5 Reasons to Consider Ensemble Squeeze

Ensemble Video is a video platform that facilitates the upload and conversion of a massive array of video and audio formats. Ensemble Video can transcode from virtually any media format to standard media formats used today, to ensure delivery to variety of devices. We do this using tools like Sorenson Squeeze and Zencoder.

Recently we began offering Ensemble Squeeze to our customers and prospects. Ensemble Squeeze is a fully integrated encoding solution from Sorenson Media, designed for Ensemble customers. Ensemble Squeeze is virtually identical to Sorenson Squeeze server, except that it will only output MP4/MP3. If you are a self-hosted customer that is using ProMedia Carbon Coder by Harmonic or if you never purchased an encoding solution you should consider purchasing Ensemble Squeeze.

5 Reasons to Consider Ensemble Squeeze

#1 – End of Life for Rhozet/ProMedia Carbon Coder by Harmonic

Ensemble Video will no longer support ProMedia Carbon Coder by Harmonic  (Rhozet Carbon Coder) after December 31, 2017.

#2 – Great Features

The Ensemble Squeeze encoding solution runs on a virtual machine (VM) and supports ABR transcoding, high quality MP4/MP3 outputs, preset configuration, watch folders and so much more! Please refer to page 3 of the Ensemble Video Server Recommendations document for more information.

#3 – Low Cost

The Ensemble Squeeze encoding solution pricing is simple. Even better, the first-year cost of Ensemble Squeeze is over 50% less than Rhozet ProMedia Carbon Coder and the full version of Sorenson Squeeze Server.

#4 – Incredible Partner Support

Ensemble Video partnered with Sorenson Media for over three years and we are convinced they are a perfect partner for Ensemble Video and our customers.

#5 – Free Trial

Want to kick the tires? We can arrange a free 30-day trial of Ensemble Squeeze at any time. Just reach out and we’ll get the process started!

What Doesn’t Ensemble Squeeze Do?

One of the most common questions we get is “What don’t you get with Ensemble Squeeze?” This is a great question, there are a couple differences between Ensemble Squeeze and Sorenson Squeeze Server.

  1. Ensemble Squeeze DOES NOT support clustered Sorenson Squeeze servers (encoding farms). If you need to cluster Sorenson Squeeze Servers to encode a high volume of content, you should look into the full version of Sorenson Squeeze Server (we can help you make this decision and purchase).
  2. Ensemble Squeeze DOES NOT come with a free version of Sorenson Squeeze Desktop. This allows you to edit the encoding presets that Ensemble Video and Ensemble Squeeze use to encode content.
  3. Ensemble Squeeze DOES NOT output files other than MP4/H.264 and MP3. This should not be an issue for Ensemble customers as those file types are fully compatible with our HTML5 player and streaming methods. With that said, Ensemble Squeeze can ingest/accept countless formats such as, .MOV, .MP4, .AVI, .FLV, etc. To review the support input formats, please refer to the Squeeze Server Support Formats document.

FileFormats

Is There a Price Difference?

Finally, the most common question we get is, “Is there a price difference?” The answer is yes. The good news is Ensemble Squeeze costs less. Here is a simple pricing comparison of Ensemble Squeeze and Sorenson Squeeze.

Ensemble Squeeze Pricing

Year 1: $2,500
Year 2+: $500

Sorenson Squeeze Pricing

Year 1: $5,900
Year 2+: $900

As you can see Ensemble Squeeze is a fully integrated encoding solution from Sorenson Media and it works seamlessly with Ensemble Video. Please keep in mind Ensemble Squeeze was designed specifically for Ensemble customers and it is virtually identical to Sorenson Squeeze server. If you are a self-hosted customer or prospect, please contact us to schedule a demo or request a free trial!

HOW TO: Video Conversion – Wrap Up

Before we close out this series on Video Conversion when using Ensemble Video, I thought it might be a good idea to tell you a little about media inspection tools. Being able to check and inspect the properties of the file really helps us develop the proper encoding recipes, plus it helps use understand why a file will not export properly. The team at Ensemble Video is constantly using tools like MediaInfo (WIN) and Media Inspector (Mac) to gain more insight into the ingredients of video files. I know I’m a BIG fan of Media Inspector.

OK, it is time to close this series out, please know I’m just offering some suggestions based on my experience creating media and working with Ensemble Video. I recognize there are lots of ways to digitize VHS tapes or export media from a Video Editing progrma, my goal was and is to shed some light on some of the most common scenarios.

Final Thoughts

I’ll leave you with 5 tips for optimizing your videos for playback in Ensemble Video:

  1. You can increase the video quality by increasing the data rate in any of the single file or ABR encoding recipes I suggested. Keep in mind that when you do this, it will impact your users’ ability to view the video, depending on their available bandwidth. Please do not assume everyone will be viewing on a high-speed Internet connection.
  2. The more data in the videos files you create, the more storage you will use.
  3. The more videos in an ABR bundle, the more storage you will use, and the more files you (or Ensemble) have to backup.
  4. If you increase the data in a video preset to above 3Mbps or use several HD presets, it will consume more of the streaming server’s available bandwidth.
  5. What I would suggest doing is testing this out for yourself — good old-fashioned trial-and-error comparison tests will help you determine the best results.

