Encoding Video for the Web with QuickTime Pro

One of the things we get asked about all the time is how to properly compress video for the web. Dozens of books and technical papers have been written on the subject of video compression. What people want is a simple, clear approach that works well for a broad range of projects, including video that contains graphics and typography.

We invited Darwin Dion Ignacio to share his knowledge and experience on the subject. Darwin is the founder of Let’s Get Reel, a digital asset management company whose clients include Imaginary Forces, The Ebeling Group, yU+Co. and many others. With over 20 years combined experience, the staff of Let’s Get Real specializes in organizing, optimizing and distributing for creative service companies.

Take it away, Darwin…

Getting Started

Many of you have probably used third-party software like Compressor, Cleaner or Sorenson Squeeze to compress your videos. The following steps are basic compression settings for QuickTime Pro, should you not have any of the above applications.

In the next couple months, I’ll post another guide for using Compressor that will delve deeper into encoding—stuff that you probably didn’t even realize Compressor was capable of doing.

1. Always use the highest resolution source files possible

First things first, when encoding your video for the web, preparation is the key. The final output of your video will depend heavily on your source video. So it is in your best interest to encode from the original source content, i.e. high resolution renders from Final Cut, After Effects or AVID.

2. H.264 Basic Settings

All the codecs (Compression Type) out there right now may be tempting to try out, but H.264 still comes out on top. Stick with it, as it will give you the best quality for the file size.

Leave the Frame Rate to Current to make the video flow just as you desired your original audience to view it. Because we’re using the H.264 codec, I recommend sticking with Automatic for Key Frames. And always keep Frame Reordering enabled for web viewing.

For the Data Rate, you want to keep the Restrict to around 1300 Kbits/sec and have the video Optimized for Download (this gives you the best quality). The higher the bitrate, the better the quality—but you get stuck with a bigger file. If you have the time, play around with this setting and see the difference in quality and final size. You can go up to 2000 Kbit/sec, but no more for SD 640 x 480.

You’ll also notice now that the Quality under Compressor is locked to High because you have the video Restricted to xxxx Kbits/sec, which is perfectly fine.

Lastly, the Encoding is kept to Best quality (Multi-pass). It takes longer than the Single pass (obviously), but you’ll get a cleaner product.

3. Use 640×480 minimum for your export dimensions.

Keep the Dimensions at 640 x 480 VGA or higher. There is no reason you should be displaying your work at any lower resolution. Make sure you have enabled Preserve aspect ratio using: Fit within dimensions. This option will fit the video to the longest side, scaling if necessary.

Should you choose a larger size (e.g. 720 x 480 NTSC SD or 1280 x 720HD), please make sure your source video is at least within the same dimensions; it would look ridiculous if you tried to stretch your video bigger than the source.

Also check Deinterlace Source Video, if available.

4. Always enable Fast Start.

Make sure Prepare for Internet Streaming: Fast Start – Compressed Header is checked before clicking OK under Movie Settings.

Not checking this option will cause your viewing audience to wait until the full spot has downloaded before it starts playing. This one checkbox could make the difference between your work being seen or being closed before it even plays.

5. For audio, use AAC at 128 kbps.

For the Sound Settings, keep it simple and use this screenshot as your guide.

This is pretty routine, so no explanation is needed here.

6. Name with care.

Lastly, file naming is highly important when it comes to uploading your file. Here’s a rule of thumb: Always name your file starting with the artist’s name, title of piece and the compression type. Never leave spaces between words. I highly recommend separating words with hyphens and underscores, never periods, which could cause problems in URLs.

Most importantly, make sure your final output has a file extension (e.g. .mov, .mp4, etc). This will enable the browser to know which plug-in to use for playback.

Contact me

Should you have any questions please feel free to contact me at darwin@letsgereel.com.