Thursday, January 31, 2008

Learning more than I wanted to starting out....

So, this attempt to create a video to show how to build in SL is turning out to be quite an adventure in collateral learning. Not only did I have to learn about machinima making, and ways of tweaking the SL interface to improve the way the machinima looks, and short-cut keys for such things as camera movement and removing the user interface, but I'm also learning all about the various options for uploading and storing videos, video formats (wmv, mov, avi), the relative trade-off of size and quality, and streaming options. And, to make things even more interesting, my computer has been crashing regularly.

At first, the crashes only happened when I tried to do certain things in Windows Media Encoder--namely, access a "session setting wizard" that included video capture (as opposed to screen capture, which worked fine). And this crashed only Windows Media Encoder itself, not the whole computer. I eventually learned to avoid clicking on certain options in Windows Media Encoder to avoid these inevitable program crashes.

And, I pretty successfully used Windows Media Encoder to create a WMV video that does more or less what I want it to do, although it doesn't run especially well from Lots of hiccups and "blips"so to speak. Plus, the large version of that file (over 350 MB) was not successfully converted to Flash format, I guess because the size was too much for the converter to handle. When I used Media Encoder to convert the file to a smaller format, i lost the hiccups and blips, and got a Flash version, but the text is not legible.

I got excited when I discovered that a company called Netro Media ( was offering a FREE streaming account (for people whose streaming needs were less than 500 MB per month). I quickly signed up for it, mentioning in my sign-up form that I was interested in streaming into Second Life. I received the Netro account information, and got excited about testing a stream into SL later that day. However, a few minutes later, I got a phone call from a Netro representative, informing me that the FREE streaming account was only for streaming WMV files (not Quicktime), and that I couldn't use it to stream into Second Life. When I emailed back, the representative said the company would offer me a free trial (24 hours), but that I needed to create a Quicktime file, and use a program called Wirecast 3 from to send it to Netro Media for streaming. (Quicktime Broadcaster is only available on the Mac.)

But then I found another way to inevitably crash my computer. And these crashes weren't just the program itself, but the whole computer. I downloaded and installed the trial version of Wirecast 3, but when I ran it, it brought my computer (poof) to a black screen, and reboot. This always happened at the same point: when the startup screen said "initializing video system." I downloaded the file again, and reinstalled it, just to make sure, and yep, the computer went down at the same point.

I began to suspect that maybe there was something wrong with my computer, since both Wirecast 3 and Windows Media Encoder were crashing my computer. I figured maybe there was something wrong with my a/v capture card, which is an ATI Radeon 1550. I went to the ATI site (and discovered that ATI and AMD are the same company...who knew) and downloaded the latest version of the drivers and Catalyst Control Center for my video card.

An aside.....WHY does the "Catalyst Control Center" for ATI cards include THIS welcome screen:

What's with the cute redhead, and WHAT is with the ANGLE of this shot? I guess ATI knows who their primary market is.... :-)

Well anyway, moving on....

While installing this ATI driver package, the system just stopped responding while installing something called the "WDM drivers." WDM, I learned, stands for "Windows Driver Model" ["is a series of drivers used to enable the capture and TV tuner features on VIVO boards" I found a technical suggestion from someone who had also had their system hang up on WDM installation that you could install the card drivers and Catalyst Control Center separately, then reboot the machine, and then install just the WDM drivers. With this advice, I got the current version of the drivers installed, and working.

Unfortunately, cute redhead aside, this didn't solve any of my problems. Windows Media Encoder and Wirecast 3 were still crashing, as they had done before.

Meanwhile, since I couldn't get Wirecast 3 to work, I figured I might as well try to convert my WMV file to a Quicktime file, and then upload it to Blip.TV as a Quicktime "Fast Start" (or "progressive download") file, so at least I could show it in SL to some of my colleagues, and ask them if they thought it was worth continuing to work on this project. I tried to load the movie into Adobe Premier, figuring maybe Premier would let me export the movie in Quicktime format. However, Adobe Premier also crashed my computer, shortly after loading my WMV. (I never got to whether it could export as Quicktime.) I was getting tired of rebooting my computer.

