Play Guide

Ultimate Guide to Playing and Transcoding Downloaded Videos

from Maximum PC by Paul Lilly

Downloading video isn't rocket science, but it sure can feel that way sometimes. First, you have to figure out what kind of video it is you're trying to snag from cyberspace. Then there's the question of what to do with it once you've downloaded the clip to your hard drive. And that's assuming you even got that far, fetching Flash-based content isn't as simple as mashing a 'download' button, nor will it play in Windows Media Player. In fact, there's' a good chance the video you downloaded won't play on your portable device, either.

The underlying problem with video playback is there isn't a single universal standard. There are as many file containers as there are handheld digital devices, and don't even get us started on codecs.

Is this all starting to sound foreign to you? Don't worry if it is, on the following the pages we're going to show you the ins and outs of video playback. We'll start with the basics, like explaining what a file container is and why it matters, and then move on to more advanced topics, such as how to convert just about any video clip into a format that's compatible with your mobile device. We'll also show you how to handle subtitles, enable GPU Flash acceleration, and a whole lot more.

Video Terminology 101

You probably already know what DVD stands for, but do you know the difference between transcoding and encoding? Can you define a bitrate? If not, don't even think about skipping this section. Get to know the following terms, because you'll be seeing a lot of them in this guide.

Aspect Ratio: Put simply, this is the ratio of a picture as measured in width by height. The two most common aspect ratios are 4:3 and 16:9 (widescreen).

Bitrate: In nerd speak, this refers to the number of bits that are processed or transferred in a specific unit of time, usually in seconds. One example of a bitrate is the measurement of your internet connection, such as 768kbps. This means your internet connection is theoretically capable of transferring 768 kilobits of data every second. Another example -- one more relevant to this guide -- is an MP3 bitrate. The more bits that are used to represent the audio, or the higher the bitrate, the better the audio quality will be.

Container: You may also see this referred to as the wrapper format, but in either case, a container refers to the file format in which audio, video, and other elements are contained. MOV, for example, is Apple's Quicktime video container, which holds both audio and video data.

Codec: Derived from compressor- decompressor or coder-decoder, a codec is a program that compresses and decompresses specific audio and video data streams. This can also be implemented in hardware, or through both hardware and software. If you play a video file and don't see a picture but can hear sound (or vice versa), it's probably because you're missing the necessary video or audio codec.

Decoder: A decoder is a program that opens up the video file you're trying to play and displays it.

Encode: To create a video file in a specific codec, such as DivX or MPEG-2. An encoder is a program that does the encoding.

Lossless Compression: A method of compressing and recreating the original file without any loss of data.

Lossy Compression: Essentially the opposite of lossless compression, lossy removes data during the compression process. The result is a smaller file, but it may also be of lower quality.

NTSC: Stands for National Television Standards Committee. The NTSC sets TV and video standards in the U.S.

PAL: Stands for Phase Alternating Lines. This is the most prominent TV standard in Europe.

Ripping: Copying audio or video data from one media to another, such as ripping the contents of a DVD onto your hard drive.

Transcoding: Converting an encoded video file into a different one.

Know Your Video Codecs and File Containers

Wouldn't it be great if there was a single video extension that worked on all playback devices at any resolution, no matter which software you installed? Keep dreaming. While we can dream all we want about a universal video extension, the harsh reality is there are oodles of different containers, and no one hardware or software device plays them all. Here are some of the more popular ones you should be familiar with.

Image Credit:  BullBoyKennels


DivX: A popular video compression technology developed by DivX, Inc. DivX is touted for its ability to create and play high quality videos with a relatively low file size (compared to DVD video).

Xvid: Like Coke is to Pepsi or the Joker to Batman, Xvid is the competing video codec to DivX. Note that Xvid is DivX spelled backwards.

FLV: The file format for Flash video streamed over the internet and intended for use with Adobe's Flash Player. YouTube, Google Video, Metacafe, and several other popular streaming video sites use Flash.

H.264/MPEG-4 AVC: A popular video compression standard perhaps best known for its use on Blu- ray discs, as well as high-definition videos from Apple's iTunes Store.

MPEG-1: One of the early compression standards for audio and video. MPEG-1 is used on Video CD, SVCD, and low quality DVDs.

