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These days, your smartphone, your DSLR camera, and your GoPro can all shoot high-quality, high-resolution video — but wow, the size of that video file can sure balloon quickly.

You will feel the pain when your memory card maxes out or you want to upload one of these videos to share on the Internet.

The good news is that you can reduce video file sizes fairly easily. The bad news is that unless you change the right settings, you will lose video quality. How do you balance the two? Which settings should you change to get reduce size without compromising quality? Read on to find out.

1. Pick the Right Software

You really should use a computer for this task, not a tablet or a smartphone. The powerful desktop tool Handbrake is the most useful cross-platform media convertor out there The Most Useful Media Converter For Linux Just Got Better: Meet The New Handbrake The Most Useful Media Converter For Linux Just Got Better: Meet The New Handbrake The cross-platform Handbrake utility has gotten a significant update that makes it even better at converting videos between various codecs. Let's check out all of the exciting stuff in the newest Handbrake. Read More . It’s completely free and works the same on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

reduce-video-file-size-handbrake

If you’re on Windows, you can also try the Freemake Video Converter, which has an easier interface. However, Handbrake does a better job of encoding and converting videos, so I would recommend learning its interface and going with that instead.

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Download: Handbrake for Windows, Mac, or Linux (Free)

2. Start With the Audio

Before you begin chopping down the quality of your video, head to the “Audio” tab in Handbrake. You might be surprised how much space audio channels take up. Unless you’ve shot a concert, always tackle the audio first.

For any video where human speech is important or music isn’t a priority, here’s what you need to do.

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  • Check if there are more than one audio tracks. You just need one. If it’s a movie file, look for the “English” audio (or whichever language you want). If it’s a video you made, the first track will probably be the right one. Delete all the other tracks.
  • In Codec, choose AAC (CoreAudio) or MP3. These are lossy compressed audio file formats 10 Common Audio Formats Compared: Which One Should You Use? 10 Common Audio Formats Compared: Which One Should You Use? We may all be familiar with MP3, what about AAC, FLAC, OGG, or WMA? Why do so many standards exist? Which ones should you care about and which ones can you ignore? Read More  that are good enough for most cases. In fact, even for concerts or other such videos, you can choose one of these lossy formats and sample it at a higher bitrate.
  • In Bitrate, choose 160 by default for most videos. Choose a higher bitrate (256 or 320) if you’re converting a video where music is the main element.

I would recommend that you don’t mess with the sample rate and simply set it to Auto, but it can be tweaked to optimize audio file size 5 Tips for Optimizing Audio File Sizes 5 Tips for Optimizing Audio File Sizes If you've ever wanted to reduce the size of an audio file but weren't sure how to do that without impacting the quality of the recording, here's everything you need to know. Read More . For human speech, set the sample to 32, and if music is important, set it to 48.

3. Choose the Best Codec and Container

Ideally, the original video you shoot should be using the highest quality video codec and container All You Need to Know about Video Codecs, Containers, and Compression All You Need to Know about Video Codecs, Containers, and Compression Explaining the difference between codecs and containers is relatively simple, but hard part is attempting to understand each format. Read More . When you’re ready to reduce the size, you pick the most efficient codec and container.

What’s the difference between the two? Basically, the codec is the encoder/decoder that turns a video into bytes (the “brain” that determines the base quality) whereas the container is the file format (the “body” that determines compatibility with different devices and services).

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Choose H.264 as the codec. This is the most efficient and popular codec for high-definition videos and is said to be almost two times as good as MPEG-4 in compressing videos. It is also recognized by most devices today, be it a simple TV or the Raspberry Pi.

As of this writing, you don’t really need to bother with its successor, the new H.265 standard New H.265 Video Format Could Bring 4K To Broadband Connections [Updates] New H.265 Video Format Could Bring 4K To Broadband Connections [Updates] The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) announced its approval of the H.265 video format standard on Friday. The new codec may bring 4K video to broadband and also limit bandwidth usage for HD streaming, offering both... Read More .

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Choose MP4 as the container. Again, MP4 is efficient, but more importantly, it’s the most widely recognized file format for videos. In fact, YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook recommend MP4 as the preferred container.

4. Reduce the Video Resolution

It’s great that your phone can shoot 4K videos, but do you even have a 4K-ready TV or monitor to play it on? Most people have HD Ready or Full HD TVs What’s the Difference Between HD Ready & Full HD? What’s the Difference Between HD Ready & Full HD? Television manufacturers can be a tricky bunch. Just when you think you’ve figured out their acronyms and slang, things change again. In the early days of HDTV people were scrambling to figure out the difference... Read More , but the big secret is that video resolution isn’t as important as you might think.

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Resolution affects the size of the video greatly, but the quality may not be greatly affected. How far you sit from the screen, the upscaling technology of the TV Upscaling: How Does It Work and Is It Worth It? Upscaling: How Does It Work and Is It Worth It? Read More , and the bitrate of the video are going to have as much or greater impact.