(Another aside....not nearly as visually interesting as the Catalyst Control Center, but every time I rebooted my computer, Zone Alarm, my free Firewall, would keep reinitializing, like three or four times...I finally went into MSCONFIG and realized that "zlclient" was in the "services" tab twice; once I deleted one of those, and rebooted, I seem to have solved THAT problem.)

So I looked around on the 'net for something that would convert a WMV to a Quicktime file. If you have a Mac, and have Quicktime Pro, you can get a plug-in to convert from WMV to Quicktime, but I don't have a Mac. (For the record, I have a Gateway 840GM, which has proved totally reliable and a workhorse for the last 18 months, until this latest series of crashes.) I eventually found a program called E O Video (catchy name), from that professes to be able to convert WMV files to Quicktime files. But, LO AND BEHOLD, when I tried to load the WMV file into E O Video, IT CRASHED MY COMPUTER!!!! This, despite having upgraded the drivers for my ATI card.

(BTW, I was able to run E O Video on my work desktop, which is a four-year old Dell, but it was still in the early stages of PASS 2 when I finished teaching last night, so I just left it running.)

I was beginning to think that I should give up on the SL video experiment, and just prepare for my upcoming ELVEN workshop ( in a more traditional manner (using screenshots, as I did for teaching SL snapshots). However, I am the type of person (if you haven't figure that out already!) that can't relax if I can't figure out what's going wrong with a technical process. I literally can't sleep when I can't get a new piece of hardware or software to work effectively on my computer. And here, I had at least FOUR programs crashing with some predictability: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Premier, Wirecast 3, and E O Video. There had to be a systematic problem that would solve all of these problems. So, I did a little more poking around.

I went to the Gateway web site to see if there was a diagnostic tool that I could run. Nope. I went to the ATI site to see if there was a diagnostic tool I could run. Nope. I searched for "ati driver problem" and "Windows Media Encoder crash" and "a/v capture troubleshooting." FINALLY, while reading a techical forum about ati 1550 troubleshooting, I ran across someone who had switched from using an nVidia card to an ATI card, and ran into problems with the nVidia drivers still being installed on the system after the cards had been switched. I vaguely recalled recently seeing an nVidia applet on my system's control panel. Yep, there it was! I wondered if maybe the problem was that my system was experiencing a conflict between the vestigal nVidia drivers and the ATI card. (I switched from the Gateway's Intel on-board video to an nVidia-based Verto GeForce 7900GS back in January of 2007 when I couldn't run SL very well with the on-board video; three months later, that card burned up, so I bought the ATI card.)

(As another aside, PNY gave me a TOTAL RUNAROUND on getting an "RMA" for getting a replacement Verto GeForce 7900GS card, which is STILL sitting here on my desk, soon to go out of warranty......I'm still seething at PNY for THAT slap in the face....)

So I searched Google for "nVidia removal" and found the suggestion from someone that "If you are still having problems you might try Driver Cleaner . Just follow instructions in the readme file." So I went to that URL, and it returned "page not found". So I searched Google for "Driver Cleaner," and found and saw that it was $9.95. Not a bad price, but "free" even better. I wondered if I could just remove the nVidia drivers from my system using the Control Panel and "Add/Remove Programs...." So I tried that, and it worked!!!! I rebooted the machine and, Voila! no nVidia applet in the Control Panel. And, was it my imagination, or....was the system working more quickly...with more responsive video....??? It seemed as if a sludginess I hadn't noticed before was listed. So......

I held my breath, fired up E O Video, loaded in my WMV file played the video, unlike the last time! Then, I set E O Video to work converting the file into MPEG 1 (which I assume is an MOV file...), and it's chugging along quite merrily doing that conversion as we speak!!!

So, I am quite tempted to fire up Windows Media Encoder and Wirecast 3 to see if those programs will run okay now, but I don't want to crash my computer in the middle of this E O Video conversion (which will probably take another hour), so I think I'll go do something else for a while (maybe something non-computer related, like make dinner), and come back later to test those out and, if everything goes well, to upload my new Quicktime version of "Dewey Builds A Couch" to Blip.TV and try to view it from within SL. Wish me luck!!!

(/me waves at everyone, including the Catalyst Control Center redhead, looking at me over her shoulder as I walk away....)

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