MPEG-2: A much more popular compression technology than MPEG- 1, the MPEG-2 standard supports interlacing and high-definition content.

MPEG-3: Don't mistake MPEG-3 for MP3, because the two are totally different. MPEG-3 was designed with 1080p HDTV signals in mind before it was widely known that MPEG-2 could also handle the higher data rates.

MPEG-4: One of the video formats supported by Apple's iPod.

WMV: Any Windows users should immediately recognize this as the abbreviation for Windows Media Video. The WMV codec is required for PlaysForSure-certified gadgets.


3GP: Used primarily on 3G mobile phones, like the HTC Dream (T- Mobile G1) handset.

MOV: Apple QuickTime file container.

AVI:: Stands for Audio Video Interleave. This container was first introduced by Microsoft. AVI files can hold both audio and video data. An AVI container can use different codecs and formats.

SVCD: Stands for Super Video Compact Disc. This is the format for storing video on CDs. As one might expect, the quality falls short of DVD video.

VOB: Short for Video Object, VOB files contain video, audio, subtitles, and even the menu contents of a DVD.

Believe it or not, these are only the tip of the video iceberg. There are a lot more video file extensions, some of which are not widely used any more (or ever), most of which you can reference here.

Here are our picks for essential video playback software:

VLC Media Player

Windows Media Player might be sufficient for Aunt Mabel, but real power users hardly ever touch the app. If you're serious about watching videos, nothing touches the VLC (VideoLAN Client) media player. This lightweight and versatile app will play just about any file format there is, whether it's an audio or video file. But that's not all it does. VLC will reveal which codec(s) a media file is using, it comes with basic converting capabilities, and you can even use it to set videos as your desktop wallpaper.


Media Player Classic

While not as versatile as VLC, Media Player Classic meshes modern video playback features into a lean app that works well with a variety of file formats, so long as you have the proper codecs. It also plays nicely with FFDShow.


Flash Video Downloader Suite

For anyone who downloads a bunch of Flash videos, this is a must-have application. Flash Video Downloader works with a number of sites, and its interface couldn't be easier. Simply plug in the URL or add multiple URL to the queue and you're in business. It will even check the URL beforehand to make sure it's a compatible link. Then it's just a matter of deciding whether to save the video as a Flash file, or let the program convert it into a different format. Groovy!


QT Lite

We happen to like QuickTime, but not everyone is a fan. Users commonly complain that the software is bloated, and then there are those who just refuse to touch anything related to Apple. If that sounds like you, you're in luck. QT Lite will allow you to play QuickTime files without the hassle of installing Apple's QuickTime Player, and it also supports embedded content.


Real Alternative

Similar in concept to QT Lite, Real Alternative provides all the benefits of the Real Player without the bloated software. It supports all varieties of RealMedia content, and also includes a plugin for IE, Opera, Netscape, and Mozilla.



Next, using and tweaking FFDShow!

Install FFDShow

In general, we don't recommend installing codec packs. Depending on where you find them, they could be laced with malware, or overwrite and muck with your existing codecs, causing all kinds of problems. Instead, we recommend downloading and installing FFDShow from here, which is a DirectShow decoding filter for decompressing DivX, XviD, H.264, FLV1, WMV, MPEG1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 movies. Or in other words, all the major formats you're likely to run into.

You'll notice there are several different versions of FFDShow on the programs download page, including the standard package, and versions compiled with MMX and/or SSE instructions. Most modern processors include support for SSE instructions, but if you're unsure, download and run CPU-Z from here. This popular utility should already be in every power user's virtual toolbox and will reveal all kinds of information about your CPU (and memory), including which instructions it supports.

When installing FFDShow, you're given the option to include a handful of additional plugins, including AviSynth, VirtualDub, and DScaler. If you're never going to use any of these, you can uncheck all of them. Otherwise, check the ones you want.

FFDShow supports a number of video and audio formats, but will decode only those you specify during the Additional Tasks step. With the exception of checking H.264 / AVC, we're going to roll with the default configuration.

The next step asks for your speaker setup, but don't fret if you frequently change between 5.1 and headphones, or plan to upgrade to a 7.1 setup down the line. This can always be changed later.

Advanced FFDShow Configuration Guide

Before going any further, understand that not all media players work with FFDShow. One that does, however, is Media Player Classic, which you can download here.

