Export Settings: Where are you going

Today I’m going to talk to you about exporting your videos. Admittedly there are countless places nowadays (well there have always been) that walk you through this kind of stuff but they often leave out important details. Though these details don’t add any value to the process, it does allow you to understand how and why things are the way they are.

The main issues exporting videos face is what format you can convert to (the container), and more annoyingly what codec is allowed. Trust me, codecs are far more annoying than containers!

Some of you are probably already lost with the terms container and codec. To others you might have heard of these terms but really don’t know what they are. It is okay and not an expectation that you’ll be required to know – it will however make life easier if you know what to export to, or what to search for on a film festival’s website.

To quickly break it down: a container is essentially the extension of the file type. So a QuickTime is .mov, some BluRay rips are .mkv, while most modern televisions play .mp4s. This is pretty much a performance aspect, and what is compatible with the device it is being played on. Under those containers it can contain a vast amount of codecs. A codec is the thing that compresses and if recognised by the device will decompress the footage. But it’s more than that; it can hold extra metadata that only certain devices or programmes can decode.

Putting it in an analogy for you we are going to make a jam sandwich.

My digital jam sandwich

So our video is the sandwich, as in “what it is”. The container is the type of sandwich, which in this case it is a jam (or jelly) sandwich. The codec is the type of jam – which is especially important because I like to have sugar free jam. I am the device, which it where it can be fun or not. As the device I like sandwiches so I will recognise this sandwich/file in front of me. I also like jam sandwiches so I will understand the container or file type. I also know that it is a sugar free jam spread so I recognise and will enjoy this codec.

I know this isn’t the most robust or simplest understanding of containers and codecs but just know for 90 percent of your exports you’ll be using one of the most popular codecs – .h264.

Okay let’s begin – well really lets dive deeper into the topic and then go through some real life scenarios.

So the first thing you’ll want to find out is the delivery of your product. Assuming you’re going to a festival this should be on all the submission details page of their website (with all the terms and conditions, address to mail your film to, and other details). Most old-fashioned festivals prefer Betacam SP, HDCAM, or other tape transfers. These can be expensive especially if you are filming on no or little budget. Nonetheless, if you want to compete you’ll have to pay.

However, most entries will require you to submit a DVD for selection. The most important part of DVD creation is the region you are creating. If you are not sure how many festivals around the world you are submitting to, just make both PAL and NTSC versions. The reason being firstly it might be a region locked DVD player. Chances are it’s not, but you don’t want to send it half way around the world just to not get it shown. You wont be asked to resubmit, or offered a refund – you’ll simply be denied. Secondly, PAL and NTSC have a different amount of horizontal lines. You don’t want your footage getting squished or stretched (even just a little), you want it to play exactly how you envisioned.

Also you don’t need to spend hours on a DVD menu or extra features – things I’ve seen happen far too often. These are not things that will sell you film to the festival, and definitely not items that will be played if selected. It’s great you have them if you’re going to sell or want to have them for the cast and crew, but festivals don’t bother.

There are heaps of programmes that allow you to convert your files to DVD. I’m still an avid user of Adobe Encore CS6 (sadly discontinued) but even the Adobe Media Encoder has presets too. Alternatively if you have the funds for standalone programmes there is Sorensen Squeeze, which is, pretty much Adobe Media Encoder from another mother. If you’re on Macintosh there is the freeware Burn which will convert the file for you.

If you’re more inclined for a more bloated programme (not bloatware but definitely more features than necessary) you can go down the path of Nero Burning or Roxio Toast. Also check the software that came with your burner or computer, you’ll be surprised they generally do come with bundled software.

Note: if you are editing your footage in high definition (1920×1080 or 1280×720) and you burn it to a DVD you will not get an identical file. Depending on your software settings it may crop the footage on the left and right to make the height 100 percent (576 pixels or 420 pixels). Or it might fit the width of the footage to 100 percent and add letterbox bars.

Andrew Kramer from VideoCopilot has an excellent tutorial on getting your footage from HD to SD (which is what DVD is) in this tutorial. If you watch that, you can simply pass on the steps to any video editing software. Simply import the final product into a PAL or NTSC sequence, resize it, and export that file out.

If you do pass through the selection process and need to create a tape format convert you’ll need to supply your local digital converting company with a high-resolution final edit. Normally this will be ProRes (HQ) 422 or if you use Avid Media Composer then the appropriate DNxHD codec. But if you understand those two formats you probably don’t need this explanation!