We hope you have enjoyed our our “summer school crash course” on video conversion, brought to you by Scott Nadzan. If you missed anything, go back to the series introduction for links to the other articles. Good luck in your video encoding adventures!

HOW TO: Video Conversion Part VI – Video Editing Software

One of the greatest challenges for an instructional technology professional, faculty member, or media producer is determining the best video encoding workflow for their source media content. In this six-part blog series, video guru (and Ensemble VP of Marketing And Sales) Scott Nadzan will discuss some common video sources uploaded/ingested into Ensemble Video, and help you figure out which video workflow/encoding recipe will ensure videos are optimized and ready for playback on iPads, iPhones, computers and other devices.

Welcome to the sixth and final installment in our “summer school crash course” on video conversion, brought to you by Scott Nadzan. This week, we will focus on video editing programs, and wrap up our series with some final thoughts. If you missed anything, or would like more information on this series, click here for the cheat sheet.

PART VI: Video Editing Software (Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Avid, etc.)

Let’s assume you have a complete sequence that you’re are happy with. Once your video has been created, it’s time to export. If you are a seasoned video editor, I’m sure you may have your own export workflow, so feel free to skip this section if you know how to prepare content for Ensemble Video.

Adobe-Video-Editing

Format

There are several ways to tackle this, but I’d recommend creating a high-quality intermediate file (I like to export a high quality QuickTime movie using H.264 compression). Also, make sure you have AAC audio selected, and your sample rate is at 44.100 kHz.

Resolution

The export size settings need to match the settings of your own sequence (especially the aspect ratio). Usually, you’ll be picking between 720p or 1080p. If the majority of your viewers will be on computers, tablets, and mobile phone,s you’re probably fine with 720p. If that’s the case, make sure the dimensions are set to 1280×720. If you’re targeting BIG screens that support 1920×1080 resolution AND you know your users will have the available bandwidth, then go for 1920×1080. Lastly, if you’re working with content that was shot on tape, then we highly recommend you to select the “deinterlace source video” option. This will help you avoid any interlacing effects on your encoded content.

Bitrate

When dealing with high-definition source content, we see all kinds of bitrates. I would recommend exporting at least 3,000 kbps, but no larger than 5,000 kbps if you will be streaming the file. A higher bit rate (5,000 kbps) is recommended when your video has more complex footage (lots of movement and/or animations). If you have a talking head video with simple footage, I think you can get away with a lower bit rate (3000 kbps).

Lastly, if you really want to get the best quality out of your editor, please use the multi-pass encoding option. It’s general practice that two-pass produces a better transcode than one-pass. However, this does take up a lot more time to perform than a one-pass encode. Depending on factors like the amount of motion in the video, you may not see any visible improvement in quality with two-pass encoding rather than one-pass. It is probably a good idea to run a comparison test or two.

Frames Per Second (FPS)

In this case, I would recommend using the same frame rate as your source. A frame rate of 24 or 30 fps is pretty standard.

Note: If you are using your video editor to export multiple videos for uploading to Ensemble Video, you may want to create and save a preset or export profile. This lets you use the same compression settings without having to select them every time.

The Encoding Recipe

If you created a 3000 kbps-5000 kbps (3-5 Mbps) intermediate file, here are two Ensemble Video encoding recipes you could try  (keep an eye on the ingredients):

Single File Workflow Recipe

FORMAT: MP4 (H.264)
RESOLUTION: 640×360 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Adaptive Bit Rate Workflow Recipe

FILE 1
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 480×270 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 400kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 2
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 640×360 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 3
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 1280×720 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 3000kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Remember, if you created an optimized MP4 (H.264) when converting/capturing, you could skip encoding in Ensemble Video. You would choose an “Upload and Stream – No Transcoding” preset.

I hope this article helps you export your videos from a video recording software tool so they are ready for streaming! Check back next week for my final thoughts on the Video Conversion series and be on the lookout for a useful tip!

HOW TO: Video Conversion Part V – Screen Recording Software

One of the greatest challenges for an instructional technology professional, faculty member, or media producer is determining the best video encoding workflow for their source media content. In this six-part blog series, video guru (and Ensemble VP of Marketing And Sales) Scott Nadzan will discuss some common video sources uploaded/ingested into Ensemble Video, and help you figure out which video workflow/encoding recipe will ensure videos are optimized and ready for playback on iPads, iPhones, computers and other devices.

Welcome to the fifth installment in our six-part “summer school crash course” on video conversion, brought to you by Scott Nadzan. This week’s post focuses on Screen Recording Software. If you missed anything, or would like more information on this series, click here for the cheat sheet.

PART V: Screen Recording Software

Screen Recording Software enable you to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and create industry-standard output files. The good news is there is a lot of competition and variety in the Screen Recording Software market, there are free options, pay for options, simple options and complex software packages. Some of the tools in use across our Ensemble Video customer base are Camtasia Relay, Camtasia Studio, Telestream Screenflow, CamStudio, Jing, Screencast-0-Matic and Collaaj. I prefer Camtasia Studio, I’ve been using it for about 10 years now and many of the videos on Ensemble Video Support Site were created with Camtasia Studio. Camtasia Studio is a world-class screen capture tool that offers great editing features to enhance the video. There are two things I really like about Camtasia Studio. First, it’s really easy to make a wicked screencast! Second, it’s really easy to export an optimized screencast. Specifically, I am always impressed how they encode their stuff and retain the quality of the screen recording. With all that said, there are several excellent options on the market and Camtasia Studio may not be the proper fit. I put together a chart to help you understand where the difference between some screen recording software tools.