Here’s a list of commonly-used resolutions:

  • 2160p (3840×2160)
  • 1440p (2560×1440)
  • 1080p (1920×1080)
  • 720p (1280×720)
  • 480p (854×480)
  • 360p (640×360)
  • 240p (426×240)

As a thumb rule to reduce file size by resolution, check the video’s original resolution and choose one level below it. In Handbrake, you will find this in “Picture Settings” in the top-right menu. You can even check out a Preview of the lowered resolution before you commit.

If you plan to simply upload your video to YouTube Everything You Need To Know About Uploading Videos To YouTube Everything You Need To Know About Uploading Videos To YouTube One of the best websites that we have available to us is YouTube. You can find a vast amount of content from useful information to cute and funny videos, like kittens. So what if you... Read More or Facebook, then 720p is the best way to go (assuming file size is more important to you than resolution). Facebook even caps the resolution at 720p but YouTube lets you go higher till 4K.

5. Bitrate Is the Last Resort

The biggest factor in determining the quality of a video is its bitrate, so make that your last resort. In simple terms, bitrate is the amount of data being shown in one second What Is Bitrate & Why Is It Important? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Bitrate & Why Is It Important? [MakeUseOf Explains] With today's technology, we can expect high amounts of speed and quality with everything that we do on our computers, our smartphones, and any other recent gadgets. However, while this increase in speed and quality... Read More . The more data you allow, the more artifacts can be shown on the screen, and the better the video quality will be.

reduce-video-file-size-bitrate

Most DSLRs record video at high bitrates as do most screen recording and screencasting software Record Your Desktop with These 12 Great Screencasting Apps Record Your Desktop with These 12 Great Screencasting Apps Need to record your desktop? Luckily, you'll find that screencasting apps are more common than you might think. Here are some of the best free ones. Read More . Again, YouTube has some recommended bitrates that you can use as a thumb rule for any video file. Don’t go below these recommended numbers, but if your current bitrate is higher, you can safely reduce it.

reduce-video-file-size-bitrate-chart

It’s best to keep your bitrate variable rather than constant. In Handbrake select Video > Quality > Average Bitrate, and key in a number that best corresponds to your video’s resolution, using the above chart. Also check the box for 2-pass encoding.

6. Don’t Change Frame Rates

If anyone tells you that you should reduce the frame rate, don’t listen to them. Every video expert, video hosting site, and video editor says that you should keep your video at the same frame rate that it was recorded in.

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The human eye only needs 24–30 frames per second (FPS) for a decent picture, so it might seem logical to lower the frame rate to that range. However, doing that can affect the smoothness of the video, and especially make movement seem jerky or unnatural.

So avoid this unless you are experimenting with slow-motion videos How Does Slow-Motion Video Work & How Can I Shoot It? How Does Slow-Motion Video Work & How Can I Shoot It? Everyone wants to walk away from an explosion in slow motion. Fortunately, with today's phones, it's easier than ever. Read More .

Got Any Other Tricks to Share?

With this guide, you should be able to substantially reduce the file size of a video without greatly affecting the quality. Remember, go step by step, you might hit your intended target size much before you need to reduce the resolution or the bitrate.

What tricks do you use to bring down the size of a video that you want to share? Do you like editing the video to make it shorter, or prefer messing with the settings?

Image Credits:scale pan by kulyk via Shutterstock

  1. Mike
    August 12, 2016 at 1:23 am

    Or you can sometimes crop the video to a smaller size.its best if you keep both the x and y resolutions to a number evenly divisible by 16.

  2. Steve
    August 10, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    It's not easy to compare one program to another with completely different source material. With the x264 encoder, use of different presets (placebo, veryslow, slower, slow, medium, fast, faster, veryfast, superfast, ultrafast), CRF if used (CRF 10 takes much more time than CRF 30), or single pass CBR/VBR or two-pass with CBR or VBR, and tune (film, grain, animation, or default) all affect encode time. Then if you also add in video filters (yadif or other deinterlacing, IVTC filter chains), audio compression and audio filters... unless you compare the same source material and being meticulous with settings, you can't compare 1:1. Me? I just use FFmpeg. IVTC/deinterlace, adjust framerate if needed to achieve an actual 23.976 fps framerate for telecined material, crop black bars off, preset veryfast, tweak the "tune" option for filesize, CRF of 18 for 480p or 22 for 720p, downscale if I want even smaller size, 64 kbit/s per audio channel and AAC audio format. I can't tell you how many weeks and months I've spent playing with video encoders...

  3. Neelansh Mathur
    August 10, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Loved this article. I do YouTube a lot and a 6min awesomely edited video takes up 800MB in size which is very large.
    I use Free Video Compressor which lets us decide the SIZE which we want and the quality reduction. I think that is the best but the problem is that it takes a lot of time.
    How much time does handbrake take?

  4. Steve
    August 10, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Don't go off of bitrates -- use CRF instead. For videos at 480p resolution, CRF 18 is pretty good, for 720p, CRF 22 seems to be about the same overall quality as the source with a slightly bigger size than a CRF 18 480p video. CRF essentially is a two-pass quality in a single pass and works off of motion. Specifying by bitrate is great if you want a known-size, but if you want a known quality, CRF is the way to go. Experiment with your source to see what you can tell the difference on.

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