Month: May 2020

All’s well that ends with the eradication of glitches.

You’re probably getting sick of hearing about my video-related travails by now, but in the interest of being thorough I’m going to tell you how it all turned out.

When last we met, I’d just finished rendering every segment of a one-hundred-and-fifty-three-minute-long homemade documentary from scratch as a bunch of HD WMV files. After converting them to MP4s, I found there were still moments where the sound stuttered. Even though they were all 1920×1080 files, some segments featured video content that had a different aspect ratio within those dimensions (mainly MiniDV footage and some of the public domain stuff), and HandBrake decided to recognize the aspect ratio of that footage instead of the aspect ratio everything was rendered at. Since the characteristics of the individual files no longer matched, it became impossible to join them together and create one large file.

I took my higher-quality joined-together WMV file and tried re-encoding that as an MP4. I got fourteen glitches for my trouble. They didn’t show up in the same places they appeared in my original file, but they were still there.

I was running out of ideas when I thought of Bob at Unique Video Systems. That guy has been immersed in all things video for decades. If anyone was going to have a fresh take on the situation, it was him.

For the first time, I got someone on the horn who was willing to talk to me for more than ten seconds and prepared to offer advice beyond “just convert your file to an MP4” (which was the whole crux of my problem). He asked me some questions about Vegas, offered some suggestions, and said he knew someone who once taught the program at St. Clair College and might be able to lend some additional insight.

After talking to a guy at a computer place who told me I was wasting my time and I should give up on the whole thing — and this was the response I got when I offered to pay him to help me troubleshoot the problem — it was encouraging to have a conversation that imparted a different message.

One thing Bob suggested was checking to see if Vegas would let me make an AVCHD file. It did. Sort of. A ten-second test clip rendered just fine. Anything much longer than that and the program would crash on me. In a repeat of what happened ten years ago when I was first teaching myself how to use Vegas, I tried MOV files. They looked good but sounded like crap. I tried MPEG files. They sounded good but looked like crap. I didn’t try AVI files. An uncompressed AVI of this thing would have been impossible to work with. The file size would have been ridiculous.

I brought Bob my WMV file and asked if he could take a shot at making an MP4 out of it. Maybe he would have better luck than me. His system rendered an MP4 that was free of audio glitches…and in their place were a whole slew of visual glitches. Better still, the sound drifted way out of sync.

He told me this was a common problem, and the only way around it might be to go back to the timeline and re-edit the whole thing so each piece of video footage was an MP4 at the source. That wouldn’t just entail re-rendering the segments I stitched together to make a larger file. It would involve re-editing every single element I used to edit those segments, rebuilding the whole film from the ground up. If that was what it was going to take to lick this thing, I was prepared to cut my losses and walk around with a scowl on my face for the rest of my life. I’m stubborn, and I don’t like to give up on anything, but after a month of pounding away at this problem and getting nowhere I was ready to move on.

The only idea I had left was to try importing my Vegas files into a newer version of the program in the hope that I would then have access to better MP4 rendering settings. I downloaded a free trial version of Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 17. No way was I going to pay five hundred bucks for the Pro version if I had to buy it, and I thought it would be best to stick with the same lower-tier version I was already working with for maximum compatibility. A pile of other programs came bundled with the free download. When I tried to download the new version of Vegas on its own, the download helper crashed. When I tried to download everything in one go, I’d get all the programs I didn’t have any use for, and then Vegas would fail.

It was starting to look pretty hopeless. I’d tried everything I could think of and I was right back where I started. I couldn’t make an MP4 file at the source that didn’t look like crap, and I couldn’t convert my nice-looking WMV files to MP4s without something going wrong with the sound.

I always use the “Make Movie” menu to render my videos with Vegas. There’s a separate menu called “Render As”. I always assumed it was the same thing given a different name. I took another look at it for something to do. Guess what? Clicking on “Custom…” in the “Render As” menu lets you tweak a bunch of settings you don’t have access to in the “Make Movie” menu.

Now I know why all my MP4 files kept coming out looking like this:

The video bitrate is fixed at well under 2 Mbps even for the MP4 templates that claim to offer better resolution. That’s just mean. I bumped it up to 10 Mbps. The clouds parted. Birds started singing Puccini’s “Turandot”. I pulled it back down to 6 Mbps, which was right around where my HD WMV files were living, and didn’t notice any difference in quality. Then I created my own template tailored to the precise specifications Vimeo lists in their “Video Compression Guidelines”.

In case there’s anyone else out there who’s still using the buggy, maddening mess that is Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9.0, if you’ve ever run into a similar problem these are the parameters that will set you free.

