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Friday, October 20, 2006

Formats & Codecs

I received a comment today regarding the download times of my videos along with some suggestions on how I could improve those times. I hadn't been thinking about it in a long time, but it caused me to consider the way this site was built, and also what my procedures are in posting vlogs.

Initially, I was just building a site to hold videos as a source for my iTunes feed. I wasn't really thinking about people watching them from the site. One of the first problems I had was that most people access my site with PCs, not macs, and a lot of them couldn't properly view Quicktime movies. I wasn't aware of Flash at the time... well, not as far as universal video access. I was aware of the program itself. Anyway... I made AVI files, which are completely archaic, and posted those for the windows viewers. Again, this was an afterthought, because the site was intended to be an iTunes feed, so I was neither concerned nor interested in whether ANYONE could view the videos from the site, especially PCs. By the time I started looking at the stats and saw the overwhelming percentage of PC and IE viewers over Mac and Safari users (most of which also happened to be MYSELF, since testing the links was adding to my stats :/ ), it was too late, until I decided to make my primary format Flash.

As far as the MOV or MP4 files, again, their purpose was to sit on an iPod and look pretty. :) Even though I selected 'fast start', and maybe even 'compressed headers', since the goal wasn't streaming them over the net, I encoded them at as high a rate as I was comfortable with, which was ~ 2,048 Kbps. So.. .for someone that just plugs their iPod in and lets iTunes download videos, everything's cool. For someone trying to watch the Quicktime file from the direct download link, my videos are going to DL slooooowly, compared to other videos of the same size (and potentially the same quality).

I really stopped thinking about it when I went to Flash, but today's comments have prompted me to consider re-encoding the MP4s to be more internet-friendly.

Having said all that, there's another issue. Time.

I really like the difference that H.264 makes over MP4. H.264 looks great @ 700 Kbps, even if you expand the frame size from the encoded 320x180. Unfortunately, H.264 takes FOR.EV.VER to encode. When I'm trying to post something day-of, I'm trying to get it on the site ASAP. That means I will most likely use the 2,048 Kbps MP4, which encodes MUCH faster. It also might mean I use 1-pass CBR/VBR on a flash video instead of 2-pass VBR. Flash is another issue, because now I'm aware of On2 VP6, except *that* takes even LONGER to encode than H.264! :/ So I end up using Sorenson so I can accomplish ANYTHING ELSE during my day besides encoding a video.

Clearly, since you can make the same quality H.264 video at about 1/3 the data rate of MP4, it's going to DL faster, which is better for the viewer... but worse for the encoder! :) Perhaps the best deal is a dual-tier process where I put up the 'fast' version, then let the 'better' version render overnight. Anyway... this is what happens when you build a site from scratch, and go through several page format changes and several video format changes during the process.

Let me not even MENTION iframes! :/


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