FFDShow includes a ton of configuration options for audio encoding, video encoding, and VFW (Video For Windows), and it's easy to be overwhelmed. While there's no substitute for experimentation along with a bit of trial and error, here are a few quick and dirty tips to get you started.

Every once in awhile, you may run across an application that just refuses to play nice with FFDShow, whether it's with the audio or video. Should that be the case, you can prevent FFDShow from being used by the stubborn app. In either the Audio or Video Configuration window (or both), click on DirectShow Control in the left-hand column. In the main window, check 'Don't use ffdshow in' if it isn't already, and then mash the Edit button. You'll notice that there are already a bunch of applications listed. To add another app, just press the Add button and navigate to that program's executable.

If there are more than one DirectShow filters configured to decode a specific video or audio format, FFDShow will usually trump the others, at least by default. This isn't necessary a bad thing, but if you want FFDShow to yield to a different filter, you can configure it to do so. With DirectShow Control still selected, adjust the Merit slider to 'Do not use.' Likewise, if FFDShow is taking a back seat to other filters when you think it shouldn't be, you can move the Merit slider up to 'Very High.' And remember, you'll need to configure audio and video separately.

What's awesome about FFDShow is the ability to clean up videos and add effects, and to see them in real time. Not only that, but you can apply various filters and other effects to just the right half of the video, giving you instant feedback and a point of comparison. FFDShow's filters won't work miracles, but they can significantly improve a poorly shot video. For example, if you have a clip that's underexposed or poorly lit, click on Picture Properties in the left-hand pane. At the top of the window. click the 'Only right half" checkbox. Finally, adjust the sliders in the main window. By increasing the luminance gain and gamma correction, you can brighten a dark scene. Play around until you're happy with the results.

FFDShow can also be used for a bit of fun. Want to give your video an old timey look as if you're watching a movie reel? First, navigate back to the Picture Properties section and adjust the Colorize slider all the way to the right. This will result in a black and white video. Next, click on Noise in the left-hand pane. Adjust the 'Vertical lines' slider all the way to the right, and play around with the duration slider. Also experiment with the Dust & Scratches slider. The Shaking slider seals the deal, but be careful not to overdue it, lest you make your audience nauseous!

Detect Missing Codecs

Here's the situation (your parents went away on a week's vacation - just kidding, but kudos if you got the reference). You just spent the better part of the day downloading a (legal) video via BitTorrent, but the stubborn file just won't play right. Maybe you can hear the audio but can't see the video, or vice versa. Assuming the video file is good to begin with, you probably just lack the necessary codec. So what do you do?

If after installing FFDShow you still can't see or hear your video, it's time to do a little detective work. Download AVICodec from here (be sure you're clicking the link to download AVICodec and not AVS Video Converter - here's a direct download link). Alternately, you can download GSpot from here. Either one of these programs will tell you what video and audio codec your media file uses, and whether or not you have it installed. Once you figure out the missing codec, you can hit up the web to download that specific one, rather than play Russian Roulette with a codec pack.

If you insist on installing a codec pack, the only one we can recommend is the Combined Community Codec Pack (CCCP). Incidentally, this also comes with FFDShow bundled in. If you're going to install CCCP, you don't need FFDShow, and the opposite is typically true as well.

Convert x264 MKV Video Files to Mobile Devices

One file type that has been gaining in popularity as of late is MKV, or Matroska Video.The Matroska Multimedia Container is an open standard free container format capable of hodling an unlimited number of video, audio, picture, or subtitle tracks inside a single file, and while that certainly has its advantages, MKV files aren't going to be recognized by your iPhone, iPod touch, or Zune player.

But don't go throwing your media player out with yesterday's garbage. It's pretty easy to convert an MK4 file into an MPEG-4 video file that these and most other portable devices will be able to play without a hitch. Here's what you need to do.

Download and install Handbrake from here. This free, open-source transcoder works on all varieties of Windows from XP on up to Windows 7, and also boasts support for Mac OS X and Linux. It's also incredibly easy to use. When you open up Handbrake, you'll notice a Presets column on the right hand side. If you own an iPhone or iPod, go ahead and select it and the necessary settings will be filled in. You can also use this setting for your Zune, or select the High Profile preset to select a custom width.

