Got a web page? Got a camcorder? Here’s how to put your video clips on the Web.
MPEG (emm-peg): Moving Picture Experts Group.
- A working group of digital video experts who meet regularly under the auspices of the International
Standards Organization (ISO) and the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) to develop
standards for compressed digital video.
- A compressed digital video clip, often found on the World Wide Web or in multimedia CD-ROM
If you’ve spent any time at all on the World Wide Web, you’re probably familiar with the MPEG acronym
by now. That’s because MPEGs are one of three main types of digital video files available on Web pages,
the other two being Microsoft’s Video for Windows and Apple’s QuickTime.
Unlike the other two, however, MPEG is rapidly becoming the video storage format of choice the
world over. Multimedia computer manufacturers are racing to include MPEG playback hardware in their
new systems, and many new digital technologies (including the Digital Video Disc and Digital Satellite
Services) have utilized MPEG compression to crunch their digital video streams down to a manageable
“Okay,” you say, “that’s all very well and good, but how do I get these MPEGs onto my
Glad you asked. What follows is a concise guide to putting your own short video clips onto the
World Wide Web. We’ll cover the shooting and digitizing of these clips in somewhat less detail; what
we’re really after here is the simplest way to
- compress your digital video files using the MPEG-1 CODEC, and
- post these files to a Web page using the store-and-forward method.
When you’ve finished with the article, you’ll be able to put the entire Web audience just a few mouse clicks away from viewing your short video clips.
Store and Forward
Currently, the most popular method for distributing digital video on the Internet is known as the
“store and forward” method. The concept is pretty simple: a videomaker makes a digitized video clip
available on his or her Web page, where the Internet public at large may download it onto their own
computer and play at their leisure. It’s nearly identical to the shareware concept of computer software
distribution, with one condition: the shared software is a video clip instead of a software package or
There are some drawbacks to this method. The biggest problem is time; video files tend to be
rather large, so it takes some time to download them on a typical (28.8 kilobaud) modem. A thirty-second
MPEG clip, for example, can easily occupy 1MB of hard drive space–which, in turn, will take
approximately ten minutes to download on a 28.8Kb modem.
Fortunately, there are ways to make the process a little bit more palatable. Common practice is to
place a single frame of the video clip onto your Web page near the location of the MPEG itself; this gives
potential viewers a look at what they’re getting before they commit some of their valuable online time.
Another solution: PreVU, InterVU Inc.’s software plug-in for Netscape 2.0 that allows you to see MPEGs
as you download them. To obtain a free copy of PreVU, just visit http://www.intervu.com and follow the
Before you get ready to start digitizing your favorite video clips, you’ll need to consider the method
that your audience will most likely use to view your MPEGs. Most multimedia systems offer only a small,
low-res window (160×120 pixels) for viewing digital video. Brand-new computer systems can handle
bigger window sizes and better resolutions, but you can’t count on everyone in your potential audience
having a brand-new computer. For this reason, we suggest offering your MPEGs in a 160×120 format.
This tiny window will place limits on the kind of video clips you can use. The most obvious limit
is size; if you want to show a stunning wide-angle shot of a mountain range, for example, it won’t look like
much once you’ve reduced it to 160×120 pixels.
Another limit is color. Some of the computer video systems used to view your work will only be
able to handle 256 colors at a time; for this reason, if you want to reach the widest possible audience, you’ll
have to avoid busy, colorful clothing or backgrounds.
These and other factors will unfortunately make most of your existing video footage difficult to
watch in a 160×120 window. The solution: either sort through the footage you have for the appropriate
shots, or start from scratch and shoot a video project with the above-mentioned concepts in mind.
Another problem with MPEGs is audio. Many software MPEG encoders won’t handle MPEG
audio, and just as many software MPEG playback applications won’t play MPEG audio even if you take
the time and effort to include it in your video clip. For this reason, MPEG video artists might find
themselves operating in a visual-only medium. (The easiest way to get around this? Go with the standard
.avi or .mov formats instead of MPEG.)
For more on the subject of shooting video for multimedia applications, see David Felder’s
September 1995 Desktop Video column, “Shooting Video for Multimedia.”
Make it Digital
Once you decide on what footage to use, you’ll have to get the video into the computer with a video
digitizer. Check Videomaker‘s March 1996 DTV buyer’s guide for a full range of digitizers at
several levels of price and performance.
