Imagine that it’s a quiet Friday evening. There’s nothing worth watching on TV, and you don’t want to brave the cold weather to trudge to the video store. You fire up your trusty PC/TV and log onto the Internet. With a few clicks of your remote control you surf to the Videomaker Web site to watch a contest-winning video. Your screen flashes to black and the movie begins–with a picture so clear and sound so crisp it’s like watching a DVD. "Who needs television?" you think aloud. In fact, you are so inspired by the quality of the video that you decide to put your latest creation on the Web for the world to see. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Sure. But right now Internet video is anything but smooth. Streaming video jerks along at 10-15 frames per second with a pixelized picture smaller than a soda cracker. "They call this video?" you scoff.
Does the current state of streaming video have you down? Hang in there, video enthusiast, because someday soon you will be able to transmit full-screen, full-motion video via the Internet. With all the Internet info-pipeline expansions that are coming, the situation will dramatically improve, but what about now?
There is another option. There is a way to get satisfactory playback from Internet streaming video, right now. The answer is to create productions in the sequential still format.
What is a Streaming Slideshow?
A streaming slideshow is a series of still images with sound that play through the Internet: a virtual slideshow. Actually, a streaming slideshow is more of a technique than a technology. It involves assembling a group of still images and a soundtrack into a sequence that tells your story. Shake and stir, add sound and you’re ready for Net streams that flow. It’s a bit like a slide production from the days when two slide projectors, a dissolve unit and a synchronized tape recorder were what people meant when they said multimedia. Now, we’re not advocating returning to those days. What we’re suggesting is the use of a streaming slideshow authoring package, such as RealNetworks’ RealSlideShow, available for download at www.real.com or your regular nonlinear editing software and a video streaming compressor, like RealProducer, Netshow Encoder, or QuickTime Player. Also, Emblaze, and others provide non-streaming means for delivering slideshows through the Net. With these, you can easily put together a sequence of still images, complete with audio and transitions, and upload it to your Web site in just a few minutes. If you don’t have a Web site of your own, you can post your not-for-profit slideshow on sites hosted by tripod.com, janus.com or geocities.com free of charge.
Why do streaming slideshows yield a better Net video experience than full motion video? Streaming slideshows use the available bandwidth to deliver high-resolution stills and high-quality audio, instead of low-resolution, jumpy video.
One way to use the slideshow format is to make a "sampler" or streaming slide demo of a movie you have already created in a nonlinear editor (see Turning Your Movie into a Slideshow). Or make a new slideshow from digital stills.
Begin at the Beginning
Streaming slideshows consist of a parade of still images that tell your story. Sequence is the key concept here. The task is to create arrays of images that naturally flow from one to another. It’s the way a good comic or storyboard presentation works. Each still image tells its part of your story. As with all good productions, it takes planning to get that right.
So that’s your first step: plan your production. What is your project about? What kinds of images will you be trying to create or capture? Are there any particular techniques that would be good to use on this project? What kind of sound will be needed? When you have concrete answers to these questions, then you have a production plan. These questions can be answered as elaborately as a full-blown storyboard or as simply as a detailed descriptive list. Any map will do, but you have to have a map.
One effective technique is to plan your images as a progression of shots. Think in terms of long shots, medium shots, close-ups and cutaways. In conventional video, this is called planning your coverage. A coverage plan insures that when you return from location, you will have the required variety of shots you need to assemble an edited sequence that will tell your story effectively. It’s the same with streaming slideshows. Planning helps.
Beyond the type of shots, consider how many shots of whatever type will be required to show a particular action. Here’s an example. Suppose you were going to record your daughter’s team in their league-winning soccer game. Covering a play with high-energy action driving down the field would be easy in full-motion video. Just start recording the action, panning and adjusting the frame as need be as events proceed from one end of the field to the other. Now consider the same sequence from the perspective of sequential stills. If all you have are two long shots, one at one end of the field and the other at the other end of the field, the viewer doesn’t get the full impact of the sequence. To avoid this problem, you need to include the intermediate actions that fill out the sequence. Do you have the images to make up a progression? Once you start thinking in terms of action sequence picture elements, your projects will really come to life. As a matter of fact, this type of thinking will improve your conventional video technique as well.
If you’re looking for a terrific resource to help you understand the ins and outs of communicating with a sequence of still images, then look no further than your Sunday paper. Comic strips do a terrific job of demonstrating still sequencing. Think of each frame as a shot, and study the shots that are used. Generally speaking, tighter shots, showing detail, are used more often than wide shots. Sometimes very little changes from one frame to the next, and backgrounds are kept simple. A study of the funnies will improve your streaming slideshows.
Bringing Home the Images
Now it’s time to get some stills. There are several ways this can be done. Your camcorder makes a great still frame recorder. But you’ve always thought of your trusty camcorder as something you shoot moving video with. Right? Well, we’re thinking sequences here. In sequential still mode, think of your camcorder as the ultimate motor drive. If you shoot 30 frames per second, as camcorders do, that’s 1800 still frames per minute. Think of what an hour’s worth of shooting would yield. A sequential series of images, like video, makes it much easier to select the individual frames that make up the action you want to portray.
When you return home, you can grab still frames off your videotape. An inexpensive frame grabber, like Play’s Snappy, can simplify the job of getting those still images off the videotape and onto your computer’s hard drive. A VCR with a solid still frame setting is very helpful in locating and recording the shots you want. It’s either that or a very good sense of hand-eye coordination to grab the stills on the fly. If your digitizing software has a field or frame capture setting, use the field setting. Video frames are composed of two fields, an odd and an even one. When both are captured as a digital still frame, the results tend to look a bit jaggy. Capturing just one field, usually the odd one, nips the jaggies in the bud. If there isn’t a frame/field setting, Photoshop and many other image processing apps have a de-interlace setting that will easily zap the jaggies in a flash.
