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Encoding Tutorial

Audio/Video Encoding Recommendations
The SF Bay Area IMC audio and video collectives are developing recommendations for the capture, encoding, and publishing of media on the web site. This is a work in progress. If you'd like to get involved in IMC audio or video production in the bay area, please join the Audio and/or Video listservs.

Web Tutorial Links has lots of helpful audio info, from choosing a good microphone to working with the latest audio applications. See also Ron Dexter's film/video/audio production tips. We also host Tips on Radio Interviewing, Final Cut Pro tutorial, and Cleaner tutorial here.

MP3 Audio
Dozens of audio applications are on the web as freeware. Even the top-of-the-line audio workstation software Pro Tools is a free, allbeit huge, download.

When recording sound onto your computer, it is important to adjust the output volume of your source so that it doesn't "clip," or overload, your computer's audio input. Simple sound recording freeware such as Coaster (mac) can help you set your levels; Coaster also allows you to chop the recording into separate files as you record.

For best results, MP3 audio files containing voice-only material should be encoded in Mono at a bitrate of up to 64k. Stereo and a higher bitrate of 128k can be used for files that include music. When encoding streaming MP3 files at modem-bitrates (such as 16k), choose a low sampling rate (such as 16 kHz). For best results (higher quality sound and a smaller filesize), turn on VBR (variable bit rate) encoding. You should also remember to type in the title and any other information for the "ID3" fields. On the Mac side, the free iTunes is excellent for encoding MP3s.

First of all, you will need an audio or video file that is compatible with RealProducer, Media Cleaner, or any other program that can encode RealMedia files. The better the quality of your source material (for example, uncompressed audio), the better the quality of your RealMedia file. RealMedia clips can be encoded as single-rate or multi-rate (SureStream). We serve RealMedia via the real time streaming protocol (RTSP), so make sure to choose SureStream; the file will be larger, but re-buffering will be reduced to a minimum, and image and sound quality vastly improved.

If you are using the free version of RealProducer, you can only choose two SureStream rates. We usually recommend 56k modem and 256k DSL, as the majority of internet users have these connections. Those using Media Cleaner Pro, RealProducer Plus, or other software can choose any number of different bit rates (resulting in a longer encode time and larger file size).

If you are using Cleaner 5, use the Settings Wizard to set up your RealMedia encode: WWW > Real > Realtime Streaming > 28.8k, 33.6k Modem; 56k Modem, ISDN (Single); ISDN (Double) > etc. Click on the frame to crop your movie as desired.

We do not serve QuickTime via a streaming server; instead, progressive download allows full-quality QuickTime video to be viewed even by those with slow connections. Users may have to wait for most of the QuickTime movie to download, but it will often be of higher quality than a streaming RealVideo. The Sorenson codec offers the best quality (choose "Fast Start - Compressed Header"); the Cinepak codec is more cross-platform compatible (choose "Fast Start").

If you are using Cleaner 5, use the Settings Wizard to set up your QuickTime encode: WWW > QuickTime > Progressive Streaming (high quality) > T1, Cable Modem, xDSL, LAN ('Broadband') > etc. Click on the frame to crop your movie as desired.

Other Formats
You can also upload Flash (.swf), MPEG (.mpg), and SMIL (.smi) files. Flash movies can include animation, interactivity, and sound. MPEG video includes the Video CD (MPEG-1) and DVD-Video (MPEG-2) formats. SMIL ("smile," Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) is similar to HTML, and is compatible with Internet Explorer 5.5, QuickTime 4.1, RealPlayer 8, and other software.

Bay Area Media Production Facilities
Check out our list of local media production resources, including IMC spaces. Media Alliance, in San Francisco, has a computer lab with G4 workstations. Videographers can use their facilities to edit and upload footage using Final Cut Pro and Media Cleaner Pro.

Shooting for the Web
Before you start shooting video for the web, it is important to understand that most video codecs work by creating a series of "delta frames" - packets of data telling the viewing application how the current frame differs from the previous frame. The more the image changes from frame to frame, the more data will have to be crammed into each delta frame. This means that fewer frames can be sent, and less image detail can be described for each frame.

So, your goal is to make each frame almost exactly the same as the frame before! How do you do this? There are four simple techniques:
  • Use a tripod. By avoiding shaking, the background will be almost identical from frame to frame.
  • Avoid unnecessary camera movement, including zooms. Every time you pan or zoom, your web video will drop frames and image quality will degrade.
  • Turn off autofocus, unless you need it. On many cameras, autofocus will perform slight changes on the focus almost constantly. Each change of focus will probably change every pixel on the screen - it's just as bad as zooming. So, if you can, set focus manually and keep it there.
  • Turn off auto iris (aka auto exposure), unless you need it. Likewise, your camera's slight changes in the iris will cause every pixel in the image to get lighter or darker - it's just as bad as auto-focus. So, if you can, set the exposure manually and keep it there.
Encoding Web Video using RealProducer
If you are using RealProducer, you will definitely want to turn on several video codec options to improve your image quality: RealVideo 8 (which offers superior video quality compared to RealVideo G2), 2-pass encoding, variable bit rate (VBR) encoding, and loss protection. Combining 2-pass and VBR (see definitions of these terms below) delivers a huge improvement in video quality, but don't be surprised if it also doubles your encoding time!

