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Moving Video to the Web | B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
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Moving Video to the Web

By J.P. Regalado

The web video revolution exploded with popular video sharing sites such as YouTube. Social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace quickly jumped on the bandwagon, offering free video uploads to users. Over 75,000 videos were uploaded to MySpace daily at the time of this publication.

An era of independent video producers emerged, catalyzed by simple, user-friendly web technologies. A simple point-and-shoot camera can now capture video for quick web uploads. Video-editing software developers revamped their interfaces with intuitive features geared for the everyday user.

How do you even begin to post video to the web? Maybe you've never done it and want to join the revolution, or perhaps you're a professional filmmaker who wants to upload your latest footage to score a gig.

We'll go over the basics of web video to get you started. In addition, we'll outline the most popular codecs and review encoding of software-customizable web delivery.

Background

With traditional distribution formats such as DVD, compression schemes weren't much of a hassle. Essentially, you exported a video file at the highest quality. Your only limitation was the 4.7GB capacity on the DVD.

With web video it's a little more complicated. You have to strike a balance with quality and file size. Better image quality equals a larger file size, and vice versa. The compromise of a smaller file size is that you're throwing away data, and the video image might look degraded or blocky. As fast, broadband internet connections facilitated video streaming, a new variable was introduced bitrate.

Optimal Codec settings yield clear images

Image by J.P. Regalado

Optimal Codec settings yield clear images

Too much compression will give you a smaller file size, but may result in a pixillated image

Image by J.P. Regalado

Too much compression will give you a smaller file size,
but may result in a pixellated image

Imagine bitrate as an 8-lane freeway during rush hour that merges into 2 lanes. The traffic bottleneck prevents "data" from flowing. Similarly, a host server might have the capacity to stream videos fast, but if the end-user has a dial-up connection "bottleneck," the video will stream slowly.

To solve this problem, you can output two files a high-quality version for users with high-bandwidth cable/DSL connections and a low-quality for low-bandwidth connections such as dial-up modems.

Codecs

The ultimate goal of web compression is thus to keep the file size as small as possible while keeping video quality up. Compression is accomplished through encoding software programs with a Codec (Compression Decompression scheme). Codecs essentially interpolate between video frames, keeping only essential frames and discarding non-essential information. An optimal Codec designed for web distribution, will produce the best-quality images and sound, with a file size compressed down to available bandwidth. How do you even begin to choose a suitable codec for distributing your videos on the web? Here are a few popular codecs to look out for:

MPEG-2

MPEG-2 (Moving Picture Experts Group) is a high-quality video compression format, target for applications that require high bitrates and high bandwidth. It's the standard codec format for DVD, Super VCD, and digital television. File size and bitrates are still too big for web delivery.

MPEG-4

Delivers DVD-quality video at lower data rates and smaller file sizes. Introduced with its companion plug-in application QuickTime 6, MPEG-4 played a role in codec evolution. Its standards were widely adopted by Internet applications and wireless multimedia industries. Consider MPEG-4 when outputting to MPEG-4-compatible devices, such as 3G mobile phones or digital still cameras.

H.264

H.264 is the next-generation of the MPEG-4 standard. It delivers video at half the data rate of MPEG-2 at four times the frame size of MPEG-4. H.264 also delivers pristine video quality across a wide bandwidth spectrum. From 3G to High-Def H.264 is an open standard format, meaning that companies around the world can create products that can interoperate with one another.

Flash Video

Aside from integrating seamlessly with the Adobe Creative Suite 3, the advantages of Flash Video are its ubiquity, creative control, and interactivity. FLV comes installed on more than 96% of internet-connected computers, so you don't have to download additional plug-ins before viewing in your web browser. Flash video essentially fuses video together with data, graphics, sound, and dynamic interactive control users to create interactive web experiences. Creative possibilities are endless with Adobe CS3 integration-design custom video playback controls: change size and aspect ratio of your video, or drop your video directly into Dreamweaver for quick and easy viewing.

Flash Video uses 3 codecs

*Adobe Flash CS3 Video Encoder installed with Flash CS3 Professional

*On2 VP6 codec for Flash Player 8

*Sorenson Spark codec for Flash Player 7

Encoding Software

Some video editing programs such as Apple's Final Cut Pro have built-in codecs sufficient for web output. Options for customization, however, are limited. High-end encoding software offers extra output formats, automation and batch output options. We'll outline 3 popular encoding software powerhouses Autodesk Cleaner 6.5, Grass Valley ProCoder 3, and Apple Compressor 3 (part of Final Cut Studio 2).

Trial software is available for Cleaner 6.5 and ProCoder 3, so you can try before you buy. Ultimately, choose the encoding program that suits your needs.

Autodesk Cleaner 6.5
click for larger image

Autodesk Cleaner 6.5

Specifically designed for Apple, Cleaner 6.5 supports over 60 supported media formats including MPEG-4, Real Video, Windows Media, and Video for Windows (AVI). Add interactive stream navigation, synchronize HTML for streaming media, and embed links and interactive hot spots. Cleaner 6.5 offers hundreds of professional encoding pre-sets for authoring interactive video, or you can author basic interactive video.

Grass Valley ProCoder 3
click for larger image

Grass Valley ProCoder 3

ProCoder 3 is a versatile, Windows-based solution for multi-format encoding and compression. Batch processing, priority queuing, and simultaneous creation of multiple destination files are a few of the key features included in this comprehensive package. Quickly transcode web video with a user-friendly ProCoder Wizard. Or exploit the power of the application with custom settings. Version 3.0 adds support for the H.264 codec to produce Apple iPod and mobile video files, and decoding of the AVCHD format from the latest generation of MPEG-4 camcorders.

Apple Compressor 3
click for larger image

Apple Compressor 3

Built into the Final Cut Studio 2 Suite, Compressor 3 makes multi-format delivery easy and efficient. Encode and output multiple formats from the same source file, or "batch". Output multiple formats from multiple files. More than 100 encoding presets analyze your source files to provide the best default compression settings. Compressor supports H.264, QuickTime-supported codecs, Flash 8 FLV, Windows Media WMV, and Apple supported iPod and iTV.

Conclusion

Our overview has hopefully given you a starting point for the popular codecs and encoding software. An infinite number of variables, ranging from the file size of your source media to bitrate, affect decisions regarding compression. Sharing video on the web can be as simple as an upload to YouTube or as complex as an interactive Flash Video web experience. These tools enable you to produce independent video content for any web compression scenario.

Deciding what parameters to use when exporting compressed video is both an art and a science. There's no magic formula for web video compression. As with all media, always keep your end user in mind and you'll inevitably avoid the blurry pixel-block, stuttered videos on YouTube that make us cringe. Get your hands dirty. Experiment with presets and export options, then customize codec settings to fit your web video needs. You'll be batch processing pristine multiple-format web video in no time.

Please email feedback on this article, or suggestions for future topics, to videofeedback@bhphotovideo.com