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Author Topic: Sharing Slideshows Cross-Platform  (Read 8025 times)
Lin Evans
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« on: April 05, 2006, 12:01:58 PM »
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First thanks to Michael for creating this venue and for maintaining an excellent site where information is freely exchanged in a friendly atmosphere!

O.K., this doesn't fit into the "Video" forum correctly nor apparently into other present forums either... so since it's of widespread interest I thought I would share some of my present experiments in using Flash 8 to create web presentation slide shows which bridge the MacIntosh and PC world.
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Making photo slideshows and getting them on the web with some semblance of quality has been an ongoing issue for photographers. We are always evaluating ways of producing slideshows so that both our MacIntosh and PC clients can view them.

Presently there are a number of decent slideshow presentation softwares available for the PC (PicturesToExe, ProShow Gold, ProShow Producer, Vegas Video, Media@Show, etc.) and a few for the Mac. Regardless of platform, the  issue whether one has a Mac or a PC is how to create a cross-platform presentation. DVD creation has been one solution, but still not perfect because it's difficult to create a single DVD which will play on both pal and ntsc systems and on all Mac or PC's because of various hardware (+R/-R, etc.). Also the file sizes make it very difficult to port these to the web for download. For small slideshows without Ken Burns Effects (pan, zoom, scroll, rotate) posting an AVI will work but the viewer often gets tired of waiting for the "connecting"  message to go away after the entire show is downloaded and play finally begins. For larger slideshows and shows with video (Ken Burns Effects) the file sizes are simply unmanageable. Executable files will play on the PC but not on a Mac unless the Mac owner is running PC emulation and that's not always a viable solution either and Mac generated slideshows won't run directly on a PC.

This leaves html, QuickTime, Java, and Flash as the most viable cross-platform candidates. Of course there are things like Microsoft's PowerPoint which can make slideshows on both platforms and exported with a player so they can be viewed on either platform, but PowerPoint has numerous limitations which dedicated slideshow software on either platform doesn't have and is less than a desirable solution for most of us outside business presentations. Java has not proven to be either easy to implement or particularly user-friendly and html doesn't allow video type movement so no Ken Burns Effects, etc. QuickTime files are very large so we have begun to experiment with Flash as the most viable alternative.

There are several iterations of Flash out there and the nice thing is that regardless of the software or platform used by the photographer to actually create their slideshow, almost all of these programs can create either an mpg or AVI video output file. There are a number of programs which can be used to convert these files to Flash movies.

There are two basic versions of a Flash movie, SWF and FLV. SWF flash has some limitations which makes it less useful for slideshows, especially for slideshows with Ken Burns Effects (pan/scroll, zoom, rotate). SWF Flash is absolutely limited to 16,000 frames per instance. This means that a slideshow with about 30 frames per second can be no longer than about a bit less than 9 minutes. There are ways to string separate SWF movies together and get around this limitation but if the slideshow has synchronized music, the synchronization won't hold up much longer than a couple of minutes. So the logical candidate is Flash FLV.

FLV Flash is essentially a progressive download which very closely simulates server side streaming except the file is actually streamed from the client's computer. The FLV file is temporarily downloaded to a temp folder on the client side computer and streaming play begins almost immediately so the viewer doesn't have to wait for the entire file to download before seeing the slideshow begin.

There are several companies producing software which can convert AVI/MPG files to FLV Flash. Perhaps the least expensive is Riva Producer Lite (about $30 U.S.D) which does a very nice job. The downside of Riva is that it uses older Flash versions which must be played at higher bitrates to get decent quality. This can be problematic especially for Mac users. For whatever reason, web play of Flash on a Mac isn't as efficient as on a PC so that jerky movement and stop/start issues are more likely with a Mac and Flash movie especially if the bitrate is high and the client resources are marginal.

Fortunately there is a very nice new Flash version 8 which uses the VP-6 codec and produces very small, highly compressed files which still have excellent image quality. The down side is that most client systems do not as yet have Flash 8 installed. This means that Flash Detection software needs to be resident to determine whether the client needs to install or upgrade their present Flash version. The Macromedia default software to accomplish this is not, in my opinion, a very user-friendly creature. Someone who is conversant with java and html really needs to modify this so it makes more sense to the unsophisticated user.

Unfortunately, I don't have either the skills or "energy" necessary to "fix" the Macromedia pop-up so am forced to use is as is. Finally, getting to my issue here, I have created a demo slideshow (nothing special - just a few images) with some Ken Burns Effects, background music and stills to test the Flash 8 suitability for photographer's slideshow cross-platform presentation. The slideshow was output from ProShow Gold as a large MPG then converted to Flash FLV via On2 Technologies Flix Pro software.

