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Information Today, Inc.

Streaming for Videographers
Posted Aug 4, 2004 - February 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 2] Issue Print Version     Page 1of 3 next »

With a few tweaks on the shoot and in the edit bay, plus a basic knowledge of streaming codecs, video pros can take the next logical step in reaching new clients—getting their work on the Web.

Most of the changes in the early years of what we've come to call "event videography"—the documentation of events on video, rather than film—were on the production end. Cameras changed, recording media changed, but the delivery method—VHS tape—stayed mostly the same. These days, however, when a videographer talks about selecting among a range of media choices, he's just as likely to be talking about how the project will reach the customer as he is how the event will be captured.

Today, of course, the delivery medium of choice is DVD. Nothing on the mass market can compete with the format's picture clarity, sound quality, and navigational capabilities. What's more, as sophisticated DVD authoring has become more accessible—prosumer DVD tools have gotten easier to use, DVD burners and media have gotten cheaper, and authoring tools are built in to most popular NLEs—videographers have found out just how easy it is to author their own DVDs, giving them another step in the process that they don't need to outsource.

More and more, however, videographers also want to make inventive and effective use of the Web to advance their interests. They want to be able to show their work on their Web sites, whether as promotional clips to help entice new clients or as part of the client approval process. What could be easier than sending a new bride an HTML link to the edit of her wedding video, which she can watch on her own time and then consult with you via email or over the phone? She'll still expect the final version on discs and tapes, but streaming video offers unprecedented convenience and accessibility. Streaming video won't replace DVD or VHS, but it puts another tool at your disposal as you go head-to-head with your competition.

Videographers also are finding new opportunities in projects shot specifically for delivery only on the Web: video news releases, promotional clips, and internal corporate training, for instance. You'll need to approach these Web-only projects differently than you do other videography jobs.

Getting Started
Since you'll be encoding or re-encoding your audio and video to a lower-bandwidth format, perhaps the best thing about adding streaming video to your repertoire is that you don't need to upgrade any of your existing equipment: Whatever you're using for your event video business right now likely is more than adequate, as long as it enables you to ingest, edit, and transcode digital video. In other words, if your system is equipped to prepare video for DVD, it can also prepare video for streaming.

Most popular non-linear editing software programs allow you to encode to either progressive download (HTTP) or real-time streaming protocol (RTSP) in formats such as Microsoft's Windows Media Video (WMV), Real Networks' Real, Apple's QuickTime, and Macromedia's Flash Video, so you're likely in good shape on the software side, too. Once you've got your video encoded, however, you'll need to find a streaming server, likely through a hosting provider such as Speedera, VitalStream, or Mirror Image. There are free hosting services available, but most of them have bandwidth and storage restrictions, and some make viewer access more complicated than simply clicking a link on a Web page, says Mike Velte, an Oklahoma City-based video editor and one of the hosts of Creative Cow's Web Streaming forum. Velte suggests starting out with an HTTP host that has proven bandwidth to stream large files. You don't necessarily need one of the big-name streaming hosts, he adds; he uses FatCow's hosting service, which provides 500MB of disk space and a 25GB transfer allowance per month, at a cost of $99 annually.

Of course, we're assuming you've already got your own Web site, as you'll need a place to put all the links to your video. Many hosting services will help you set one up, but Velte recommends doing it yourself with a WYSIWYG HTML editor such as Macromedia Dreamweaver, Microsoft FrontPage, or Adobe GoLive.

The Shoot
For the most part, the same basic rules apply to shooting for streaming as for shooting for any other delivery: manually white-balance every shot; use appropriate UV, fluorescent, or diffusion filters depending on the location; and use a three-point lighting system whenever possible.

You will, however, need to keep several things in mind when shooting video that you plan to deliver over the Web. First of all, remember that no matter what codec you choose—WMV, QuickTime, Real, Flash Video, or any of the MPEG-4 variants—your viewer is going to be watching it on a much smaller screen than you're accustomed to, so frame your shots tighter than you normally would. "Good TV shots are not always good streaming shots," says Steve Mack, one of the principals in Seattle's LUX Media and the author of The Streaming Media Bible. While a frame featuring a singer and her guitar might be perfect for a television screen, you'll want to forgo the instrument for a streaming shot, focusing instead on the performer's facial expressions.

More important, however, is that streaming codecs are extremely sensitive to motion. Keep unnecessary action out of your shot, Mack says, and avoid backgrounds that are moving or changing. The more motion in your frame, the more bandwidth your encoder is going to eat up converting the video, so it's more important than ever to use a high-quality tripod to avoid adding even the slightest camera motion to a shot. And keep in mind that when you're going handheld, whatever stabilization features your NLE may offer, it's always better to stabilize your shot using the controls on your camera. A camcorder with stabilization features always shoots a bigger-frame image than you will ultimately use, and that excess frame real estate gives it wiggle room (or anti-wiggle room, rather) to select a subset of the original frame to stabilize the shot. You can work the same effect in post-production with an NLE like Premiere or Final Cut, but you'll lose resolution in the process.

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