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Web Video Creation and Optimization Forum

    
Web Video Production Techniques
including QuickTime for Dummies
Samizdata




msg:3620429
 7:23 pm on Apr 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

An attempt to cover the basics of video production. Corrections and improvements welcome.

Preamble

To the average Windows user, QuickTime is just another annoying icon on their desktop, one that probably appeared after they installed iTunes. Those who click it will be presented with promotions from Apple that they probably don't want. I don't want them either.

But to movie people, from Hollywood down, QuickTime is the industry standard for video.

---

Master Edits

Video editors mostly work on raw DV footage with FinalCut, Avid, or (less often) Premiere. Whatever they use, a master edit will usually be prepared and saved as a high quality QuickTime compatible movie, in MOV or AVI, so that it can be previewed by interested parties.

Both MOV and AVI are container formats that can include separate audio and video tracks, each of which can be compressed with many different codecs (short for COmpressor-DECompressor) at various quality settings. The master will be saved using a "lossless" video codec - these are not entirely lossless but result in a very big file, usually measured in gigabytes. Audio tracks would be uncompressed.

The master edit might be DVD size (720 pixels wide) but larger HD sizes are fast becoming the norm. Whatever size you start at, web-ready exports may be produced at a variety of smaller sizes, often at lower frame rates, and in a variety of formats.

For non-professionals, there are many entry-level software packages that can be used to edit video. Your mileage may vary, but if you keep it simple the results should be acceptable for the web.

---

Exporting and Transcoding

From the master, many versions can be prepared: MPEG-2 for DVD, MPEG-1 for VCD, Mp4 and 3GP for handhelds, and most likely FLV or Mp4 for web delivery. As long as you have the compression codecs you can export to other formats such as OGG, Real or WMV if you wish. Whatever you choose, your viewers will need the correct decompression codec and a suitable player to actually watch the video.

Professional editors will export directly from FinalCut, Avid or Premiere. There are countless consumer-level converters available to transcode between compressed video formats, but this is not recommended and you will always be better off working from the source.

Even that annoying QuickTime icon on the desktop can be used for transcoding - if you pay the small fee to upgrade it to QuickTime Pro, which will export in any format you have the codec for. QuickTime Pro also has some built-in editing capabilities, though these are only rudimentary (accurate to about one second rather than one frame).

---

Size Matters

In dial-up days, web video was mostly 160x120 pixels, sometimes even smaller. With the broadband revolution we have progressed through 240x180 to 320x240 as a common size, and the standard is continually being raised.

A recent change is the move to widescreen formats with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Hollywood movies are actually shot with an even wider ratio, and much of the image is lost when presented on traditional 4:3 television screens. The new trend is for wider screen resolutions, and this is particularly noticeable on the latest laptops.

---

Data Rates

For web delivery, data rate is a crucially important setting - make it too high and you will lose viewers with older, slower processors. Where you draw the line is up to you, but over time you will want to draw it higher up the scale as technology improves and old hardware dies out.

I usually limit the video data rate to 384 kbytes/sec, which plays smoothly on my vintage laptop, but some high-end sites are now using rates that won't play back properly on that venerable machine, even after downloading. They are telling me "buy a new computer" rather than "watch my movie".

Web video is often about compromise. Know your audience.

---

Mp4 Variations

Like AVI and MOV, Mp4 is a container format that can use various codecs. The video industry favours H264/AAC, which is supported on a growing number of DVD players and mobile devices, and can be played on computers with RealPlayer, QuickTime and others. Microsoft, however, chose not to implement AAC audio in Windows Media Player.

DivX, 3ivx and Xvid are essentially Mp4 formats, but with slight differences that make them unsuitable for the web (there is a DivX web player but don't expect anyone to have it installed).

Another variation is 3gp, used for video on older phones (which can include non-Mp4 content such as H263 video and AMR audio), and M4v is an extension used by Apple that can usually be changed to Mp4 with no ill-effect - this is what YouTube currently offers to iPhone users.

So Mp4 is versatile (or confusing, if you prefer), and using ISMA profiles is recommended for maximum compatibility across devices.

