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  • Real World Video Compression
    Real World Video Compression
    by Andy Beach
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I'm not dead, just bad at updating!

Hi folks. Based on e number of emails I've gotten lately, I know one of my old Macbreak appearances must have run again recently. Let me welcome you all and apologize in advance. yes, I know one of the x264 posts is missing some images - I promise, I'll dig them up this week. As you may have noticed, I don't add much here anymore. It's not that I don't still find compression fascinating, it's just that my daytime at Seawell Networks plus the recent addition of a daughter to our household takes up the majority of my time see days. And since you are reading this site and not my personal one, you probably don't want to see photos of the kid, which is fair enough.
There is more to it than just that though. You see, these days I'm a bit more removed from the compression part of the job. I still encode video from time to time, but these days it's either for myself or as a favor. So while I still know what I'm talking about for the most part, I freely acknowledge there might be those who are paying closer attention to the ins and outs of compression.
Last fall I launched a second video site called theVideoUprising. The reason I did that is that these days I'm thinking less about compression and more about the overall video landscape - how it gets delivered, the business deals behind it, etc. I could have carried on writing that type stuff here, but it felt wrong - RWVC is the mechanics of making the video work right and look good. tVU on the other hand is more about the changes occurring in the industry that are driving us to find new ways of watching video and new ways of delivering it to the viewers. So with that in mind, I'll certainly still add content here when it seems right, but don't be surprised if it's few and far between. I will however, trying to pipe up more often just to say hello and to point towards other useful compression sites who might help fill the gap.


Andy Beach


Setting Up a Screen Capture  

note: This post is being cross published on Screen Flow's(the application I've been using to capture the videos) blog, the Screening Room.

I recently started answering a few questions by doing screen recordings showing the step by step instructions.  This was a much quicker way for me to answer the question and much easier way of sharing the information than screenshots combined with lots of copy explaining the process (which is also fairly tedious to put together).  The response was very positive, but immediately spawned a whole series of questions around best practices for encoding screen capture video.

To keep the ball rolling, I thought I'd answer those questions via video as well!  But before I can talk about good encode settings, I thought it best to review some tips for setting up your computer to improve the eventual quality of your finished encode. I explain it in more detail in the video, but the highlight are:

  • Start with a clean desktop - remove all the extraneous icons and dock from the screen, as well as close any web browser windows or other elements you don't want to include in the recording.  In the video I do this manually by switching to a new Spaces screen on my mac and moving the files on my desktop to a temporary folder.  I neglected to mention Screen flow has a handy feature allowing you to hide all the icons on your desktop (just click the little camera icon in the menu bar and choose hide desktop)
  • Change your background - busy desktop images are fun to look at while you are working, but add unneeded complexity to the encode, so switch your wallpaper to a single color (i use neutral grey) while capturing. 
  • Change screen resolution to 1280 x 800 - my screen resolution is typically 2560x1600; if I tried to capturing at this size and then present it on the web, all my windows and icons would be so small you'd need a microscope to see them!  1280x800 is the closest native monitor resolution to 720p (1280x720) so I tend to choose it for the purposes of capturing.  I like to keep to monitor native resolutions for capturing when possible.  First off, its just easier to do (no need to root through custom settings in the display panel) but also some applications look and work better in full screen mode if your sticking with the screen native aspect ratio.  Then when I edit and encode, I have two options - I can either crop the video slightly (by 80 pixels vertically) to achieve my 16:9 aspect ratio or i can allow the video to encode with slight pillar bars (two vertical black bars on either side of the monitor image) to keep it at the appropriate aspect ratio.  Both work and we'll compare how they look in the final encode in my next post.

Setting Up a Capture from Andy Beach on Vimeo.

In my next post we'll look at what encode settings to use to get the best quality encode for your finished screen capture movie.

On a side note, I worked for a company in New York City that produced how to videos for topics like editing in Final Cut Pro and using Photoshop about five years ago.  It's funny how much the technology has changed in just that short time.  When we were doing those productions (sometimes as much as a 10 hour video on a single topic) the screen recording tools we had to use were quite different and not nearly as feature rich as Screen Flow.  Even in the short time I've been working with it after my long hiatus doing screen capture, I've found several little tricks I wish i'd had access to back then - and I'm sure those of you more familiar with the product will point out even more I've missed along the way.  


Using WebM in Episode 6

Several people have now emailed me asking where and how to use the new open source webm extension in Episode 6.  I thought it might be easiest to just do a quick recording and show you how to create a new preset or edit an existing one to change it to webm and vp8.  hope this helps!

Making a WebM Setting in Episode 6 from Andy Beach on Vimeo.

Two other quick notes - first off, sorry for the audio - i used a headset mic and the audio is a little "poppy."  I have a much nicer mic for recording these type videos, but didn't have the time to set it up.  Secondly, let me know if this type of video tip is helpful as I would like to do more.  Feel free to drop me a line with suggestions for video compression things you need help with and I'll try and answer it with a video!


FaceTime on the Mac

The FaceTime Beta UI. On the left is the image from your camera and on the right is your addressbook, recent calls, and favorites list.This morning Apple, INC made several announcements, including availability of a beta FaceTime application for OSX 10.6 and later.  As I mentioned, FaceTime is a Snow Leopard only application and requires an account with Apple to use (i'm using my MobileMe account, but I believe any iTunes Store account would work as well).

The experience is pretty good, I was able to quickly do a facetime chat with my brother, both from the desktop and my iPhone4 (he was on the desktop beta for both.  The quality from the phone was much better, but that's because I'm using a 3rd party webcam on my MacPro which is much lower quality than the current line of built-in cameras on the Macbook Pro's, iMacs, and the Monitors.

Like the iPhone4, this is most likely a streaming h.264 video stream, though i'm unsure the specs being used for the encode, i'll root around and see if i can figure that out this week and do an update.



How I Watch "TV"

It seems like this is a super un-hip thing to say, but I love watching TV.  I mean, for god sakes, I have spent my whole career working and playing with video, so how could I not?  And like most folks, I do the majority of TV watching in my den.   But like any well meaning, good hearted video geek, I have shifted a lot of my viewing habits to non traditional methods.  Sometimes that means mobile devices, but not always -- after all, I paid for that big honkin' flat panel, I might as well make the most of it.  So how does a self describe video geek consume content?
Just because I dont watch it on my TV doesnt it mean its not TV.  And just because it shows up on my television, doesnt it mean its traditional cable or broadcast content like you'd expect to find (in fact, I watch video podcast on my TV quite a bit these days).  so with all this in mind, I thought it might be handy if I ran down the various methods -- hardware, software, and services -- I use for keeping up on my shows...

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