Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, November 4, 2005

Video Blog Production For Indies: Technology Advice From RocketBoom

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Producing video for online distribution is both one of the killer new media opportunities opening up for would-be independent web video producers as well as being the nastiest technology bottleneck faced by non-technological authors and entrepreneurs wanting to enter this new content arena.

Photo credit: Andrew Barron and Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom

As I have written before, if you want make video things work without having to be a total tech geek, well, things may not really as easy as touted on many of the video bloggers and industry toolmakers' web sites.

The passion for this great medium and the excitement born out of being able to finally sidestep traditional movie production houses and the microscopic access opportunities offered by traditional television, makes those who are already producing and publishing video online somewhat immune to objective reporting and totally forgetful of what it has indeed taken them to arrive at where they are now.

Home, grassroots digital video production has indeed come of age, but making it work and properly understanding and leveraging all the variables at play when capturing, editing, compressing, encoding and streaming your video clips may easily become a costly and frustrating nightmare.

Very little is available online that clearly and comprehensively explains all of this. Most documentation out there has been created as support documentation for specific video editing and production tools causing the terminology and explanations provided to be fairly inconsistent and had to digest for the uninitiated.

Andrew Baron of Rocketboom, recently decided to share some of his own insight, experience and advice relating to what technologies, computer type and operating system, video file formats and approaches have worked with him best in the making of what appears to be one of the most popular, and I must say, interesting, video blogs available online.

Here is what Andrew recommends to the new independent online videomakers:

"Unlike the audio medium which has enjoyed compatibility through the .mp3 file format, compressed video online is a mess due to competition, yes, but also due to the complexity of the moving image itself.

It's great that so many groups are working on these problems. A high end data transfer rate today can break a gig a second which allows for instantaneous playback of uncompressed video.

Due to more competition, regulation and who knows what else, most people wont be seeing those speeds at home or on their portable devices for many years.

So we have a long way to go with compression and any attempt to converge the industry into using one CODEC appears to be a steeper hill then we had hoped for.

Instead of going over all the options here, I'm going to highlight the tools and some of the methods we use to create Rocketboom because, consequently, I have amassed what I would call not just a killer app, but a killer briefcase filled with lots of killer apps that all together allow us to see all video, hear all video and speak all video, not to mention create, tweak and seek. I haven't been stopped by a file yet (knock on wood).

This is what we use to make Rocketboom:


ESSENTIAL: Progressive, Fast Start, Scrollable, Scrubbable, Jumpable, Frame Advance Playback

1. Quicktime Pro - $30US - Quicktime is not a CODEC, like .H264 or .MPG, but rather a wrapper for playing or creating videos enclosed inside of a .mov file. Quicktime creates/plays H.264, MPG2, 3GP, for example.

Quicktime is like the center-of-attention-"killer app"-for-online-web-video (c.o.a.k.a.f.o.w.v. for short). In other words, it's so great, it's worth buying a computer for, I would say. That sounds like a pretty strong statement for a $30 piece of software. But yes, I'm standing behind it. When it comes to versatility, especially regarding, viewing, importing and exporting video, I see Quicktime as being the c.o.a.k.a.f.o.w.v.

Quicktime for the Audience

The major technical considerations for producing video online are determined by user experience.

For several reasons, Quicktime is indisputably the most advanced and attuned technology to accommodate the best human experience, where broadband speeds currently lie en masse:

(1) Fast Start technology. Without the need to use streaming, progressive Quicktime .mov files begin playing after a certain amount of the file is loaded into the RAM memory of the user computer. Because the video plays back from RAM, and not the online connection stream, a video of comparable size and quality can play back much faster, on demand and not get clogged up by future speed variables.

(2) Playback Controls. In addition to starting up quicker, and maintaining a constant playback speed, the .mov file, when played back in Quicktime, allows the user to scroll, scrub and jump around through the file with the least amount of latency and the finest amount of resolution between frames. As a result, the user is able to consume the content in a more customizable way by scanning the entire piece visually at various speeds, jumping back and forth between points along with frame advance which provides more detailed information about the dynamics of the content.

(3) Interactivity. Quicktime has the ability to handle hyper-linking of space within a video, chapter reference points, and SMIL which is useful for stringing multiple videos together and text tracks, to name a few. A Quicktime file can also send pings when certain points are viewed in the file.

(4) Cross platform playback. While .mov files do not reach every operating system, Quicktime is available for Windows and is capable of exporting to wrapper-independent files that will work on various operating systems. A little known fact is that Quicktime can also play and create Windows Media .wmv files (via FLIP4MAC).

