Let’s break a few email etiquettes along the way. I wouldn’t advocate sending videos through plain old email because it clogs up bandwidth and holds up the queue of emails downloading behind it. Heaven forbid if someone is on a dial-up connection or a slow WiFi.
There are other ways to send videos across ““ YouSendIt is one which even has an Outlook plug-in. Then, you can throw a stone and hit any of the file sharing services (also check out this roundup of a few more desktop file sharing clients).
If you are back from all those pages I sent you to, then it means that you are hell bent on learning how to compress videos to send them by email.
Here’s the bad news”¦video files are among the largest single chunks of digital content out there. So, an elephant won’t turn into an ant even with compression. The good news is that video files can be compressed to somewhere in between an elephant and an ant, say a cow. Yes, the mutation can be done for free. The only cost which you might have to pay is a slight loss in quality (audio, video or both). But that’s made up by the decrease in file size.
But compression is really a complex subject. It is something that’s on the frontiers of today’s science. You have knotty issues of lossy and lossless compressions, bit rates, codecs, and the list goes on. I am too woolly over it, so I will direct you to this page where you can read up on it.
With that light touch on the background, let’s return to the action steps we need to take to compress a video for email. As we will see, it’s all about size and there are more than a few ways to slice the pixels.
Compressing Videos with VirtualDub
VirtualDub is an Open Source free video tool which mainly handles AVI files. It can read (not write) MPEG-1 files. The best thing about VirtualDub is its speed and the number of codecs you can use it with. Codecs are nothing but a bunch of code that compress and decompress audio/video files so that they don’t take up too much space. VirtualDub has a few codecs and lot more you can download. We will use the XviD codec to compress the video file.
- Start VirtualDub and load the video file you want to compress (File ““ Open Video File). The video opens in the Timeline of VirtualDub. The Timeline shows you the input and the output videos.
- On the toolbar, click on Video ““ Compression. In the Select video compression box, choose the XviD MPEG-4 codec. Click the Configure button.
- Under Main Settings, you can choose to keep the Profile@ Level setting to the default unrestricted or drill down to Advanced Simple@L5. The latter is recommended for XviD encoding. These settings are about making videos playable on specific devices.
- The main setting to change though is the Target bitrate. This setting is vital because just like the quality of an image is known by its resolution, the quality of an audio or video file is calculated by the bitrate. The first figure that is displayed is the default for the file you have opened. To compress the video, we have to lower the value. A bitrate of 300-350 is about okay for a web video.
- Click on OK to finalize the video settings.
- For compressing the audio settings, click on Audio ““ Full processing mode. Then clicking on Compression takes you to the list of audio codecs. Select MPEG Layer-3 from the list. MP3 is the standard for audio compression and a bitrate of 128 is commonly accepted for satisfactory playback.
- To start the compression, click on File ““ Save as AVI. Save the compressed video to a location.
Experiment with the settings for video compression. Compression also brings in blocks of pixels called image artifacts. Quality being subjective, find your balance between quality and file size.
A lot of us consider VirtualDub to be the best, but it is definitely not the only tool you can try out to compress your videos for email.
The others like Avidemux
If you want to look beyond VirtualDub, take a look at Avidemux. This is another free Open Source video editor with the added advantage of being cross-platform. Avidemux has a tool called the Calculator which can calculate compression ratios basing it on a final size.
- From File ““ Open load the video you want to compress. Similar to VirtualDub, you can set your video and audio codec options from the dropdowns.
- Click on the Configure button for the chosen video codec and use the slider to set a quality.
- Go to Tools ““ Calculator. Select Custom from the dropdown for Medium and provide a custom size. Click OK.
- A click on Save prompts you to save your project and starts the video compression.
What about Windows Movie Maker?
Windows Movie Maker has a non-geeky way of helping you out with your video compressions. Last year we took a look at How to Easily Compress Video Files for Web with Movie Maker. Follow the post and you can send the movie directly to your email program as an attachment.
Windows Movie Maker is a part of Windows XP and Vista.
Digital video compression is all about getting to know file formats and codecs. To achieve desirable quality results, you have to play around with the settings. Let this quick and dirty guide be just a starting point.
Do you send compressed videos using email? If so which is your compressor of choice?