Video Formats Explained

Video Formats Explained


setting up live stream

wendikaren's picture

This is a great article ,very informative, thank you. We are setting up live stream for our church. We actually switched from windows to mac. I would like to know which camcorder or professional camera under 1000 dollars that can do the job. I'm using wire cast as our encoding software and we're using a Mac with 10.8

I have more info. I can give you, but didnt want to inundate in a post. Thank you!

Cameras for live streaming

I use three US-sourced Panasonic G6 bodies (because NTSC "region", these used bodies do excellent 1080p/30 video), and one GX85 (it has stabilisation built in, though not as good as Olympus's). All except the GX are tripod mounted. The G6 bodies are about $300 USD on the used market, and there are lots of them. They are practical to use as video cameras, and having the same camera means the outputs will have identical colour signatures, assuming you set them up the same.


Hi, firstly...great article. Very simply put. 


I have an old .avi and only need to play it on a large TV in reception. Its only 800MB so I thought I would avoid compressing it altogether in order to keep the 'quality' (some of the video is over 10 years old). 


However, it does not play on any media device I have got but will play on my PC. The biggest compressed version i have got is a .vob file and it works fine. 


Any ideas why it would not work? As you say above it only needs to be compressed to share and the media device holds much more than 800MB so whats the issue?


Clearly my PC doesnt think there is an issue. 

Device support...?

It is also worthy of noting that not all stand-alone devices (DVD players, television sets etc.) support all codecs/containers, and not equally.


What is important to remember - and this may answer Karl Russell's question - is that, on a computer (be it a Windows/*nix PC, or a Mac) appropriate codecs can be installed as required, and processing speed is a non-issue! As in - even if the video playback is choppy beyond reason, this is still the user's problem. It's up to them to lower the quality (or find a lower-quality file), or upgrade their machine.


But! Not so with stand-alone players! These devices usually can't be upgraded, and certainly their hardware can NOT be refreshed, except by buying an entirely new unit. They don't have the kind of structure a PC does. Instead, all decoding is done in specialized chips that do nothing else. And as it is, the more calculation-intense an operation is, the more advanced a chip it requires - and the more pricey it becomes. In the interest of keeping design simple and prices competetive, corners are cut. (find me a stand-alone player, whatever it is, under $350, that can play High or even Main h.264 video with all its bells and whistles, I dare You) Enough to say that way back in 2006 You would be hard-pressed to find a device that supports even a hint of h.264 - it was too intensive to process back then, and everything was DVD really (h.262).


As such, support for many options within the codecs is usually dropped. Many older codecs are also dropped (to simplify things). It's a closed environment that nobody except the maker can modify. And even though the companies try hard to deliver robust devices, there will always be gaps - by necessity.


And even today, even with the widespread adoption of h.264 as a standard -- h.264 still has many options that have not been explored by device manufacturers. Why? Simple - they provide little gain in image quality, and require a lot of processing power in exchange. Of course, these little tricks that h.264 can do are the little details that set the mark between "great" and "awesome" video quality.



But what I'm trying to get at, the most, is the fact that especially when delivering to stand-alone playback devices, it is of utmost importance to first and foremost keep the final device in mind when compressing, and compress for it. Finding out the exact specs can be an issue (esp. with the cheaper models) -- manufacturers all tend to boast support for many codecs, but when they're up against the wall about exactly which options and variations they support, the fall silent for some reason. A file encoded in h.264 that plays on one device may or MAY NOT play on another. And that's where the problem is at.

A bit outdated

bgallagh's picture

Some good info here, but definitely needs to be updated.  Claiming that Adobe will support Flash for some time, no mention of h.265, and only an external reference to html5 standards are all glaring errors from the last year of technical developments. Since this article is promoted on the Videomake site, it would serve us readers well to post some updates, please.

Bad info...

bscenefilms's picture

Not only do you need to call the MPEG-2 compression codec H.262, you have to keep from confusing it with H.264, which is used to compress Blu-ray disks as well as lots of web video. One of the very nice things about H.264 is that you can use it at very low and very high bitrates. The H.264 will send highly compressed low resolution video across the web and then happily encode your high definition movie at super high bitrates for delivery to a High Definition television. This is a very common codec for camcorders and digital video cameras. Its container is [b]AVCHD[/b].