To begin transcoding, click on the Source>Video File and locate and open the MKV file. Next, mash the Browse button in the main window to select an output location. Make sure the Container pull down menu is set to MP4 File and press the Start button. Depending on the file size and how powerful your PC is, the actual transcoding can take anywhere from a few short minutes to much, much longer. But once it's finished, you'll be in possession of an MPEG-4 video file compatible on just about any portable media player!

I Have an WMV File - Now What!?

A lot of purchased videos come in the WMV (Windows Media Video) format, including ones recorded from Windows Media Center, but not all WMV files are the same. First let's go over the differences:

ASF: You may run across files with the .asv extension, which stands for Advanced Systems Format (previously Advanced Streaming Format). Microsoft devised ASF as a proprietary digital audio and digital video container format, and it's part of the Windows Media framework. The ASF container most often contains WMA (Windows Media Audio) and WMV file types. Microsoft originally intended for ASF to run over networks like the Internet. It's also worth mentioning that while the WMV codecs don't contain any DRM, the ASF container can.

WMV7 and WMV8: Don't let the number scheme fool you. While it seems natural to assume that WMV7 is the seventh iteration of the WMV, it's actually the first. WMV started off as a proprietary, low bitrate codec, although it's widely believed that WMV7 was built upon Microsoft's own non-standard version of MPEG-4 part 2. WMV8 offered a higher bitrate than WMV7, but it too was proprietary.

WMV9: In 2003, Microsoft released WMV9, the third (and current) version of the codec. No longer proprietary, the new codec introduced native support for interlaced video, non-square pixels, and frame interpolation.

WMV-HD: This is basically Microsoft's marketing name for high-definition content encoded using WMV9 codecs.

PlaysForSure: Any online stores or devices bearing the PlaysForSure certification must be compatible with the WMV codec. Other requirements also apply, such as DRM support, compatibility with Windows Media Player, synchronization performance, and more.

Transcode WMV to MP4

There are few different ways you can convert a WMV file into a more manageable MP4 file for installing on all sorts of digital devices. You can follow our previous instructions for using Handbrake (preferred), or if you use the popular VLC Media Player, then another easy method is to use the program's built-in conversion tool.

First, open up the WMV file you want to convert. Next, click on Convert / Save... or press CTRL+R. In the pop-up window that appears, mash the Add button and select the WMV video. Once you've selected the video, press the Convert / Save button.

In the next pop-up window that appears, press the Browse button to select a new destination and input a file name. Be sure to give your new file the proper extension, which in this case would be .mp4. If you don't do this, you'll end up with the .ps file extension by default. In the Profile pull-down menu, select MPEG-4 + AAC (MP4) and click Save. If you receive an error message, you'll need to back up a step and in the first pop-up window, click the Capture Device tab and change the Capture mode to Desktop.

Wrangling Subtitles

Before we dive into how to manipulate subtitles, it's important to familiarize yourself with the different types of subtitles you're likely to run into, as well as some of the nomenclature.

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Hard: Also known as open subtitles, hard subs describe text that is merged right into the original video frames and can't be undone. The advantage to using hard subs is that it doesn't require any special equipment or playback software. The biggest drawback is that viewers can never turn them off.

Soft: Also known as closed subtitles, softsubs differ from hard subs in that these are separate, specially marked up text. Unlike hard subs, softsubs requires player support. The main advantages to softsubs are that they can be turned off and they can be edited.

SubRip (.srt): Strictly a text-based subtitle, SRT subtitles are also one of the most popular text-based formats. SRT subtitles are widely supported by both a variety of players and subtitle creation programs.

SubStation Alpha (.ssa): Another text- based subtitle format, SSAs have been around a long time and are particularly popular in the anime community.

Advanced SubStation Alpha (.ass): Stop giggling at the file extension, there's nothing dirty about ASS subtitles (okay, you can giggle a little bit). As the name implies, these are a bit more advanced than standard SSA subtitles and are able to produce anything from simple texts to manual graphic editing, like what's used in karaoke.

SAMI (.smi): Short for Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange, SAMI subtitles were Microsoft's first attempt to create a captioning format for PC video files. SAMI is natively supported by Microsoft video players (WMP included), and are usually embedded in an ASF container.

