We recently received this question sent in by a reader that we thought would be good to share as it expands upon the question of formatting and exporting.

I’m new to video as well as Videomaker magazine. I work for a small newspaper that, like many publications, is getting into video. We purchased a Sony SR80 camcorder. We also work off of PCs, mainly our Dell laptops. Please be aware that these are factors we need to live with. For video editing we’re using Windows Movie Maker which comes packaged with the Dell. We are putting the videos up in a Flash shell and that looks pretty good. My question is more for my knowledge and personal use. I’m finding that theWMV file, which for Flash I convert into an FLV file, looks pixilated when I want to just play that WMV on a friend’s computer using Window Media. How can I make that file look better when I just want to play it in Windows Media. The camcorder is giving me a MPG file. I have been using the Windows encoder to allow me to work in Windows Movie Maker. Any help and suggestions would be great.
Thank you, Randy Flaum

Exploring Randy’s problem can be useful to all of us. Randy’s camera uses an MPEG-2 video format. He needs to compress this format, and he can do this with a number of different products. The WMV and FLV files are called containers; think of a container as a package that contains the compressed audio and video. Different media players can read this package. The quality of a video’s playback really depends on the CPU. The faster the CPU, the easier it will be for it to play back video. Of course, there are a number of different things that could cause Randy’s video not to play back well. Let’s start with the software end of things.

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Software Needed to Capture

WMV is short for Windows Media Video. Microsoft originally designed it for streaming video on the internet. Instead of WMVs, Randy should be making AVIs. AVI is short for Audio Video Interleave and is a Microsoft file format. AVI files will be bigger than WMV files and will usually give you better-quality video. They are more universally adapted and should be easy to play on a number of different media players. You will still be able to convert the AVI file easily to FLV. You may want to try another media player for your WMV files. There are many free ones that are small, and you can download them easily. We mention this because it could be a Windows Media Player problem, so viewing the video with another player like Media Player Classic or the VLC player will show you if in fact it is a software-only problem.

The only other issue could be with the computer’s ability to properly run Windows Media Encoder. It is possible that the computer does not meet the specs that Windows Media Encoder requires. If that is the case, you can try looking for different encoders online by doing a quick search. You may want to double-check to see if your computer meets the requirements.

Hardware Needed

Randy could also be getting issues with the video quality because of some hardware problems. Hardware-wise, his Sony has a USB 2.0 port. Depending on how old his computer is, he may have a computer that supports only USB 1.1. In this case, the video coming in will not be good, if it comes in at all. We are going to assume that he is using USB 2.0 so that should not be a factor.

Staying with the hardware side of things, let’s talk about the hard drive. We recommend getting a dedicated external hard drive for your videos. It’s always a good idea to dedicate a separate hard drive for the task, because you won’t have any other programs that the CPU needs to get from that hard drive.

You can easily defragment and take proper care of the external video-only hard drive. Yes, a fragmented hard drive does affect videos. The more fragmented a hard drive is, the less efficiently the system will be able to import, edit or compress that video. Files that have come from a heavily-fragmented hard drive will sometimes not play back properly. You can get an external hard drive for only a small premium over an internal drive of the same capacity, and prices are constantly coming down. If your system has an eSATA port, that is your best interface choice for a single external hard drive. Otherwise, FireWire and USB 2.0 are both fine choices; though neither are as fast as eSATA. External hard drives are small and easy to store. The benefits of a separate video-only hard drive far outweigh any slight cost for purchasing one. Videos will be much easier to track, and, more importantly, if something happens to the computer’s hard drive or the computer dies, you can plug that hard drive into another computer.

Test It

Finally, before you decide to buy new hardware or software, first try playing the file with another player, preferably the VLC media player or Media Player Classic. Both are small and will not take up too much of your computer’s RAM to run. If the video is still of low quality, that’s when you want to do some of the other suggestions.

John Devcic is a freelance writer and videographer.

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