Tool
Free
Editing
Win
Mac
Mobile
Web-based
Integrated w/
Ensemble Video
Camtasia Studio
N Y Y Y N N N
Y (w/ Relay)
CamStudio
Y Y Y N N N N
Collaaj
Y Y Y Y Y N Y
Jing
Y N Y Y N N N
Screencast-o-Matic
Y N (free)
Y (pro)
Y Y N Y N
SnagIt
N Y Y Y N N N
TechSmith Relay
N N Y Y Y N Y
Telestream Screenflow
N Y N Y N N N

 

If I had to pick the best tools above for our Ensemble Video users, it is difficult and depends on your goals, but in my opinion, this is how they shake out:

Screen Recording and Editing Software for an Individual

#1 – Camtasia Studio
#2 – Telestream Screenflow (close 2nd, but no windows version)

FREE Screen Recording Software for an Individual

#1 – Screencast-o-Matic
#2 – Jing

Enterprise Screen Recording Software for an Enterprise

#1 – Collaaj
#2 – Camtasia Relay (close 2nd, no editing and configuration with Ensemble not as easy as Collaaj)

What is nice about all these tools is if you are exporting a MP4 from a screen recording tool, the file has already been transcoded down quite a bit and it is ready for streaming. With that said, when exporting you’ll want to pay close attention to the format, resolution, bitrate, and FPS of the output file.

Format

There are a couple ways to tackle this. One option is to export a ready-for-streaming MP4 (h.264) from the screen recording software. If you want to take some risks and get fancy, you have the option to export a high-quality intermediate file that will be transcoded to a single streaming file in Ensemble Video. Some of the options you will have is are .mov, avi, and .wmv. We all have our preferences and I’m a big fan of QuickTime (.mov), but in this case I’d stick with the built-in MP4 option. Like I said earlier, these programs do a really good job of preparing their H.264/MP4 video files for streaming.

Resolution

Here is a critical step in the process, and we really should take a step back. When creating your screencast, I would define a standard capture dimension that is not your entire desktop. I like 1024×576. The reason is that I am able to capture the important information on the screen, and I know I’m dedicating all my data to less pixels (1024×576 NOT 1920×1080). If you capture your entire screen — say 1280×720 (or higher) — you’re going to spread data out over more pixels, reducing the quality in each pixel (also, keep in mind, also, the larger the resolution, the bigger the file size). This is a big issue when you’re capturing a lot of text on a screen. Think about watering down a pitcher or Kool-Aid — or for some of us, we may or may not have watered down a bottle in our parents liquor cabinet :) My point is, you want to have the right amount of data in your pixels, or the right mix for your martini! Want more info? Check out this article on choosing the best resolution for your screencasts.

Bitrate

I have seen plenty of good quality exports when using settings between 300 kbps and 1200 kbps. A higher bit rate (1200 kbps) is recommended when your screencast includes a talking head and/or more complex animations. Keep in mind that this setting is usually a target bitrate, and your bitrate will vary depending on content. Typically, the bitrate when showing just the screen will be a lot lower than when there is a talking head. Most of the time, it should be 300-600 kbps.

Frames Per Second (FPS)

For the smoothest recordings, you may want to strive to achieve the highest frame rate for the source file. By default, most of the tools try to capture 15-30 frames per second. When exporting, you can export to 5-10 FPS. Why? Usually, a screencast is not capturing full-motion video like a hockey game. Most of the time, you’re capturing a mouse cursor moving on a screen, or webpage navigation. Sometimes, this can make your mouse movements a little jerky and not as smooth, but it’s a trade-off in size.

The Encoding Recipe:

Ideally, you would take our advice and export a streamable MP4 (H.264) from your screen capture software. Again, most of these tools do a great job when optimizing their content. In this case, skip encoding in Ensemble Video and choose an “Upload and Stream – No Transcoding” preset. If you created a higher quality intermediate file (2-4 Mbps intermediate source file), here are two encoding recipes you could try along with the ingredients:

Single File Workflow Recipe

FORMAT: MP4 (H.264)
RESOLUTION: 1024×576 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 5 fps

Adaptive Bit Rate Workflow Recipe

FILE 1
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 640×360(16×9)
BIT RATE: 400kbps
FPS: 5 fps

FILE 2
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 1024×576 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 5 fps

FILE 3
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 1280×720 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 2000kbps
FPS: 10 fps


I hope this article helps you get the most out of your screencasts! Check back next week for the sixth installment in this series, when we will focus on Video Editing Programs like Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Avid, etc., and wrap up the series. You can also go back to the series introduction for more information.

Next Article in Series >

HOW TO: Video Conversion Part IV – DVD

One of the greatest challenges for an instructional technology professional, faculty member, or media producer is determining the best video encoding workflow for their source media content. In this six-part blog series, video guru (and Ensemble VP of Marketing And Sales) Scott Nadzan will discuss some common video sources uploaded/ingested into Ensemble Video, and help you figure out which video workflow/encoding recipe will ensure videos are optimized and ready for playback on iPads, iPhones, computers and other devices.