Downloading Pre-Made Subtitles

There are a few different resources for downloading subtitles for everything from anime to movies, and everything in between. Some of these include:

How to Package Subtitles into MKV Files

To embed subtitles into MKV files without first converting the video to a mobile friendly format (such as MP4), download and install MKVToolnix, which you can grab from here

Click on the Add button and select your MKV video. Now click on the Add button a second time, but this time locate and select your subtitle file. Click on Browse to choose an output location and filename, then click on Start muxing.

Because you're not encoding and simply adding subtitles, the process doesn't take very long, even on slower systems. When it's finished, open up your video file and you should now see your subtitles.

Fix Syncing Issues, Edit Subtitles, and Create Your Own Text

Sometimes you'll run into subtitles that don't quite sync up correctly with the video you're watching. Even if the syncing is off just a couple of seconds, it can ruin the entire experience at worst, and at best, it will be a constant annoyance throughout the length of the film. Here's how you can fix a misaligned subtitle.

Downloand and install Aegisub from here. There are other programs that do the same thing, but we like Aegisub for its robust support, snappy performance, and intuitive interface. Once you have Aegisub up and running, open up the out-of-sync video file by clicking on Video>Open Video. Aegisub will display the video in the top half of the window and the subtitles in the bottom.

If the entire movie is out of sync, all you need to do is click on Timing>Shift Timing (or mash CTRL+1) and tell Aegisub to shift the subtitles in either direction. For example, if the subtitles start playing 3 seconds too soon, enter 0:03:00.00 in the Time field and select the Forward radio button and click OK. Also note that in addition to 'All rows,' you also have the option of shifting 'Selected rows' and 'Selection onward,' as well as whether to adjust both the start and end times, or one or the other only.

To fix a single subtitle that's out of whack, simply highlight the selection and then direct your attention to the top-right. You'll notice a start field and end field, both of which can be edited. Adjust the time so that you have the subtitle where you want it, then press the Commit button. You can also edit subtitles this way - just edit the text after you highlight the selection and press Commit when you're finished.

Creating your own subtitles is just as easy, albeit more time consuming. However, the effort won't be in vain if you have a knack for humor and decide to write your own script for a foreign film or anime. To create subtitles, open up a video as you did before, then click on Files>New Subtitles. Adjust the slider to any point in the movie you want to add text. Start typing in the text box, edit the start and end time, and press Commit. When you're finished, click on File>Save Subtitles.

Convert Soft Subtitles to Hard Subtitles

There's a good chance your mobile media player doesn't support soft subtitles, so to get around this, you'll need to convert them to hard subtitles, which are integrated right into the video itself. Here's how.

Download and install the 32-bit version of VirtualDub from here, even if you have a 64-bit system. Why? Because the 64-bit version does not support 32-bit codecs, which we're going to need. And don't worry, the 32-bit version of VirtualDub will work without a hitch on a 64-bit platform.

Next, download the VirtualDub Subtitler Plug-in from here and unpack the subtitler.vdf file to the same location as your video file. Open up VirtualDub and navigate to Video>Filters, or press CTRL+F. In the pop-up window that appears, click on Add>Load and select the subtitler.vdf file and click OK twice.

We don't want to say 'told you so,' but if you see the above error message, it means you ignored our previous step and downloaded the 64-bit version of VirtualDub anyway. Trust us, it just isn't going to work.

Before proceeding, we need to convert the subtitles to .ssa so that VirtualDub can read them. We can do this with DivXLand Media Subtitler, which you can dowload from here. Fire up the program, open up the .srt file, and save it as a SubStation Alpha file.

Now go back into VirtualDub and open up your video (File>Open Video). Next, navigate to Video>Filters and double-click on the filter you added earlier. Click the ... button in the Sub Station Alpha field, select the .ssa file you just converted, and click OK twice.

Finally, click on File>Save as AVI and sit back while VirtualDub works on your video.

Split Large AVI Files with VirtualDub

Maybe you're trying to transfer a ginormous video file from one PC to another that's not connected on a LAN. Or maybe you're trying to back up your movie to multiple CDs or even a USB stick without sacrificing any video quality. Whatever the reason might be, it's pretty simple to split oversized AVI files into multiple chunks, each one playable on its own. Here's how.

You'll need to download and unpack VirtualDub, which you can snag from here. Once up and running, click on File>Open video file and locate your AVI file.