Anyone willing to play this and report back from a Mac or PC, your input would be greatly appreciated. If you don't already have Flash 8, the cryptic pop-up should provide a link you can click on to download and install the free Flash 8 player. The slideshow runs about 5 minutes 52 seconds and has a "preload" of 10% meaning the first 10% of the file will download before play begins. The first image of a piece of jewelry has some jerky movement from the body of the "bear" to the head which was present in the original MPG from ProShow. Otherwise it should be fairly smooth with minor jerky movement during fast zooms, etc.

Some flicker will be present on stills with fine detail which pulse with the key frame set to about every three seconds - this is mostly unavoidable. I would appreciate any feedback on overall suitability as seen on your PC/Mac.

http://www.lin-evans.net/flixtest/flixpopup.html

Best regards,

Lin
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Lin
francois
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« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2006, 01:49:09 AM »
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Lin,
I tried it on my Mac and everything seems fine. Initially there's a bit of stutter ( at about 1/2 of the "bear" part). I played your slideshow in Safari and in FireFox with no discernible difference. So Flash looks like a viable solution and you can even produce a cellphone/PDA compatible slideshow (using Flash Lite) for geeks...

Edit: the stutter I mentioned comes from the way Flash loads the slideshow or movie. I've monitored my network activity and it looks like the movie is downloaded quickly. The issue happens at the moment the download is finished. At that time, I guess that a cache file is written to disk. I'd stress that it's not a real problem and 99.99% of the users won't take notice.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2006, 03:16:57 AM by francois » Logged

Francois
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« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2006, 05:26:36 PM »
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Quote
Lin,
I tried it on my Mac and everything seems fine. Initially there's a bit of stutter ( at about 1/2 of the "bear" part). I played your slideshow in Safari and in FireFox with no discernible difference. So Flash looks like a viable solution and you can even produce a cellphone/PDA compatible slideshow (using Flash Lite) for geeks...

Edit: the stutter I mentioned comes from the way Flash loads the slideshow or movie. I've monitored my network activity and it looks like the movie is downloaded quickly. The issue happens at the moment the download is finished. At that time, I guess that a cache file is written to disk. I'd stress that it's not a real problem and 99.99% of the users won't take notice.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=61993\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Thanks Francois for the test drive. It could be that I need to increase the 10% preload a bit for some systems. The preload buffers 10% of the slideshow before spooling begins, but depending on local resources and broadband speed it could need to be higher.

The FLV file is actually cached to the client hard disk - on Windows it's in a "tmp" folder and I'm not certain how that works on a Mac. So once the file has been completely written to disk, clicking on it again within a reasonable time frame (before the cached file is flushed) usually results in the movie instantly starting.

It's not a "perfect" solution, but the huge compression and file size reduction over the 255 meg original is worth the small inconvenience and slight loss of image fidelity I think. Maybe with the new Macintosh ability to run the Windows OS, there will be a tremendous amount of new software available to Mac users including some of the really great slideshow programs for Windows such a Vegas Video, ProShow Gold/Producer, PicturesToExe, Media@Show, etc.  Already Ulead has ported over one of their presentation slideshow programs to the Mac OS so maybe Flash will provide a viable means of sharing for the older Mac systems.

Best regards,

Lin
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Lin Evans
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« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2006, 01:20:23 PM »
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Quote
Lin,
I tried it on my Mac and everything seems fine. Initially there's a bit of stutter ( at about 1/2 of the "bear" part). I played your slideshow in Safari and in FireFox with no discernible difference. So Flash looks like a viable solution and you can even produce a cellphone/PDA compatible slideshow (using Flash Lite) for geeks...

Edit: the stutter I mentioned comes from the way Flash loads the slideshow or movie. I've monitored my network activity and it looks like the movie is downloaded quickly. The issue happens at the moment the download is finished. At that time, I guess that a cache file is written to disk. I'd stress that it's not a real problem and 99.99% of the users won't take notice.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Hi Francois,

I put up another quick slideshow (with only one slide - LOL) but used a 15% buffer. If you get a chance let me know if this stops the "stutter".

[a href=\"http://www.lin-evans.net/angel/apop.html]http://www.lin-evans.net/angel/apop.html[/url]

Best regards,

Lin
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francois
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« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2006, 02:59:30 AM »
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Hi Lin,
I tried you new one-slide slideshow on different machines and it's much better. In fact, it's very smooth.
I must add that I've redone the tests with your first slideshow and it plays smoothly too. I've emptied cache files and restarted my Macs between tests.

Perhaps, my network load was very high when I did the initial test.

Anyway, Flash looks like a viable option to deliver cross-plateform slideshows  

Have a good day!
Francois
« Last Edit: April 10, 2006, 02:59:44 AM by francois » Logged

Francois
Lin Evans
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« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2006, 08:05:57 AM »
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Hi Lin,
I tried you new one-slide slideshow on different machines and it's much better. In fact, it's very smooth.
I must add that I've redone the tests with your first slideshow and it plays smoothly too. I've emptied cache files and restarted my Macs between tests.

