpot was able to intercept the crash, attempts to identify
the codec which caused it have failed."
Casio EX-Z750 - AVI file needing a fully compliant MPEG-4 v2
simple profile codec, which is installed. The checkout and testing worked well.
Olympus C-5050 (my camera) - AVI file needing the Cinepac
codec by Supermac... both GSpot and Microsoft solutions and testing worked well.
C-770 - MP4 file... minimal info in GSpot with no proposed solutions
Cell Phone Files...
A couple test files were 3GP files with minimal/no info provided.
Conclusions and Closing
There are lots of codecs on your computer. Each computer will have some of the same, and some different
ones... and as a result might act differently.
You'll sometimes need another one... some ask where they can get a full set... you don't need that
A codec will be involved in an occasional crash or performance issue. When you use a file that
You don't need to know the details of which ones are working at the moment, nor how they work....
just have an appreciation for them, and realize the more you know about them the better able you'll be
at understanding managing what's going on.
Learn which ones work best with Movie Maker, your system, and your usual files, and you'll be fine.
I look forward to comments and discussion about this and other newsletters on the forums at:
Windows Movie Makers.net
Have a great week...
Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 -
Photo Story 2 - www.photostory.papajohn.org
Products and Services
I'm involved in many things that support users of Movie Maker and Photo Story, and adding more regularly.
Some are free and others reasonably priced.
Radio and Podcasting
is the only weekly Podcast having more useful information about desktop video editing and production
than anywhere else on the Web. Digital video editing, nonlinear editing, streaming media, software releases,
tutorials, business tips, technical help, download of the day and news on the latest products to make
everything easier. It's where professional and consumer desktop video users go to stay on the cutting
Call the phone mail machine to get your technical question answered on the air... call (206)-203-3516
The radio broadcast is from Boston, and the website has downloadable podcast files. The June 19th
2005 podcast included the first 'bi-weekly' show with a segment about Movie Maker 2.
Movie Maker 2 - Do Amazing Things (with its online companion on
by Microsoft Press
Movie Maker 2 - Zero to Hero - with support on the publisher's forum -
Friends of Ed
MaximumPC's winter 2005 quarterly special... had a 7 page tutorial 'Make a Killer Home Movie with
Maker 2'. The special edition of the video made for it is now
my website as a file download.
Learning VirtualDub - published by
Publishing, it's the first book about VirtualDub software. I wrote the first chapter about downloading
and setting up the software: VirtualDub, VDubMod and AVISynth.
Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 - www.papajohn.org
- the site's 3 goals are: an online companion to the Do Amazing Things book, a detailed tutorial for
PhotoStory 3, and helping you solve Movie Maker 2 problems.
PhotoStory 2 - www.photostory.papajohn.org
- a detailed tutorial about using it. It's not a problem-solving site.
Online Support - Forums and Newsgroups
I'm a regular on many online forums and newsgroups, the key ones being:
Forums are open to all for viewing, but require registration of those who want to
post. Moderators actively participate to ensure the forum discussions move forward and stay on track.
Movie Maker and Photo Story forums at W
indows Movie Makers
Movie Maker 2 forum at
Newsgroups are wide open for all to view and post... moderation is collective by
Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup -
Photo Story 2 newsgroup -
Photo Story 3 newsgroup -
Movie Maker 2/Photo Story newsletter. The annual subscription is $20 and the link to subscribe is
on the main page of my Movie Maker website at:
Topics for upcoming newsletters (always subject to change):
#69 - September 10 - open
#70 - September 17 - open
#71 - September 24 - open
Older newsletters (more than 6 issues ago) are posted by Rob Morris to an
at his WindowsMovieMakers website. Links from website pages to specific newsletters make it easier for
the website viewer to see the content of both while browsing a topic.
Drop an email to suggest a newsletter topic... I can use more requests rather than fewer.
Add-On Transitions and Effects
Maker 2 (TM2) is a utility for the ultimate in making your own personal and custom
transitions for Movie Maker 2. It's a joint product from Patrick Leabo, the programmer, and myself. Version
2 was released a week ago and I'm still working on updating the online tutorial.
routinely beta test the Pixelan
packages and think very highly of their people and products.
ProDAD's Adorage package for Movie Maker 2 provides an additional source of professionally
developed transitions and effects.
your personal information is more of a challenge as hard drives get bigger and the internet more robust.
My personal database has been an ongoing project over many years, and is now available to others.
Info is on the Managing > Personal Database page of my site, and in the database package itself.
It's available free to regular newsletter subscribers... send an email request.
To others it's $10. To order, use the button on the top of the Managing > Personal Database page.
An online gallery that fully aligns with the main goal of the website is the
'PapaJohn Expert Zone'
Check it at Neptune
and the Distributing > Neptune page of the website, where there's a developing tutorial about how to
use the service.
in conjunction with the Portage, Michigan library, I offer two free training sessions
about Movie Maker, an intro session and a workshop. The upcoming scheduled sessions are:
Monday - September 19 - 6-7:30 - Intro to Movie Maker
Monday - October 10 - 6-7:30 - Workshop
Other fee-based services
you can't save a movie because your project has become too complex, e-mail a copy and
I'll divide it into manageable sub-projects, and provide detailed instructions about how to render the
parts and assemble them into your final movie. $49.95 (no cost if it's not the right solution or doesn't
work) - for details, see the sidebar on the Problem Solving > Can't Save a Movie page of
Movie Maker 2/Photo Story training and support services start at $50 per hour - send
an email - PapaJohn@CharterMi.net
and I'll help you determine your needs, and work with you to plan and implement them.
Wedding combo website/video packages - starting at $2,500 + travel expenses. See
or the bottom branch of the Movie Maker 2 website for a sample of what you can expect for the online
portion of the package.
Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other
About John 'PapaJohn' Buechler from Microsoft.com
||John "PapaJohn" Buechler, of Kalamazoo, Mich., goes by PapaJohn online.
An avid user of Movie Maker since its first release, and a regular supporter
of the community of Movie Maker users, John received a 2003 MVP award
from Microsoft for that support. In March 2003, he started a comprehensive
website about Movie Maker 2 at
He maintains the website, writes books and articles, teaches, and provides
support services - all for the community of Movie Maker 2 users. An engineer
by formal education, John is a computer database and multimedia expert
by business and personal experience. He co-authored the first book about
Movie Maker 2 and is actively working on a second one. You can find his
advice in the
Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup and in the Windows
Movie Makers Forums.
newsletter is republished with permission of John "PapaJohn" Buechler.
Please note that this is an archive of newsletters and some information
may become outdated. PapaJohn, and the webmaster of this site, provides this
information "AS IS" with no warranties.
Visit - PapaJohn's Movie Maker 2 and Photo
Story 2 Newsletter Index