Welcome to the fourth installment in our six-part “summer school crash course” on video conversion, brought to you by Scott Nadzan. This week’s post focuses on DVD conversion. If you missed anything, or would like more information on this series, click here for the cheat sheet.

PART IV: DVD


Most Ensemble Video customers have a good amount of digital video disk (DVD) content. I’m sure you know all about the old optical disk used to store audio, video, or computer data. Again, I’m going to assume you made a good-faith effort to contact the copyright holder, and secured permission to convert the and stream it securely. You may want document the process. When digitizing, you’ll want to pay close attention to the format, resolution, bitrate, and FPS of the output file. There are a couple options to consider, in my opinion I would try them in this order.

Option 1: Convert .vob to .mpeg. The first thing I would try is to open up the DVD in a window, and find the “Video_TS” folder. If you’re lucky, you may be able to simply pull the .vob file (or files) from the DVD, which will save you a lot of time. You may not know this, but the .vob files are just .mpeg files in a .vob wrapper. Check out this article, it explains how you can pull a .vob file from a DVD. If the DVD has five .vob files, than you can either stitch them together with an editor, or keep them as separate chapters. If the .vob method doesn’t work, there are a couple other ways to tackle this.

Option 2: Rip a DVD. Go ahead, get ripped!

STEP 1: To rip a DVD you have to download and install DVD Ripping software, don’t panic though, we’ve found some DVD ripping software that is free and works brilliantly. I personally recommend Handbrake because it works well and it is FREE (some other options are DVD Shrink, MakeMKV, DVDFabHD and AnyDVD). Simply go to  and select the link for your operating system, then install the Handbrake software when the download is complete.

STEP 2: The next thing you need to do is insert the DVD you want to rip into your PCs optical drive and then open the Handbrake program. You then need to click on the Source button located in the top left of the window.

STEP 3: From here you need to locate and select the DVD drive and click open.

STEP 4: Now that you have select the DVD that you wish to rip, you need to set a destination folder for the ripped content to be saved in. This can be done by clicking on the browse button on the right hand side of the window.

STEP 5: The last thing of note that needs doing is choosing the file preset for your ripped DVD. Handbrake comes with a good list of standard presets for you to chose from, so you can rip a DVD to the correct format for popular desktop and mobile devices. I recommend using mp4/h.264 with AAC audio. Check out these screenshots below, they illustrate the Video and Audio format settings I have used in the past.

Video Settings in Handbrake
Audio Settings in Handbrake
Handbrake-VideoFormat Handbrake-AudioFormat
Click to View Full Size Image
Click to View Full Size Image

STEP 6: Now you have the Source, the Destination folder and have set which file format you want the DVD to be ripped to, the next and final task is the easiest off all; simply hit the Start button at the top of the Window and let Handbrake do the rest.

Option 3: Capture a DVD.

STEP 1: Purchase a capture card or capture device. You will need to purchase an internal capture cards or an external devices plug into the computer via the FireWire or USB ports. This is just a piece of hardware that converts analog content (either audio or video) to digital, for use on a computer. Manufacturers such as Diamond Multimedia (Diamond VC 500), Hauppauge (USB-Live2), Pinnacle (Dazzle DVD Recorder HD) and Grass Valley (ADVC110) produce high-quality video capture devices. I have had a lot of experience with the ADVC110, I’m big fan of that little white box.

STEP 2: Install the capture card or device. You will need to install the capture card or attach the device to your computer.

STEP 3: Attach the DVD. Connect the DVD to the capture card with cables.

STEP 4: Insert tape. Insert the DVD tape into the DVD.

STEP 5: Open video creation/capture program. You will need to use a video creation or capture program on your computer to capture the input signal.

STEP 6: Capture video in digital format. Open the capture feature of the video creation or capture program, and capture the footage by pressing play on the DVD and record in the capture window of the video creation tool or capture program.

Format

In most cases I would create a H.264/MP4 in Handbrake with AAC audio. An alternate option is to encode a high-quality intermediate file that will be transcoded to a single streaming file or adaptive bit rate file in Ensemble Video. You should experiment with some short files and figure out which format produces the best results for your audience.

Resolution

With a DVD, it can be tricky. Generally, with an older DVD the image size is 720×480 (rectangular pixels). You will likely have to resize it to 640×480, which is the display size for computers (square pixels). You will also run into newer DVDs that have larger resolution, like 1280×720 or 1920×1280. If the resolution of the file is 1280×720 or 1920×1280, I’d personally recommend ending up with a 1280×720 file. You can keep that 1920×1280 file, but if you are going to stream it to a variety of devices, I would argue the 1920×1280 is overkill for online content. Want to learn more about aspect ratios? Check out this article. Again, going by to my earlier example about stretching your favorite t-shirt, do not stretch the video! It is not going to magically increase the quality of your content.

