A Tour of Microsoft's Research Venture in Downtown Beijing

AutoMovie: Automatic Video Editing

Hua Xiansheng, a researcher in the Media Computing Group

Even though it also sells products for professionals, Microsoft works mainly on mass-market applications. One of these microcomputer applications that has already been acclaimed by the general public is digital video. DV video cameras are selling like hot cakes and millions of family digital videos are shot every day.

What will make even more people switch to digital video is the option, announced by the manufacturers in a fanfare of publicity, of transferring their movies to a PC and then being able to edit them with the precision and ease-of-use that digital tools can offer. Unfortunately, users are aware of the fact that this is not as easy as it sounds. Editing, whether digital or not, remains editing, an operation that involves decision-making, a certain amount of artistic talent and above all, lots of time.

So that's why Microsoft decided to go ahead and offer its customers an automatic editing function. You can try it for yourself by selecting the Automatic Video option in the Tools menu in the Windows Movie Maker version 2 application. So how does it work? The software analyzes the video file and cut the scenes (based on the backgrounds), into shots and then into sub shots. It then generates an "importance curve" for the various sub shots, based on criteria such as camera movements, changes of subjects or the recorded soundtrack.

Then it automatically generates an edited version, based on the importance curve and possibly on other criteria such as the music you chose as a sound illustration (shot changes are synchronized with the tempo of the music). According to Hua Xiansheng, in terms of time, the whole operation will take one-tenth of the length of the video being processed. The result is sometimes surprising, but generally satisfactory in most cases, at least in the case of typical family videos where the subjects are mainly individuals filmed indoors or outdoors or against landscape backgrounds. And of course, there is nothing to stop you from retouching or making further changes to the edit obtained.

AutoMovie in action in the French version 2 of Movie Maker, bundled with Windows XP
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