Save as type: Sony AVC (*.mp4; *m2ts; *avc)

Video rendering quality: Best

Video format: AVC
Frame size: High definition (1920×1080)
Profile: High
Entropy coding: CAVLC
Frame rate: 29.970 (NTSC)
Field order: (whatever looks best to you)
Pixel aspect ratio: 1.0000
Bitrate (bps): 6,000,000

Audio format: AAC
Sample rate (Hz): 48,000
Bitrate (bps): 320,000

Format: MP4 file format (.mp4)

This produces an H.264/AAC-compliant MP4 file that will hump the leg of Vimeo, YouTube, or any other video hosting website all day long. No glitches. No re-encoding necessary. You can raise the bitrate as high as you’d like. I set mine at 6 Mbps to keep the file sizes reasonable.

Not that my trouble ended there.

I had to re-render each segment of my video from scratch. Again. Vegas got even testier now that I was making MP4s that didn’t look like hot death. It was almost as if the program wanted to punish me for forcing it to do my bidding. Some of my segments had to be split into two or three even smaller segments in order to get them to render, and even then it was a crapshoot. Sometimes Vegas would crash at an arbitrary stage of the rendering process and I would have to trick it into getting over the hump the second or third time through. Sometimes no amount of trickery did any good. One bit of footage that had never been an issue before now wouldn’t render in black and white. Vegas decided it didn’t like a few of my still images anymore. When I replaced those images with video footage that ate up far more memory and processing power, it was fine. It made no sense.

My final concern was joining all the files together. There were now almost thirty of them, and I had to get creative with where some of the transition points were. Would Avidemux connect all those files so the seams between them didn’t show at all? Would the resulting Frankenstein file upload to Vimeo without incident?

Yes. Oh yes.

So now I have a version of this thing on Vimeo that’s stutter-free. A quick recap of what it took to get here:

  • Tried to edit the film as one unbroken thing but Vegas wouldn’t let me, so I broke it up into sixteen segments
  • Stitched those segments together with Steeper
  • Uploaded my final WMV file to Vimeo and found the sound stuttered in unexpected places
  • Spent the next week or two uploading the file over and over again, even re-editing a few parts to try and eradicate the glitches, only to learn my WMV file was being re-encoded as an MP4 and that was the source of the problem
  • Spent a few days re-rendering every segment of video in MP4 form, which was a complete waste of time because those MP4s came out looking like they were run through a cheese grater
  • Spent a few days re-re-rendering every segment of video as higher quality WMV files with an aim toward converting each individual segment into an MP4 file and then joining them all together
  • HandBrake decided the files had different aspect ratios even though they didn’t, making the joining process impossible
  • Joined my higher-quality WMV files together with Steeper and tried uploading that file to Vimeo in the hope that it wouldn’t suffer from so many glitches (my hope was in vain; the glitches just showed up in different places)
  • Tried making WMV files using different video and audio codecs (again, once they were converted into MP4s the glitches were still there…all they did was move around to keep things interesting)
  • Tried other video formats like MOV and MPEG, with no useful results
  • Tried downloading a newer version of Vegas; the download failed
  • Got someone with more advanced tools to try re-encoding my WMV file as an MP4; the audio stuttering disappeared, but it was replaced with even worse visual glitches
  • Stumbled onto access to a level of customization I didn’t think this scaled-down version of Vegas allowed, which allowed me to make the kind of files Vimeo wanted in the first place
  • Spent a few days re-re-re-rendering everything as MP4s and was forced to break things up into even smaller segments
  • Joined all the smaller files into one large file with Avidemux
  • Uploaded that file to Vimeo
  • Slept for fifteen years

One thing Bob said to me was, “There is a solution. It’s just probably incredibly tedious.” Man, was he ever right. I’ve had my issues with video editing before, but they were nothing compared to this.

I’m stuck halfway between relief and exasperation. This whole thing could have been avoided if this stupid version of Vegas had a single menu for video rendering that allowed the user to adjust all the parameters in one place. But that would have been easy. And as I’ve said before, apparently nothing that has any connection to YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK can be easy.

There was no way to keep my final MP4 file under the 5 GB upload limit imposed by my Vimeo Plus account. I had to upgrade to Vimeo Pro. I’m not thrilled about paying four times the amount it was costing me before to host some videos on a website, but paying Wistia twenty times that amount for the ability to upload no more than ten videos wasn’t gonna fly. I like you, Wistia, but not that much. At least there’s no ceiling on how many videos I can host on Vimeo, so long as I don’t exceed my shiny new 20 GB weekly limit.

In the thick of it all, I figured out just how compromised our internet speed was. I thought things were running slow because my computer was getting older. That wasn’t the problem. This was the problem: we were paying for 25 Mbps, and we were getting 5 Mbps, if that. Our upload speed was about 0.6 Mbps.

That’s…not good. At that speed, uploading my master MP4 file to Vimeo would have taken twenty-four hours. Maybe longer.

Johnny Smith worked his magic and got a Bell tech to come out to the house last week. He upgraded us from our degraded old copper cabling to a new fiber optic setup. Now the upload and download speeds both top 50 Mbps — and that’s using the wireless router. The file that would have taken a whole day to upload took about twenty minutes. Files that used to take half an hour to upload to the WordPress server now take ten seconds. I’m still getting used to the speed difference.

