Video Conversion: How to Convert Video to the Format You Need
Modern culture is increasingly documented through the proliferation of video-sharing platforms, video content artists, and more affordable video recording technology. For any video artist, gaining a broad view of the different video formats and how to use them more effectively would be time well spent. This will help you keep your videos at the highest quality according to their intended use while ensuring the smoothest possible playback for your audience on a wide variety of devices.
Why you may need to convert video files
Because videos are viewed on a wide variety of devices and streaming services, it's essential that they are in the most compatible format for the smoothest playback. Determining the correct video-format settings can require walking a fine line between maintaining high video quality and also keeping file sizes and bitrates low so the video plays smoothly on a variety of devices. This isn't too hard with a little preliminary knowledge, which is the purpose of this guide.
Being clear on your video's intended use will help guide your decisions as you research the best format and settings for your video files. This is the only way to ensure they will run smoothly on different video platforms and minimize technical difficulties for your audience. It will also help you achieve a broader sphere of influence with your video content, as it will be more reliable and easier for people to enjoy, thus boosting your reputation among your potential fan base.
Besides the fact that each video platform has its own preferred format and video spec limits to heed, there are many reasons to learn how to optimize video files, including:
- Viewers may be watching on slower devices
- System resources will not be "bogged down" by excessively large videos
- Video-upload sites will further compress and alter uploaded videos from their original quality
- Screen sizes and graphic processors vary widely between devices
Each video-sharing website is unique, built to handle different file formats and settings better than others. Spending even a short amount of time learning these differences will go a long way in helping your video content stand out and be more universally accessible. This will naturally lead to:
- More views & greater user enjoyment
- Larger audience sizes, repeat views, and fan loyalty
- More interest in your video content – along with more shares and subscribes
- Increased web traffic for your content, including outbound links
- Higher chances of generating sales for any products or services associated with your video
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How converting videos affects video qualityVideo formats are categorized as lossless or lossy, meaning the video quality either remains unchanged or is reduced, respectively (note that some formats referred to as "lossless" are not 100% lossless in the strictest sense – if that is your goal, look into uncompressed lossless formats). Both lossless and lossy formats each have a role throughout the video-production process. Even a video that must be heavily compressed in the end will be noticeably higher in quality if it is made from higher-quality source material before the final video-file conversion. Heeding this simple but powerful principle of A/V production is important throughout the entire process because it ensures that compression during the final video conversion has the most minimal negative impact on perceived quality.
Maintain the highest quality as long as possible
To begin with, the video recording device itself might be converting your video files to a lossy format to save storage space. As a general rule of thumb, save your video (and audio) files at the highest quality possible from the beginning, and convert those file(s) the fewest number of times until the very end. Ensure that your recording device saves your recordings in a lossless format, such as these popular choices:
- FFV1 (not common)
*Note: These formats are compressed lossless formats, which are more popular but are in fact not 100% "lossless" in the strictest sense. For video-streaming purposes, though, the amount of loss is considered negligible — compressed lossless file formats are still far better than lossy formats.
If your recording device has a QP (Quantization Parameter) setting, set it to zero to further ensure no initial loss of data. Also, use the highest bitrate and resolution, and do not reduce the video file in size or scale. Delay any quality-reducing file conversion for as long as possible, and compress the files a minimal amount the fewest number of times — preferably only once at the very end. A useful metaphor is to consider the difference between making a single, crisp copy of an original, well-preserved document as opposed to generating copies of copies of that document instead.
Almost all popular video-streaming sites will compress the video file even more, so be aware that your video might undergo one or two further conversions after it is uploaded. A file that has been degenerated in these ways countless times will be significantly worse in quality than one that has been maintained at a high quality throughout its lifespan and only compressed and altered once — just as a document becomes less legible if it is copied from a copy and so on.
This is how files of comparable format settings might differ significantly in terms of their perceived quality even when they both stream with comparative ease. If you've ever seen a video on YouTube with text that is very blurry even at higher quality settings, it is likely because it was compressed multiple times over. No amount of setting adjustments at this point will restore lost fidelity, so take these principles to heart.
Convert the video at the end
When you are ready to convert your completed video project into a streaming-friendly format, you'll need to consider which formats and settings will ensure your video runs well on the specific site and/or devices it is intended for. Many video artists even make multiple different, separate video files from the same source file (the original file of the greatest quality). This allows them to optimize their video for the greatest balance of quality and playback efficiency on multiple video sites, even if it means allocating more storage space for the extra files.
For instance, YouTube creators who want to port the same video onto a platform such as Odysee or D.Tube may want to save the same video project under a different format and/or settings if it would help the video play better on the respective sites. Especially in this case, be careful not to save over the original and highest-fidelity file. If it's a particularly important or time-sensitive project, you could even upload the video onto a private channel first and test it on multiple devices before making it public.
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The best and most common video file formats
Let's take a brief overview of several of the most common file formats so that it's easier to research them in more detail as needed throughout your video-production journey.
MP4 was one of the first digital video formats and is widely supported. It offers a wide range of quality settings and controls, and because of its longevity the compression algorithm has gotten quite good, resulting in better-perceived video quality in relation to its size.
Apple's MOV file is a very high-quality video media file, and thus takes up more storage space than most other file types. It is still a compressed file, but less so than most other common lossy video formats.
Comparable to MOV in video quality and file size, WMV has found somewhat widespread support, but only through licensing of Microsoft products. As a result, it is less universal than most other formats, and WMV also does not allow alteration of aspect ratios.
Another Microsoft format, AVI utilizes even less compression than WMV or MOV files — and larger storage space (approx. 2–3 GB per minute of video).
SWF is a Shockwave Flash format. Though it's still supported by YouTube, it is not supported on Apple devices and is less universal than most other options.
The pros and cons of various video file formats
Four of the main considerations videographers take into account when selecting a video-file format are:
- Video quality
- File size
- Control over settings
When comparing the above-mentioned video formats, it's easier to see the advantages and disadvantages of each with these four factors in mind.
MP4 is extremely universally accepted, especially on video-streaming sites. Its quality and file size are well-balanced, and both are a little lower than with most other formats — but as mentioned, MP4's compression algorithm is well-made due to it being nearly three decades old, so its quality is normally good enough for most online video-sharing sites. Further, MP4 allows for a great breadth of control over file settings.
MOV and WMV are comparable and both are higher-quality lossy formats with proportionately higher file sizes. They are also similar as being much more controlled with proprietary licenses, which can be aggravating for video editors, and they also don't offer much in the way of settings adjustments.
For something with a bit higher fidelity but higher file sizes, AVI offers higher-end fidelity as far as lossy formats go. AVI also offers more fine-tuning and control over the quality settings, and it is a little less hampered by licensing restrictions than WMV.
As mentioned, almost all lossless formats — whether truly lossless or slightly compressed lossless — are not practical for video streaming. Lossless formats are unsurpassed, though, when it comes to high-scale video projects where photographic-quality video is the goal. If you don't mind restricting playability to cutting-edge equipment (such as UltraHD TVs, for example), lossless is the way to go when nothing less than the highest fidelity will do.
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Converting formats for specific end uses
When deciding which format to convert your video to, you'll need to consider the video's intended use. Video-streaming sites, for example, all have their own preferences. For specialty or high-fidelity purposes, your range of video format choices becomes necessarily smaller — but this simplifies the process of deciding which format to use.
Convert to Instagram format
Videos for Instagram should be in MP4 format at 30 fps (frame rate) and 3500 kbps (bitrate). Use the H.264 codec, AAC audio, and ensure that the video is 1080 px (pixels) wide by 1920 px tall.
Convert 4k video to 1080p
For extremely high-fidelity 4k (Ultra HD) video, it's necessary to reduce the file to 1080p (Full HD) so that it's compatible with video streaming sites. This can be done in a variety of formats, and one of the simplest ways to convert 4k to 1080p is to reduce the frame size to 1920p (horizontal) by 1080p (vertical).
Convert a standard video to 4k
To upscale smaller video to 4k size, you'll need a device (such as a UHD Blu-ray player or 4k TV) with video scaler technology. Note that this only approximates the greater detail you would see if the video were in 4k Ultra HD to begin with, much like MP3s only approximate the original lossless recording. However, it is an improvement over merely increasing the dimensions of a video, because video scaler algorithms round out some of the "blockiness" that occurs when you expand smaller images.
Convert video to slow motion
Because slow-motion videos stretch the length of the video over a longer period of time, the final result will look much more smooth if the original video is recorded with a higher initial frame rate. The video may appear noticeably "choppy" if you try to convert normal fps video to slow motion. For the smoothest slow-motion effect, shoot at 60 fps.
Convert a 360 video to VR
To convert 360° video to a VR simulation, you'll either need a dedicated 360° camera or a series of cameras rigged together to take a 360° view of the scene. The illusion of VR is accomplished by high-end video-editing software, such as VideoStudio, which matches common elements and algorithmically stitches them together.
What to look for when choosing a video converter
So that you can exercise free reign in your video-creation efforts, don't settle for video-editing programs with heavily limited video-conversion capabilities. VideoStudio makes video conversion easy whether the codecs are open source or proprietary in nature, and the intuitive editing suite is extremely easy to learn and start using right away. With VideoStudio’s lengthy free trial period, you can discover for yourself the satisfying and exciting world of professional video editing.
Video conversion and fine-tuning the video settings is an art in and of itself — but it doesn't have to eclipse the main goal of making your vision a reality. These days, it's a simple matter of researching what video formats and settings run best on any given video site or application. Sometimes, you'll get exactly what you're looking for and even more, right down to recommendations of variable bitrate parameters and other details which help videos adapt to high- and low-bandwidth conditions. Other times, it's necessary to experiment with different settings and tweak them until you are satisfied that your audio-visual work looks and runs exactly as you originally envisioned. With the right tools, this process is easier than ever, allowing you to focus on doing what you do best — making great video content to share with and inspire others.