It's Sunday morning. The band just finished rehearsal, lyrics are loaded and the lights are just bright enough to create that perfect worship atmosphere.
Then the pastor comes in.
Over the years, I've learned that the performance of a video is dependent to the codec of that video.
He hands you a Flash drive, and says he has a video to play during his message. And you don't have enough time to test it. It's inevitable that the file won't play right, because they just downloaded it without testing.
If you've served in the church for even a few weeks, you've found yourself in a situation like this.
Over the years, I've learned that the performance of a video is dependent to the codec of that video. So here they are, the essential video codecs you need to know in order to become (or even look like) a video savant.
Quicktime H.264 is the de facto, standard video codec for almost every computer, especially Apple computers.
H.264 was more than 30 years in the making, and has quickly become the standard for all things video. Drones, BluRay, phones, GoPros and many other cornerstone video devices have caused the popularity of this format to skyrocket over the last few years. Furthermore, this is perfect for those wanting to play a testimony video, a promo video for your next mission trip or that last minute sermon illustration.
H.264 works with most presentation software, and should be your go-to format for most videos you use. If you see a performance issue with this codec, the best tip I can give you is to limit your quality to High (instead of best) or 80 percent instead of 100 percent. You won't see a quality difference, but the performance will be greatly improved.
The last thing to know about H.264 is that it can be processor intensive. In video, the more "compressed" a video file is, the harder it can be on the processor. Which means a smaller file size does not mean it's easier for the computer to play. Most standard videos (even in a 4k resolution), H.264 will be great for you.
However, if you want to do live manipulation to large files (like color correction, layering of effects, play rate, etc.), you may want to test this codec before using it live. It's not optimized for the live manipulation of features like color or play rate.
Second to H.264, you will also need to know about ProRes. If H.264 is a Toyota, then ProRes is a Lexus. ProRes maintains incredible quality without creating astronomically large files like Animation or PhotoJPEG. But they will be larger file sizes than H.264, and can eat up hard drive space quickly.
Because ProRes is not as "compressed" as H.264, it is a great codec to export a video from a creation program like Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro and especially After Effects or Cinema 4D (if you're not exporting as an image sequence). Exporting as H.264 from one of these programs can cause performance issues.
ProRes has a few varieties. There's ProRes Proxy, ProRes LT, ProRes 422, ProRes 422HQ and ProRes 4444. From that list, each progressively increases in quality, to where ProRes Proxy is at the lower end of the spectrum, while the one offering the best quality and most features is ProRes 4444.
The 4444 option allows you to export with an actual alpha (or transparent) layer. This comes in handy when you're doing an event and wanting to layer videos on top of one another. The 4444 is also what you need to create a transparent lower third to use in an alpha-keyed system like ProPresenter to place over video content.
Finally, I want to introduce you to a more specialty codec, or DXV. It's not a very popular codec, and requires the software developer to integrate it into their program in order for it to work, but the performance and file size is unrivaled in its efficiency.
It became popular with the introduction of Resolume's Avenue and Arena advanced VJ softwares. When files are compressed using the DXV codec, its superior playback allows a user to add multiple layers of effects and modifications, without a lag in performance. This is essential in a program like Resolume, or a media server like the D3.
A new codec that may grow some in popularity in the near future is the HAP codec. It acts similarly to the DXV codec, and requires software integration. There are several software development companies that are implementing this codec this year, which will allow it to rise in popularity.
So there you have it, the three essential video codecs you need to use.
As you start to simplify the codecs you use, and create processes to streamline your compression, you'll unlock greater performance and increased efficiency on file size.