Video file formats are a real nightmare! And after 10 years of amateur video production, I still don't have a clear understanding on how they work. So what I am about to tell you is what works for me, considering I try to produce video that works for many.
Sites like Youtube - or specifically Flash Video have helped solve this compatibility problem for viewing on the Internet, but its still a problem for those who like to download and perhaps even edit videos.
So what format should I use?
Here are my 3 rules of thumb - that work for me:
- The master copy of your digital video should be in AVI set to play at 25 frames per second, displaying a size of 720x576 pixels.
- Use this master AVI to export Internet ready versions in MP4, WMV and Ogg Theora, all set to play at no less than 12.5 frames per second, displaying at 320x240 pixels.
- Upload the MP4 to your preferred video publishing service (eg Youtube or Blip.tv) and that service will convert your video to the Flash Video format for reliable playback on all computers.
Why AVI as the master format?
Because it is an old, long used format that is generally reliable on the widest range of computer software and players. As the Wikipedia entry for AVI says: ...the age of the AVI format, being widely supported on a vast range of operating systems and devices, and the availability of video editing and playback software ... help keep the AVI file format popular amongst amateur videographers.
Why the 3 export formats?
Video for the Internet needs to be a small file size, but not so small that it makes it unwatchable. An MP4 at 320x240 pixels gets good file compression and can play on Windows, Macintosh and Linux, not to mention iPods. A WMV gets very good compression, and is reliably played on Windows based computers including PDAs. And Ogg Theora also gets good compression, but is the only non-commercial, open standard video format that plays on Linux, and that is accepted by Wikipedia and other free and open source initiatives - who tend to have longer term, commercial free, sustainability in mind. If you offer people the choice of these 3 formats, you have all bases covered nicely.
But how do you get video into all those formats?
There are a few free to use video converters you can use. These applications can take just about any video format and convert it into any other format. I use SuperC, largely because it was one of the first to become available, and it can do so much in the one application. Its not always easy to use, so sometimes I prefer simpler tools such as Videora iPod converter, or Pazera Video Converters. Alternatively, you can upload your video to Archive.org and they will convert your video on their website for you.
More information on encoding can be found on the Wikipedia entries for each format.
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