So, you've cut together a pretty entertaining video and now you want everyone to see it.
You don't have to start searching for distributors. Just put it on the Web and let the world see what you can do. To do this, you must first know the difference between streaming and downloading and then the basics of encoding and delivery.
Streaming vs. Downloading
Streaming is a sometimes catch-all word to describe video distribution across the Internet. However, there are actually two methods for viewing media: streaming and downloading.
Streaming means the media is hosted from an external site, some place other than your hard drive. With streaming you can begin watching your video almost the second it shows up on your computer. Because there's no waiting involved, streaming is useful for broadcasting live events over the Web. Streaming is the most consistent delivery option for end-users.
Downloading video actually works by doing just what it says, downloading an entire file onto your hard drive for viewing. This method has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that, once downloaded, you can open the video at any time, even when you don't have the Internet connected, and you also have quicker access to any area of the file at any point. The disadvantage is that you have to wait for the entire file to download before you can view any part of it. This can be a huge inconvenience to someone wanting to view a large file.
The process of making your video available in a digital format is a simple definition for encoding. There are a number of file types available for encoding your video. They include, but are not limited to: .avi (Microsoft's Audio Video Interleave), RealMedia Quicktime, MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group), .wmv (Windows Media Video), and Flash (FLV), which all vary in file size, image size and smoothness. Just choose the file type using "export" (a simple function where your computer does most of the thinking for you), and wait until your file is finished. (See Size Matters Sidebar.)
In order to provide streamed video to a mass audience over the Web, you will need to utilize a specialized server. A server is simply a central computer that allows multiple remote users to access the same information at the same time. If you don't own a server of your own, you'll want to look into finding a third-party vendor to provide this service for you. The server will allow you to house your video on its hardware. When people go online to see your work, they will be looking at your Web site, but will ultimately be accessing your video through the third-party server.
There are a number of ways to provide Web users with downloadable video. One is by using a simple hyperlink file on a Web site. A hyperlink is simply a software function on a Web page, usually text or graphics, that leads you to another page or file on the Internet. If you want to get even more advanced, you can use special HTML code to embed the file in your Web page, which makes the video a seamless part of your Web page, but that's another article completely.
If you deliver your video as a download, you'll want to use the easiest method, which is HTTP delivery (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol). This probably looks familiar because "http://" is what you see at the head of every Web site address. Since you're delivering your download in the same way you would deliver a Web page, the method is now quite easy and doesn't require any specialized hosting services or hardware. However, you will need to host a page where people can access the media. This requires attaining space through a Web hosting service. (See above Sidebar.)
The 411 on ISPs
Your video is ready for the world to see. So how do you actually get it on the Web? Well, you could set up and run your own Web server, but that requires tons of time and hassle if you're doing it on your own. Instead of dedicating almost every bit of your free time to that endeavor, you're probably better served to find an Internet service provider to host your site.
Most ISPs offer a range of packages, from basic to premium services, and most domain registrars provide Web space as part of a comprehensive package. Most providers also offer one-stop-shopping, from domain name clearance and acquisition to design templates, and some even offer dedicated designers who will help you design your site or even your company logo. As with anything in life… the more you expect to get, the more you should expect to pay. Plan to spend around $8 to $30 a month for your server, as well as a nominal fee for 12-month domain name registration. Just make sure your provider supports your needs. 5MB of online disc space with at least 100MB data transfer is enough for most.
If you're not exactly sure where to start to find an ISP that fits your particular needs, check out TheList.com, the most comprehensive directory of ISPs worldwide. It offers answers to tons of FAQs about Web hosting and what you can expect when you purchase your domain name and set up your site. Also, you might want to look into media sharing communities like Photobucket.com, Zippyvideos.com or YouTube.com that allow you to share your creations without all the hassle and headache that sometime comes with establishing you own dedicated site.
While the process seems quite complicated, doing a little homework on the best encoding options and delivery methods for your needs will allow you to establish a format that works for you and will ultimately help to get your work onto the world stage.
Michael Fitzer is an Emmy Award winning writer & producer.
[Sidebar: A Word of Caution]
There are many Web hosting services and dedicated third-party video servers out there to choose from, but don't be fooled by free or low cost offers. While they might seem like an attractive option, you often get what you pay for. Many of those services don't supply enough space or adequate support for the uploading or downloading of video files. Also, be sure to review any ISP's refund policy. If you haven't done your homework and subsequently sign up with a provider that can't support your needs, you could be in for a lot of hassle and a lighter wallet!
[Sidebar: Size Matters]
Many of these file formats don't play at 30fps, but when you consider the final viewing medium, a frame rate of 15fps, or even 6fps, is often acceptable. Since there are so many options, for the sake of argument it should be known that the two most common sizes for streaming video are 320 x 240 pixels at 30 fps or 160 x 120 at 15 fps. The latter is usually the best choice for dial-up connections.