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Posted by Mark Hine at 12:10PM   |  Add a comment
MS Expression

Microsoft Expression, now in its fourth iteration, is a video encoder that provides long sought after functionality - converting video files to the .wmv format and MP-4.   Expression addresses the fact that many video resources do not 'play nicely' on Windows machines. Previously, you could use Windows Media Encoder 9 with a select list of input formats.  The advantage of Expression Encoder becomes clear when we examine the compatible input formats: .m2v, .mod, .vob, .ts, .wmv, .mov, .mp4, .mts, .3g2, .3gp, .avi, .avs, .mpg and a few esoteric others. An MPEG-2 decoder is required for some of the above, which will most likely be available if you have a software DVD player installed on your Windows machine.

Output File Formats include: .wmv, .mp-4, IIS Smooth Streaming and Silverlight. It is important to note that Expression uses the VC-1 CODEC, which is not compatible with PowerPoint through Office 2007.

Expression's interface is intuitive and reminiscent of Adobe Premiere's media encoder module. There are a series of presets making trans-coding straightforward. In my tests, I trans-coded a 402 MB .mov file (about 12 minutes long) to .wmv using the VC-1 Advanced preset. The resulting file took about two minutes to encode and resulted in a .wmv that was about 13MB. The quality was a bit fuzzy using the constant bit rate single pass option. I could probably improve quality by using a two pass, variable bit rate preset. 

Expression Encoder, ostensibly, is meant to augment Windows Media Encoder 9's capabilities, which, while limited, are great for creating .wmv files. As mentioned, Expression-exported video will not work in PowerPoint 2007, so WM Encoder 9 is still an option. You can export esoteric video formats through Expression than again through WM Encoder 9 to create files that will play in a PowerPoint presentation. Use the highest quality setting in Expression as you will, in essence, be encoding the video twice.

The addition of the numerous input formats places Expression Encoder on the top shelf of encoding and trans-coding tools on the PC. Microsoft's Expression Encoder is available as part of a suite of tools for creating content in addition to converting it. The suite, which comes in several flavors of functionality, is somewhat expensive for the casual user. The encoder, however, can be downloaded as a stand-alone utility at no charge. There are some important prerequisites: Expression requires Service Pack 3 for XP. It also requires the latest .NET framework, .NET 4 to be installed. 

Another option is Silverlight, Microsoft's answer to Flash. Silverlight presentations are normally destined for the web but can be played back on the desktop for presentation purposes.

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