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PapaJohn's Newsletter #97

Tags in DVD Files

Movie files can be of most any video size, as measured in pixels. There are some standard sizes, and then there's the ability to make and use a custom profile for others.

A DVD needs to be made of standard formatted and sized movies. MPEG-2 is the format, and one of the standard sizes for NTSC TV systems is 720x480 pixels. For this newsletter I made 4 discs, 2 in the new Vista Windows DVD Maker and 2 in MyDVD8 on my Windows XP laptop. Each disc has 9 movies.

All 36 of the movies are of the standard size of 720x480 pixels....

... but 12 of them were made from files of lower visual quality than standard DVDs. Another 12 are from files on a par with DVD quality. And the remaining 12 were made from the High Definition movie options in Vista's Movie Maker.

... and somehow each with 720x480 pixels can look different when played... why? It has to do with some tags in the files that tell the players how to display the movie, and how the players interpret those tags. 

The tags are things that I'm still trying to understand. You don't add them directly, and you don't know what they say, and there isn't a utility that will let you read them.

This issue won't have a definitive conclusion.  All I hope to share is an awareness of the tags and how important they are to what you see when watching your DVDs.

DV-AVI PropertiesHere's an example of tags in action. One DV-AVI file saved from a widescreen Movie Maker project, and another DV-AVI file from a standard aspect ratio project. 

Looking at the properties of each in WMP10, see what the player is getting from the tags. It's saying the widescreen movie has an actual aspect ratio of 4:3 but it'll display it at a widescreen 16:9.

And the standard one has an aspect ratio of 4:3.

720x480 isn't 4:3 or 16:9... it's someplace in the middle. if you check the math, it takes 640x480 to be 4:3 and 852x480 to be 16:9. The tags are telling the player to squeeze the pixels in a bit to show the standard file at 4:3, and stretch them out as needed to show the widescreen one appropriately. If the player does it right, the movies will look as you want.

... before getting into it further, here's a couple notes...


The Vista Corner... I've been busy this week with Vista's Movie Maker and Windows DVD Maker. In addition to this newsletter, the Setup Movie Maker > Vista Preview > DVD Maker page of my website is pretty well fleshed out with new screen shots and more info.

I added 1/2 GB of RAM to my Vista system, doubling the RAM to 1 GB... the max for the system. It runs peppier, as expected.

A project file in Vista has the same .MSWMM extension that we're familiar with... but if you try to open it in MM2, you'll get

Error Message

... but all the movies and discs made in Vista work in XP... that's more important.

.... back to the main topic...

Making and Viewing DVDs

I imported some standard and widescreen camcorder footage into my Vista system, and made two sets of 1 minute test movies... one set at the standard 4:3 aspect ratio, and another at widescreen 16:9.

Publishing OptionsEach set has 9 files, the same project file rendered to each of Movie Maker's built-in publishing choices.

The standard set was used as the input files for a standard DVD, and the widescreen set for a widescreen disc.

That gave me some files to play with... to compare file sizes, quality, playback in various players, etc. What were the tags saying and how were the players interpreting them? 

The 9 publishing choices in Vista's Movie Maker are a good mix... with standard DVD quality right in the middle.

  • 3 less than DVD quality (Portable Device, Low Bandwidth, and VHS

  • 3 standard or aligned with DVD quality (DV-AVI, DVD Quality, and DVD Widescreen)

  • 3 higher than standard DVD quality (HD 720p, HD 1080, and HD 1080 VC-1)

Positive Side Note: as low-end a system that I'm using for Vista, and as much as it's pre-beta, the captures never drop frames, and I've yet to make a coaster instead of a DVD that plays well.

Standard Set

All of the MPEG-2 files on the discs have video sizes of 720x480, but they play differently. Rather than using words to explain the similarities and differences, I did a lot of picture-taking so you could see for yourself.

Here are 1/4 size snapshots of the DVDs playing on my Windows XP laptop in InterVideo's WinDVD, which has a neat frame snapshot feature. The pictures at the left are from the standard disc, and those on the right from the widescreen.

9 have black borders at the top/bottom, left/right, or all around... and 9 don't. Some are appropriately shaped to align with 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios, and some are not.

Here are typical frames from each movie, and some comments. The pixel dimensions that I note are the movies as saved by Movie Maker and used as inputs to Windows DVD Maker... not the transcoded MPEG-2 files on the discs, which are all the same size.


Standard << DV-AVI >> Widescreen


The only one of the 9 choices that looks right in both standard or widescreen mode... they display in the appropriate aspect ratio and have no black borders.

On a TV, one would have black borders... InterVideo WinDV on my computer has more than enough room on the screen to play the movies in a changeable window size. Snapshots of them on a TV would be different.

Pixel dimensions of 720x480.


Standard << DVD Quality >> Widescreen


The aspect ratios are correct... but the widescreen mode uses a 4:3 overall size with a letter-boxed widescreen video within it.

Pixel dimensions of 720x480.

  Standard << DVD-Widescreen >> Widescreen  

A DVD widescreen movie doesn't belong in a standard aspect ratio DVD... where it displays as 1:1. And it's just a bit better in a widescreen DVD, showing as 4:3. In neither case is it showing the desired widescreen 16:9. 

Pixel dimensions of 720x480.

  Standard << HD 1080 VC-1 >> Widescreen  

Displays the same as DVD-Widescreen... 1:1 within a 4:4 overall window, with black borders... and 4:3 aspect ratio in a widescreen DVD.

Pixel dimensions of 1440x1080, a 4:3 ratio.

