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How to encode and export gorgeous videos

Story & Heart
October 1, 2015 by Story & Heart PRO

Making videos is pretty awesome. Video encoding, however, is not always so awesome. Plus, sometimes tricky mathematical calculations are involved!!

We’re right there with you, but encoding is important for getting your best-looking footage out into the world. Let’s explore what goes into it, so you can export beautiful films with minimal headaches.

As we go through these five encoding settings, we’ll use two export examples as illustrations: a version to upload to Vimeo for sharing the film with the world, and a higher-quality version for our archives to keep it nice and safe for years to come.

1. Resolution: The dimensions of a video in pixels, measured in width by height.

When you initially shoot your video, you set your resolution in-camera. When it comes to exporting, though, you can determine if you want to keep the original resolution you shot in, or downsample it to a smaller resolution.

A word to the wise: you can up-res as well, but never to a satisfying result. Generally, you should just export at the resolution you shot in. 

While the aspect ratios can vary, you’ll find that the most common resolutions to both shoot in and export to are, from largest to smallest, 3840 x 2160 for 4K for UHD, 1920 x 1080 for Full HD, and 1280 x 720 for web or broadcast HD.  


We can get Full HD with our Vimeo PRO membership, and we encourage you to upload the highest resolution you have available to Vimeo. For the version that we’ll keep for our personal archives, we’re going to export it in the resolution we edited in, which was 3840 x 2160.

2. Frame rate: The number of individual frames that display on screen per second.

Before we get into what specific frame rate we’re going to export to, let’s look at the two types of frame rates available: progressive and interlaced.

Progressive frames (p) are what you typically think of when you’re picturing video — full, individual images refreshing in succession. Interlaced frames (i) chop up each frame into a series of horizontal lines that, as a group, are called fields. Each of these fields flashes quickly enough so that your eyes discern it as a single image. Interlaced video was the standard for a long time due to its ability to run at lower bit rates (which we’ll talk about shortly), but after broadcast technology, monitors, processors, etc. all became faster, it was no longer necessary, and the world has since gone mostly progressive.

Now, back to the individual frame-rate numbers. In the U.S., the standard frame rate for progressive video is 23.976 (p) — commonly referred to as 24p — and 29.97 (i) for interlaced video. As a general rule though, you’ll want to keep your export frame rate the same as what you are editing in.

Since we are going to export a progressive video and are located in the U.S., we edited in 23.976 and will be exporting at that frame rate as well for both the Vimeo and archive versions.

3. Codec: Short for coder decoder, a codec is the recipe for how the data in your video is compressed.

This is the real guts of your video export (and as such, you should dig in to this post on common myths surrounding Vimeo’s compression guidelines). It tells your computer how to encode the video, and then similarly, it tells the player (computer, DVD player, etc.) how to decode the video into a usable signal.

h.264 is the industry standard when it comes to web codec, and though there are a bunch more options for archival standards, Apple ProRes has become something of the norm. In the case of Apple ProRes, there are multiple codec versions — LT, regular, and HQ — each offering a slightly higher bit rate than the last, and each yielding a higher-quality picture (to a certain extent).

For our exports, we’re going to follow those standards. h.264 will be the export codec for our Vimeo version, and for our archival version, we’re going to stick with regular old ProRes codec.

4. Wrapper: A container that tells your computer (or player) what kind of video it is dealing with.  

A wrapper is easier to discern than a codec, as it’s reflected in the file extension — .mov, .mp4, .avi, .mpeg, .flv, etc.

Wrappers, like codecs, are developed either proprietarily by private companies (like Apple’s QuickTime) or for the general good by consortiums of video engineers (like MPEG, which stands for “Moving Picture Experts Group”), each with roughly the same goal of global domination (meaning, they all want to be the video solution to end all video solutions). Some wrappers automatically dictate the codec, such as .mpeg, however some containers let you use just about whatever codec you’d like, such as QuickTime’s .mov.

