Working & Delivery File Formats - Video
Working and delivery file formats need to work hand-in-hand. dpBestflow® recommends working in native camera acquisition formats wherever possible to preserve the original quality and format acquired by the camera. If a transcoded workflow is needed, then high-quality intermediary files can be used for working. When it's time to deliver files, there are several choices to make.
When you are setting up a video editing workflow, you can either work with your camera original files, or you can transcode the files. We suggest working with original files if possible, as it generally saves time and storage requirements. This is sometimes referred to as “working natively”. Let’s take a look.
Original files are the ones that your camera produces, without alteration (except possibly name change or trimming). These can be classified as raw video (such as REDCODE RAW) or as camera-generated (like MOV files from canon or the MXF files created by Sony and Panasonic pro video cameras). While raw files can be large, camera-generated files are typically highly-efficient with their compression scheme.
The benefit of editing with camera-original files is that these files can be used without the long delays of transcoding. Users can often edit directly from the media card, a disk image, or copied files. This speed benefit as well as cost savings for reduced hard drive consumption make it the preferred workflow for modern professionals. Working natively will generally require a 64-bit operating system and a newer version of the editing software. It also frequently requires a robust graphics card (GPU) and sufficient RAM.
Transcoded files are those that have been converted to another intermediate file format in order to use the footage inside a nonlinear editing application. Some choose to let their editing software transcode through the use of Import or Log and Transfer commands. Others use dedicated transcoding applications that offer special features like background processing and broader format support.
Many workflows rely on transcoded footage as it reduces the burden on the processor, operating system and graphics card and instead transfers the heavy lifting to the high bandwidth hard drive. A transcoded workflow means a less powerful computer can edit HD video, but that the trade-off is a need for faster storage and lots more of it.
The scenario recommends is to work natively. The cost associated with using modern applications and robust hardware will be quickly recovered. The significantly larger files created by transcoding are a double financial hit. You will lose substantial amounts of time as well as consume 4-12 times the disk space compared to native editing.
The project file created by your nonlinear editing is an incredibly valuable file. It contains instructions for every clip, cut, audio clip, transition and more. While the project file itself will generally be proprietary to the NLE program that created it, it is often possible to export a project file from one program, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, to another company’s, such as Final Cut Pro, by means of an XML data file. In most cases, color correction and grading instructions will not be able to share between applications. It’s a good idea to preserve an XML version of your project file to ensure long-term accessibility to the project.
It’s very important to preserve the project file, since it will likely represent a lot of work editing the video.
With your project file in hand, you can often reconnect to your archived camera media and completely reconstruct a project in minimal time, should the need arise. Backing up project files to an external drive or network location like an FTP site should be done daily. You should also use the auto-save feature of your non-linear editing tool to help prevent against corruption of your project file.
Choosing the best file format for delivering digital video files requires good communication and collaboration with the persons receiving the files. There are several competing factors that will affect your choice including:
- Playback device: Is the file playing on a computer? A mobile phone? A Blu-ray disc player? Always check what the desired playback device is. Often times multiple devices are targeted which will require multiple outputs or broadly compatible files.
- Operating system: Both the manufacturer and version of an operating system can place major constraints on file formats. For example, while most websites have standardized on Flash or H.264 delivery via HTML 5, a lot of effort is spent creating backwards-compatible files and additional formats. In many corporate environments, a computer can be locked down for up to five years with no major software updates so that they can standardize on a delivery format without risking incompatibility.
- Delivery method: Does the file need to be downloaded? If so, file size is a concern. The size requirements for a mobile phone are much lower that those for a desktop computer connected to a high-speed network. Is the video going on a disc? Better check if it’s a DVD or Blu-ray disc. The number of choices can be staggering and we strongly recommend checking with the client to create an accurate list of targeted devices.
- Many compression tools as well as Adobe Device Central can help you target consumer electronic devices and computer operating systems through the use of throughly tested compression presets.
- Personal preference: The client or even you may have personal preferences. For example, the creation of Windows Media files is very difficult on the Mac platform due to the lack of a free encoder from Microsoft. Even the paid tools for professionals are very slow. This, however, will not change many clients’ desirefor WMV files, due to past experience or expectations.
When your project is completed - and even during the review process - you will likely need to output versions for others. These outputs typically fall into two classes: compressed and uncompressed.
Popular compressed formats
In the vast majority of cases, you’ll need to deliver your video in a compressed format. Digital formats exist that provide for high-quality playback on a range of devices including computers, tablets, set-top boxes, DVD, and Blu-ray players. Consumers are unwilling to wait for the long periods associated with uncompressed delivery, nor do they have the necessary hardware to playback such files.
- FLV/F4V: Flash Video has become a standard way of presenting video content on the web. Creating Flash video files is very straightforward. In almost every Adobe Creative Suite application you have the option of exporting files to be encoded in Flash. An F4V file is the most up-to-date Flash video file that supports H.264 video and expanded metadata, however the FLV format enjoys broader backwards compatibility. Flash video does not play on portable Apple devices.
- MPEG-2: DVDs typically use MPEG 2 video. The MPEG-2 format is old, but still a standard that is broadly compatible with both computers and DVD players.
- MPEG-4/H.264: MPEG-4 is one of the most popular digital files on the market today, especially those using the H.264 codec. These files are used by everything from YouTube to iPods. Even the high-quality Blu-ray discs utilize H.264 video.
- QuickTIme: Apple QuickTime files are not widely used for distribution to devices or the web (having fallen out of favor to the more compatible MPEG-4/H.264 formats). However many professionals will use QuickTime files as an exchange method for collaboration. If you work with motion graphics designers, multi-media authors, or other editing professionals, you can expect that they will use QuickTime as an exchange format. Note that not all QuickTime files are compressed - you can output a project to match the quality of the original sequence settings to create a higher-resolution backup. QuickTime files encoded with the ProRes codec is the standard for Final Cut Pro workflows, and for many Final Cut Pro X workflows.
- Windows Media: The Windows Media Video (WMV) is a video format developed by Microsoft. It is widely used in corporate environments due to its broad compatibility with the Windows operating system. Windows Media has lost some of its foothold, however, as Microsoft has shifted to their newer media player, Silverlight, which supports H.264.
Uncompressed and low compression formats
In some cases, the commissioning or purchasing client may request an uncompressed master file. This is most common when they intend to create additional deliverable files on their own or need to broadcast the video through venues like television or film.
You should work closely with the client during these stages to ensure that they receive the intended format correctly. Due to the very large file size, delivering an uncompressed master is typically done by delivery of a hard drive. Trying to deliver anything longer than a commercial or a trailer over the Internet is nearly impossible (often taking longer to upload an download than traditional express shipping).
For many, a traditional video tape master is also a deliverable requirement. High-quality professional tape formats offer excellent audio/visual quality, however they come at a cost. Popular high definition tape decks start in the $15,000 range and can easily cost much more (up to $85,000). These devices also require very fast RAID storage with performance connections like FibreChannel, ESATA, or Thunderbolt to enable the write-to-tape process.
If tape delivery is only an occasional need you can readily take advantage of others for this service. In some cases you can rent decks as needed from local vendors. You can also use local video production companies or post houses to create a master tape. Typically this will cost you $200–$500, depending upon format needed and your schedule