  Standard << HD 1080 >> Widescreen  

Displays the same as HD 1080 VC-1... and both files have the same pixel dimensions of 1440x1080.


Standard << HD 720p >> Widescreen


This one stands out in the crowd... appropriately shaped at 16:9 when in a standard DVD, but with black borders all around. And wider than widescreen when viewed in a widescreen DVD.... measuring 21+:9 instead of 16:9...

Pixel dimensions of 1280x720, a ratio of 16:9.

  Standard << Low Bandwidth >> Widescreen  

Normal looking at both regular aspect ratio and widescreen, but letterboxed in widescreen.

320x240 pixel dimensions, a ratio of 4:3.

  Standard << Portable Device >> Widescreen  

Appropriate for portable players that have a standard 4:3 aspect ratio screen, with the widescreen mode letterboxed to be viewed right.

640x480 pixel dimensions, a ratio of 4:3.

  Standard << VHS Quality >> Widescreen  

The 3rd of 3 lower quality options also views in appropriate aspect ratios, using the letterbox approach for the widescreen DVD option.

640x480 pixel dimensions, a ratio of 4:3.


Let's finish this section with a look at the set of thumbnails for the widescreen DVD. They look the same as the regular aspect ratio set... at 4:3

 Viewing the DVDs with Windows Media Player 10 in Windows XP shows the same results... so it's not the viewer, but the tags in the disc files that account for the differences.

MyDVD Premier 8

For a cross-check... I used the same movie sets of input files to make DVDs with MyDVD Premier 8, running on Windows XP... a standard DVD and a widescreen one.

Here's the results, using the same InterVideo WinDVD app to view the discs and take frame snapshots. The snapshots of the standard disc are at the left, and the widescreen one at the right.

Most noticeable are how much better the High Definition widescreen files are displayed than those on the disc made by Vista's DVD Maker.


Conclusions and Closing

Widescreen and standard mode video starts with your camcorder, flows through the editing phase, then into the saved movies, the transcoding for discs, and then the display by the players. Most of the alignment needed is handled by the software behind the scenes. You'll accept things that look right and perk up when it doesn't, and then wonder why not.

This newsletter is about an increased awareness about the role of the tags in the files, and about how various files can play back differently than you expect.

For me, the standard versus widescreen footage sometimes starts with the camcorder... my Sony TRV-80 mini-DV uses a letterbox approach when recording in widescreen. It's the camcorder I used for the footage in this newsletter. That sets the stage for how the video stream is processed during editing.

My older Hi8 model TRV-615 gives me the option of letterboxing when recording as widescreen, or of using the full recording area of the chip.

DVD making options vary with the software

  • Vista's DVD Maker gives you a choice of 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio for the DVD... its help file says to pick it based on what you or your audience will be watching it on.

  • MyDVD 6.1 doesn't provide an option of making a widescreen versus standard DVD.

  • MyDVD 8 has a project setting option of either 4:3 or 16:9 for the menu aspect ratio. Its help file says like Vista's... make it shaped like the TV screen.

There's more to learn about tags and the effects they have... it's best to test your process with a little pilot file and learn how your systems work... burn a test disc and look at it before doing your big projects... adapt as needed. 

I look forward to comments and discussion about this and other newsletters on the forums at:

Windows Movie

Have a great week...


Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 - www.papajohn .org
Photo Story 2 - www.photostory.

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

theDVShowTheDVShow 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 edge. 

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 was the first 'bi-weekly' show with a segment about Movie Maker 2.

Do Amazing ThingsBooks and Magazines

Movie Maker 2 - Do Amazing Things (with its online companion on www., published 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  on my website as a file download.

The November 2005 edition of Maximum PC had a well done reworked 6 page reprint of the same article, starting on page 42 after the Happy 20th Birthday article for Windows.

Learning VirtualDub - published by Virtual DubPackt Publishing, is 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 -  - 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 - - 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 Windows Movie Makers

Movie Maker 2 forum at

Newsgroups are wide open for all to view and post... moderation is collective by the participants.

Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup - microsoft.public.windowsxp.moviemaker

Photo Story 2 newsgroup -

Photo Story 3 newsgroup -

Weekly Newsletters

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):

#98 - April 8 - open

#99 - April 15 - open

#100 - April 22 - open

Newsletters issued more than 6 weeks ago are posted by Rob Morris to an Archive Site on his Windows Movie Makers' website. Links from my website pages to specific newsletters make it easier for viewers 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

Transition 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.

I've beta tested some of 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.

Personal Database

Managing 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. A tutorial about using it is on the Managing > Personal Database page of my site, and more info is in the database package itself.

It's free for the asking to regular newsletter subscribers... send an email request and I'll return it with the zipped file, which is less than 1 MB.

To others it's $10. To order, use the button on the top of the Managing > Personal Database page.

Online Gallery Neptune Gallery

An online gallery that fully aligns with the main priority of the website is the  'PapaJohn Expert Zone' at neptune.

Check it at N eptune 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, we offer two free training sessions about Movie Maker and Photo Story, an intro session and a workshop.  Scheduled sessions are:

Monday - April 10 - 7-8:30 pm - Workshop

Monday - May 8 - 7-8:30 pm - Intro to Movie Maker and Photo Story

Other fee-based services

If 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 $75 per hour - send an email -  PapaJohn and I'll help you determine your needs, and work with you to plan and implement them.

Wedding combo website/video packages - check the bottom branch of the Movie Maker 2 website for a sample of what you can expect for the online portion of the package.

© 2006 - PapaJohn

Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.


About John 'PapaJohn' Buechler from
John 'PapaJohn' Buechler 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.

This 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



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Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.