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August 31, 2009 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop feeling stupid about working with (converting, compressing, and editing) digital video files.

I work as a trainer, and my department is increasingly using videos for training. My problem is that I can't figure out how to work with these videos to get them into the format we need. We have a lack of expert resources in my organization, so I need to figure this out myself.

I am typically working with videos that we have recorded in house using a camcorder (.vob and other DVD files) or videos that came from a third party (often .mpg).

I have tried google searching when I have problems, but there is so much conflicting and confusing information out there - I'm struggling to make sense of it. I cannot even figure out what software I should be using to accomplish what I want. I am reasonably computer-savvy, but I'm not an IT professional.

I want to learn how to:
Convert videos into a Windows Media Player-compatible format (pref .wmv)
Compress videos that are too big
Do some basic editing of videos (taking out sections, creating menus)

Please suggest resources (websites, classes, books, neural download) I can use to better understand this stuff and/or software that would make this easier.
posted by jeoc to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you're trying to create WMV's, then you should be using Windows Movie Maker. It comes free with Windows.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:51 AM on August 31, 2009


In theory, that is correct. Unfortunately, Windows Movie Maker doesn't seem to recognize any of the file types I use, and gives me error messages. Googling those error messages takes me down a rabbit hole of varying recommendations for converting files to different types and using a plethora of different software packages.

That's why I'm interested in some kind of resource that can help me make sense of all this.
posted by jeoc at 8:24 AM on August 31, 2009


As a casual user in similar situations, I've managed fine with Media Coder. The number of submenus can be daunting-looking, but I think they are pretty clearly grouped and in some cases I did need all the fussy detail (particularly compressing things into lower rates).
posted by Iosephus at 9:20 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was starting out with this (a large part of my job is encoding video for web), I found videohelp.com indispensable. Spend some time browsing there and refer to it when you need suggestions and even step-by-step guides for converting one format into another.

Unfortunately, the whole process is so cluttered with formats and platforms that there sometimes isn't a solution beyond trial and error. Fortunately, if your destination is always WMV, there are a number of programs that will convert cleanly. I like Media Convert Master for PC-- it will take most types of video and convert them to other common formats (including WMV) fairly cleanly and quickly and you can specify resolution and bitrate of the sound and video channels.

Editing the video is a whole different animal. Most editing programs are not going to let you edit compressed video (like wmv or avi), and if they do the output looks like diseased poop. A quick Googling suggests that Adobe Premiere Elements claims to be able to import mp4 files, flv etc., so that's worth investigating. If you have access to a Mac, iMovie kind of works for compressed video (mp4), and the learning curve is small. That said, I don't find the results acceptable and import and export take forever. I use Final Cut and Avid, but these are expensive solutions that are also a big investment in time to use effectively. You'll be better off if one of your first projects is to learn how to convert your sources to DV (uncompressed digital video) if you're going to edit them. It's an extra step, but you'll save time on the import and export into your editor, and the results will be many times better.

So my advice on the encoding portion is to read videohelp.com to brush up on the essentials, and follow their recommendations and reviews of various conversion programs to find one that will do what you want most of the time. I would also find out what they're recommending for video editing, and try those out as well. Have realistic expectations about this second part though-- consumer-level editing programs have limited format support and the results are generally much muddier than the source.

Here's a tip that you might find useful someday: the free program VLC is fantastic for outputting uncompressed files that are more flexible than the original format. Most people just use it as a media player, but it sometimes is the skeleton key I need to convert an alien format (or corrupted video) into something my other tools can recognize.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:34 AM on August 31, 2009


Movie Maker can't handle any file when it doesn't have an appropriate codec. But if a codec is installed, Movie Maker will handle it fine.

You need to install the Combined Community Codec Pack. I have it installed, and I just successfully loaded an MKV file (H.264) into Movie Maker.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:46 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


A huge part of this stuff is trial and error. There are a million and one tutorials, guides and applications available, and to some extent most work, but you'll find that some work better than others for your purposes.

MPEG-2 files (.VOB and .MPG you mention) are nortoriously difficult to deal with. Few editing applications will deal with the directly, and those that do often perform poorly with them. It's almost always a better idea to convert them to a more edit-friendly intermediate format first. Quicktime or AVI (with suitable codecs) generally.

There are lots of free applications that can do this, and they are definitely worth a try (Avidemux usually does a pretty good job) - but often I find that a commerical application is just a little bit easier. I use Sorenson Squeeze most often, another option might be ProCoder

The first step is to figure out what files your editing application does like, and then work backward from there to find the best way to make what you have into what you need.

I've been editing professionally for years, and I still find that converting media files is often something of a crap-shoot. There are so many variables that every time is just a little bit different.
posted by sycophant at 5:19 PM on August 31, 2009


If you're just converting between formats and making simple changes (scaling, cropping, etc), then VirtualDub is your friend.
posted by polyglot at 7:33 PM on August 31, 2009


I think that link was supposed to be this: VirtualDub
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:45 PM on August 31, 2009


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