Using Windows Media Encoder v9

This document outlines the steps involved in using the Windows Media Encoder to convert an existing *.WAV (audio), *.AVI (video), *.WMA (Windows Media audio), or *.WMV (Windows Media video) file to the current Windows Media 9 format. You are most likely to want to perform such a conversion in circumstances when you  want to post the file to the college's streaming media server, or you want to create a high quality highly compressed media file from a larger, uncompressed source.

The current version of the Windows Media Encoder (version 9) and a host of other useful information, is available as a free download from Microsoft's web site at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/9series/encoder/default.aspx   The download includes the Windows Media File Editor , a useful utility that gets discussed a little later. Click here for documentation on the Windows Media File Editor , and click here for documentation on an older version of the Windows Media Encoder

Using Windows Media Encoder 9

By default, the Windows Media Encoder will open with a New Session dialog, prompting you to inform the Encoder what you would like to do. Among these options, only the Convert a file option is particularly useful. (Although it's possible to capture audio and video directly into the Windows Media format, you are generally better off by performing capture functions in an application that allows a greater range of editing--see our documents on Digital Video and Digital Audio --and then, once the clip is edited and polished, it can be run through the Encoder . Broadcasting a live event almost never makes sense, since the bandwidth requirements are unlikely to yield good results for all potential viewers. Capturing the screen is useful only if you intend to create step-by-step instructions for getting a particular computer operation done, and even then, a series of documented still images often provide a more useful reference to the end-user. What you'll want to do with the Windows Media Encoder is, then, to convert a file. Select Convert a file and then click the OK button.

Windows Media Encoder: New Session Options

Once you've specified that you want to convert a file, you will be greeted by the File Selection options. Here you need to tell the Encoder the location of the file that you'd like to encode, and you'll also have to tell it where you'd like the encoded file to go. If the source file is a video, the output file should have a *.wmv extension (for Windows Media Video); if the source file is audio, the output file should have a *.wma extension * (for Windows Media Audio).

Windows Media Encoder: File Selection Dialog

After you have specified the locations for your files, a click on the Next button will introduce the Content Distribution options. Here, you should consider what it is that you'd like to do with the file.  If you want to make it available to others via the college's Streaming Media Server, you should choose the Windows Media server (streaming) option. If you want to make it available to others as a file on a data DVD or a data CD, you can choose either the File download (computer playback) or the Hardware devices (CD, DVD, portable) option. The biggest difference between these options is that the Windows Media server (streaming) option allows you to create files that are encoded using multiple bit rates--that is, the files will play back on internet connections of varying speeds; the other two options mentioned above use a single bit-rate. You'll find that the File download option gives you the most practical range of encoding options for files that you're going to be using in PowerPoint presentations or for distributions as part of a CD-based project. 

Windows Media Encoder: Content Distribution dialog

If you chose the Windows Media server (streaming) option, a click on the Next button will take you to the Encoding Options screen, on which you can specify that you'd like to use Multiple bit rates for the Audio and for the Video. And you can also specify just which bit rates are going to be included.  Realistically, you cannot use any bit rate higher than 109Kbps if you expect the file to play back on the college's Streaming Media Server, so you may as well put a checkmark beside every lower speed in the Bit rate field, and remove the checkmark beside any higher speed.

Windows Media Encoder: Encoding Options dialog

If you chose one of the other distribution options (either the File download (computer playback) or the Hardware devices (CD, DVD, portable) option), you will find that you are significantly freer from constraints on bit rate, and that your chances for producing a high quality file conversion are much greater. Admittedly, we won't let you put it on your web-site (sorry), and we won't let you put it on the Media Server (sorry), but it's quite practical to put media files onto a CD or incorporate them into PowerPoint presentations, which are free from the bandwidth issues that make network distribution less than ideal. In the illustration below, you can see how, by tripling the media server's maximum bit-rate, you can arrive at VHS quality video and FM quality audio.

Windows Media Encoder: Encoding Options

Once you've set your Encoding Options , you can click on the Next button to advance to the Display Information screen. Minimally, you should include a title (something moderately descriptive), your name as author, a copyright notice (you must be the copyright holder of all parts of any material you distribute), and a brief description. You can add a rating, too, if you'd like--perhaps "Check Plus." 

Once you've entered the requisite information, click the Next button to introduce the final Settings Review screen.  Here you can check to see that your settings are, in fact, as you'd hope they'd be, and you have one last chance to click the Back button before beginning the conversion process.  

Windows Media Encoder: Settings Review dialog

When you click the Finish button, the Windows Media Encoder goes to work, converting your media file to the specifications you laid out. This conversion can take a long time, particularly with long media files and multiple bit rate conversions. You can spend part of that time looking at the interface (a reduced version is illustrated below), but you'll probably want to go off and get a cup of coffee. Bring one back for the IT staffers too.

Illustration of the Windows Media Encoder, encoding

When the encoding process is finished, a message box will pop up, letting you know what's happened.

Windows Media Encoder: Encoding Results

From the Encoding Results dialog, you can begin a new session (New Session... ), view the output file (View Output File ), or return to the main encoder window (Close ). If the converted file is of a quality you can use and a file-size that is manageable, your work with the Windows Media Encoder is finished. 

Tip: At this point, the Windows Media Encoder will have created a compressed Windows Media file from your source file. It is a good idea, if you have the storage space at your disposal, to keep a copy of the source file in its original uncompressed format. That way, if you wish to re-encode the file at some future date, you'll have it on hand. You will always get better results encoding an uncompressed file than you will encoding a file that is already in a compressed format.

From this point, you can test the file into your PowerPoint presentation, or run the Son of MediaFileThingy program to convert the file to a multiple bitrate version and move it to the media server and create HTML files for your website.