If the video you want to watch is in a format unsupported by any player available for your device, your only option is to convert the video. Video conversion used to be rather difficult, but a few really great free services gave birth to a plethora of conversion tools. Unfortunately, most of them are terrible. Thankfully, the few of them that are good are stellar. Here’s what you need to know about the conversion process and how to make it easy on yourself.
A video container is a metafile format that describes how different data elements, as well as metadata, exist within a specific computer file. A container is not the same thing as a video file format or a codec (compression/decompression scheme). Rather, it’s more like a “housing” or shell that a video file resides in.
A container can “wrap” around any file type. Why use containers? Because they can simplify the coding and decoding process. Audio and video streams can use multiple algorithms for decoding, for example. A container will provide a single file format for the end-user (you) so that you don’t have to worry about all of the technical details of decoding or encoding files.
Containers can also house multiple different data types, including multiple different audio and video file formats. A codec can either compress or decompress a file format.
A common video container is the AVI container. Most people mistake this as a file format because it’s so widely used. The DivX Media Format is another common container, as are EVO, 3GP, 3G2, and FLV (flash).
All of these file formats may contain both video and audio so you don’t need separate video and audio files (try syncing video with audio manually – it’s really inconvenient and awkward).
The Mysterious Codec
Codec stands for “compressor/decompressor.” For example, DV, MPEG-1, 2, and 3, AVCHD, and DVCPROHD are all codecs. H.264, one of the most popular video codecs, is responsible for the high-quality streaming you get from iTunes and other popular video streaming services.
Most video players come equipped with common video codecs, so you don’t have to worry about decoding the video you want to watch. But, on rare occasions, you may have to download and install a new type of codec so that you can properly view your video.
When you convert a video file, you usually have the choice between a single pass and multi-pass encoding. The single-pass encoding uses fewer resources and is quicker. The problem is that transitions between scenes tend to be choppy and unnatural. You may also notice high-action scenes in your video come out as blocky or distorted.
Two-pass or multi-pass encoding produces a much better result than the single-pass encoding. The problem is that it takes twice as long to encode video and uses up a lot of your computer’s resources during the conversion process.
It is, however, the highest quality conversion possible. The first pass, in a multi-pass encoding process, estimates the rate distortion characteristics of the video you’re trying to convert. Then, it uses quantization parameters for the second pass to enhance and maximize quality output, while minimizing variations in quality between scenes.
If you’re serious about the quality of your video, always use multi-pass encoding. Yes, it takes longer, but it’s almost always worth the effort.
Of all of the conversion tools on the web, the YTD YouTube Downloader, available from http://youtubedownload.altervista.org/, is surprisingly the easiest and smoothest to use, from the user perspective. There’s both a free version and a paid version with more options. Initially, the application was designed for downloading copyright-free videos from YouTube and other video sharing sites. However, the company has enhanced its video conversion capabilities, making it a good standalone conversion app as well. Make sure you remember to respect intellectual property.
After you download and install it, open it up and navigate to the “conversion” tab. Now, you can upload your file from your hard drive, select the quality of the output file, select the output destination, and optimize the video for specific devices.
It may take a while for the conversion process, depending on the original file size, but you won’t have to worry about the nitty-gritty details of the file conversion itself.
You will have to set a few options like bitrate and multi-pass encoding, but this isn’t a big deal. When you’re done encoding, verify that the new file plays before you delete the old file.
Colin Sabol works with videos in every aspect. From creating to editing, sharing, and more, he uses his videography experience to help others learn the ins and outs of working with the format.