Next, click on Video and select Direct stream copy. This will prevent VirtualDub from re-encoding the entire video, which can take a long time and have a negative impact on quality. Also be sure that Direct stream copy is selected from the Audio menu (it should already be selected by default).

To splice your video in half, take note of numbers running along the bottom, particularly the one all the way to the right. These numbers represent how many frames are in your video, and in our example, there are 7953 frames. To cut our video in half, we'll need to splice it at approximately the 3976 mark. To do this, make sure the slider is all the way on the left-hand side. Click the Set selection start button, as indicated by the arrow above. Next, move the slider to the frame where you want the video to end and click the Set selection end button (directly to the right of the button you just pressed). The slider selection should not be blue.

With your selection in place, go to File>Save as AVI and name your file something like "BirthdayVideo_Part1." Once VirtualDub finishes, repeat the above steps for the second half of your video.

All About Audio

Video playback isn't just about visuals, it's also about the audio. And if you're not an audiophile, this is where things can get a little confusing. Let's go over some common topics.

Mono vs Stereo vs 5.1/7.1

Stereo sound is often used to describe 2-channel audio. Each channel is independent from the other, unlike mono sound, in which audio is pushed through a single channel through two or more speakers. By utilizing two independent audio signals, it becomes possible to recreate the aural perspective and localization of instruments on a stage, whereas that wouldn't be possible with mono.

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When you start talking about surround sound, that's where 5.1 audio comes in. This consists of five channels of sound (left, center, right, left surround, and right surround) and one channel for LFE (Low frequency effects), typically handled by a subwoofer. The benefit of this over Stereo or Mono is that you're in the middle of the action. When properly utilized, you would, for example, be able to hear footsteps creeping behind you and hear bullets whizzing by.

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As you might have guessed, 7.1 surround sound adds two more audio channels to the mix -- and two more speakers to your home theater setup -- as it splits the surround and rear channel audio into four channels. In this type of setup, you would have two surround speakers ideally placed on each side of you and slightly behind, and two more rear surround speakers placed behind you at an angle.


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You've probably seen DVDs and home theater equipment boasting DTS playback, but what exactly is DTS? It technically stands for Digital Theater Systems, but is used to describe the competing surround sound codec to Dolby Digital. DTS offers up to 5.1 channels of audio. On the technical side, DTS uses a maximum bitrate of 1.5Mbps, which requires less compression and can theoretically product higher quality audio.

Dolby Digital

The competing audio format to DTS, Dolby Digital (DD), otherwise known as AC- 3, is arguably the most popular digital format. Like DTS, DD utilizes lossy data reduction algorithms. The difference is, DTS offers a higher bitrate, but that doesn't necessarily mean DTS sounds better (this is actually a point of heated debate). Dolby contends that its encoding method is more efficient than DTS, and therefore the bitrate doesn't need to be as high. Both standards work on the principal of removing information that is inaudible or otherwise won't be missed.

Like DTS, there are many forms of Dolby Digital, including EX, Surround EX, Live, Plus, and TrueHD.

Fun Fact: On film, Dolby Digital uses the space between the sprocket holes to encode information.

Multiple Language Tracks

The reason some videos allow you to choose between English, French, Spanish, and other languages is because they include multiple language tracks. A language track is a separate stream from the surround sound effects, and is also how additional commentary -- usually by the director -- is thrown in.

Tap Into Your GPU to Accelerate Flash

It used to be that the only reason to invest in a powerful graphics card was either for gaming or CAD use. That's no longer the case, and GPUs are now used for everything from distributed computing (like Stanford's Folding@Home project) to high-definition video playback.

Starting with Adobe's upcoming Flash 10.1, you can also use your GPU to decode H.264 encoded Flash video. And if you're willing to roll with the pre-release version, you don't even have to wait. Here's what you need to do to enable GPU-Flash acceleration.

We've had success jumping straight to Flash 10.1, but Adobe recommends first uninstalling your current Flash plugin. Do this by clicking Start>Control Panel>Uninstall a program.

Next, download and install the Flash Player 10.1 Prerelease package from here. To turn GPU acceleration on, start playing a Flash video in your browser. Right-click the browser window, select Settings, click the very first tab, and check the 'Enable hardware acceleration.'

If it's not working the way you expected, or if you don't see option to enable hardware acceleration, it's possible your GPU isn't supported. For a list of all compatible GPUs, reference page 3 of the Release Notes.

