Encoding Windows Media Files for FREE from a Mac (with some help!)

Windows Media Player is a reality that no one can get around if you’re distributing videos over the web.  Short of using web-based video applications like YouTube for true cross-platform playback you need to at least encode in .mp4 and .wmv.  Using both formats ensures that most people will be able to view your video as you wanted it to be encoded.

The problem?  I’m on a Mac.  I could purchase Telestream’s Flip4Mac products, but I’d rather not pay any money if I can avoid it.  Plus, to do HD files you’ve got to spend $179.  But luckily, I found a workaround that does involve using a PC – but it doesn’t cost any money.  All you need is bootcamp, or a virtualization program (VMware, Parallels, etc.)

Basic workflow:

  • Edit footage in Final Cut Pro using ProRes422 or ProRes 422(LT).
  • Go into Compressor and encode a MPEG-2 Program Stream with multiplexed MPEG-1/Layer 2 Audio as a program stream. Here’s the droplet I’ve used.
    • After I posted this I found this solution that uses .avi files using Apple Photo-JPEG and Uncompressed audio.  The advantage here being quicker encoding, the disadvantage being the resulting file size is huge.  But ultimately would be higher quality than the MPEG-2 solution since JPEG has a lower compression ratio than MPEG-2.
  • Here’s the settings.  In addition I had my bitrate set to 30 Mbps with a Max of 35 with stream usage set to Generic.
    • Screen shot 2009-09-30 at 10.15.54 PM
    • If you don’t have Compressor you may be able to use FFMPEG or if you have it, an old version if VisualHub to encode into MPEG-2.
    • I did learn that at least in my trials the audio had to be MPEG-1/2 audio, AC3 streams did not encode properly into WMV.
  • Switching platforms… download and install Windows Media Encoder, available free from Microsoft.
  • Here’s the catch: you must have some sort of MPEG-2 decoder installed for this to work.  If you have a DVD playing application installed.  In my case I’m using Nero to do this part.
  • Inside of Windows Media Encoder you can encode at any resolution or frame rate you’d wish (for the most part).  A few hints
    • In my case, I had to make sure all my videos had the audio and video tracks beginning at the same time.  The first few files I tried had the audio starting much later than the video and it causes significant sync issues.
    • Mixing standard definition video with Windows Media Audio 10 didn’t work well for whatever reason.  I went back down to Windows Media Audio 9.2 and had no trouble creating standard definition video.
    • As I said earlier, .mpg files that had AC3 audio in them would not encode properly – I just got silence

    It’s a little cumbersome for sure, but if you have the right tools laying around you can save some money and still satisfy the many Windows users who don’t have QuickTime.

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    1. October 1, 2009 at 6:34 am
    2. October 31, 2011 at 12:27 am

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