Choosing The Right Format For Your Video Work.
You have finished your edit, inserted the music and all ready to export. You click on the export button and a whole list of video codec pop up. You are sitting there going through the list wishing you know what is the difference between each codec and which one should I choose?
Worry no more. This quick tutorial will guide you on the codecs that you need to choose to get your video project up and running. Either going for DVD, Vimeo or Youtube.
Before we get into the details, let me give you a brief explanation of what codecs/format are. Codec and format are two separate things. A format or also known as container format is a wrapper which wraps the video information around so that it is one readable file. Codec however is the compression that is being used to compress the video information. For example, Quicktime movie (.mov) is a format that is widely used in both Mac and Windows machines. H.264 on the other hand is the type of compression that is being used to compress the video and hence wrap around with a Quicktime (.mov) format. H.264 can also be wrap using .mp4. Now with the simple understanding of what codec and format is, lets go to the next part.
There are three parts to every video work that you do. The first is acquisition which follows with editorial and ends with delivery.
Acquisition is pretty much the format that your camera records in. If your using Canon DSLR, than your camera acquisition format is Quicktime (.mov) with the codec, H.264. The problem with camera codec is that it is highly compressed and the format could not be edited right of the camera because the format is not right for the editing software (NLE). These kinds of codec are known as finishing codec. You will need to transcode this codec to an NLE friendly format. Here are a list of NLE friendly codec used with it’s respective format containers.
After knowing the list of codec out there, now is getting to know what format is right for your work. Personally my three favorite codec’s are Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD for Quicktime and IMX30/50 for MXF. Apple ProRes codec is the hallmark of codecs in both indie, broadcast and film projects. It is a widely used codec and can be supported by the major three editing softwares (Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer). MXF format is also gaining weight in popularity especially among Avid Media Composer users as MXF gives you high quality compression without taking too much of your computer processor. You can easily transcode to all of this formats and codecs using ffmpeg (http://ffmpeg.org/) or my favorite software, Adobe Media Encoder.
Delivery codecs are the simplest of all as you can use H.264 codec with a Quicktime (.mov) wrapper. H.264 is widely used everywhere and you can use this codec for both Youtube and Vimeo. It has really good quality compression with a small file size.
So I hope you have learned a thing or two about codecs and formats. Tell us what is your favorite codec that you use in your work?
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Selvan is director of photography, experienced in filming documentaries and television production for various local and international broadcasters like History Channel Asia