Microsoft Staff Caught on Video - The True Story

As you probably know, Mike Hall is a cheery chap who loves to explain Windows CE and Mobile Device related stuff. Better yet, he doesn't mind when we point a video camera at him and film him doing it. In fact, he even writes about these videos, on his blog

Although seemingly a simple premise, getting this video completed and onto Mike's blog was a nightmarish project that turned out to be one of those "valuable learning experience".

Here's what happened behind the scenes.

After creating out Meet the MEDUA team video, it seemed a good idea to turn our talents (ahem) towards doing something useful. So we decided to film someone talking about Visual Studio and Platform Builder and explaining a few things. That's where Mike came in. Then we decided that we needed to capture the screen of the computer his was using, and get all fancy and intermix the two video streams. (Camtasia is a great application that captures the screen).

Here's where things started to go wrong. For various reasons, I use several Apple computers at home, and I dearly love Apple's Final Cut editing suite. I know it pretty well, and it just rocks. I've cut some short movies with it, and when I'm not writing docs, or doing other work related things, or getting my behind-kicked at Halo 2 on XBox Live, I love to play with it.

So I thought I would edit the Mike and his computer movie with Final Cut. Unfortunately, Final Cut is designed first and foremost for working with Digital Video, which doesn't support the 800 by 600 resolution of the Camtasia screen grabs. Shrinking the screen grabs down to digital video resolution make them look.. nasty. That wasn't going to work.

However, I happen to have recently updated to Final Cut Express HD - which is an updated version that works with High Defination video. One of the video formats supported by Final Cut Express HD is a non-interlaced 1280 by 720, which is larger than 800 by 600. My thinking went like this: load int he 800 by 600 video, zoom it up to fill the screen, edit it, and export it and shrink it back to 800 by 600.

So that's what I did. When it was edited, I exported it in a lossless format, shrinking it back to 800 by 600. That was fine. Except of course that on my Mac it took about 4 fours to do that. Still, it worked. Then I could load it into QuickTime, and export it using a plug-in that converted it into Windows Media Format. Again, it worked, but took another two hours.

After watching the first version, we needed to make changes, add titles, remove titles... and very, very soon it all started to get too much, because in order to get the video out the door, I was having to work to midnight, start a render, wake up at 4am, start the exporting - and after a week of this, I was getting a little tetchy.

Thank God for Pete Grondal.

"Dude", he said, and he does say dude, "Why aren't you using Adobe Premier on your PC?"

"I don't have Premier, and anyway, would it make a difference?" I replied, acting like a smart alec.

"Dude", he said, "Premier edits in ANY resolution you like. Including 800 by 600."

Sigh. This is the information that would have saved me a week of sleepness nights (the like of which I haven't known since my daughter was two years old). No extra exporting or encoding. No having to go to CompUSA on a Saturday night for a 300Gb hard drive to store the uncompressed footage. No extra plug-ins for QuickTime. No 4 to 8 hour turn-around on a simple edit.

So, moving forward, I'm happy to say we're using Premier to edit our videos, and I'm keeping my Mac and Final Cut for helping with my movie career. I still like Final Cut, but as any good workman knows, you got to have the right tools for the job in hand.