Another good thing to come out of this debacle: my homemade documentary looks a bit better now. It topped out at 480p when I had to work within the limitations of my Vimeo Plus account. Now it goes up to 1080. The MP4 looks a little different from the WMV files I’m used to. It’s sharper, and the colours seem to pop a little more. It took me a day or two to adjust to the change. Now I don’t think I’ll ever make another WMV file. I’ve gone back and replaced most of the videos I’ve uploaded to Vimeo over the years with new and improved MP4 versions, and I’ve done the same with a handful of videos here. The difference in quality is not subtle.

I kind of wish I’d figured all of this out a long time ago. Could have saved myself a whole lot of unnecessary anguish. And I still don’t understand why these specific WMV files gave me so much trouble after a decade of hassle-free uploading. But a happy ending is a happy ending no matter how you happen to get there.

The saga continues.

I guess I owe Vimeo an apology. Come to find out the problem with the video wasn’t their doing after all.

Sorry Vimeo. (Your bedside manner still kind of stinks, though.)

It’s pretty funny to me that the only really human response I was able to get from anyone didn’t come from either of the websites I’ve spent years paying for, but from someone affiliated with a site I’ve never given a dime. A dude named Falcon (is that a great name or what?) told me — again — that my best bet would probably be to re-encode my video as an MP4 file, but he said HandBrake would probably take care of that without any noticeable dip in quality.

He was right. And after converting my WMV file into an MP4, I discovered those same stuttering issues were present in the very same spots they showed up on Vimeo.

I thought if I re-encoded each video segment from scratch on Vegas and made them all MP4s I could just stitch those files together to make one big MP4 file and we’d all live happily ever after. I spent two days doing that, only to learn Vegas is incapable of spitting out a reasonable-looking MP4 file. It doesn’t matter how high you set the resolution. The results are unusable. So that was a complete waste of time.

Then I thought Steeper was the culprit. Maybe when it joined all those smaller WMV files together it created a larger file that wasn’t very agreeable to the MPEG-4 codec. If I used HandBrake to re-encode each individual WMV file and then joined all those MP4s together with a program like Avidemux, I assumed I would have a single glitch-free MP4 ready to upload to Vimeo, or Wistia, or wherever I wanted to put it. So I started re-rendering each segment from scratch again — this time as higher quality WMV files to minimize whatever small amount of degradation the re-encoding stage might introduce. The first time around I rendered everything at 640×480 to keep the file sizes down. This time I opted for a frame rate of 1280×720 and doubled the video and audio quality.

It was going pretty well. The occasional stutter was still showing up even in the smaller individual files after I converted them into MP4s, but there weren’t nearly as many of them, and they were pretty unobtrusive. Just when I thought I’d turned a corner, HandBrake decided a few 1280×720 videos weren’t 1280×720 at all because some of the Mini-DV and public domain footage didn’t satisfy those dimensions. There was no way to work around that, which made fusing those MP4 files together impossible, since their aspect ratios no longer matched.

All this for something only twelve people will ever see.

Back to the drawing board again, then. I thought I found another potential solution in the JWPlayer (those are my initials, for crying out loud!). It sounded like just what I needed. You pay ten bucks a month for a bunch of server space and an embeddable player, and they support WMV files. Beautiful. All I need is to be able to upload this file somewhere that will allow me to connect it with an embeddable player, and if I can somehow bypass the re-encoding stage this stuttering issue will no longer exist.

I did a little more reading and found out they re-encode anything you send them as an MP4. Of course they do. For the low price of $2,400 a year you can pay them for “customized video solutions”, but I’m not willing to go that far.

It doesn’t help that no one will tell me what a timestamp overlap is or how to fix it. The best I’ve been able to get in the way of constructive advice is the very useful information that WMV is a shitty format and I should use something else. IT’S ALMOST AS IF I CAN’T RENDER TO ANY OTHER FORMAT AND I’M STUCK WITH THIS ONE.

I would be happy to pay someone to take my WMV file, perform some technological wizardry, and make it into an MP4 file that isn’t buggy. No one seems to have any interest in offering any serious assistance. So I persist, coming up with one idea after another, and each idea leads nowhere.

If I knew this was going to happen, I would have set Sony Vegas on fire, pissed on its charred remains, bought Final Cut Pro, learned how to use it, and saved myself a whole lot of grief. I’d go ahead and do that now if I thought I could re-edit the whole thing from the ground up and render the results as a nice-looking MP4. But I refuse to believe there isn’t some way to pivot around this. If two pieces of something are overlapping, you should be able to pull them apart so they line up the way they’re supposed to. And if there’s nothing wrong with your original file(s), the re-encoding process shouldn’t be fraught with so much difficulty.

One thing’s for sure — however it plays out, I won’t be working on anything video-related for a good long time after this.