Note that a 60-field-per-second, full-screen video digitizer is not necessary to produce a 160×120
digital video clip. Many of the older low-cost digitizers were designed with the small multimedia video
presentation in mind, so if you’ve got one of these, you’re set to go. If you’re in the market for a new video
digitizer, however, and you’re willing to spend a little extra, it’s a good idea to get the best model you can
afford. A better digitizer will not only give you a better overall image (even at 160×120); it’ll be there for
you when you’re ready to upgrade your DTV workstation.
One more thing to look for if you’re in the market for a video digitizer: check to see if the model
you’re interested in comes with MPEG encoding software bundled. Many of the newer video digitizers
come complete with software for nonlinear editing, 3D animation, photo enhancement and other
applications. For our purposes, a software-only MPEG encoder is a direct hit.
Software MPEG Encoding
Now that you’ve digitized your shot-for-multimedia footage, it’s time to use MPEG to bring your
video files down to a more manageable size.
In the CD-ROM and Video CD industry, this step usually requires a hardware-based MPEG
encoding platform. Made by companies like Sony, Minerva, OptiBase and FutureTel, these high-quality
solutions are designed primarily for large-scale software releases. Though they produce the best results,
they’re too costly for most consumers (starting at around $5000 and ranging about as high as you can
Fortunately, there is another solution: the low-cost software-only MPEG encoder. For about $100
(or in some cases, for free), you can pick up a piece of software that will reduce the size of your
QuickTime or Video for Windows clips by as much as 100:1 or more.
Operating these software packages is quite simple. In most cases, all you have to do is select the
appropriate video file for encoding, set a few parameters (frame rate, etc.) and the software does the
For Windows users, Xing Technology offers a popular MPEG encoder that comes bundled with
some video digitizers. (Sold separately, the XingMPEG Encoder sells for $90). For more information, Xing
Technology can be reached on the Web at http://www.xingtech.com.
Macintosh users would do well to take a look at Sparkle, a shareware MPEG encoder and
playback application. To obtain a free copy, point your browser at the Info-Mac archive
Once you’ve successfully run these programs, your video clips should occupy a much smaller
space, requiring less online time for your audience to download. Now it’s time to post it to a Web page. In order to do so, you’ll either have to pay someone who knows how (i.e. an Internet service provider or
consultant), or roll up your sleeves and get friendly with HTML, the language of the Web.
Don’t panic: the basics of HTML (hypertext markup language) are quite easy to learn. For a primer on
Web production fundamentals, take a look at “A Beginner’s Guide to HTML”
Besides a knowledge of the basics of HTML, you’re going to need access to the right kind of
Internet service. Specifically, you’ll need the type that allows users to create and post their own Web pages.
The major online service providers (CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, etc.) offer limited Web pages to their
clients, but the large number of individual pages this creates makes it necessary to severely limit them in
size (no MPEGs).
For this reason, your best option for Web publishing is likely to be the local Internet service
provider. Here’s how it usually works: you create your HTML files, then send (or mail, or FTP, or carry)
them to the provider, who then posts them for you (for a fee). Alternatively, if you know the intricacies of
Telnet and FTP, you can do the posting yourself; the service provider merely makes the space available to
you. Students who are lucky enough to attend schools that offer them Web space can take advantage of this
opportunity, but bear in mind that you’ll probably be on your own for the actual posting. Consult your
campus information center to find out how your school handles student Web pages.
For those who already have some experience producing Web pages, here’s a tip: posting MPEGs
(or any other kind of video file, for that matter) is easier than it may seem. Just link the MPEG file
(video.mpg, for example) the same way you would create an internal link to another Web page. The HTML
might look like this:
Click <a href=”video.mpg”> here< /a> to download my latest MPEG.
When you do this, a person viewing your page has only to click on the word “here” to download your
video clip. (Note: in the above example, you’d have to make sure that the file “video.mpg” was in the same
directory as the page listing the link. Otherwise, you’d have to put the directory information ahead of the
file name, e.g. “mpegs\video.mpg”.)
Confused? Don’t worry; a visit to the above-mentioned HTML tutorial should help to sort things
out a bit. And if all else fails, you can always bribe one of your computer-nerd friends with a six pack of
Jolt Cola; this always works for me.
Now that you know how to post MPEGs on the Web, what will you do with this knowledge? Here’s a
short list of applications you might consider:
Illustrate a process. Provide talking-head narration. Make a preview of a longer work. Create a
weekly 30-second Internet TV show. Advertise a product. Smile and wave to your Web audience. Give the
Web a “virtual” tour of your backyard. Introduce your pets. Expose a scandal. Sell your car. Create a video
Or anything else you might think of.