---

How The Web Was Won

You don't see so many QuickTime movies on the web these days, but some will remember it as the example given in old HTML textbooks, and it is what I first used back in the 1990s. Poor cross-platform performance seems to have been its downfall - Apple controls the hardware in its computers, but cheaper PCs often had insufficient graphics capabilities, and many people found QuickTime unusable on Windows.

Windows Media has also had a very poor history on the web, due to cross-platform and playback issues. To many webmasters it has always been the worst possible option.

So most of the web turned to RealPlayer and eventually to Flash, which offers better interactivity and scripting options than QuickTime, and which is much less effort to download and install. The success of YouTube has been a major factor in the adoption of Flash video, which was even used on Microsoft's MSN Video website last time I looked.

There are still some websites that use QuickTime though - video professionals want higher quality than Flash generally provides, and some are confident enough to insist that visitors meet their requirements. Amongst these the trend is for H264/AAC in widescreen formats.

Flash 9 player now supports H264/AAC, allowing the use of Mp4 compliant video in Flash - it is possible to load existing Mp4, 3gp and (some) MOV files at runtime, but don't expect smooth performance on old or lower-end hardware.

---

The Unholy Grail

Web video has been around a long time, starting with the postage stamp sizes and low quality that worked in another century. But it has always been heading in one direction: full-screen, high-quality, live broadcasting, user input - in short, interactive web television.

And it's not just about computers - phones, games consoles and iPods all play video, and all can connect to the internet. Reading text on small devices is no fun, but the power of TV commercials is well-known, and while I will personally hate the idea, I expect major changes in online advertising.

We are not quite there yet, but we may be sooner than you think.

---

Postamble

Fashions can change fast on the web. Video formats come and go.

Real Media once dominated, even over Microsoft and Apple products, until YouTube brought Adobe's Flash video to the masses. The WikiMedia Foundation promotes (for now) the open-source Ogg Theora format, but whether it will ever become popular is debatable. And some new product could come along and capture the public's imagination (or lack of it) very quickly.

As things stand, most websites will want to use Flash, but this currently has two disadvantages: it does not (yet) work on mobile devices, and if you want to use real-time streaming then Flash Media Server requires a substantial outlay (though it is possible to rent rather than buy).

For those who cannot afford it, a free cross-platform open-source alternative is Darwin, a version of QuickTime Streaming Server that can broadcast Mp4 streams to multiple devices, but it also has two disadvantages: the streams will not work with the Flash 9 player (apparently an Adobe-imposed restriction) so viewers must have QuickTime installed, and to the average Windows user, QuickTime is just another annoying icon on their desktop...

...

 

thecoalman




msg:3620575
 2:00 am on Apr 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

But to movie people, from Hollywood down, QuickTime is the industry standard for video.

Might be better stated as Final Cut Pro instead of Quicktime, generally in conjunction with Avid hardware. These are usually going to be top end companies because a Avid system with FCP is going to be very expensive. As would a similar Matrox System on a windows machine.

Having said that I'd suggest most of the medium and just about all of the low end pro's for lack of better description are going to be using Windows programs. Huge selection and beleive it or not some of the most powerful programs you can get are free open source ones.

You really need to pick the tool for the job that fits within your budget, if restoration is your goal for example there really is no substitution for what you can do with VirtualDub and Avisynth. Both free and only for Windows.

------------
The master will be saved using a "lossless" video codec - these are not entirely lossless but result in a very big file, usually measured in gigabytes. Audio tracks would be uncompressed.

You should be saving your master in whatever format the source is if possible. If you're starting with DV as a source save as DV. Any good editor, even entry level ones, are only going to recompress what they need too. If for example you make a cut then add transition between two clips they will only recompress the frames that have been affected by the transition. this has two benefits, obviuosly the first one is no loss in quality and the second being it speeds the process up greatly.

While on the subject this feature is generally reserved for DV or other very lightly compressed types of video where each frame is individually encoded. There are however editors capable of doing this with MPEG, I'm not aware of any for other highly compressed formats.

-----------------------
From the master, many versions can be prepared: MPEG-2 for DVD, MPEG-1 for VCD, Mp4 and 3GP for handhelds, and most likely FLV or Mp4 for web delivery. As long as you have the compression codecs you can export to other formats such as OGG, Real or WMV if you wish. Whatever you choose, your viewers will need the correct decompression codec and a suitable player to actually watch the video.

