Converting AVI files

Posted on Wednesday 23 January 2008

Well here we were off on a wonderful weeks vacation, with our lap under arm looking forward to a week of snow, catching up on some great books, watching movies and the finale of a great series that we had been watching called “Tenko”.

Tenko is a 3 year mini series (10 episodes per year) focused on the British women who were interred in Malaysia by the Japanese during World War II. The reason you may not have ever heard of it is because it was produced in the 1980’s and from what my research showed me, it was only available on DVD in PAL format which is incompatible in North America.

We were loaned a copy of the series from a friend who had recorded them on disk in a compressed AVI format, or Audio Video Interleave, which played quite well in our DVD player which had the capability to play AVI and DivX, content.

It is an amazing and insightful series and we only had the last disk left when we left on holiday. I seemed to have always been able to review and playback AVI files on my main computer and since we had at least Since I have been able to watch various AVI files on my main computer and since I had at least three different DVD players as well as media players on our laptop I “assumed” that everthing would work fine – that’s right – I didn’t test it before we left… which lucky for you – leads to this article.

When at home our laptop has access to all the great tools and utilities that I have acquired over the year and as a result whenever I need something I just connect to the main computers archive, transfer, install, use then remove or leave on the laptop as required. When we are on the road, the laptop has Wi-Fi (Wireless Internet Capability) and dial up connectivity which can be used as needed. So we “should have” been okay.

So, late in the evening, after watching the latest news and drama on the US Presidential Primaries, we settled down to watch our final episodes of Tenko. We first tried the DVD player supplied with the condo – no such luck it didn’t have any bells or whistles on it (like mine at home.) No problem I pop the disk into the laptop, a smaller screen, but hey we can watch it close up! No problem!

Well, first I tried the “default” tool, Windows Media Player, it lists AVI as one of the file formats that it plays but… It pops up a little message saying that it can’t “verify” the publishing source and only plays the audio but no video which suffice to say – wasn’t good! Next we tried Dell’s media suite (video tools and players that came with the laptop) but NOPE it doesn’t play AVI, neither does Real Player nor any of the DVD players that were already installed.

I then tried Apple’s Quicktime both directly and through Firefox. It popped up a message as well, not quite as condescending as Microsoft’s and more importantly it offered a possible solution:

“Some necessary Quicktime software is missing. It may be available on the Quicktime website. If you have a connection to the Internet, make sure it is active, then click the continue button to check for the software.”

At this point we hadn’t tried to see if we had any Wi-Fi. The Network card kept saying it was there, but for whatever reason it didn’t seem to want to connect to the portal (the wireless Internet) and the ISP’s (Internet Service Provider or HotSpot) website was very confusing and not very helpful. So I went with my backup, I subscribe to a dial-up (using the phone line) provider, MyTravelAccess, who gives me world-wide access through both local and toll free numbers anywhere in the world, for less than a penny a minute.They are very affordable and simple to use and I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a good global dial-up Internet provider. Unfortunately, that night, the phone line wasn’t working!

At that point my wife said “I’m sure you’ll figure it out and get things working” and I started searching and scrounging for what ever tools I might still have on the laptop that could play these files.

I found one program that Microsoft now includes with Windows, “Windows Movie Maker”, it is designed to take various movie and/or video clips and burn them onto a DVD for later viewing and it loaded the AVI files without any problem. While I didn’t have any blank DVD’s to burn to, but it did have a little window with which one could preview the video file loaded. Unfortunately it didn’t give a smooth playback in the window and was quite choppy. At this point my wife wished me luck and went to bed…

I had another great little video tool, Any Video Converter, which unfortunately didn’t preview the video but it did convert it in almost real time. I had used it to convert some really old movie footage that I had digitized and was able to convert to MP4 for a historical website that a compatriot was putting together. It worked extremely well and dramatically shrunk the size (both in viewable window size and actual file size.) I figured if all else fails I will just convert our unwatched AVI files over night and we will watch a very tiny window the next evening. Suffice to say it has a built in bulk conversion utility as well!

Any Video Converter, as I mentioned, is a great tool for shrinking down extremely large files into smaller ones. Which makes it handy for things like Facebook (an online social network that can show some video)or YouTube (an online video sharing network) and in our case we even use it to shrink down small video clips and attach them to emails for our daughter who is working on-board ship for 6 months. That being said it does a lot, LOT more. It will take literally ANY format of video and convert it to what ever format AND size you would like. One can just go with the defaults (which is nice) but it will also let you manually adjust any of the output settings to whatever you would like it to be.

So, I decided, why convert the AVI to a small window size (ie MP4), I instead converted it to the much better and larger MPEG-2 (a standard size used by Television) and bumped up the resolution (size of the screen) to as large as the original. Even with the higher resolution and quality demands put on Any Video Converter it still seemed to run faster than real time.

I cannot praise Any Video Converter enough, for both it’s ease of use and it’s flexibility in being able to quickly convert any video format to any other type of video format that you might wish. Hey, not only did it let us shrink down videos for email and web pages, but that night it saved my butt! Any Video Converter comes in two flavors, the Freeware version (with a slight nag at the end of conversion for those who would like to upgrade) and the commercial/upgraded version. The upgraded professional version will give you even more flexibility, to rip (copy) videos off of your DVDs as well as capturing online videos (such as YouTube) and Flash (a more modern and Web based video format) presentations and movies.

Everything that I have been able to do with it to date, has been with the “Freeware” version. I’m still not sure what else the commercial version could give me. But it is so well written and performs so well that I have no problem paying for the full package (only $29.95) just to support a great program!

The next day we sat down and watched our last Tenko episodes in full screen, close up. It was wonderful, both the series AND the full screen size and quality of playback in Windows Media Player. Ohh and suffice to say the phone worked the next day too…go figure…

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