What the above means unfortunately is you are bound to your initial editing codec and format. This is a terrible thing to realise but knowing where your product will end up before you shoot and edit is key. Editing in the h.264 codec then converting the final edit to ProRes 422 won’t add extra definition, just bloat the file size and change the codec.

There’s a reason each non-linear editor (NLE) has a list of sequence presets. Know where you’re going to end up and choose the right codec sequence. If you’re not sure, start at the best reasonable quality and then you can always scale down later opposed to not being able to scale up without quality degradation.

On top of this, more up to date festivals will allow a digital submission. I know Tropfest were using YouTube as their submission form. Another festival submissions were via their Facebook application. Otherwise you’ll find that majority of submissions allow you to submit via Withoutabox. This great website allows you to fill out all the details and then go through the copious listing of festivals to submit to – follow the prompts and upload the footage. It has really streamlined a once tedious task.

Again always search for the delivery format. YouTube and Vimeo both have resources dedicated to the exact settings you should use to optimise your video quality. If you preconfigure your video to match their settings they won’t have to process it or need to convert it which makes it viewable quicker than using a non standard codec or a ridiculous bit rate.

Thankfully these are the two largest video sharing platforms online and presets are preconfigured in many popular programmes (I know Adobe Media Encoder and Sorensen Squeeze do).

But if you are too lazy to search for the YouTube and Vimeo recommended setting (yes lazy because they are literally easier to find than my car keys) here are the links:

So apart from the major platforms to host your video, you might have a client that doesn’t want the branding of any other company on their website. They insist that your video will be self hosted on their own servers with their own player. News websites tend to do this, as well as companies like Apple and Microsoft who can cope with such internet traffic.

For this delivery we’re in a bit of a grey area. Things are pretty solid at the moment on the web world – HTML5 is most definitely being widely used, but we do face some unfortunate downfalls as a result.

To quickly break it down without getting into too much detail: in the old days to play the online videos we used to rely on Adobe Flash Player. It was cross browser because as we uploaded the file it was converted into a Flash file (so .mov, .avi, .mp4, etc. we’re all converted into .flv). But the advocators behind HTML5 (especially Apple) didn’t want Adobe being way of playing videos online so the proposition of the new standard was introduced as the <video> property.

The only problem the video property had was it wasn’t cross browser and platform like Flash was. Depending on your system different files behave better – or better yet even recognised. There is a lot more legality to the story of HTML5 video than I’d like to even inform you about but if you are so inclined to know check the resources at the foot of this post. So when you convert your video now for the web using the HTML5 standard you need three files types:

  • Webm
  • Ogg
  • Mp4

Issues with this? Well now you’re going to need roughly three times the storage. Additionally if you are supporting browsers that don’t understand the video tag then you need a fallback – yes you also need a Flash version plus a player.

If your client understands all that and can’t commit to supporting them I suggest you urge them to take one of the two free hosting platforms – YouTube or Vimeo. Make sure you plead the case to them based on their needs and what’s best, not because it’s easier. Tell them that with Vimeo at least they can become a Plus or Pro member and customise the player beyond the colour scheme. Plus there’s always the commitment that Vimeo doesn’t have advertisements.

If you do have go through with an online video then make sure you look for a HTML5 setting preset in your video converter. Searching around online will pop up with thousands of converters.

So this about wraps up the converting process that is required. Not only will this help with your production but you’ll be able to output files faster and deadlines won’t seem so dreadful.

Some additional notes

  • If you can avoid multiple file types and codecs in a sequence do so. Using Final Cut Pro 7/X then ProRes files, Avid Media Composer using the Avid codec will allow quicker imports (or convert all files through or before AMA), Adobe Premiere Pro convert your files to whatever your sequence is going to be set to.
  • AVCHD though can be imported natively I found converting the files make the system work better (use ClipWrap).
  • If you are delivering to multiple sources, edit at the highest possible quality. You can always convert down quality, but you can’t get it back. If your system lags or cant handle this use a proxy and then export with the original files.

Where do I want to see the future of delivery formats?

  • To begin I would like the standardisation of the h.265 codec. Here is some information about it, and why it should surpass the current h.264 codec.
  • Moreover the distance from analogue formats like BetaCam SP and DVD. I understand their use, labeling, organisation, and all that jazz but let’s move toward a digital landscape. Allow the partnering of cloud companies (like Dropbox) and privately share the file link instead of burning the DVD? Or allow unlisted YouTube uploads or private Vimeo links to be submitted.
  • I would also like the HTML5 format to be improved from the three formats, but I don’t know how yet. I find it tedious to have to have multiple files compare to the one Flash file. Understandably we are still in the infancy of the document though so hopefully it simplifies over time.

Resources