With more than a million videos being sold on iTunes in less than 20 days after its video launch, video industries prepare for a probable revolution similar to the one that rocked the music world five years ago.
The music industry was drastically altered with the introduction of the iPod, and more importantly, iTunes in 2001. The iPod was not the first MP3 player on the market, but the combination of its stylish design, easy navigation, trendy ad campaign and ease of use when interfaced with iTunes combined to enable the hardware and software duo to revolutionize how we purchase and consume music. And Apple is at it again, this time with video. Again, Steve Jobs and his crew were not the first to ship a portable media device. In fact, just about any industry associated with video playback is doing all it can to get a piece of this portable/streamable/digital video domain while it's young (with the exception of Hollywood, which seems to not have learned from the music industry's mistakes–but that's another article).
But what does this mean for us video producers? Remember a couple of years back when many were talking about the Internet changing the way we shoot and edit? Well, they were partially right, but it didn't happen overnight and it didn't completely change our producing and viewing habits. So what does the flood of handheld devices and $1.99 television shows, music videos, animations and shorts mean to the makers of video?
Big, Little and Micro Screens
As we watch movie theater screens shrink and home television sets grow, a new kid sneaks into the video neighborhood: the handheld device. But many are asking, "do people really want to watch TV shows and movies on a two and a half inch screen?" Let's start by looking at some of the devices the consumers are using before we evaluate if and how we can serve them. (See the grid on opposite page.)
The main information to glean from all of these numbers is the screen size, resolution and storage capacity. Whether you as a video producer go out and buy a portable video player to show potential clients your work while meeting face to face, or if you plan to post video on the Internet to be downloaded to a portable device, you'll need to know what technology your audience is using and how best to shoot and compress your video for them to best view it.
Shooting for the Micro Screen
If you learned to shoot for Internet streaming, then you already have the skills to shoot for handhelds. Most of the same rules apply. The basics are simple: your audience's screen is small and their content is compressed, so keep it close, less complicated and movement to a minimum.
Watching a 70mm wide-screen epic like Ben Hur on a 2.5-inch hand held wouldn't be fun for long. Films like Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia were shot knowing that the audience would see them on the largest screens available at the time. You are producing for the opposite end of the spectrum. Plan to shoot closer than you would normally with the typical PBS talking head medium shot a general standard to aim for. Even establishing shots should be a bit tighter and less frequently used. Also, keep in mind that with all visuals potentially smaller than you are viewing them in your editing software, "busy" compositions will be more distracting or more difficult to decipher than simple compositions. Only use complicated backdrops if the story really requires them. And finally, though video compression has gotten so much better than the early days of steaming video on the internet, movement can suffer, resulting in stuttering pans and blocky transitions. It is best to keep your camera on a tripod, only use slow pans and tilts when the story needs them and stick to simple cuts whenever possible. Even the subject moving within the frame could be affected by compression so consider this when developing your script.
Stuffing It All into that Tiny Box
As stated earlier, compression has come a long way since we were streaming video over the Internet in the late nineties. MPEG-4 variants, such as H.264 (a.k.a. AVC) seem to be leading the compression race for handhelds at the moment. Many editing programs will let you export these formats with varying levels of control. Third party compressors are available in many different forms as well. QuickTime 7 Pro (cross platform, $30) is an easy way to convert your QuickTime movies. Kinoma Producer 3/Kinoma Player ($30/$20) and X-OOM ($30) are two other aftermarket products that deal solely with getting your videos compressed for the small players, allowing import of may different formats. Discreet Cleaner 6 ($600) from Autodesk is the prosumer industry standard for making your movies small. There are even free, downloadable programs that will compress your files to handheld-friendly sizes.
The Audience is Waiting
There are many reasons today to produce and distribute video for the small screen. Vidcasting is quickly becoming popular riding on the shirttails of podcasting. Producers can now carry their demo reel or finished works on pocket sized media players to sell their talent on the road. Whatever your motivation may be, the tools for delivery are available and the audience is waiting with portable video devices in hand.
Morgan Paar is Videomaker's Technical Editor.