Extract Embedded Flash Videos and View Them on Your PC

Wouldn't it be great if YouTube, Metacafe, and every other Flash video site included download buttons so you could easily snag your favorite clips and store them on your hard drive? Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Not to worry though, there are a handful of programs and services out there capable of pulling Flash content so you can view them with or without an internet connection.

One of the easiest ways is to head over to Once there, just copy and paste the Flash video URL into the text box and mash the Download button. Within seconds, you'll be given a download link to nab the online video. Another service you can try if FlashBee isn't working is

What isn't so easy is actually playing the Flash video once you've saved it to your hard drive. Windows Media Player doesn't recognize the .flv file format, nor do most third-party video players. For an easy, free solution, download and install FLV Player, which you can grab from here.* If you chose to associate .flv files with FLV Player, you can then just double-click and they'll begin to play. Otherwise, open up FLP Player and select an .flv clip, or drag and drop the clip right into the player.

The above method will suit you fine, but if you're willing to open up your wallet, SnagIt ($50, will capture Flash video and anything else on your screen, and convert it to an AVI file. Snagit is essentially an enhanced screen capture program, but to record video, click on the 'Record screen video' icon and mash the oversized 'Capture' button at the bottom. When you're finished recording, press Print Screen on your keyboard.

Protip: Pay attention to the installation Wizard - FLV Players tries to sneak in installation of the Yahoo Toolbar, which is enabled by default.

Become a YouTube Jedi

You already know how to use YouTube, but have you mastered all the nuances of the video streaming site? Here's a collection of tips that will take your YouTube-fu to a brand new level.

Skip the Fluff and Link Directly to a Point of Interest

It's bad etiquette to send your co-workers a 13 minute video for one hilarious 12 second scene somewhere in the middle. Most won't even bother watching the clip, and the ones that do will be ticked that you had the gonads to send such a long video with such a short payoff. Rather than risk ridicule and being ostracized at the office, why don't you link your recipients directly to the point of interest? You can do that by appending #t=XXmYYs, where the XX represents the minutes mark and the YY represents the seconds mark. So if you wanted to link directly to Larry Bird's highlights in this YouTube clip of the Top 10 NBA Basketball Players of All Time, which occurs at the 1 minute and 32 second mark, you would change the URL from v=OGF9q600cFc to v=OGF9q600cFc#t=01m32s.

Embed a Portion of a Video

Somewhat related to the tip above, you can embed a video starting from any point in the clip you want. If, for example, you wish the embedded to begin at the 45 second mark, simply append &start=45.

Quickly Save any YouTube Video

Want to download that awesome YouTube video in MP4 or FLV format? Maybe you just want the MP3, or perhaps you need the video in 3GP format. You can snag YouTube clips in all of these formats, plus a handful of others, all without memorizing a bunch of different sites or worry about converting videos. All you have to do is change 'youtube' to 'kickyoutube' in the URL and take note of the download options at the top of the screen.

Get Around International Restrictions

Every once in awhile, you may stumble upon a video you're unable to watch because of your geographical location. One way around this is to muck around with proxies, but an easier solution is to change the URL from v=VIDEO to

Test New YouTube Technologies

Getting bored with YouTube's standard fare of features? Take a trip over to the video service site's TestTube portal, which the site describes as its "ideas incubator." You'll find a bunch of partially baked technologies in need of testers and user feedback, and you'll get the jump on upcoming features before everyone else!

Create MP3s from Videos

Videos aren't just about the visuals, and every once in awhile you'll run into a clip with awesome audio. Wouldn't it be great if you could rip the audio from the video clip and save it as an MP3? Sure it would, and we're going to show you how.

When it comes to YouTube videos, the easiest way to do this is to let others do the heavy lifting for you. There are several services out there that will pull the audio from any YouTube clip, leaving you a single click away from downloading the resulting MP3 file. And best of all, it's free. One of our favorites is In addition to YouTube, Video2MP3 also supports MyVideo, Clipfish, Sevenload, Dailymotion, and even MySpace. There's also an option to pull audio from a YouTube HQ stream.

