Video File Import and Export Choices
As I mentioned in the basic editing functions post in this series on how to choose the best video editing software for you one thing to keep in mind during the selection process is, “What is it that I am REALLY going to do with this software?”
There is absolutely no point in spending extra money on software that handles all sorts of TV broadcast standard video file formats because it seems cool to be able to have that capability if you are never going to use it.
Many video file formats available today are owned by software companies and this involves paying a license to use their technology.
Paying all sorts of license fees that are included within the video software package that you have no need for makes no sense at all.
In choosing the correct video editing software for you probably the first point to consider is (realistically),
“What will be the main video format (or formats) of the raw video files I will be importing into the program for editing?”
“What will be the main video file format that I will be producing so as to playback, store or distribute my final productions?
Here is a quick round up of the current video formats you are most likely to be using as input into your video editing projects:
1. Standard Definition (SD)
Although standard definition has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur these days it is worth mentioning it here because of the enormous amount of footage that still exists in this format.
Many, many video enthusiasts probably still have hours and hours of footage taken in this format lying about the place somewhere!
This was the video format used to record to mini DV tapes on many of the original personal camcorders.
As a format it was well loved because it was virtually uncompressed and provided the best quality in standard definition video combined with the greatest suitability for editing.
The format itself was developed specifically for this purpose which is why it was so video editor friendly.
It required the least amount of computer resources of all the various video file types.
Because of it being locked into Standard Definition it is no longer used except for what we would now call archival footage.
MPEG2 was originally designed as a distribution video file type for the DVD standard.
It was never designed to be edited so of course as soon as it became available on the original Sony DVD camcorders… everyone wanted to edit with it!
What ensued was about three years of heartbreak and a lot of whining and moaning from the public until the video editing software engineers finally got the format sorted out and presently this is the easiest of the compressed video file formats to edit.
It is reasonably easy on resources but because of the compression involved can be a little twitchy if your computer gets stressed.
Provided you don’t keep re-copying and re-compressing the files the quality will maintain pretty well.
This one too has fallen out of use to some degree from an editing point of view due to the Standard definition parameter it is locked into as a format.
MPEG4, H.264, H.263, .MOV, .WMV, .FLV, DivX, Xvid and on and on and on!
This group represents the rest of the pack and all fall under a general heading of highly compressed files most often used for distribution online (YouTube etc.) or for replay on a computer monitor.
They produce tiny files and considering the size of the video files they can produce some excellent quality.
The main point to remember with these files is that they were specifically designed to be video distribution formats, the final product after you have used a more video editor friendly input format.
There is nothing in their design specs that included how to edit them but these days provided you have sufficient computer resources they edit just fine.
2. High Definition (HD)
This format was called HDV and is kind of like MPEG2 on crack!
Of all the new HD formats this one has proven to be, by far, the most conducive to video editing.
It was overtaken pretty quickly in the adoption stakes and has all but disappeared.
AVCHD is another variation on the original MP4 format using the H.264 codec.
Originally the bane of every editor’s existence it has now matured and is relatively easy to use.
It requires huge processing ability from the computer.
This will be in the form of MPEG2 files authored (organized and written) to DVD in standard definition.
It is possible to write a high definition video file structure to a standard DVD and have a High Definition player and HDTV handle it however compatibility at present is is not widespread.
Completed projects or edited material written back to the original recording device. E.g. A completed project written back to a tape camcorder for archival purposes in the original format.
High Definition material written to a Blu-Ray disc or what is called a “hybrid” disc. This is an AVCHD file and file structure that can be played back on a Sony Playstation connected to a HDTV.
Finally, any of a number of very highly compressed formats for viewing on computers, hand held devices or loading on to internet services such as YouTube.
As an added note here you also need to be aware of the various sound recording and playback formats. If your particular recording device, camcorder or DVD recorder uses Dolby Stereo (AC3) or 5:1 Surround or you wish to output these audio file types, a license for that technology is needed. Check the software to see if it is included in the purchase price or whether it must be purchased as an add on.
A Note on Video Compression
The term compression when speaking of video files tends to give an incorrect impression regarding exactly what is happening to your files.
You would think that what is happening is that your video file is being squashed in some way so as to occupy less space.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
The truth is that the compression software is throwing away a large part of the original information and it is this point that causes the problems in video editing.
Of course if the software marketers called it video trashing, or data dumping I don’t think, somehow, it would convey the hi-tech sexiness that they are trying to promote!
So, your first task in deciding on what video editing software is suitable for you is to work out what your most common source files will be and what your most common output will be.
That represents the core of what you will be using the software for and should be your main focus. After that look through any other formats you may need to narrow down the choice.