It can be, but it is not limited to that...

huffyuv codec

pnoyes's picture

I recently had a vhs cleaned up.  I received the file back in huffyuv codec (22GB).   I installed the the codec in Windows/Syswow64 as directed.  I was able to play it back on XMedia recode and was very impressed with the color and clarity.  However, I was unable to use it on Premiere or Pinnacle 18 editing systems.  I finally recoded it in XMedia Recode to FFV1, altho it came out a little smaller, 11GB.  Then I was able to edit it in  Pinnacle.  Is there anyway to get Premiere of Pinnacle to "see" huffyuv? 


bugmenot's picture

It was bad practice back then as well, to link to w 3 s c h o o l. Check for more info.

avi master?

arnold68's picture

I want to convert my father's 8mm home movies to a digital format with an editable master file. I'm a total editing novice, so I think a PC-editable format might be good enough. (But I'm thinking of transferring using a Pro 2K process.) An online company ( outputs to HD-AVI, and they don't offer AVDHD. They do offer MP-4 but call it streaming quality rather than editing quality. Your column says AVI is a dinosaur, and you wrote that four years ago. Am I missing something here?

Re:avi master?

AVI is indeed a dinosaur. For one, it doesn't support timestamps on frames, which makes it pretty bad for NLE.
arnold68: the company is bullshitting You. There is no such thing as "HDAVI" or "HD-AVI".
AVI, MP4, MKV and OGM -- these are all containers, which means they can contain individual streams compressed with CODECS. MP4 typically holds H.264 video (this is the video stream encoded in H.264). AVI however does not support independent streams, instead opting to interleave video and audio together (presumably for the fact that it was less demanding and simpler to process back when it was introduced in 1996). As such, they are practically never used for anything nowadays, unless it needs to be simple and cheap. Even in-game cinematics have shifted from AVI to more controllable things like OGM or even RADVideo (which is a story unto itself). AVI spec is 20 years old this year - it's ancient by all accounts.
More notably, AVI was never meant for HD work, even though theoretically you can save such a stream to AVI (because it's essentially a container). It will probably violate AVI format specs (?), but it's doable.
Second, it's not AVDHD - it's AVCHD (AVDHD is appartently a DVD player by Audiovox, or somesuch). If You want to edit the file, You will want edit-quality, and that'll be something like MPEG HD422 (in a container like MXF or MP4) or PRORES (in a MOV container), or something similar.
In general, the point being -- there are two kinds of codecs/formats out there: edit-oriented and playback-oriented (streaming, also).
--- Playback-oriented ones will ensure good quality for as little processing power required and/or as little storage space required (ex. h.262 (MPEG-2 DVD), h.264 (MPEG-4 BluRay)). They achieve that by encoding data based on relations, so that the next frame may be "previous frame + changes" instead of an entire new image. A few may be "visually lossless", but some information (usually quite a lot of it) is typically lost regardless. The advantages are: +small size, +easy decoding, +low bitrates.
--- Edit-oriented ones will ensure each frame is kept separately (exclusively I-frames) instead of relying on predictions and changesets/relations. The resultant files are positively HUGE, but should ensure that the result coming out of an NLE (Non-Linear Editor, like Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro) will be of equal quality (they tend to be lossless codecs). Of course - handling 25+ frames per second at full-frame sizes is taxing for the storage device, so real-time playback is rarely feasible with these (hence they're useless for playback/streaming).
A normal editing process typically sees editing on full-frame codecs, followed by compression to streaming formats (as required) for final delivery.
From where I'm standing, they're probably offering You a mixed bag of something they think will be editable, but may not be. I would stay away from those folk, or at the very least request they provide their original pulled material, even if it's all TIFF or DNG frames (which will be reasonably HUGE!).
If You want to edit on PC, Your editing go-to program will probably be Premiere Pro, and Premiere Pro natively works with AVCHD and DNxHD at high bitrates. But do not worry, You can often use an interim tool (I like to use ffmpeg or ffmbc, there are nice GUIs for using them through windows -- look up "AnotherGUI") to convert whatever the company gives You to Your prefered editing format.

RE:huffYUV codec

It seems that working with huffYUV is broken on many systems, for whatever reason. Recoding it to the open standard FFV1 is the right choice here (I would've probably gone with ProRes 4:2:2 HQ, but I'm typically on a Mac).
On a side note, Premiere Pro seems to be rather picky about its input video formats, so I wouldn't rely on it as the industry benchmark... ;-)

Regarding Article on Video file formats

Luthold's picture

I am wanting to transfer old films and videos to digital files to show, and edit in the future. I know nothing about how this all works and I am trying to educate myself so that I can have copies that can be used in the future that are sharp and crisp and that can be used both in the US and Europe, since I have family there. This article was very informative for me. However, it was written in 2012. In five years much may have changed. Do you have any updates or comments on the material presented?