Understanding Video Codecs
There are a plethora of presentation systems and VJ software options on the market today. Some can handle multiple codecs, while others use one unique codec with the system. So, when you want to get the most out of your video setup, you’ll need to understand and make your self familiar with a few key codecs: H.264, ProRes, and DXV.
We’ve all been there…maybe it’s a Sunday morning, the band has just wrapped up sound check, you’ve got everything loaded, cued up, and prepped to create that perfect environment. Then the inevitable happens; you’re given a flash drive with a video that just has to be played. You don’t have time to test it as doors are open so it’s going to be an on the fly presentation. More often than not, that video either won’t play, will look awful, or glitch half way through.
I’ve been there and I’m sure you have as well. The big thing I’ve learned over the past few years is how much performance of a video is dependent on the codec of that video. In order to start understanding video codecs, let’s take a look at the big 3 that you need to know.
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, very quickly became the standard video codec. Whether you’re shooting with Drones, your phones, a GoPro or simply playing back on BluRay or many of the other mainstream video playback devices, H.264 is the format that has allowed those items skyrocket in popularity.
H.264 works with most presentation software, and should be your go-to format for most videos you use. It’s the codec all motions, footage, and countdowns here at TripleWide Media are in. However, no codec is perfect, so if you run into a performance issue with this codec, the best tip is to limit your quality to High (instead of best) or 80 percent instead of 100 percent. You really won’t see a quality difference, but the playback performance improve greatly.
One more thing to keep in mind when using H.264 is that it can do a number on your processor. The more “compressed” a video is, the harder it can be on the processor to interpret and playback. While you may think a smaller file size is easier for your computer to handle, the more compressed a file is, the more you processor has to work to play the file. Even with that, most standard videos (even in a 4k resolution), H.264 will work great in your situation..
If you want to manipulate large files in a live environment (i.e. color correction, layering effects, playback rate, etc.,) you need to test this codec before using it live.
Next after H.264 comes ProRes.H.264 to ProRes is like Toyota to Lexus. ProRes maintains stunning quality without creating crazy big files like Animation or PhotoJPEG, but still larger file sizes than H.264. Great files, but they can take up a large amount of hard drive space very quickly.
Since ProRes doesn’t compress as much as H.264, it’s a great codec choice when exporting videos from a program such as Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, After Effects of Cinema 4D. (Exporting in the H.264 setting from these programs can give you performance issues.)
There are a few varieties or options for ProRes that you need to understand. ProRes: Proxy, LT, 422, 422HQ, and 4444. Respectively, each of those increase in quality with Proxy being at the low end and 4444 the top end of the quality spectrum. ProRes 4444 actually enables you to export with an alpha (transparent) layer that really comes in handy when you’re laying media on top of one another in your presentation system. 4444 is what you’ll need when creating a transparent lower third in a system like ProPresenter where you use alpha-key to place over video content.
You may have noticed that we have been using Resolume a lot lately. It’s a fantastic program that requires a unique codec for media. So, we need to introduce you this specialty codec, DXV. It’s not very popular, but this codec requires the software developer to integrate it into their program. But once it’s there, the performance and file size is unrivaled in its efficiency.
With the introduction of Resolume’s Avenue and Arena advanced VJ software., the DXV codec has really started to gain in popularity, especially in the VJ communities. Using the DXV codec enables a user to add multiple effect layers, modifications, and pixel manipulations performance hiccups. Resolume footage needs to be in the DXV codec or it won’t playback.
I hope that gives you a bit more help in understanding video codecs. There are some others, but those were the three big ones you need to know about now. As you dive deeper into advanced presentation software options, you’ll need to understand the benefits and shortcomings of each codec in order to have maximum efficiency in your process.