Bitrate (amount of data in file)

You can go a couple ways with this. If you’re creating a high-quality copy that will be encoded, I would recommend creating the video with 3-4 Mbps of data in the file. This way, you’re going to be able to use an adaptive bitrate encoding recipe, and you will have a high-quality copy of the content if you need it. You can try to create the digital copy with 4-8 Mbps of data in the file, I just don’t think it’s practical if you are going to compress and stream it online. Plus, if you want to store it, you have more to store.Now, if your tool or software will create an MP4 (H.264) file,  you could just make a single streaming file with 500-1200 kbps of data in the file. I’m recommending a range because some people are more conservative or aggressive with their streaming content. Also, I don’t know who your audience is and where they’re watching your videos. If you do crank out the MP4, you are reducing the need to transcode in Ensemble Video, which will reduce your processing time in Ensemble Video.

Frames Per Second (FPS)

The FPS setting is a difficult one for me to predict. Honestly, if there’s an option that says “keep the same”, I would choose that for simplicity sake. Or, if you know the frame rate at which you shot the video, it’s best to encode at that same frame rate. Your options will likely be 24, 25, or 30 FPS (frames per second). All of these look great streaming. 29.97 also works, but can sometimes cause audio sync issues.If the frame rate of your video exceeds 30 FPS, you should encode at half that frame rate. For example, if you shot 60 FPS, you should encode at 30 FPS. If you were to choose 15 FPS or lower, you will likely lose some full-motion movements. Remember those flipbooks we made when we were kids? Reducing the frame rate of your video is similar to reducing the number of pages in your flip book. Go too far, and you lose that smooth, full-motion illusion.

The Encoding Recipes

If you created a 3-4Mbps intermediate source file, here are two encoding recipes you could try along with the ingredients:

Single File Workflow Recipe

FORMAT: MP4 (H.264)
RESOLUTION: 640×360 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Adaptive Bit Rate Workflow Recipe

FILE 1
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 480×270(16×9)
BIT RATE: 400kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 2
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 640×360 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 3
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 640×360 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 2000kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Remember, if you created an MP4 (H.264) when converting/capturing, you could skip encoding in Ensemble Video. You would choose an “Upload and Stream (No Transcoding)” preset.

I hope this article helps you convert your DVDs to streaming format! Check back next week for the fifth installment in this series, when we will focus on Screen Recording Software. You can also go back to the series introduction for more information.

Next Article in Series >

HOW TO: Video Conversion Part III – Video Camera

One of the greatest challenges for an instructional technology professional, faculty member, or media producer is determining the best video encoding workflow for their source media content. In this six-part blog series, video guru (and Ensemble VP of Marketing And Sales) Scott Nadzan will discuss some common video sources uploaded/ingested into Ensemble Video, and help you figure out which video workflow/encoding recipe will ensure videos are optimized and ready for playback on iPads, iPhones, computers and other devices.

Welcome to the third installment in our six-part “summer school crash course” on video conversion, brought to you by Scott Nadzan. This week’s post focuses on converting videos from “Prosumer” high-definition digital video cameras, specifically dealing with files off of commonly used DSLR, Compact Cameras and Camcorders. If you missed anything, or would like more information on this series, click here for the cheat sheet.

PART III: “Prosumer” High-Definition Digital Video Camera


There are a wide variety of “prosumer” digital video cameras on the market, and many Ensemble Video customers are using them. If you have never heard of “prosumer”, these are affordable and capable HD video cameras that sport multiple CMOS sensors; some manual picture controls and extensive audio controls; flash media as well as a hard disk drive; and a good 10x or above optical zoom — all this integrated into a compact device that could weigh just about a pound.  I would put DSLR, Compact Cameras and/or HD Camcorders in the “prosumer” category. All the big and small brands offer HD video cameras that will often cost $300 – $20,000 (or more). Obviously, the more you pay you will usually find that the you are getting a better camera (quality and features). For most of you, my guess is you are creating video on a DSLR, Compact Cameras and/or a Camcorder.

Another nice feature of “prosumer” camcorders is importing the file off the video camera is simple — just connect your camera to your computer. When you’re working with AVCDHD files, you may want to ensure that you copy all of the content from the digital card/drive/folder. This will maintain the folder/file structure that a lot of non-linear editing applications need to work with the files.

Format

If your camera is creating an .mov, .mpeg, or .dv file, you can upload those files off the camera straight into Ensemble Video, or you can edit them in a video editor. In this article I am going to focus on the .mts format. .mts is the default file extension for the high-definition digital video camera recorder format AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition). Hopefully, you can upload the .mts file off of the camera, straight into Ensemble Video. If you need to edit the file, your video editor may allow for importing a single .mts file. If the .mts file doesn’t work in your editor, you should convert .mts to .mp4 (MPEG-4/H.264 AVC) or .mov, which are recognizable and compatible with virtually all media players, editors, and operating systems. If you do not know how to re-wrap a file, there are many free and paid tools online. Search “re-wrap MTS file” in Google or here are a few you can try:

Resolution

Luckily, the file you are pulling off the camera is going to have a high resolution. AVCHD records HD video with an aspect ratio of 16:9. SD video can be recorded with either a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. It’s also important to mention that AVCHD allows for HD recording (1080i, 1080p, and 720p) and SD recording (480i and 576i). Usually, you have an opportunity to set this on the camera. If you’re wondering which you should choose, I believe the 1280×720 option (720p) is fine if the video will be delivered online. If you will be using the video for widescreen TVs or huge projector screens, you may want to try the 1920×1080 (1080p).