Perhaps, my network load was very high when I did the initial test.

Anyway, Flash looks like a viable option to deliver cross-plateform slideshows   

Have a good day!
Francois
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=62259\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Thanks very much Francois, that's been a great help. We don't have too many clients with MacIntosh, but it's good to know that the Flash 8 with preload does indeed work for them.

Best regards,

Lin
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Lin
nagbin
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« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2006, 06:57:01 AM »
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Tried both your slide shows on PC with 1500 connection. Looks good. very smooth.

My wife is a photographer and i'm in IT. Looking for best way to show pics. We use SlideShowPro http://www.slideshowpro.net/ for galleries and basic slideshows but are looking for best way to do slidshows using transitions and especially Ken Burns effect.

What you suggest is best idea I've come across.

I've downloaded ProShow Director and Flix. I have only basic Flash exp. Will I need something else to do the actual streaming of the FLV?
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Lin Evans
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« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2006, 08:58:30 AM »
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Tried both your slide shows on PC with 1500 connection. Looks good. very smooth.

My wife is a photographer and i'm in IT. Looking for best way to show pics. We use SlideShowPro http://www.slideshowpro.net/ for galleries and basic slideshows but are looking for best way to do slidshows using transitions and especially Ken Burns effect.

What you suggest is best idea I've come across.

I've downloaded ProShow Director and Flix. I have only basic Flash exp. Will I need something else to do the actual streaming of the FLV?
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

No all you need is Flix Standard. It outputs the player, allows you to set preload (amount download before show starts), creates the html code, and is actually everything you need.

I would suggest you seriously have a look at PicturesToExe (P2E). The beta of version 5 does some of the very best Ken Burns Effects of "any" presentation slideshow software available at any price. Unlike ProShow (Gold, Producer), Vegas Video, etc., P2E renders at the size you feed it. If you give it 1024x768 it renders the effects at this resolution. If you feed it 2268x1512 it renders at that resolution. Virtually all the rest render at 720x576 and if the display calls for greater screen display size then they interpolate from that point.

Because the rest of the presentation slideshow people aimed their product at the DVD market, they didn't need high resolution (525 line interlaced scan NTSC television). But the new high definition television and even Windows Vista (the next operating system) can and do allow high resolution images so with a 720x576 resolution starting point you easily see the lower quality. P2E developers wisely looked at the future when they designed and built their new graphical engine. It rocks!

The best part is that you can purchase it for $24 (don't let the low price fool you into thinking it's low power - it's not). When version 5 is released the price will go up but their policy is free upgrades for life and if you buy it now you can upgrade to the release version 5.0 free as well as all subsequent releases.

Here's a link to a little demo I put together using beta 1. This took about 15 minutes. Pay close attention to the yellow airplane as it flies across the clouds. Notice that the transparency changes to mimic the effects of clouds between the observer and aircraft. Watch the little green biplane as it disappears into the clouds and flies out of sight behind the marmot. When it comes out the transparency changes first to semi opaque as obscured by clouds then opaque then semi opaque as it speeds up and flies off the screen.

Notice the 3D effect on the text on the second page as it passes both behind the first mountain goat kid and in front of the second one. Notice the apparent depth or distance between the two lines of text as they cross each other traveling in opposite directions. Watch the "propeller" effect of the spinning text as it moves between the two goats, travels up and changes both speed of spin and direction of rotation. Watch it return and "affix" itself to the tail of the first goat and change size and speed of spin as it once again reverses direction and gradually diminishes size and finally dissolves away. The watch the forward goat ghost away while the camera zooms in on the second goat. Finally "The End" text fades in transparently and becomes more and more opaque as the main image darkens. Finally the text scrolls up and off the screen and the show loops.

These are effects easily done with the beta 5 version of P2E which is still quite limited vis a vis the real release. Try doing this with the competition! Producer "can" do it, but not easily. Gold can't do it at all and you would have to be a video engineer to figure out how to make Vegas Video (all $1200 of it) do it. I have all these products and I'm really impressed at how easily I was able to make P2E do things which are totally perplexing for other programs.

Here's a link to my demo (12 meg zipped executable):

[a href=\"http://www.lin-evans.net/p2e/hidebehind.zip]http://www.lin-evans.net/p2e/hidebehind.zip[/url]

Here's a link to the P2E website:

http://www.wnsoft.com

Go to the Forums and read carefully the PicturesToExe threads. There are numerous samples being done by other forum members, some of which will blow your socks off. This is going to be one great program!

You can download the beta to play with from the Forum (not from the main download page) and join the group and offer suggestions. The development team in Russia are fantastic people (Igor Kokarev who addresses the forum as "Admin"), Aleksey Elin and Pavel Koshkin. The are very responsive to suggestions from users and quickly fix any bugs. The support from knowledgeable forum members is fantastic.

Best regards,

Lin
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