(5) Importing/Exporting. This is an end-solution for importing and exporting to and from any file format. I have never seen another player that can handle as much video so well.


The two main arguments against using Quicktime as a primary delivery format option:

(a) Claim for Flash:

Photo credit: Jason Smith

"Flash has 98% penetration because people who have web browsers have Flash and thus do not need to install any third party software or additional plugins to obtain the video".

While this is often touted as the main reason people choose Flash (ie. for lowest-common-denominator presentations), the trade off is a much poorer video quality and a much greater file size. If the differences were slight, they could be permissible, but due to the extremity in quality degradation, Flash can not be taken seriously for providing users with a quality image, relatively speaking.

Sub claim: "But the New version of Flash is really good". While new versions should always be better than old versions, each new version of any technology requires the audience to download the new version in order to take advantage of the new features. Therefore, most people will be required to download a new player in order to see video that meets today's quality standards, no matter what player they are using.

Furthermore, out of all progressive files available, Flash files present the most problems for portability, as they are often dependent on eminent metadata that is not attached to the file itself, making playback decentralized and thus too easily separable.

(b) Claim for Window Media Progressive:


"Windows Media, .wmv progressive files are close to the same in value, with over 90% of the people in the world using the Windows operating system and the Windows Media Player (which does not play Quicktime .mov files), being the most common solution for Windows OS users."

This is a compelling argument and it's the reason that I recommend .wmv files as an option for people who would prefer this.

When taking extra steps to accommodate people who may be at a computer without the right to install the latest Flash plugin or Quicktime, .wmv is a worthwhile option to consider.

There are still a lot of 233 MHZ Windows 95 machines all around the world and it's likely that those machines can play .wmv files, if they can play anything at all.

When looking for the best delivery method however, most .wmv progressive files must be completely downloaded before they are viewable (i.e. no fast start like Quicktime) which knocks wmv files completely out of the running for quality user experience.

To make matters worse, even the ideal user of .wmv files will not be able to scrub, scroll, or jump to the resolution that Quicktime can provide.


Quicktime for the producer of video

While digital video production of this level can all be performed completely in a Windows environment, I have migrated from PCs to MACs for the following reasons:

  • Quicktime functionality/brilliance is limited on Windows OS (due to age old competition)

  • Apple-native Final Cut Pro, an industry-standard video editing suite is a killer

  • Apple-invented Firewire protocol is the most common standard for capturing and transferring digital video is also so killer.

On a Mac, I can easily streamline and speed up any task that I need to do with video including importing and exporting video files that need to be compatible with other computer platforms, obviously including Windows, which cannot be ignored as an audience delivery platform because of the sheer number of users based on that OS.

But these people can all be taken care of perfectly from files created on a MAC."

And there is more.

Andrew Baron has indeed a lot more specific advice, including tips and technical advice on how to create WMV files on a Mac that are better quality than their native Windows counterparts as well as to provide his personal advice on everything ranging from specific codecs, to the blog publishing tools he uses, his preferred audio and video editing and his recommended licensing options.

Check it out...

originally published by
Andrew Baron of Rocketboom as
"Rocketboom Online Video Tools List" Oct. 6th 2005

For more information on Andrew Baron and Amanda Congdon see Robin Good's own video interview with the original Rocketboomers, or the latest interview with Andrew by C.K. Sample, III on the Unofficial Apple Weblog.

Robin Good - Andrew Baron -
Reference: Rocketboom [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2011-12-20 12:13:13


I completely agree, when it comes to usability and overall playback I highly prefer Quicktime over Windows Media Viewer. Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do in comparison to say, Apple's 'user-friendliness'.

2007-11-01 01:48:04


Our clients are constantly asking us to convert to Flash for their website playback. They all use the 98 adoption rate argument. I am so glad (and I'm sure Steve Jobs is OK with it as well) that I can now just tell clients that we're using the same codec iPods use. They don't want to hear the nuts and bolts of it anyway. It's just a better solution to stay native to QT and not convert to Flash. I agree completely.

2007-09-11 18:18:41

Josh Norton

Things can be confusing when making videos yourself from start to finish. You know what you want to do but there are always technological road blocks standing in your way. After buying Sorenson Squeeze and finally figuring out the best settings in the program there was a watermark from the software. Turned out I had to shell out more $$ to get the best compression settings. The best thing to do is learn everyday because new things are coming out that will make productions eaiser and less time consuming.

posted by Robin Good on Friday, November 4 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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