What format to use to email short videos to luddites?
March 26, 2010 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I have a four and a half minute video that a client wants to have in a format he can email as an attachment. What's the smallest, most broadly compatible video format I can use for this, and what software and settings should I use to convert it?

Prioritys are that the file be emailable, and play easily on a simple computer for a non-technical recipient.

I'm on a Mac running Snow Leopard. If possible, I'd prefer to use free or open source software, as I'm really not getting paid enough for this to consider buying new tools.

The original file began life as an iMovie project, and is now living a double life as a 138MB .m4v.

For a previous project, someone created him a 5mb Quicktime Movie, but some of the people he sent it to didn't have Quicktime installed. I don't know much about what video formats older PCs support out of the box.

Ideally I'd produce a file of less than 10MB.

(Yes, I know a private YouTube video or something similar might be a better option.)

Thanks in advance!
posted by raygan to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ideally played by most? Probably a .wmv file, but I don't know how you'd get there from a Mac. Maybe an avi container like divx?
posted by sanka at 10:51 PM on March 26, 2010

No matter what format you use, the file will be large and it could be a major problem sending out this email -- clogging outgoing mail server in particular. Speaking from experience here.

I would highly recommend linking to the video from an email. It doesn't have to be put on a public site like Youtube. It could be uploaded to the client's own website and linked to from there. You could embed a screencap of it in the email and link from that, which might be a hybrid way of satisfying your client.

Additionally, it's often more difficult for non-technical recipients to launch a video file from an email client. The added benefit of a web browser is that it will assist in rendering any type of file.

Lastly, if you link to it from email it's a one-click operation to view it. Some email clients will require the user to download the attachment, then launch it, which your most non-technical users will likely fail at.
posted by thorny at 10:51 PM on March 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

I would try a WMV file or a 3GP (used in phones) file. 3GP produces small (read: low-quality) files. IDK how useable it is cross-system though.

If you have QuickTime 7 you can export a 3GP file quite easily. (File -> Export -> Movie to 3G)

You might try converting the video using one of the online conversion sites. (I can't recommend one though.) This would be perfect for you if you go the WMV route.

However, I agree with what thorny said.
posted by 47triple2 at 11:08 PM on March 26, 2010

.FLV (This is what a YouTube video is, but you don't actually have to upload it to YouTube or anything.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:11 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

The most universally supported video format is that used in Video CDs - mp2 file format. But it's not going to be a small or easy to email. The best format for that seems to be 3GP but you'll be relying on people having recent hardware or software to be able to play it.
posted by singingfish at 11:20 PM on March 26, 2010

(VCD is actually MPEG-1...)

But, yes, there is no Universal Video Format; at least, not one that "older PCs support out of the box". MPEG-1 would come close (Windows has had MPEG-1 built-in since at least Win95; AFAIK Macs have had it since … hmmm, System 7?). But that's not gonna get you down to 5MB without seriously compromising quality/framesize/framerate.

.FLV is your next best bet; most people will have a reasonably recent Flash installed. ffmpegX will encode to .FLV. You might like to knock up a quick HTML document to include with the .FLV file, so people can click on that & have it play in their browser.
posted by Pinback at 12:00 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have to do this every now & then. Prepare two files 1)Windows Media 7 video (.wmv) for Windows users, and QT (usually Sorenson) for Mac users. Provide a link to both, with a brief explanation ("Windows users, download this one"..etc)
posted by Gyan at 12:02 AM on March 27, 2010

I would like to do as Gyan suggests. I've created a QT file I'm pretty satisfied with. Any suggestions on a (free) way to produce a WMV from my video? What software/settings should I use? Quicktime with the Flip4Mac plugin was actually turning out great looking, tiny WMVs, but since I have the free version it'll only do 30 seconds before it cuts off. I tried VLCs export features and couldn't produce a working file.
posted by raygan at 1:54 AM on March 27, 2010

Don't know about Mac-based tools, but try the online service at Zamzar.
posted by Gyan at 2:04 AM on March 27, 2010

The best way to create a WMV is with Windows Movie Maker, but for that you'll need a PC. (Or Windows on a Mac.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:05 AM on March 27, 2010

I would utilize the cloud. Upload to box.net and grab the widget.
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 3:28 AM on March 27, 2010

I'd like to point out that Gyan said "link" -- don't actually attach these files to the email. Upload them someplace accessible on the internet and email the links. There's no way you'll get these down to under 10MB, which is the rough cutoff for sending through email (imho)
posted by qbxk at 5:02 AM on March 27, 2010

(Yes, I know a private YouTube video or something similar might be a better option.)

This (or another video site, e.g. Vimeo) is by far the quickest, most straightforward and robust solution for you, your client, and his intended recipients.
posted by caek at 5:54 AM on March 27, 2010

I'd agree with those that said suggested you use a file hosting site - my favorite is Drop.io. Drop.io has a flash player for video files, lets you create a custom url, and allows for password protected files. It's free to use if your files are under 100mb.

Also worth noting that a 4.5 minute video would be larger than 10mb, which is the attachment size limit on some email servers (like Hotmail).
posted by stachemaster at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2010

Drop.io would be perfect. You don't even need to setup an account, yet it's still private. Nobody would have to worry about formats, etc. Your email would just have a download link - or a link to the video itself. I've used it for many things and think it's the most useful website most people still don't know about.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 11:35 AM on March 27, 2010

Putting it on a server you control and linking to it has another benefit: it permits you to keep track of how many times it's been downloaded.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:40 AM on March 27, 2010

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