What is an encoder?
When you want to put a video on a web page, the video must be in a particular format. The procedure for obtaining the video in that format is called encoding. This article will examine the main video formats and encoders that are used to create those formats. The article will also discuss live video encoding. Finally, we will look at a couple of free services on the web that will code both on demand and live.
One of the most popular formats on the web today is Flash video. The .FLV file extension is associated with Flash video. Most cameras, camcorders, and video editing suites do not output .FLV files natively. When making the decision to use an encoding software package, consider what you get for the price. Adobe includes Flash Video Encoder with CS3 / CS4, it is essentially free. It does a good job, but you have limited options when using that encoder. Consider other commercial software encoders. Check out Sorenson Squeeze, On2Flix Pro, and if you’re a true pro, give Rhozet Carbon Coder a try). All of these packages offer greater flexibility and control of your media. The packages mentioned above also support the output of many other formats like AVI, MOV, WMV and others. There are also countless free, standalone, shareware services available for encoding video. These products will be fine for low-resolution, low-bitrate video, but will have many limitations. For commercial websites, I would not recommend using any of these simple products.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use encoding solution that won’t break the bank, give “Encoding Dot Com” a try. I have spoken with the CTO of this company. It tells me that this service uses different backend technologies to handle different types of coding jobs. So depending on the formats, you will have access to high-end encoding technology. The service is easy to use. You can upload your video to them or they can come to you to get it. Either way, you get a quality product without having to shell out a large amount of startup capital.
H.264 is a codec, not exactly a format. It is basically MPEG-4. Therefore, you will find many different formats that are H.264 encoded. You will find H.264 wrapped around .MOV, F4V, and even MP4 files. H.264 is a compression method that generally produces higher quality videos at lower bit rates. Today, most people associate H.264 with HD video. This is for good reason as I can get better looking videos in a smaller file. H.264 has its downsides; it requires more computing power to encode and decode and may not be as compatible as other formats. However, I wouldn’t let that stop you from experimenting with it.
Windows Media Video
WMV has been around for a while. Some argue that it is a superior format to Flash. About a year ago, I would have agreed. WMV was more stable and could offer you great image quality. Microsoft supports the VC-1 codec in WMV. VC-1 was the codec used in the HD-DVD format, so you can expect great things from WMV with VC-1 encoding. The biggest disadvantage of WMV over Flash is compatibility. It will be difficult to find a MAC or Linux box that supports WMV video. Additionally, Flash allows you to create custom players to present your video and WMV uses Windows Media Player.
To combat these shortcomings, Microsoft has developed Silverlight. Silverlight is a platform independent product that allows you to create custom player applications. It also runs on MAC and Linux and will support WMV file playback on those operating systems. See http://www.microsoft.com/silverlight. Microsoft may soon support H.264 encoded video in a Silverlight environment.
MS expression encoder
For your peace of mind, the 2008 Olympics were held in Silverlight. Visit www.nbcolympics.com Many will agree that the 2008 Games went smoothly. You can see that even though Silverlight is a newer format, it has been road tested by over 70 million streams!
The software is good, the hardware is EXCELLENT! When you want the best possible encoding with the least amount of hassle, consider a hardware encoding device. These devices are essential when it comes to live coding.
See these companies:
Vbrick, Digital Rapids, Newtek, Viewcast, Ripcode
They all compete in roughly the same space. You must compare features and prices. I can tell you that Digital Rapids is very prominent in space. They supply encryption hardware for some of the biggest names in media and have powered some of the biggest online events in history. The RipCode device is unique in that it will encode on the fly. So your video can change bit rates, desminions or formats as needed. You would only need to have 1 master file and let the RipCode device change it as needed.
Digital Rapids Touch Stream Device
If you plan to deliver live video to more than a few viewers at a time, you should consider using a CDN. Think about your Internet connection in your office or study. If you have a 3Mbps upstream and encode at about 500Kbps then it will only be able to support about 6 simultaneous viewers. Not exactly a record! Most CDNs that support live streaming can support hundreds or thousands of simultaneous viewers. President Obamma’s 2009 inauguration attracted around 6 to 9 million viewers online. The networks transmitting those transmissions used a CDN.
For Flash Live encoding, you can use Adobe’s Flash Live Encoder and a high-end computer. This product is fine for most consumer applications. You are really limited to the horsepower of your computer. There is no Mac version available so it must be on a Windows machine. A better choice for Flash Live encoding is the On2Flix Live encoding software or the Sorenson Squeeze Live product. Both will offer higher quality videos and more flexibility. You are still at the mercy of your computer. So I suggest you get the biggest baddest computer you can when using a software live encoder. Use as much CPU, RAM, and video memory as possible. Use a SATA or Firewire hard drive that runs at least 7200RMP.
You should also consider how you connect your camera source to the computer. Do not use a simple standard webcam or analog to USB device. These are fine for home movies, but for professional videos you should look at a Prosumer HD video camera or a high-end encoding capture card like Viewcast cards.
For a hardware live encoding solution, see Digital Rapids, Vbrick or Newtek products. Digital Rapids has a great new product called the TouchStream Appliance. It is a portable standalone hardware encoder perfect for field productions
There are several services that will convert videos for free. Do a Google search for “Free encoding” or “convert to FLV” or “convert to WMV”. You can also download Microsoft’s video encoder and convert it to WMV yourself. Most of the video editing packages are exported to WMV, MOV and MPG formats.
Free Live Coding
For live encoding, there are only a few free options.
- Flash Media Live Encoder
- Windows Media Encoder
- For Silverlight encoding, try Windows Media Encoder replacement is Expression
Try it yourself
If you want to do a live webcast, try these free services. They allow you to create your own channel, store and play on demand and live video. They are really cool!