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Understanding Video Quality - File Format and Resolution

Kelly Sternaimolo | May 16, 2018

Video Marketing

When planning to create and share video content, video quality is something that matters a great deal. When we say “video quality”, this can be interpreted a couple of different ways:

  1. Creative video quality – the level of skill or taste with which the creative was developed, or basically the video’s aesthetic appeal.
  2. Technical video quality – the resolution, clarity and performance quality of the video’s visuals, audio, and ultimately its playback on devices.

In this post, we’re going to review some technical video quality basics, such as file formats and resolution, and we’ll describe how these relate to playback when uploaded to a website, video hosting site, or social media platform.

Video File Formats

First, to understand video quality, it’s important to be familiar with the most common video file formats. There are a plethora of video file formats available, such as .MP4, .MOV, .OGG, .WEBM among others. The file type used is generally determined by the way you plan to share your content: on your website, hosted by YouTube, on social media, and so on.

Because each has a different type of compression, different formats will give you different options for the video’s quality versus its file size.  File size matters when someone visits your website or watches your video via a digital platform because you want the video to load quickly.

If too much time passes, you risk losing the viewer's interest. Likewise, if their viewing experience is disrupted by pauses or glitches, it could encourage them to close out of your site or your video, which can give your brand a negative impression.

Here are some of the most common video file formats, with a brief description of their pros or cons:

  • .MP4 – This is a very versatile and effective format, thanks to being relatively small in file size while retaining high quality. These file formats are also lossless, making them ideal for editing as they won’t lose quality through various edits and saves. MP4’s are compatible with online and mobile browsers and supported by the new HTML5. Grey Sky Films generally provides final project files in MP4 format for all of these reasons.
  • .MOV – Developed by Apple, this is the QuickTime file format very popular for sharing on Macs, though they can also play on Windows. .MOV files are high quality but unlike .MP4’s, they are typically large in file size.
  • .WEBM – Created by Google, .WEBM files are smaller than .MP4 files, but also typically sacrifice quality in achieving this. .WEBM is utilized in HTML5 video streaming sites like YouTube.
  • .OGG – These are often used for high-quality videos, designed to be streamed on the internet. A .OGG file offers higher quality than .WEBM files. Since they are open-sourced files, they can be detected and accessed by a variety of applications, such as different media players, which is a plus.

Video Resolution

If you’ve ever tried to upload a video to YouTube or another social media platform, you may have seen instructions or settings with regard to resolution. Typically resolution will referred to as: 360p, 480p, 720p, or 1080p.

The “p” refers to pixels, and these numbers refer to the number of lines that make up the video’s height. The more lines used to form the image, the more detail the image will have. So, 1080p is a better resolution than 360p, because it will offer more detail and better quality as far as clarity is concerned.

Here’s a general breakdown of resolutions, and some details regarding their application:

  • 4K – 4K is a relatively newer resolution category, commonly referred to as “Ultra HD”. 4K exceeds 1080p (at either 3840×2160 or 4096×2160). 4K files are significantly larger than 1080p but offer visual detail that is only really perceivable if you are watching 4K content on a 4K device (like a movie screen, large experience screen, or a 4K TV).
  • 1080p – 1080p is high-definition (HD) and the current standard for television broadcast. It's also ideal for high-quality playback online. So, if you’ve produced a cinematically beautiful mini-documentary about your yachting company, you’d certainly want to playback this video in at least 1080p! At Grey Sky Films, we supply all final videos to our clients in 1080p.
  • 720p – This is the minimum level that is still considered to be HD. To save a bit of file size, but still have a high-quality clarity to your video, you may wish to use a 720p video for hosting on websites or social media platforms.
  • 480p – Standard DVDs play at 480p, so a basic DVD burner or player will play this quality file on most laptops or computers. If you’re looking to get HD quality but viewable via DVD, you would have to have your video burned to a Blu-Ray disc to play as a Blu-Ray DVD.
  • 360p – This is a much lower resolution than HD, but can be a decent option for sharing a video via your phone or another mobile device, as it is a smaller file size to be managed and uploaded, as well as a smaller viewing screen (so likely won't notice any missing details).

While high-resolution is generally the ideal quality for your video, this also means you’ll have a larger file size, which is something that can affect playback speed and viewer experience. The larger a file is, the longer it may take for your website, browser, or device to load it and play it back smoothly.

Platforms Help Adjust File Quality

A great feature of most modern-day video platforms (like YouTube) and internet and mobile browsers is that if you upload your best file (say, a 1080p HD file), many platforms or video players will automatically process the video and retain a few different options that are accessible for playback.

The platform may detect how the video is being viewed and then respond accordingly: streaming a low-resolution version or an HD version depending on the speed of your internet connection, method of viewing or video player size.

If you are hosting video directly in your website (not embedded from YouTube or another hosting service), you’ll need to create various file versions (.OGG, .WEBM, .MP4) that can be detected and utilized by the different mobile and internet browsers like Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and more. This way, the browser can detect the best file for playback and use that one.

An experienced and trusted video production agency can certainly provide files for you in a variety of ways and assist you with creating the best version for your method of distribution. Part of providing video services means ensuring that the viewing experience is the very best it can be, so your high-quality video can perform well.

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