By: Geetesh Bajaj
Last Updated: September 6th 2011
PowerPoint and sound - fabulous introductions, gentle background scores or finishing masterpieces. Sound is sensual - the most important, yet most neglected aspect of multimedia. And of PowerPoint.
PowerPoint was perhaps never intended to become a multimedia tool - nor were presentations ever imagined to reach the sophistication levels they have attained presently. Microsoft, over the versions has tried to keep PowerPoint more contemporary by adding newer sound abilities with every release. But that has meant indulging in compromises - most sound options are almost inaccessible to the everyday PowerPoint user, buried as they are under realms of dialog boxes and options.
This article attempts to unravel the sound mysteries of PowerPoint - it also adds to those findings with tricks and ideas uncovered and learnt from many sources.
First of all, there are fundamental differences between the way in which both PowerPoint 97 and 2000 treat sound. In fact, we should not forget the PowerPoint 97 Viewer, which has even lesser abilities. The new PowerPoint 2002 and 2003 versions bring even more subtle changes. I'll explain the differences as we encounter them.
Since there are so many facets to this aspect, this topic has been covered in a separate page - PowerPoint And Narration.
Since sound does put an extra load on PowerPoint, it can be helpful if you make a note of these points.
- Try to close down all avoidable applications in the background.
- A higher end system will perform better during a presentation
showing. You could also try increasing your RAM or get a better
- Try to optimize sound before inserting it in PowerPoint.
- Run 'ScanDisk' and 'Disk Defragmenter' regularly, and definitely
before an important showing.
- Try to view a presentation some time before the showing - also run it continuously for a while, so that it is stored in your system cache.
Ideally, copy the sound file from its original location to the
same folder as your actual presentation.
There are 2 ways to make a sound file run automatically while a presentation plays:
- Go to the first slide and insert your sound using the Insert
| Movies & Sounds | Sound From File... option. Select your
sound file and click OK.
- If PowerPoint asks you if you want the sound to play automatically,
- Thereafter, you can right-click the sound icon, and choose 'Custom Animation' - you'll find many options here to choose.
The easier way is to
- Right-click the first slide in Slide Sorter view, choose Transition.
- In the Transitions dialog box or task pane, under the Transition
Sounds option, choose your WAV file (this trick works only with
WAV files, so no MIDI or MP3 here!).
- Be sure to select the 'Loop' option. Whenever you need to stop this sound, right-click the respective slide, choose Transition and under Transition Sounds, choose 'Stop Playing Sound'.
PowerPoint sound editing abilities are non-existent - you cannot even perform basic fades. So, you are left with no other option than to look at other alternatives. This may be a good thing since other specialized alternatives allow many ways to edit your sound - as also convert the codec or format of your sound.
To convert a codec, you will need to have a particular codec installed in your system. For more information, view the Sound Codecs page.
Alternative sound editing software includes whatever came free with your sound card. Creative ships its excellent Wave Studio program. Higher end Creative models include Cakewalk and Sound Forge as well.
Windows ships with Sound Recorder - though it's a very basic recording and editing module, it's god enough to change volumes, compression levels and codecs.
Newer versions of Windows ship with Windows Media Player, also available as a free download. This allows you to convert your CD tracks to ASF files.
Among freeware options, you can try Asia and Sampled - although not in the class of Sound Forge or CoolEdit Pro, you can do more than basic stuff with these programs. And at this price level, who's complaining?
PowerPoint can import and use many sound formats - however it can use only .wav files for transition sounds.
This format consumes the least resources - in fact even lesser than a small picture - and sounds anything from fabulous to mediocre depending on your sound card. If you are using a basic sound card, it does sound fine - although to hear as it was intended, you'll need a top-of-the-line sound card like Creative SoundBlaster Live or similar.
MIDI (or it's RMI incarnation) works across both PowerPoint versions and the viewer and is best suited to background scores. PowerPoint 97 shipped with the Music Tracks add-in which created background midi scores on the fly. In fact, the Music Tracks engine was also available as a separate program called Microsoft Music Producer, which shipped with Microsoft Visual Interdev 1. Sadly, Microsoft has discontinued this product although it still maintains a newsgroup for it at news.microsoft.com
If you are not sure about the fidelity of the sound card in a delivery machine, you could always convert your MIDI file into a WAV file - to learn more about implications and ways, visit the MIDI to WAV Realizers page.
The most ubiquitous of sounds is also the easiest to use in PowerPoint - and you can use it anywhere - in transition, in events and in animations too. But don't drag-and-drop your WAV files into a particular slide - you'll end up with a hyperlinked sound!
WAV has its disadvantages - a huge file size and so many codecs. If you want to learn more about codecs, visit the Sound Codecs page.
There's no doubt that MP3 is a mainstream format. It's advantages are many - it's small in size, it sounds nearly as good as WAV file and is easily transportable along with your presentation.
If you want to convert your MIDI or CD audio tracks to MP3, you will have to convert them to WAV first. See theSound Conversion page for details.
Although PowerPoint has the ability to run CD tracks along a presentation, you'll have to ensure that the same Audio CD is in the drive when you playback the presentation. If by mistake, you pop in another Audio CD, then PowerPoint will start playing that other CD - PowerPoint only remembers the music on an Audio CD as a track - so Track 2 in one CD is as good as Track 2 on another CD! Also, if you have multiple CD drives, remember which CD drive you need to place your Audio CD in.
You may want to rip the tracks off the CD to encode them in WAV, ASF or MP3 format - view more information in the Sound Conversion page.
At an audio level, WMA is Microsoft's alternative to MP3 - and it sounds great too. Earlier Microsoft was promoting ASF, which was an almost identical format.
To convert your CD tracks to WMA, you can use Windows Media Player. For any other conversion you can use Windows On Demand Producer or Windows Media Encoder. Earlier versions of Windows Media Player (such as 6.4) used the ASF format.
AIFF is an Apple Macintosh standard that is sometimes used in Windows too. PowerPoint can use this format if you have a newer release of Windows Media Player installed.