One thing to note is that codecs and wrappers were generally developed for either editing or delivery. ProRes files are very large in file size and won’t stream on the web, but they are far less compressed than an h.264 .mp4 file, so they play back more easily when editing. ProRes is a proprietary Apple codec and it was designed to go only in the QuickTime container, whereas h.264 is an open codec that can be put into either QuickTime or MP4 containers. 

For our Vimeo export, we’re going to be using a .mp4 wrapper, since we’re using the h.264 codec. For our ProRes archive version, we’re going to be using the Quicktime .mov wrapper.

5. Bit rate: The amount of data we want to limit per second, measured in megabits (Mbps).

In the end, your bit rate is all about balancing quality and file size — if you lower it too much, you’ll lose quality (see: blocky web videos from 2001), but if you set it too large, your file size will match.

A good place to start with bit rate is 40-50 Mbps for 3840 x 2160, 10-20 Mbps for 1920 x 1080, and 5-10 Mbps for 1280 x 720. But if there are a lot of camera movements or tiny details in your film, it may be best to try and keep the bit rate a little on the higher side.


With bit rate, you also get to decide if you want to set a constant number throughout the entire video, or let your encoder vary, which is referred to as variable bit rate (VBR). Also, you can set the number of passes your encoder takes. In both cases — constant or VBR — it’s all about letting your computer find efficiencies, which in turn create smaller file sizes.

We’re going to set bit rate for our Vimeo export to 5 Mbps, but if you’re a PRO user with enough storage space, we’d recommend uploading a 50 Mbps ProRes archival file. For our 4K archive export, we’ll go with 50 Mbps. In both cases, we’re going to do a VBR with 2-pass export.

Here’s where we ended up:


<

p>These are the five major considerations in the world of exporting, and each comes with a plethora of options to choose from. Knowing these settings will help keep files optimized for both space and quality, and they’ll keep your films looking realllllll good.

43 Comments

Dean of Green PRO

Thank you Story & Heart I am off to give practice to your theory.
Much needed simple information.

Keep up the great work.

Story & Heart PRO

Anytime! Do let us know if you have any follow-up questions. Happy to help. :)

Salomon Meij

Why would you ever recommend uploading in 720p in 2015? Most major smartphones and tablets match or exceed 1080p resolution, virtually all laptops and desktop computers match or exceed 1080p, and virtually all Smart TVs or set top boxes are 1080p. Any content shot in 1080p or higher should be uploaded in 1080p so people can actually enjoy your content while getting the full potential out of their device's screens.

Remember, your viewers also paid for a nice screen to watch content on, they didn't do that just to be served 720p files that are then stretched to fill the screen.

Besides all that, Vimeo should really offer 1080p/720p conversions with an automatic quality picker based on screen resolution and bandwidth like YouTube does. That way, we don't have to compromise in quality and users will get the most appropriate conversion based on their device automatically.

Ear of the Eye Productions PRO

Steve your points are well made, about some broadcasters still using 720 and economizing file sizes. But, all things considered Salomon's general reasoning that if you have it in 1080p then applying the bit of extra time, energy, money to upload that is worth the effort. Vimeo viewers can easily watch the SD version if bandwidth is a concern on their end.

Only five years ago uploading 1080p would have been "future proofing" (total ridiculous marketing term, btw), but now 1080p already feels dated.

If I were to take a guess, I'd say Vimeo will probably allow UHD, 4K by the end of 2016. If not for the entire platform, then at least for the Pro & Plus users. Total guess, but it is coming at some point.

"if you’re a PRO user with enough storage space, we’d recommend uploading a 50 Mbps ProRes archival file."

I had know idea that Vimeo PRO accounts allowed for uploads that used the Prores codec, for some reason I thought it was h.264 only. This is really to know. Thanks.

Dan Florez Plus

Also, more to quality than the number. My cell phone shoots at 4k, but will I ever do anything with that? Probably not. A dvd of "The Shining" in mere 720? Absolutely beautiful (though, I'm sure in 4k it also looks great).

