Richard and I have been mulling over the use of MP4’s for the last couple of weeks now. More so than we have in the past. We think now that we can finally do this but only if our current viewers are ok with it. We have all gotten used to the present AVI/FLV format that we have had for the last 61 episodes and we don’t want to ruin anything by changing.
Several of our viewers inquired about adding Screencasters’ videos to the iTunes store some time ago. We looked into it at the time and found that our present AVI (h.264.mp3) files were not compatible with iTunes. We looked at the requirements and found that our videos needed to be in MP4 (h.264/aac) instead. We felt that we could not quite achieve this since it wasn’t an efficient process for us. In addition, the flash plug-in and the flash player that we had was unable to support MP4 streaming video fully. What Richard and I were truly interested in was using the same MP4 for download and streaming so that we did not have to encode and upload multiple MP4’s. We would then eliminate the the separate AVI and FLV files that we were encoding. It would be nice to consolidate and use only one file as a general purpose file. We could encode with fewer steps, meaning that it wouldn’t take us as long to make the final video and we would only have to upload a single video to our server. Moreover, the larger MP4 file size still would be smaller than the combined file sizes of the AVI and FLV, meaning less room on our server as well. Although, you must be warned that the MP4 file will be 30-40% larger than the AVI equivalent. This is due to the limitation that iTunes/Quicktime has with b-frame video files. It is our understanding that we have to remove all b-frames from the MP4’s in order to reach full compatibility. Adding b-frames to our AVI’s was something that we did to keep the file size lower. So for you folks on slower Internet connections, it will take a little longer to download the MP4, whether it be the download or streaming file. Of course we’re no iTunes/Quicktime experts. So if we can make improvements with our file sizes in the future then we will absolutely do it. We like as small file sizes as we can get them. Plus, if some of you are experts in this area then we will listen to any advice that you can offer us.
All of this sounds good and makes sense to us but there are some things that Richard and I are worried about. You! We need your feedback. We still intend to offer a download file for off line viewing and a streaming file for on line viewing (even though technically there is no difference between the two in terms of the actual file). That will remain the same. The only difference is that the file format will change. During our testing, we found that this wasn’t an issue on our Linux and Windows computers. We can watch MP4’s with VLC, Mplayer, and Quicktime/iTunes among many other players that we have. We would be changing from the MP3 to the AAC audio codec though since that is needed for iTunes/Quicktime compatibility. I think we would prefer working with MP3’s but I’m sure we’ll get used to AAC over time.
Also, we verified that our new MP4’s will play on a MAC. Thanks to Richard’s good pal, Earl Moore (dedicated Mac user). Furthermore, I fired up iTunes on my Windows machine, verified iTunes playback, and then let iTunes convert our MP4 at 912×684 resolution to iPod format and synced that to my iPod. It played and sounded great. Although, the screen size is small so we do not recommend that method for watching our videos…but what the hell, right? We’re not going to tell you what you can or cannot do with your devices. If that sort of thing is what you want to do then do it and be happy about it. 🙂
We would also be including meta tags in the MP4’s. It isn’t necessary (we don’t think) but it looks nicer in iTunes and with then you’ll be able to sort our videos a little better. So for you iTunes and iPod users please let us know how our MP4 works on your computer.
As far as Miro is concerned, we haven’t forgotten about that. We’re pretty sure nothing will change there. I subscribe to Meet the Gimp with Miro and Rolf’s files are already in the MP4 iTunes compatible format so I’m using that as my gauge. If it works for him then it should work for us (crossing fingers), right?. We’re hoping that no disruptions will be had.
Unfortunately, Richard and I have decided not to re-encode videos already in the AVI format. We think it’s way too much work for us and that’s why MP4’s are only for going forward. However, we may decide to encode the last few episodes just to get a few more videos on the iTunes store. You viewers can re-encode our AVI’s anyway that you wish if needed. We’re somewhat sorry about that but what can you expect from us? We’re not Revision3…that’s for sure.
So that’s it folks. Please tell us what you think. We would like to get a response from you. Please remember, iTunes is just another way to grab our videos. Nothing in terms of distribution on our website will change. RSS will still be the same. If you use iTunes (or Miro) then fine but it isn’t necessary. We are just giving our viewers and future viewers another option. Richard and I are not iTunes users so we are not doing this for ourselves. We’re doing this for you. There is a poll at the bottom of this post. Please fill it in and submit it to make your voices heard.
Our latest episode, ep062, has already been encoded into the MP4 format. We will use this as our prototype for testing. Please view this video the way that you have always viewed our videos, either by downloading the file or watching it on line. Hopefully, everything will work the same as did before.
Good luck and may the force be with you. 🙂
Download: ep062.mp4 (Filesize: 146MB)
Streaming: ep062.mp4 (Identical file as above)
Update: Poll Closed