MS Video for Windows

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, May 14, 1993

$199 (US) list (also available bundled with many video capture
boards and similar products)

320 Matheson Blvd. W.
Mississauga, Ontario
L5R 3R1

Way back in the prehistoric days of personal computing (i.e. before
Windows 3.0's 1990 debut), Micografx, the makers of DESIGNER graphics
software for Windows (yes, Virginia, there WAS Windows prior to
version 3) labeled an ad for their product "The Cure for Mac Envy".

While DESIGNER was, and still is, a good product, Mac Envy has
continued among PC and Windows users. Sure we can come up with a
bunch of good-sounding reasons why we chose out computers, but
admit, there's at least a tiny bit of defensiveness in the
conversation, now, isn't there?

A lot of good, graphically oriented software has come out for
PCs, including most of the powerhouse DTP stuff that was once the
Mac's strength. PC users now can talk 24-bit colour with those other
guys. At the same time, however, the Mac is a moving target; its
always getting new capabilities.

Recently, Apple released the QuickTime extensions to its System 7
operating system. This gave MacIntosh users a standardized way to
work with digital video. Something Windows didn't have.

But while in the past, it seemed to take about 2 years for anything
good on the Mac to make it onto the PC platform, now that lead time
has shrunk to less than a year.

Move over QuickTime. Microsoft Video for Windows (VFW) has come to town.
VFW permits Windows users to run audio-video-interlaced (AVI) files.
These run digital, full motion movies on-screen, in VGA modes
ranging from 16 colours to full 24-bit colour.

With appropriate hardware add-ons, in particular, a video capture
board, users can get video clips from their TV cable, from a VCR, or
from a video camera. Using VFW, these can be captured and edited,
and stored as AVI files.

These files can be played as presentations, or inserted as icons in
any document that accepts OLE (Windows 3.1 Object Linking and
Embedding) objects. While this sounds forbidding, it isn't. In most
programs, simply choose INSERT OBJECT from the EDIT menu, and select
MEDIA CLIP. The new MEDIA PLAYER opens up, letting you choose a *.
AVI movie, *.WAV sound, or other playable media file. When you've
chosen the item to insert, you end up with an icon in your document,
with your file's name underneath.

Imagine opening a word processing document, and reading the
instruction: "Click on the icon to see a movie of..." (let your
imagination finish the sentence). Double click, and you see...

Well, it's impressive, but maybe not as impressive as we'd all like.
You get a small window, typically 1/16th of your screen (160x120
pixels). A movie plays at 15 frames per second (1/2 standard video
speed, and hence a little jerky). If you have a sound card, there's
reasonable sound, otherwise, sorry, too bad.

By the way, if you want to see how all this looks, you can get the
runtime Video for Windows player without buying the full package.
Microsoft will sell you the runtime, along with several sample
movies for $16.95 (call Customer Service at 1-800-563-9048). Or
download it from Microsoft's BBS for the price of a long distance
call to Toronto (1-416-507-3022 ). It's a 400k download without any
sample movies. (You may find it for free on some local BBS's).

But be prepared. Movie file sizes
are big. That's one of the reason the screen size is small, and it's
at half the frames of 'real' video ... try to help
keep the overhead down. And the more colours and better audio
quality you select, the bigger your file is going to be.

As an example, a 160x120 pixel sized movie, with 8-bit (256)
colours, and 8-bit (low fidelity) mono sound would require 23 meg
per minute, before compression. Realistic 24-bit colour would
increasethat. 16-bit CD-quality sound, particularly in stereo would
enlarge it again.

Luckily, these files can be compressed. The amount of compression
varies with the subject matter... films with a static background and
little movement compress the best-- the infamous 'talking head'.
Still, file sizes of a couple of megs for a minute or so of movie
are to be expected. You won't get CASABLANCA on your hard drive
anytime soon.

While you can get the ability to play back ready made AVI movies for
free, if you want to create your own, you'll need the full Video for
Windows package. On its own, there's not much you can do with the
software. It does, however, come with a CD-ROM disk with about 200
sample movies covering a wide range of subjects. 18 animal clips. 10
of the environment. 9 black and white cowboy flicks. Family, kids,
space, cartoons, sports, and more. You get Betty Boop and Bill
Gates. (Yes, Bill Gates himself, in a video called "Cool"). You need
the CD-ROM format as the 200 sample movies take 4-500 meg of space.

If you install the full VFW package from the floppy disks, you get a
series of small applications copied to your hard disk. They are:

-- VidCap. This is the video capture player. Using it requires a
video capture board. These have recently come down in price to, in
some cases, under $500, and mostly come bundled with a copy of the
full Video for Windows software package. This is used to capture a '
raw', uncompressed video file from a source such as your TV cable,
VCR, or camcorder. You set your basic colour depth, quality of
audio, and frame rate. With 8-bit (256 colour) video, you can choose
your colour palette, permitting you to maximize flecsh-tone quality,
for example, or minimize disruption of other applications' palettes.

-- VidEdit. This lets you compress your raw (remember 23 meg per
minute?) file. As well, you can do some basic cut-and-paste editing.
It lacks the power of full-scale editing software, but it's not bad
for a start.

-- Media Player. This lets you play AVI movies, WAV sounds, and even
standard audio CD's if you've got as CD-ROM drive.

-- Media Browser. This lets you choose from groups of movies, by the
film's title, description, and a smaple frame.

-- BitEdit. This is a not-so-basic frame editor. It's everything
that Windows PaintBrush isn't... it can open a wide range of file
types, supports a 256-colour palette, includes an eye-dropper tool
to select colours right from the picture. It's not Adobe PhotoShop
by any means (it's also only 140k), but it's a powerful little
bitmap editor. I like it a lot.

-- PalEdit. Edit palettes-- which 256 colours do you want in that 8-
bit movie?

-- WaveEdit. More power for editing sound files than the
Sound Recorder included with Windows 3.1.

-- QuickTime converter-- this is a real MacIntosh disk for
converting Mac QuickTime movies to VFW AVI format. Then get them
onto your PC to use with Video for Windows (you can use Apple File
Exchange, for example, to copy them onto a PC-formatted disk, right
on your Mac). (By the way, Apple is about to release QuickTime for
Windows, but this is reported to only let you play QuickTime movies,
not create them on a PC).

Put all these together with some appropriate add-in hardware, and
you've got yourself a Video for Windows studio... all digital, on
your computer.

But is it something you need now? A couple of years ago, Intel's
Andy Groves gave a speech at Comdex on future trends for personal
computing. In it, he demonstrated a near-future scenario
where one of his employees solved a mythical problem at Intel's
Irish factory. In his E-mail message, the employee inserted a
tutorial video that he copied from Intel's library, and then
embedded a quick and dirty video clip of himself, showing how to
install the new part. This let the factory resume production, and
keep the multi-million dollar contract.

Once, this would have meant flying the expert from California to
Ireland, at a cost of dollars, and most important, time. In the
demonstration, it all happened overnight. Saved by embedded video.

Well, your uses may not be quite so dramatic. In fact, right now,
you may be wondering if you'd have a use for this at all. (Get the
runtime version and play with it for a while).
Video on your computer is hampered by the limitations of our current
computers. File storage limitations keep movies under about 3
minutyes. The small window on screen, the 15 frame-per-second
flicker, and occassional drift between the picture and the sound can
be annoying.

Despite all this, I suspect that we're seeing the very beginning of a technology that will play a larger role in the future. Video for Windows can help you get started with it
right now.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from MS Video fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan