Can you recommend a resource on video compression?
March 26, 2020 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a resource that outlines the very basics of video compression for non-technical people, and possibly some free, non-skeevy software for easily doing this task?

My college is going all online learning for the rest of the semester. I work with a group of folks who are trying their best, but are not tech experts and don't want to be. We're all overloading the school's servers by uploading video lectures. I suspect that a lot of these folks don't have any clue about how to reduce the sizes of these files.

Can you recommend a resource that outlines the very basics of video compression for non-technical people, and possibly an app for this? It would be great if it was free, but it definitely should be non-skeevy. I know enough about this to search, but not enough to vet the results of my searches.
posted by SuperSquirrel to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm way out of my depth for the first half of your question, but for software, Handbrake is a really good choice.
posted by sagc at 8:40 AM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Frankly, this sounds like a classic XY problem. The problem is not how to get your colleagues
to compress their videos; it's how to stop them from overloading the school's servers. I think you'll have better luck by telling everyone to upload their videos to YouTube (and make them unlisted if you don't want them to be publicly accessible).
posted by J.K. Seazer at 8:50 AM on March 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

FFmpeg is a battle-tested multitool for audio/video manipulation. There are countless tutorials and Q&As out there. I'm absolutely not an expert but it's the thing I'd reach for if I had to compress a video. It's command-line only and pretty technical though and I'd definitely have to do a lot of searching to find the correct incantations for even basic stuff. Maybe you could somehow do this for them, have them upload the raw large video to some common place where you could process it for them.
posted by bright flowers at 8:51 AM on March 26, 2020

Handbrake is a human-usable front-end for FFmpeg, which can be a swiss-army footgun even in the hands of seasoned Unix veterans, which it sounds like your audience is not.

I think J.K.'s answer is a better approach.
posted by mhoye at 9:07 AM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

AVIDemux is another GUI application and I use it for compressing (transcoding) into other operations. It can also do "gamma" correction (to fix washed out videos), clipping, appending and other things. One thing to know is that it opens up defaulting to Video Copy and Audio Copy mode. That would be if you were going to trim or append pieces of video but not change their format. To compress you click the Video "Copy" and change it to some other format (e.g., MPEG-4 AVC x264). Then click Video Output Configure and pick Quality on the slider bar or leave it at default. Then menu File - Save which is like "do it". In general you can give the output any extension since the file is just a "container" (mp4, avi, mpg) it has codes inside which a video player looks for to know the encoding. This may sound like a lot but (I would say) it's easier than a tax return by far.

But here's the thing. Transcoding can be slow and dominate or heat up a PC, not to mention take a long time. And then you don't like the quality, so rinse-wash-repeat picking a different quality on the slider (it's logarithmic).

TLDR: go with J.K.'s idea.
posted by forthright at 9:51 AM on March 26, 2020

HandBrake is its own software that uses FFmpeg libraries behind the scenes if you use certain settings. With all due respect to its creators, I find it a good example of a open source project with a GUI designed for experts. I don't think this is the sort of thing OP's team wants to work with. But if I had to use something free with a GUI, I'd start there.
posted by bright flowers at 9:57 AM on March 26, 2020

Best answer: If you are on Windows I wrote this simple GUI utility for exactly this use case.
Run the program, select a video file and press the button, done.
posted by Lanark at 10:22 AM on March 26, 2020

Best answer: Captain Disillusion, on youtube, has recently started a (very slowly growing) series about video qualities (interlacing, resolution, etc), but in addition there's a video which explains how compression works as a means of describing how, when compression fails, it produces results that look as they do, and nevertheless are not proof that Justin Bieber is a Reptiloid alien in human disguise. You could skip to the halfway point of this video, but hey, it's 5 minutes long.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:38 PM on March 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is the problem with the amount of bandwidth used to upload videos, or is it all on the download and viewing side (e.g. they upload a not-very-compressed video and that same video eats up disk space and bandwidth from all the people downloading it?) If the issue is the latter, then I'd second the recommendation to just have them upload to Youtube (or Vimeo, or whatever) and let those services handle this for you. If that's not possible, it's going to be easier to do the next best thing where you set up a system that re-encodes the video that they submit than to educate them on how to get it to work. Both Handbrake (GUI) and FFmpeg (command line) are good tools for this, but are absolutely too involved for non-technical people to deal with directly, and no amount of video tutorials are going to change that. (There's a surprising amount of dials and knobs to turn when it comes to video compression and encoding.)

But yeah, just have them upload to Youtube. It'll save your sanity and resources.
posted by Aleyn at 9:25 PM on March 26, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all, much appreciated.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:56 AM on March 27, 2020

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