Then again, I kind of hate the ultra resolution tv's. Could just be that I'm gettin' older.

Anders Goberg Plus

What is the recommended bitrate for Vimeo Pro/Plus users that want to upload 1080p videos? I think 5 Mbps is pretty low.

Alex Dao Staff

Hey Anders, we recommend 10-20 Mpbs for 1080p videos!

David Vance

Very useful and straight forward information on the difficult subject of digital video encoding. Nice!

Rick Carlson Plus

I have made many trips to less affluent countries in Asia (applies to others as well) and found that most internet connections are much slower compared to ours. They can't watch most Vimeo videos for that reason as they keep stalling while the video is buffering. I assume then if they are the target audience, I should use a lower bitrate but wonder if someone has any recommendations?

Sentimental Productions PRO

Vimeo can use adaptive streaming technology such as HLS or MPEG_DASH, which through the use of "magic" recognizes the end users' internet bandwidth and streams an appropriate bit rate that minimizes stuttering. Notice I said "minimizes" not stops stuttering.

Alex Harkness

Any bitrate suggestions for 'kinetic type' animations AND does VBR benefit animation too?

Story & Heart PRO

Definitely not animators here, but I would just text a small section of an animation at a bunch of bit rates to see which performs best. My hunch is the more detail / movement, the more you're going to need to bump up the bit rate. If you do find a great balance of file size / detail, we'd love to hear the setting!

Michael Jay Cain

Thank you. I didn't know any of this information-- Just went with default settings and hoped for the best. Now I can actually make informed mods and improve the quality for future videos.

Ellinor Eriksson

Thanks! I was filming 720p + 10 Mbps, which I found (afterwards) a bit low, the image is kind of grainy. Is there any kind of post that I can do, to give it a touch of a higher Mbps?

H2video.nl - Stefan Flos PRO

then why is the difference so great between original (following the recommended encoding settings of Vimeo) and the resulting processed file on Vimeo after upload, The difference can be about 5 times less: 1 Gb upload resulting in 200Mb file on video).
I prefer uploading the file in the resulting format, to save space on vimeo... because the upload is counted...

helmingstay Plus

+5 to this.
I have 720p motion-heavy videos ranging from 10-40 Mbps, and the Vimeo encoder is murdering them. I understand that 40Mbps is overkill from vimeo's perspective, but company docs (vimeo.com/help/compression) indicate that 10 Mbps is the upper limit target. What I really need to know is what vimeo is doing to my source files *after* upload.

For example (vimeo.com/156386270), here's the ```avprobe``` output from the source file (note the FPS):
1280x720, 25989 kb/s, 10 fps

And the same output from the HD 720p vimeo download, post-processing:
yuv420p(tv, bt709), 1280x720 [SAR 1:1 DAR 16:9], 2399 kb/s, 20 fps

So... the final bitrate is 2.5Mbps, which looks *terrible* for my application.

Brett Munoz PRO

This doc should be edited since a lot of people are working with DSLR h.264 files. There is no point to arching h.264 to prores. Your just saving bloated files. There is no need to archive as prores if your source is h.264.

The Hunted PRO

Is Vimeo doing anything about the gamma correction inherit in h.264 video or is there a solution to this?

h.264 typically adds a 2.2 gamma correct to videos, making black levels grey and the rest of the colors washed out .

There is a quick fix for this in Quicktime Pro, but it's unavailable for mp4 files - videocopilot.net/blog/2008/06/fix-quicktime-gamma-shift/

Is there another wrapper/codec that you'd suggest for Vimeo that would work?

Mars Roberge Plus

I read about keeping the data rate between 30-60, yet I don't know how anyone could store a 4k feature film in a plus account for that. Using Media Encoder's 4k settings, a 5.83 TB movie (in 444 Uncompressed ProRes) turns into 33 GB. The only way I can make the film under 5 GB is to reduce the data rate to 5.7 Mbps. Any suggestions for this?

