Getting quality Executable shows without sacrificing performance in ProShow 4.x and earlier

ProShow Gold, ProShow Producer

It’s easy to get the most out of your Executable shows once you understand the Quality / Performance Settings. These options can have a big impact on how well your shows play.

Creating a high quality EXE from ProShow is easier than it might first appear.  Using the Quality / Performance Settings, found on the Options tab of the Executable output dialog, you can control the settings necessary to create great looking, smooth playing, shows.

Rendering – Limit Rendering Size

The first option you’ll find under the Quality / Performance Settings area within the Options tab of your Executable output dialog is one of the most important. It has a big impact on both quality and performance since it controls the number of pixels, and thus the amount of data, used to represent your show.  While more pixels leads to greater image clarity it also puts a greater strain on the system during playback. Too much data and the show can play choppy, too little and the overall quality suffers. With the right resolution your shows should look clear and play smoothly.

Notice that the default resolution for this option is 800 x 600. That isn’t very large by today’s standards and on modern monitors can look a bit coarse. This value is used to ensure the best playback performance on the widest range of systems.  It should lead to a smooth playing show but it may leave something to be desired in the quality department. Increasing that value to something a bit more impressive, like 1280 x 1024, should lead to a much clearer result that still plays well on most systems. Modern computers, those only a few years old or newer, tend to have more than enough processing power for this increased resolution. To maximize playback quality on those systems try setting Limit Rendering Size to the native resolution of your monitor.  You may end up with an EXE at HD, or better, resolution!

Limit Rendering Size does not control how large your show is displayed.  Instead, it sets the size at which the show is processed internally. You can play a ProShow executable at any size up to and including full screen.

Resizing – Manually Limit Images

The second Quality / Performance setting in this area controls the resolution of the images in your show. Unlike the previous option, which sets the size at which the show is processed, this value sets a maximum resolution for the images in the show.  Images of a larger resolution are resized to this value as they’re put into the executable.  This can reduce the processing power necessary for that show but it has a larger impact on the size of the resulting EXE file. Although you may want your images to be of the highest possible resolution the truth is that most digital images contain far more data than your digital display can show. Setting this value to something like 2560 x 2560 should ensure the best possible visual quality without making your system process a lot of unnecessary data. Keeping those X and Y values the same ensures that both Portrait and Landscape images have the same relative quality level.

Keep in mind that 4:3 / 3:2 images constrained to a maximum X / Y dimension of 2560 are still going to be well above even the best HD resolution (1080p).  They should also be large enough to preserve image quality almost any zoom value.

Image Quality

The third option in this section is perhaps the least understood. This value controls the encoding quality of the images in your show. A higher values provide less compression, better image quality and increased file size. Although it is again tempting to use the largest possible value for this setting, 100%, this is not the best quality / performance trade-off.

Images encoded at values as low as 85% are often indiscernible from images encoded at 100% quality and are of considerably smaller file size.  Smaller source files means less data that has to be processed in order to provide smooth show playback.  This is also a good place to start if you want to create a smaller executable file.

Audio Quality

This option determines how the audio files in your show are encoded, pretty basic.  The important thing to keep in mind here is that audio accounts for a large portion of the file size in most EXE shows yet the difference between Low and High settings is often indistinguishable.  This is another great place look when trying to reduce the size of your executable file. It has very little impact on the playback performance of your show but can be an important factor when dealing with things like Autorun CDs, where the transfer speed of the optical media can be a limiting factor.

Video Quality / Resolution

The two video settings in this area combine to control how video layers are encoded into your executable show. The resolution of those video layers is controlled by Video Clip Resolution while the amount of data used to represent each video frame is set by Video Quality. For video layers at or near DVD resolution the default values, both Medium, should provide good results.

To preserve more clarity from larger format video layers, including HD videos, the High Resolution setting is more appropriate.  In most cases the High Quality option should not be necessary since even Medium Quality sets aside a relatively large amount of data for each video frame.  The quality option has more impact on both the clarity of your video layer and the overall performance of your show than does the resolution option.