Bitrate (amount of data in file)

Ready for this one? There’s a lot of variety in this area. Some of the AVCHD .mts files that I’ve seen include up to 50 Mbps of data in each video file. If you crank the settings to LP, it can go as low as 5Mbps. If you don’t need to edit the file, then upload it straight into Ensemble Video and let our transcoding server deal with that. If you’re going to create an intermediate file, you could knock down the data in the file quite a bit. Specifically, I believe if the video is going to be uploaded online, you can export an intermediate file with 3-4 Mpbs of data. If you will be archiving the video or using it for other purposes (widescreen TVs or huge projector screens), you may want to export at 8-10 Mbps and try the 1080p.

Frames Per Second (FPS)

When using the source .mts file, you will see that the file is 29.97 or 23.97 FPS. This is something you should define on the camera. I would lean towards the 29.97. If it exceeds 30 FPS, you should encode your video at half that frame rate. For example, if you shot 60 FPS, you should encode at 30 FPS.

The Encoding Recipe

If you created a 4Mbps intermediate source file, here are two encoding recipes you could try along with the ingredients:

Single File Workflow Recipe

FORMAT: MP4 (H.264)
RESOLUTION: 640×360 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Adaptive Bit Rate Workflow Recipe

FILE 1
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 480×270 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 400kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 2
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 640×360 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 3
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 1280×720 (16×9)
BIT RATE: 3000kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Remember, if you created an MP4 (H.264) when converting/capturing, you could skip encoding in Ensemble Video. You would choose an “Upload and Stream – No Transcoding” preset.

Wait! I don’t have a HD video camera yet!

If you don’t have a HD video camera yet, I would recommend you watch these two videos below. These are especially usuful if you are not well-versed in the differences between DSLR, compact cameras, and camcorders when it comes to video capabilities and the ergonomics of shooting with each. These videos are meant for the casual shooter (not a professional) who’s trying to decide on what type of camera to get for shooting videos.

If you can only watch a few minutes right now, I recommend skipping to these to sections:

Part 1: 1:00 – 2:55

Part 2: 11:00 – 13:45

DSLR vs. Compact vs. Camcorder Part 1

DSLR vs. Compact vs. Camcorder Part 2

I hope this article helps you convert your prosumer HD video! Check back next week for the fourth installment in this series, when we will focus on converting your DVD’s and preparing them for streaming through Ensemble Video. You can also go back to the series introduction for more information.

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HOW TO: Video Conversion Part II – VHS

One of the greatest challenges for an instructional technology professional, faculty member, or media producer is determining the best video encoding workflow for their source media content. In this six-part blog series, video guru (and Ensemble VP of Marketing And Sales) Scott Nadzan will discuss some common video sources uploaded/ingested into Ensemble Video, and help you figure out which video workflow/encoding recipe will ensure videos are optimized and ready for playback on iPads, iPhones, computers and other devices.

Welcome to the second installment in our six-part “summer school crash course” on video conversion, brought to you by Scott Nadzan. This week’s post focuses on VHS conversion. If you missed anything, or would like more information on this series, click here for the cheat sheet.

PART II: VHS


So you have some great content trapped on one of those old video cassettes, do ya? Before we talk about digitizing the content, I feel obligated to ask a question: Do you have a legal right to copy and/or digitize the VHS tape? I’m going to assume you made a good-faith effort to contact the copyright holder and secure permission to convert the and stream it securely. You may want document the process.

With a VHS tape, there are many ways to capture and digitize the content, but I’d like to go over the steps.Purchase an external or internal capture card

STEP 1: Purchase a capture card or capture device. You will need to purchase an internal capture cards or an external devices plug into the computer via the FireWire or USB ports. This is just a piece of hardware that converts analog content (either audio or video) to digital, for use on a computer. Manufacturers such as Diamond Multimedia (Diamond VC 500), Hauppauge (USB-Live2), Pinnacle (Dazzle DVD Recorder HD) and Grass Valley (ADVC110) produce high-quality video capture devices. I have had a lot of experience with the ADVC110, I’m big fan of that little white box, the only issue is it requires Firewire not USB.

ADVC110
USB-Live2
videoconversion-ADVC110 videoconversion-USBLive2
Click to View Full Size Image
Click to View Full Size Image

STEP 2: Install the capture card or device. You will need to install the capture card or attach the device to your computer.

STEP 3: Attach the VCR. Connect the VCR to the capture card with the RCA cables.

STEP 4: Insert tape. Insert the VHS tape into the VCR.

STEP 5: Open video creation/capture program. You will need to use a video creation or capture program on your computer to capture the input signal.

STEP 6: Capture video in digital format. Open the capture feature of the video creation or capture program, and capture the footage by pressing play on the VCR and record in the capture window of the video creation tool or capture program.

Format

One option is to capture a high-quality intermediate file that will be transcoded to a single streaming file in Ensemble Video. Another option is to capture and encode a mid-quality .mp4/h.264 file that is ready for streaming and does not need to be transcoded when uploaded into Ensemble Video. Some of the video creation or capture programs you will use can create an .mov, .avi, .mpeg, .mp4, or .wmv file. We all have our preferences, and I’m a big fan of QuickTime (.mov), but you should experiment with some short files and figure out which format produces the best results for your audience.

