Sick of powerpoint
October 26, 2010 10:53 PM   Subscribe

Need alternative to powerpoint. One in which movies play more reliably.

I'm looking for an alternative to powerpoint. I work in a research lab, and we often have to give presentations in seminars, conferences etc. and these typically involve a lot of movies. Powerpoint seems to be dreadful when it comes to playing movie files reliably. I have seen this at a number of schools, conferences, everywhere - the videos often screw up. This can be really stressful during an important presentation so I'm looking for an alternative.

Often the movie will not play, showing either a black screen or a still image. I have googled the reasons for this extensively, and it is to do with the codec used for the video, and the available codecs on the host machine. So what people tend to do is encode the video as mpeg-1, which will indeed play on any machine, but mpeg-1 is a bit too bulky to store all my videos in. I also tried converting all the videos to wmv, but this caused problems on different versions of windows.

Currently, the most reliable approach is to play the movies separately, outside of powerpoint, with something like VLC. Unfortunately, this means pausing your presentation and switching to VLC, and it is also a pain since sometimes I need to show two movies side by side, or with annotation.

When working on presentations I need to move them between my laptop and my desktop and have it play the videos on both. I sometimes need to use another, untested, laptop to present (at a seminar).

If someone can recommend a better way for me to create presentations, I would be very grateful. I have tried the open office presenter, and don't like it (it's interface is as bad as powerpoint). I have keynote on my home computer, but I really need a format that will play on windows machines (and the last time I tried "export to flash" from keynote it did not work properly). From windows xp to windows 7.

Ideally, the video format I would like to use would be x264 inside an mp4 container. Is flash a suitable alternative? Is it really time-consuming to use? If I didn't have movies, I would use a PDF made with latex.
posted by theyexpectresults to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have to have the video on your computer or could you do something like host the video on youtube or vimeo and embed these in whatever presentation software you choose to use?

As long as you have an internet connection you should be able to play the videos without having to worry how they are encoded.

You could also use Prezi as an alternative to PowerPoint. It allows for video embedding and exports in its own flash container to make it easily portable. Some Prezi's can be annoying as people often overuse its defining functions, but if you stick to keeping things nice and simple it can create some nice presentations.
posted by man down under at 12:20 AM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since you mention latex, I assume your okay with a text-based approach. I've never used this myself, but the Opera browser has a feature called Opera Show for presentations. The presentations are simple HTML and CSS files, and so I suppose would support video as much as any other website.
posted by spr at 2:00 AM on October 27, 2010

Response by poster: Unfortunately there often isn't an internet connection available. Thanks for the tips.
posted by theyexpectresults at 4:53 AM on October 27, 2010

Test the files before you are in front of an audience? Use your own computer to play the movies? Bring the codecs on a cd or flashdrive?
posted by gjc at 5:22 AM on October 27, 2010

If you have internet connection, try 280slides

Otherwise, create your own presentations (in html/css) using a combination of s5 and jwplayer.
posted by lahersedor at 5:56 AM on October 27, 2010

I second Prezi's flash export for this purpose, and need to wash my hands having typed that.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:00 AM on October 27, 2010

Check out the Beamer class in Latex using the movie15 package. It can handle embedded multimedia including video. I think the videos only work in Adobe Acrobat Reader, but it's worth a try. (Reference if you're looking for some help)
posted by bluefly at 7:48 AM on October 27, 2010

I can guarantee that unless you bring your own runtime, which is it's own set of worms, the conference computer will not have your alternate piece of software on it at a Generic Research Conference. For the ones that we organize, the only spec to the conference IT contractor is powerpoint, for better or worse.

As a session chair, I always try to get the presenters to load and run though a presentation on the disply computer before hand. The problem is that there are many things that can go wrong with movies on windows computers, and in ppt presentations.

1) There's a bug in the video drivers that doesn't send video output to the secondary display on a laptop. Dell is notorious for this. Powerpoint isn't the problem here, and there's very little you can do about it.

2) The display computer doesn't have Windows Media Player installed. This means almost no codecs on the machine at all. This is surprisingly common; IT shops will often supply a new install just for the conference and they don't always remember to set up properly. You need to install WMP before any video content will work. Powerpoint isn't the problem here.

3) You're using a non MS codec. A common problem with AVIs from cameras or generated on Macs. This isn't a Powerpoint problem either---this one's on Windows. Verify your file encoding before going to the conference. Convert your vid to an MS WMP-supported format. I like using Handbrake for this, but there are lots of reencoders out there.

4) You've hard-coded the video location in your .ppt rather than specifying the local directory. This IS a Powerpoint problem! It's also an easy fix. Change the linkage on the properties dialog (right-click on the movie->properties) for the movie object.

Movies in Powerpoint are harder than they need to be, partly due to laptop manufacturers, partly due to MS not preconfiguring WMP (blame the US DOJ anti-monoploly settlement for this one), partly for third-party manufacturers using odd codecs and only partly on the odd linking mechanisms power point can use. The problem isn't insoluble, but does mean a fair bit of prep on your part to get a solid workflow down. A prepresentation run-through is critical also.
posted by bonehead at 9:56 AM on October 27, 2010

Ideally, the video format I would like to use would be x264 inside an mp4 container. Is flash a suitable alternative? Is it really time-consuming to use? If I didn't have movies, I would use a PDF made with latex.

Mac-generated video seems to be your problem. The mp4 container isn't native to Windows and you're always going to struggle with this format on Windows. VLC will play it easily, but, as you've found out, you can't depend on that being available.

Flash also does not play very well with Powerpoint at all, but you might have some sucess if you moved your whole presentation to flash. Most windows computers would be able to play it---Flash comes installed by default. It would start in a browser window and you would have to allow it to be made full-screen somehow, but it could be made to work if you can figure out the technical details.
posted by bonehead at 10:27 AM on October 27, 2010

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