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3 Simple Questions for Better Video

March 16, 2010 by David Macasaet

Teacher and student using a videocamera

Digital video has become increasingly easy to use and share. At the same time, a widely held criticism from both professionals and novices alike is that navigating the shear number of new video technologies can be a real obstacle. Perhaps there's a problem with a camera that's not compatible with computer software, or a file that does not work across different computers, or problems sharing video because of file size or video format. The growth of high definition (HD) video and tapeless cameras has only expanded the technical landscape of digital video.

When embarking on a video project for the first time, asking a few basic questions can help illuminate the best choices for your particular situation and help you realize the greatest potential from the latest digital video technologies.

1. Mac or PC?

Platform remains a relevant dividing line when planning a video project, especially on campus when projects are often done with freely availble software and cameras checked out from Infolabs. For a number of years, Macintosh computers have been equipped ready-to-edit video. Virtually all Macs come with good video editing software (iMovie) and the required hardware to import a variety of video formats into the computer system. iMovie provides the most compatibility with campus cameras.

While most PCs come with video editing software, there are a significant number of PCs that lack the Firewire connector required to import video from MiniDV videocameras, still the dominant camera type on campus. Compounding the case, the file formats supported by WIndows Movie Maker in Windows XP are narrow and in many ways deprecated. If your PC doesn't have the Firewire connector, using a tapeless camera that records to MJPEG-AVI (common on still cameras) is a better choice. If you are working with a camera that records to MP4 or a H.624 MOV you can still perform simple edits on a PC by installing a free software program called MPEG Streamclip. The software also allows you to transcode the file into a Windows compatible format. If your PC is running Windows XP with a Firewire connector, MiniDV remains a very good choice.  Windows 7 shows some improvements over XP & Vista as it now supports Quicktime import in Moviemaker Live, making the use of tapeless video more on par with Macintosh and iMovie.

On either a Mac or a PC, the best idea is to look at your camera's video specifications and match the specifications to the computer that will be used for digitizing/editing.

Codec Support

2. Simple or Complex?

Simple editing can be characterized by a video where either no editing is needed, or the video can be finished by performing a simple trim. For example, taking away the rough edges at the beginning and end of a lecture would still qualify as 'simple'. Anything beyond simple editing will require using a dedicated video editing program ( e.g. iMovie, Movie Maker, Premiere, Vegas, Final Cut, etc.).

For video on a Macintosh, iMovie is the best free choice for editing whether it be simple or complex. On a PC running Windows XP, using  MiniDV or MJPEG-AVI provide a path into Windows Movie Maker, but using camera-bundled software (like the program that comes with the Flipcam) or a free program called MPEGStreamclip are realistic choices too. On Windows 7, Windows Movie Maker Live is a good choice because of its improved codec support. There are other options as well, like Google's Picasa which has simple video editing functionality. Lastly, when using a PC think about the computer you have access to, because you may need authentication privileges if you are to install third party software (another reason Macs are the more elegant solution on campus).

3. Short or Long?

Duration has many ramifications for video. After all, video is comprised of essentially 30 still image frames per second. For a 50 minute class, for example, that's 90,000 still images!

In order to reshape the video, whether that's changing its order or adding titles, graphics, adjusting audio--the process can take a good amount of both space and time. Using a 50 min. class recording as an example, you could expect to see a final file size after compression of somewhere between 500-1000 MB, certainly far too big for email and even too large for MyWebspace (considering bandwidth limits). 50 minutes is also way to long for a commercial solution like Youtube, which limits duration to 10 minutes. So if your file is short, or perhaps broken into pieces, you will have many more options for effectively delivering your video online.

Lastly, think about universality. Even though DVD-Video is not the latest and greatest, it's more universal than delivering a file online. So especially if your video is long and the goal is to have people see it with a sense of confidence, DVD-Video remains a good choice for delivering your final work.

Faculty and staff in the College of Letters and Science interested in further exploring the technical issues surrounding video production can feel free to contact david@lss.wisc.edu for more information.

 

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