We’re talking about shooting stills, right? So one of the new digital still cameras makes for an excellent production solution. Resolution is not of supreme importance, because in order for your streaming still presentation to work properly, you’ll want to keep the images relatively small and low-resolution. 320×240 is a good all-around resolution for streaming slideshow productions.
Finally, you can always shoot conventional still film, have it processed, scan the stills and proceed from there. Many film processing services will do the scanning for you. They can also create a CD-ROM of your shots and even post them to the Web as soon as they are out of the developing solution.
Editing your work
The most essential editing questions facing you are which images go where and in what order, for how long, and which images get dumped. A sequential still production can be edited using a dedicated slideshow program like RealSlideshow or using the same nonlinear editor that you use to cut full-motion video; Adobe Premiere, Ulead’s Media Studio Pro, or Apple’s Final Cut Pro to name a few. After you have worked out the progression of stills, which goes first and which goes where, and so on, then you can go back in and adjust the timing of each individual image. Add a music track or some narration and you are ready to compress the file for the Net.
Wrapping It Up
Now all that remains is to export your slideshow to your Web site. RealSlideShow (and other slideshow authoring programs) will actually post your creation to your Web site automatically, if you have the ability to update your own site via FTP.
Once your project is posted, all that is left for you to do is relax, enjoy your production and wait for the kudos from all your fans.
Turning Your Movie into a Streaming Slideshow
Assuming you have completed a full-screen, full-motion video project on a nonlinear editing system, here are three methods you could use to create a streaming video slideshow "sampler" or promotional piece from your finished project. The resulting files will be ready to stream across the Internet.
Scenario 1 – Quick and Dirty (for RealMedia or NetShow)
Pro: No need to re-edit your project before encoding.
Con: You have no control over which frames are selected for the slideshow.
The encoders simply capture one frame for about every second of video. Also, these methods encode cuts only.
With RealProducer G2 Plus
Useful only if your server supports RealMedia files.
Additional Pro: No need to resize, change frame rate or re-render your project before encoding.
Con: RealProducer G2 Plus costs about $30.
- Start with your finished movie on your hard drive in one of the common file formats, say, .avi or .mov.
- Open RealProducer Plus. Set it to "Record from File," and point it at your finished movie file.
- Set "Video Quality" to "Slideshow."
- In "Options|Video Settings," enable resizing, and change the frame size to quarter-screen (typically 320X240 pixels) or less. Generally, maintain aspect ratio.
- In "Options|Target Audience Settings," select the "Video" tab and reduce the frame rate to 15 fps or less.
- Click "Start." RealProducer will capture a single frame every second from your project and render these frames, along with your sound track, into a RealMedia (.rm) file.
With RealProducer G2 or NetShow Encoder (one of the NetShow Tools package)
Useful only if your server supports RealMedia files.
Additional Pro: These encoders are free. You can use these whether your server supports RealMedia or NetShow (Advanced Streaming Format: .asf) file formats.
Additional Con: You do have to change frame size and rate, and re-render your project before encoding.
- Start with your finished movie on your hard drive in one of the common file formats.
- Open your file into a new project in your nonlinear editor.
- Set the output options to 15 fps or less and 320X240 pixels or less. Render to a new output file.
- Use steps 2-6 above in RealProducer G2, or their equivalents in NetShow Encoder, to encode this new project file as either a RealMedia or Advanced Streaming Format (.asf) file.
Scenario 2 – A Bit More Refined (for RealMedia or QuickTime)
Pro: You choose the exact frames from your project that you would like to use in your slideshow. RealSlideshow and QuickTime are free.
Con: You do have to choose and capture stills from your original project.
- Start with your finished movie on your hard drive.
- Open the finished file into a new project using your nonlinear editor.
- Mark the exact frames youd like to use as slides and export them as still frames (RealSlideshow is set to receive .jpg or .bmp files. QuickTime comes with more options).
- Import these still frames into RealSlideshow or the QuickTime Player along with the .wav files you used for your sound track.
- Trim the stills to suitable lengths.
- RealSlideshow allows you to create a title for the slideshow and transitions between slides. QuickTime allows you to add filter effects to the slides.
- Generate a RealMedia or QuickTime (.mov) slideshow ready to stream.
Scenario 3 – The Labor of Love (for Any Streaming Format)
Pro: You have the greatest control over the selection and pacing of slides, as well as the sound tracks, transitions and special effects youd like to use in the slideshow. You can encode the resulting video file into any of the streaming formats, using the free encoders, or the premium versions which youll have to buy.
Con: With the greatest creative freedom comes the greatest investment of your time. You do have to choose your stills and edit them together into a new movie project.
- Start with your finished movie on your hard drive.
- Open the finished file in a new project in your nonlinear editor.
- Mark the exact frames youd like to use as slides and then export them as still frames.
- Start yet another project in your nonlinear editor. Import these still frames, along with any sound files, graphics and titles youd like to appear in your slideshow.
- Edit these together into a pleasing slideshow. Each slide should last at least two seconds. Keep transitions few, simple and long in duration. Keep special effects few and simple.
- Change the output frame rate and size for the project to those suitable for streaming. Render this project into a new video file.
- Open the new file in any of the encoders (RealProducer, NetShow Encoder or QuickTime).
- Use frame size and rate appropriate to the connection speed of your target audience. This should not be the Slideshow setting in either RealProducer or NetShow Encoder.
- Encode to the format of your choice.
by Stephen Muratore
with additional research
by Chuck Peters, Don Collins and Keith Lander