To extract the audio stream from a video on your hard drive and convert it to an MP3, you're going to need the help of a third-party program, and for that, we like the one-two combo of Audacity with the LAME MP3 encoder. First, download and install Audacity from here. Be advised that we've had better luck with the latest beta release (1.3.10) on Windows 7 in 64-bit flavor.

Once installed, open up Audacity and navigate to File>Preferences. Click the Download button next to 'LAME MP3 Library' and download/install the LAME MP3 encoder. When it's finished, click on the Locate button next to 'MP3 Library'.' Assuming you didn't change the directory when installing the LAME encoder, Audacity should find the location on its own. If not, click the browse button and locate it yourself.

Next, mash the Download button next to 'FFmpeg Library' and download/install the FFmpeg installer. Click the Locate button next to 'FFmpeg Library.' A pop-up window will probably appear saying "Audacity has automatically detected valid FFmpeg libraries. Do you still want to locate them manually?" If it does, click No. If it doesn't, browse to where you installed FFmpeg for Audacity.

Audacity is not prepped and primed to do its thing. Click on File>Open and locate the video for which you want to extract the audio stream. Audacity will open just the audio portion, at which point you can edit the audio if you wish (like deleting the intro narrative, or splicing a song from the middle of the video).

When you're left with just the audio you want, click on File>Export. In the Save as type pull-down menu, select MP3 Files. By default, Audacity will rip the audio using a 128 kbps bitrate. If you want a higher (or lower) quality rip, click the Options button and select the desired bitrate in the Quality pull-down menu. When you're finished, click OK>Save. Fill in any applicable Metadata in the pop-up window that appears, then click OK and sit back while Audacity rips your audio!

Convert Videos to Play on a Wii

Just because the novelty of the motion sensor Wii remote has worn off doesn't mean you need to toss the Wii console into the recycle bin. Overhyped control scheme or not, there are still some must-play titles being churned out, and in addition to gaming, you can play videos through your Wii as well.

One of the easiest ways to do this is with Wii Video 9, a free video conversion utility designed specifically for converting movies to the Wii. The program's home page smacks you in the face with a couple of ads, but if you can look past this annoyance, it's a pretty handy program for Wii owners to keep in their arsenal. Download Wii Video 9 from here.

Before getting started, we also need to download and install AviSynth, which is a scripting language that essentially acts as a non-linear video editor controlled through scripting. You can download AviSynth from here.

Open up Wii Video 9 and then click the Settings button on the top of the screen and then navigate to the Encoding tab. You'll notice several different options in the Profile pull-down menu. For the highest quality video, select MJPEG 2048kbps Stero/192kbps AviSynth

Next, navigate over to the Converter tab. Choose an Output Directory, or if you want to save the movie directly to your SD/SDHC card, select it from the Device Directory field.

Now it's time to choose your video file. Mash the Convert button and navigate to the Video File tab. Click on Convert New File in the lower right corner. This will prompt you to choose between Normal Mode and Power Mode in the main window, along with force feeding more ads. Click on Power Mode.

The next window is pretty self explanatory. Mash the Select File button to locate and load the video you want to convert. If the rest of the settings change back to their defaults, go ahead and change them on this screen. Make sure MJPEG 2048kbps Stereo/192kbps AviSynth is selected in the Profile pull-down menu. Also take note of the Output Directory and change the location if desired. Finally, punch the Start Converting button in the lower right corner.

Conversion times will vary depending on the size of the video and the hardware you're running under the hood, but in most cases, you'll be looking at a matter of minutes, not hours. In the meantime, you can queue up other videos, or twiddle your thumbs.

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Now here's where things get a little tricky. To view the video on your Wii, you'll need to transfer it to your SD or SDHC card. Pop the card in your Wii and navigate to the Photo Channel. We ran into an error message that said our SD card was unusable, which was odd, considering it contained perfectly usable blocks of saved game data. The problem, it turns out, is that our Photo Channel was outdated. To remedy this, we backtracked to the Wii's main menu and hit up the Wii Shop Channel. Under Wii Channels, we found an available update to Photo Channel 1.1. After downloading/installing the update, our SDHC card was suddenly recognized and we were able to play our converted video.

My Videos Still Won't Play!

When it comes to playing videos, the Wii is arguably the most stubborn out of the big three consoles (Wii, PS3, Xbox 360). In some instances, we had to go back and try different settings when converting our videos, and in some cases, they would refuse to play no matter what we did.