Professional (that is, not free) encoding software allows you, among other things, to re-size your video from full 640x480 pixels down to more web-friendly sizes such as 160x120. If you are using the free RealProducer, you will have to export your clip at the final intended ("postage stamp") size in uncompressed .avi or .mov format before importing it into RealProducer. Remember to choose horizontal and vertical resolutions that are both divisible by 4 (e.g. 176x132 but not 180x135), and in a ratio of 4:3 (or 16:9 for widescreen DV) - see Horizontal/Vertical Resolution, below. QuickTime Pro, $30, is useful for exporting video - see Exporting an Uncompressed QT movie, below.

Media Cleaner
Media Cleaner encodes streaming audio and video faster and better than other programs. We recommend acquiring it yourself, or visit Media Alliance in San Francisco and use it there; then you can upload your video over their T1 internet connection.

Individual captured clips (for example, from an iMovie project's Media folder) can usually be imported directly into Media Cleaner. This will save you the trouble of exporting from your capture program, unless you need rendered transitions or titles.

Horizontal/Vertical Resolution
Higher resolutions will give you more image detail but lower frame rates (jerkier motion). Talking heads should be smaller so the image has finer detail and the lips move smoothly; long shots with signs that need to be readable may require higher resolutions and jerkier motion. Higher resolutions render as a "slide show" effect.
  4:3 (standard)  16:9 (widescreen)
144x108          192x108
192x144          256x144
240x180          320x180
288x216          384x216
336x252          448x252
384x288          512x288
432x324          576x324
480x360          640x360
528x396          704x396
576x432          768x432
624x468          832x468
672x504          896x504
720x540          960x540
These are the standard resolutions. But if you're using Media Cleaner Pro, don't be afraid to crop your video to a different aspect ratio! Before compressing for the web, always get rid of any excess frame real estate - for instance, turn your video into a dramatic widescreen presentation by cropping off the top and/or bottom.

Exporting an Uncompressed QT movie
The free RealProducer cannot resize video down to a web-ready "postage stamp" size. You may be able to use the $30 QuickTime Pro to export video created by your video capture or video editing application. Or, such an application may be able to perform a QuickTime export itself (in iMovie, for instance, click "expert" in the quicktime dialog). Here are the options to select in the QuickTime export dialog box:
  • File menu > Export...
  • click Export: Movie to QuickTime Movie
  • click Options...
  • the Video, Allow Transcoding, and Sound boxes should be checked; the Prepare for Internet Streaming box should not be checked.
  • click Video Settings...
    • set Compressor to None and Millions of Colors
    • set Quality to Best
    • set Motion to 29.97 Frames per second
    • click OK
  • If you need to adjust the brightness, color balance, or contrast, click Video Filter...
    • set the filter you would like to apply, or None, and click OK
  • click Video Size...
    • click Use Custom Size; Width: 160 and Height: 120 (or other resolutions in the Horizontal/Vertical Resolution section above)
    • click OK
  • click Sound Settings...
    • Compressor: None
    • set Rate: to the sample rate of your source material - for DV this will usually be 48.000 kHz
    • Size: 16 bit
    • Use: Mono unless your clip could benefit from stereo sound
    • click OK
  • click OK
  • type a .mov file name and click Save
At "postage stamp" size, a video clip will take up about half the space of the same clip in DV format - about 1GB per 10 minutes. It can now be imported into the free RealProducer for creation of a RealMedia (.rm) file.

Definitions of 2-pass and VBR
Two-pass encoding increases quality of output video by analyzing video data for transitions and overall complexity before encoding the input video. VBR encoding enables the video codec to vary the bit rate throughout the clip; more bits are spent on high-action scenes, taking away bits from low-action scenes. This drastically improves quality for both narrowband and broadband video. For best results, turn on both of these features, as they complement each other to greatly improve video quality.

Questions or comments? E-mail the Indybay collective.
by ~Bradley
I was recommended Audacity for a Mac, and I am recommending it to other people.

It is free, open source!, easy to use, and it looks good.

Be sure to get Audacity 1.2.0-pre3 for Mac!
by ben
for people looking to crop & resize photos,

these two programs are free and easy to use with cool batch processing- ie rename & resize all the photos in a directory and save as jpeg at 75% quality



and of course use The Gimp (free alternative to Photoshop) for advanced editing
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