Resolution

When you look at the resolution of the file, try your best to not to stretch or shrink the file. If your capture software says it’s 640×480, then keep it at 640×480. Also, if you have the option to control the pixel aspect ratio (not the display aspect ratio), make sure it’s set to “1:1″ or “1.00″ (sometimes referred to as “square pixels”). I’ve seen many people try to stretch it to 800×600, and all they are doing is stretching pixels. Think about it like one of your favorite t-shirts with a graphic and print on it. What happens when you stretch that out? Does the graphic and text look better or clearer? Nope. The same rule applies for video pixels — stretch them and you will lose quality.

Bitrate (Amount of Data in File)

This setting controls both the visual quality of the video and the file size. In most video editors/programs, this is done in terms of kilobits per second (kbps). You can go a couple ways with this. If you’re aiming for a relatively standard-definition copy that will be encoded, I recommend creating the video with 1200kbps – 2Mbps of data in the file. This way, you’re at least attempting to create a DVD-like copy of the legacy content. You can try to create the digital copy with 3-4 Mbps of data in the file. I just don’t think you’ll see any results on the quality side, and you’ll be uploading and storing a larger file.

Now, if your tool or software will create an MP4 (H.264) file,  you could just make a single streaming file with 500-1200 kbps of data in the file. I’m recommending a range because some people are more conservative or aggressive with their streaming content. Also, I don’t know who your audience is and where they’re watching your videos. If you do crank out the MP4, you are reducing the need to transcode in Ensemble Video, which will reduce your processing time in Ensemble Video.

Frames Per Second (FPS)

The FPS setting is a difficult one for me to predict. Honestly, if there’s an option that says “keep the same”, I would choose that for simplicity sake. Or, if you know the frame rate at which you shot the video, it’s best to encode at that same frame rate. Your options will likely be 24, 25, or 30 FPS (frames per second). All of these look great streaming. 29.97 also works, but can sometimes cause audio sync issues.

If the frame rate of your video exceeds 30 FPS, you should encode at half that frame rate. For example, if you shot 60 FPS, you should encode at 30 FPS. If you were to choose 15 FPS or lower, you will likely lose some full-motion movements. Remember those flipbooks we made when we were kids? Reducing the frame rate of your video is similar to reducing the number of pages in your flip book. Go too far, and you lose that smooth, full-motion illusion.

The Encoding Recipe

If you created a 2Mbps intermediate source file, here are two encoding recipes you could try along with the ingredients:

Single File Workflow Recipe

FORMAT: MP4 (H.264)
RESOLUTION: 640×480 (4×3)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Adaptive Bit Rate Workflow Recipe

FILE 1
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 320×240 (4×3)
BIT RATE: 400kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 2
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 640×480 (4×3)
BIT RATE: 900kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

FILE 3
FORMAT:
MP4 (H.264)

RESOLUTION: 640×480 (4×3)
BIT RATE: 1500kbps
FPS: 29.97 fps

Remember, if you created an MP4 (H.264) when converting/capturing, you could skip encoding in Ensemble Video. You would choose an “Upload and Stream – No Transcoding” preset.

I hope this article helps you convert those old legacy VHS videos to streaming format! Check back next week for the third installment in this series, when we will focus on “Prosumer” HD Digital Video Cameras. You can also go back to the series introduction for more information.

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HOW TO: Video Conversion Part I – Introduction

One of the greatest challenges for an instructional technology professional, faculty member, or media producer is determining the best video encoding workflow for their source media content. In this six-part blog series, video guru (and Ensemble VP of Marketing And Sales) Scott Nadzan will discuss some common media sources uploaded/ingested into Ensemble Video, and help you figure out which video workflow/encoding recipe will ensure videos are optimized and ready for playback on iPads, iPhones, computers and other devices.

Articles in this six-part “summer school crash course” on media sources and video conversion will be released Monday mornings for six weeks, beginning July 28:

  1. Monday, July 21: Introduction
  2. Monday, July 28: VHS
  3. Monday, August 4: “Prosumer” HD Digital Video Camera
  4. Monday, August 11: DVD
  5. Monday, August 18: Screen Recording Software
  6. Monday, August 25: Video Editing Programs (Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Avid, etc.)
  7. Monday, September 1: Wrap-Up

Without further ado, let’s turn it over to Scott for some video conversion wisdom:

PART I: Media Sources and Video Encoding Terms

MEDIA SOURCES

Have you ever tried to count how many different ways people create and obtain media on your campus or in your organization? I know I have, and there are hundreds. Here are few off the top of my head:

    • iPhone Captures
    • Camtasia Studio
    • Adobe Premiere
    • Digital Rapids Encoder
    • Adobe Premiere
    • VHS

  • DVD
  • Digital Video Camera
  • iMovie
  • Telestream Screenflow
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Collaaj

I could go on for days. There are just so many hardware and software tools at our fingertips, from very simple (and affordable) camera phones to very complex (and expensive) editing suites. Depending how you look at it, all these options can be exhilarating or exhausting.

Thanks, I’ll Have Another!