Not sure why you would group WMV in the second one, WMV series 9 is compatible with any Windows machine that has Windows Media Player installed going back to version 6.4 which if I remember correctly can be installed on Win95 which will cover most of the computer made over more than the last decade. It's not suitable for embedding because of the cross platform and browser issues but as a downloadable file there is simply nothing that is going to reach a wider audience other than MPEG1. MPEG1 requires at least 4x the bitrate for comparable quality.

While on the subject MPEG2 is proprietary, if you're playing it on Win system out of the box you have a player installed that installed the codec. It doesn't come with XP, not sure about MAC but I believe they pay the licensing fee for it as does MS for Vista. Just adds cost IMO because I don't need it.

------------------------------
In regards to size matters it should be noted that the resolution is not related to the display aspect necessarily. 720x480 DV for example can be 4:3 or 16:9, there is flag set in the header of the file. Whether your software player is going to respect that is another story.

-----------------------------
In regards to data rates(bitrate), you first need to consider a few thing when considering what to select. Most important is the resolution.

I'll use NTSC DVD compliant MPEG2 as an example for this as its what I'm most familiar with but his concept can be applied to any compressed video. If for example you are using 720x480 the most you'll want to use is about 8000kbps and the least would be 4000kbps.

There's nothing in the specs that says you have to do that but if you go over 8000kbps in almost all cases the only thing you'll be doing is creating a larger file. You won't derive any benefit from the higher bitrate. Note that there is limit in the specs of 9800kbps.

On the other end of the spectrum once you get below 4000kbps you'll begin to get macroblocking, this will become very visible in the 3000kbps range and below. You're much better off dropping the resolution to 352x480 once you hit this threshold. You'll get less detail in your video but the macroblocking will go away.

For the web of course you'll be using lower resolutions and bitrates but it still applies.

The other major thing to consider is the content, action packed, noisy or poorly shot hand held footage needs more bitrate than footage shot from a professional cam on tripod.

MPEG and other compression schemes work because they use parts of one frame in the next frame where the content hasn't changed. If you have a lot of noise or shaky footage the content is constantly changing and the compression codec will have issues handling all these changes without more bitrate.

-------------------------
so viewers must have QuickTime installed, and to the average Windows user, QuickTime is just another annoying icon on their desktop...

There is an alternative for installing quicktime for Windows users, aptly named Quicktime Alternative. There is also one for Real Media also aptly named Real Alternative. Neither comes with the baggage often associated with installing either of them.

Personally I could care less about an icon on my desktop, however hijacking all my video file associations without asking is certainly a problem. I haven't installed quicktime or real in years and have no intentions on doing so.

Samizdata




msg:3620592
 3:32 am on Apr 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

You should be saving your master in whatever format the source is if possible

No argument there, and apologies for the loose terminology.

What I was fumbling towards was the (as I understand it) common practise of preparing a compressed edit that would actually fit on a CD or DVD so that it could be circulated and played back easily, which I don't believe is the case with a series of external FireWire drives.

In terms of web video - which is what I was trying to address - this edit should be good enough as a starting point from which to prepare suitable versions for display on a website, and in my (albeit limited) experience is what a jobbing webmaster is likely to be given.

as a downloadable file there is simply nothing that is going to reach a wider audience other than MPEG1

No argument there, but I was trying to address on-site playback, not downloads - apologies again for not explicitly defining my use of the term "web video", which to me means video that is embedded in a web page for (more or less) instant playback.

I do recall seeing a few MPGs embedded in web pages many years ago, though.

hijacking all my video file associations without asking is certainly a problem

Again, no argument there - but all too often I have heard the average Windows user say things like "QuickTime is rubbish for video", which is something I thought needed debunking, given that every video professional I have ever encountered from Hollywood down works with it.

Of course, I should probably get out more...

...

thecoalman




msg:3620610
 5:12 am on Apr 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

What I was fumbling towards was the (as I understand it) common practise of preparing a compressed edit that would actually fit on a CD or DVD so that it could be circulated and played back easily

Well if it was me I wouldn't accept anything but the DV file if it was to be used for making conversions.

