There are almost as many video file format converters as there are video file formats. Why? Because video files, whether home movies, cellphone movies, or DVDs, need to be converted to run on different devices. Audio files suffer from a similar problem, though not as severe. Everyone knows what MP3 means, right? Any music file which can be played on Mac or PC or anything else gets tagged as an MP3. Anything other than an iPod that plays music becomes and MP3 player. Video is not that simple.
A number of months ago I picked up a nice Canon digital Elph camera that shoots excellent photos and 720p movies. The video that comes out of that little device is stunning.
Apple makes video manipulation for the masses a near no brainer. Movies go to iPhoto or iMovie where they’re barely a couple of clicks from MobileMe’s gallery or YourTube. Despite the fact that there are umpteen gazillion video formats going into iPhoto or iMovie, what comes out works well where it needs to on a Mac, now on an iPhone.
Elsewhere, exporting a video can be time-consuming, tedious, and fraught with peril. Thanks to Apple’s simple menu, it’s easy to figure out where a video file should go, then click, and it goes there. YouTube. MobileMe. iTunes.
That’s the way it should be with video. But it’s not.
In the past year no less than a dozen Mac utilities have hit the market which do one thing. Convert video files to other video file sizes and format. HD to QuickTime to AVI. WMV to MPEG3 to H.264.
The list of video file formats is growing, despite a general trend toward H.264, now showing up in many consumer grade digital cameras. Even Apple’s iPhone does not do any better than VGA video quality, though the capability for recording video in 720p may be inherent.
One of my favorite little video players is VLC—VideoLAN Client. VLC will playback more than two dozen different video files, Mac, PC or Linux PC. All the MPEG formats are supported, as well as Windows Media, and various and sundry H.26whatevers.
Having tried a dozen different Mac video file converters in the past year, ranging from the expensive Sorenson utilities to Apple’s Compressor to the now defunct VisualHub, I’ve come to one conclusion. Keep it simple.
My approach to video is simple. High quality in, point and click quality out. No conversion utility other than what Apple provides in iMovie (essentially QuickTime).
So far, that method works well. I start with as high a quality level as I can (now at HD 720p), and click to create a video file for distribution, whether to YouTube or iDVD (some relatives are still on dial up).
This saves me time and money and reduces the overall aggravation of waiting a long time for video files to be converted to some esoteric format. For example, I’ve heard of the creaky, ancient Ogg Theora, but not Dirac. I refuse to have anything to do with Real Video 1, 2, 3 or 4.
Keep it simple. Maybe one day there will be a video file format that everyone agrees to, everyone uses, and looks good, too. For now, I’m sticking with whatever iMovie can export.