If you’re like me, I get intoxicated with this stuff. I love that a user can choose a software tool or acquire a low-cost video capture device that they prefer and easily produce a video, then upload it into Ensemble Video in a matter of minutes. At Ensemble, we work with a lot of customers that allow their users to choose a video creation tool that they are comfortable with, whether it’s super simple or cheap, or they don’t want to learn a new way to make a video.

These customers enable their users, and typically this reduces friction because the users are just happy a new video tool isn’t being shoved down their throat. With that said, there is some risk here. The users may be happy, but it may be very difficult to control the control costs, support the variety of tools and there are unique training needs.

You are cut off!

I can also can appreciate the other perspective, as the number of non-standard video creation tools in an organization increases, so does the work for instructional technology staffers, technology support is more complex and usually it means more money is spent. Some Ensemble Video customers make strategic investments in video tools and product eco-systems so all of their users are using the same video tool to create video content Basically, the leadership believes they need to limit the choices to control costs, reduce the variety of support requests and simplify training efforts. This strategy certainly can work for all parties involved, we just hope the users participated in the selection process, if not, the leadership will spend a lot of time selling the new product(s) to users and I’ll bet you their will be some friction in that sales process.

Have You Tried Flexible Video Workflows?

If you get intoxicated with all these tools, or if the idea of non-standard video tools makes you cringe, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Luckily, I think I can help you define a small number of video workflows that will be compatible with your all your video sources. What I’m saying is I’m going to try to simplify your worklife! Don’t believe me? I guess you have to take my word for it, but the truth is many of our customers uses Ensemble Video because it offers a wide variety of flexible video workflows to simplify video creation and video ingestion with usually does simplify user support and training needs.

It’s Not Miller Time, It’s Workflow Time

Again, my goal is to help you determine video workflow processes that will ensure your videos are prepared properly for playback on iPads, iPhones, computers and other devices. Keep in mind these workflows will always including an “encoding” step. Whether you know it or not, all of the videos we watch on our iPads, laptops and mobile phones go through an encoding process to convert the original “source” video to a streaming format.

If the word encoding throws you off, this process is also referred to as “transcoding,” “converting” or “video conversion.” In our case, on the output/streaming side Ensemble Video requires MP4 files (encoded with the H.264 codec). Also, I’m going to assume you have a pretty good idea how to capture and edit video, but when we start digitizing and encoding you’ll need to pay close attention to the format, resolution, bitrate, and fps of the output file.

ENCODING TERMS

Before we begin, lets cover some of the basic video encoding terms:

Aspect Ratio: The ratio of the width of the picture to the height. Displays commonly have a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. Program material may have other aspect ratios such as 2.35:1, resulting in it being “letterboxed” on the display.

Bandwidth: The speed and amount of data that can be transferred in a given period of time. Higher bit rates mean higher quality media can be streamed or played back. Overall bandwidth depends upon the processing speed of your computer, along with the network or Internet connection.

Bit/data rate: This is the amount of data that each second of video uses. Typically, this is measured in kilobits per second. Bit rates can be either Constant or Variable. A constant bit rate stays the same throughout the video, which can lead to larger video files. A variable bit rate changes depending on the amount of action on the screen, which will lead to smaller files. Variable bit rates can decrease quality if the bit rate does not change dynamically enough with the video. Experiment with both bit rates to find a balance between size and acceptable quality.

Codec: Compression-Decompression. Highly specialized algorithms that analyze content of the media, using a variety of rules to remove or exclude redundant information within the video or audio material to greatly reduce the size for storage, transmission and playback efficiency. There are many CODECs, each designed for specific purposes. Virtually all digital media used in consumer applications are compressed.

Encode: Often used in the same context as compression. Taking one media format and making it into another. e.g., used to change original content from a Non-Linear Editing system (NLE) to a new format in a smaller size to save space and play on a different type of system such as DVD or Blu-ray. Also referred to as Transcoding.

File Format: A general term that is often used interchangeably to mean the container format or (incorrectly) a codec itself. Common formats include: AVI, MP4, WMV, 3GP, QuickTime, SWF, MPEG, M4V, RM, DVD, DVR-MS, MKV and FLV.

Frames per second (FPS) or Frame rate: this is the number of frames per second. Videos are typically shot in 24 or 30 frames per second. Keep the compressed copy’s frame rate the same otherwise playback will be affected and audio may not sync properly.

H.264: A codec which is part of the MPEG-4 standard for high definition video. H.264 is very efficient and enables delivering very high quality at relatively low bit rates. This is especially useful for Internet content and use on mobile devices. It is also one of the mandated standards for Blu-ray, being capable of encoding video at high bit rates.

MP4: A popular container format, which can carry the H.264 codec for very high quality video at low bitrates.

Resolution: For digital video, measured by the resolvable detail given the number of the vertical and horizontal pixels on a display device. This is the size of the outputted video. It is measured in pixels, width x height.Other factors such as spatial (still images), temporal (moving images or objects) and the perceived resolution of the viewer makes this more than a numbers game.

Streaming: Continuous transmission of media content over the Internet, instead of the media file being sent first as a file and then opened after it has been downloaded.

Transcode: Used interchangeably with encode and conversion. Typically changing one media format to another. Usually involves compression to make the final product into a smaller delivery package.

Come back next week for the second installment of Scott’s video conversion blog series, focusing on digitizing your VHS tape library and preparing those files for streaming!

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