Should be noted DV is compressed but only slightly, its about 14gigs an hour. DV is DV whether its on a Mac or windows machine. It has a set datarate and resolution. I don't know exctly how it works in the Mac world but the little I gathered is they use a .dv extension. Windows is simply going to have AVI wrapper. The contents of these files are going to be identical bit for bit.

No argument there, but I was trying to address on-site playback, not downloads - apologies again for not explicitly defining my use of the term "web video", which to me means video that is embedded in a web page for (more or less) instant playback.

Have a look at silverlight. what is significant about this is it solves the achilles heel of the WMV format which of course is browser and platform compatibility. What's even more important though is every windows machine has Window Movie Maker installed which puts into the hands of any consumer the ability to create WMV.

The reason I think that is significant is because you could launch a site for video that won't have to do server side encoding because the user can do it themselves which they already doing anyway to get under the file limits on most video hosting web sites.

but all too often I have heard the average Windows user say things like "QuickTime is rubbish for video", which is something I thought needed debunking, given that every video professional I have ever encountered from Hollywood down works with it.

But again they aren't working with "Quicktime", they are working with Final Cut Pro. And again I wouldn't say every professional uses it, I know more than few Mac users that have Windows installed just so they can take advantage of the huge library of software available for Windows to do things that FCP is not designed to do. The trouble with the Mac platform as it seems to be where many things are concerned is you have one very highly rated app, namely FCP but nothing else.

Samizdata




msg:3620682
 7:55 am on Apr 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

they aren't working with "Quicktime", they are working with Final Cut Pro

That will surely be news to those who edit with Avid or Premiere.

The trouble with the Mac platform

As part of my attempt to cover basic web video production techniques I had hoped to shed some light on QuickTime because it is a mystery to many webmasters - though it is cross-platform, offers a free streaming server, and has been ubiquitous in the video industry ever since it went digital.

It works fine on all my Windows installations but I have to accept that I failed.

...

thecoalman




msg:3620742
 9:52 am on Apr 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

That will surely be news to those who edit with Avid or Premiere

You need to separate the tools used to create quicktime files from quicktime itself. It's just a container like AVI. I can use quicktime on my windows based editor if I wanted for example I can export DV (or most any other codec) in a .mov wrapper but won't... reason being most of the other tools I use won't accept it. I'm deriving no benefit from using it and certainly not losing anything by not using it. DV is DV whether wrapped in a QT or AVI container. Now if your argument was to say DV is a standard then you would be correct. The file container whether .mov or .avi is irrelevant to the content.

If you wanted say an industry standard for high end professionals is using FCP on a Mac and Avid based hardware using DV in a QT wrapper then I could agree with that. It should be noted those systems prices start at the cost of small brand new car. ;P

Let me put it to you this way to further explain. If I transfer DV from my cam to my windows based computer as DV-AVI, export the file as DV with .mov extension. Send it off in the mail on a DVD to my buddy who has a Mac and he sends it back to tape, he sends that tape back to me and I then import it back to my windows based computer using DV-AVI... after all that the video itself is still a bit for bit copy of whats on my original tape. The only thing we've done is change the file container and used a few different storage mediums.

henry0




msg:3620776
 11:35 am on Apr 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

I usually limit the video data rate to 384 kbytes/sec

Since I am not a specialist (understatement!)
I am not afraid of asking:
Who is setting this rate: The video supplier/maker?
I do not think it depends on server side tuning?

thecoalman




msg:3620810
 12:23 pm on Apr 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

It's set in the application you are using to encode the file assuming it will allow you to do that. Some may only have presets like high, medium or low quality. The only time a server would become involved with that is if you're encoding the video server side.

Note that some video has a set bitrate and can't be changed, DV is one of them. AFAIK all highly compressed formats like MPEG1&2, WMV, Divx... are adjustable.

Fergus Ross Ferrier




msg:3622198
 11:23 pm on Apr 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

Forgive me if someone's already mentioned this [I gave the other replies a cursory scan]...

You might want to include a little on CDNs like Amazon S3 and Akamai that can stream data [reasonably] reliably, and thus will save you from being cut off by your web host the minute you cross a "Fair Usage" boundary, and can handle multiple users and faster download speeds than some hosts.

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