Anibal Michel PRO

Great stuff. Debating whether to go Plus or Pro on Vimeo. Learned something new about Pro Res. I've been exporting everything at h.264 in .mov format. Looks good in QuickTime, but I'm gonna try it in ProRes. Thank you! Great help for a newbie!

Barnaby Paul Levy PRO

progressive frames in the world of video are scanned. Your suggestion that "Progressive frames (p) are what you typically think of when you’re picturing video — full, individual images refreshing in succession. Interlaced frames (i) chop up each frame into a series of horizontal lines that, as a group, are called fields" is incorrect. The lines are scanned in order, and then the frame is refreshed, unless frames are being stored in a buffer then all pixels are illuminated at once...

KovacevicBosch Plus

Hi guys, thanks for the info, really appreciate it as it is a constant struggle for me.
I would really like an answer from anyone who is well informed about this subject to advise me even more: I do mainly wedding videos, shoot with Canon 6d, Mark 3, and Osmo X3. Do the editing in Premiere CC, round trip to Resolve for grading and export the final video for uploading from Premiere: h.264 .mp4 VBR 2 pass. My videos are approximately 8-9 minutes in length. I usually set the bitrate at target 35 max 40 (tried the recommended vimeo 10-20Mbps version as well)... now here is the "question"; on viewing in my player on the computer everything looks great, once uploaded to Vimeo this changes drastically, even when I see the footage in a small window ( window size you would find on "trending" page for example) it looks very bad and pixelated, even though I have seen numerous videos in same size window looking absolutely flawless.
If anyone can advise, I would be forever grateful, as this is a issue that has been bothering me pretty much forever.
Thank you!
Marko

Multimedia Marketing Group Plus

Hi,

When viewing on Vimeo, vimeo playback often defaults on a lower resolution playback according to your internet speed (usually its set to auto). Selecting the HD icon in the bottom right of screen and toggling it up to 1920x1080 or 4k, then waiting for it to buffer. That's the only issue I can think you are having based on the facts you provided, because unless you totally screwed up something in your editing, those export settings are great and should look great, its just your internet/playback settings are likely not in place.

Multimedia Marketing Group Plus

Actually I'm just about 95% certain what I described above is true. I just went to your channel and your videos look great.

AvantGarde Producciones Plus

hi guys! i would like to know if Vimeo compresses videos to 8bit or 10bit color space? 4:2:2 or 4:2:0?

THANKS!

Tim K

Did you ever get an answer to this? I'm guessing Vimeo is showing 8bit 4:2:0 though.

Fotofobia Producciones

Hi i got a question, i'm really having problems with a music video I edit with a lot of "twitch" effect, the one that splits rgb and slides it, so it has a lot of different frames all the time. I exported it in my pc and i see it great in 25 mb, but when i upload it, it breaks very very badly, not evenwatchable anymore, what can i do besides edit it differently ? I've been using that effect and i has never given me any problem till now

AmyBlackardCastner Plus

This clarifies a lot! One confusion: you mention that the frame rate at 29.97 is interlaced, but the footage I take with a Canon T4i at 1920x1080 seems to automatically have progressive footage at that frame rate. Am I missing something?

Carla Acuática Plus

Hi there! When I watch a 1920x1080 video in my computer exported at 75 Mbps, it looks considerably better than with a lower bit rate. I want to kwow if this will also happen in Vimeo. I don`t mind if its heavier, I can wait. I have tried uploading it to YouTube and it completely destroyed its original quality.

Thanks for your answer!

Timi nubla PRO

Hi I need to send my short film to a film festival in apple pro res version. But when they downloaded it from my Vimeo account I was informed the resolution changed & of poor quality that they cant use it. Would you know what can be done so they can download it at the 1920x1080 apple pro res version I uploaded it to? Thanks in advance

Babek Aliassa Plus

Does anybody know the maximum playback levels in LUFS accepted by Vimeo before the audio gets pushed down? Youtube standard is -13LUFS. Thanks.

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