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Optimize Your Video for a Range of Formats

With video now available across a range of devices, marketers need to anticipate which format their videos will be seen in and prepare their videos accordingly. Below are some steps to help you make sense of what can be a complicated process and ensure a better experience for your viewers.

illustration of different size videos and reel

Be the Viewer

Let’s start by thinking from the viewer's perspective. Consider the last video you watched. Was it an entire season of your favorite show via Netflix on your 13” laptop? A movie in IMAX on a screen taller than a house? Or a YouTube video on your smartphone? Having a range of viewing options expands access but can complicate your decision about an output format.

Quality Matters

Top quality content will look and sound good at both high and low resolution. A well-produced video also plays well on different screens and in different dimensions. So, begin with a professional production team that can deliver a top-notch video. Your team doesn’t have to be huge but it should include a talented videographer with a good camera and microphone, a director and/or producer who knows how to set up and execute a shoot, and editors who can handle the footage using industry-standard techniques and software.

Delivery Format

Once you’ve worked out the logistics for a top quality video, it’s time to think about an appropriate format or formats for delivery. Encoding videos correctly will ensure your video is playable in a range of circumstances with a minimum amount of lag time. Since most mobile and fixed platforms play videos encoded in the H.264 format, this works well as a default option. H.264 video also offers a range of resolution options and can be tailored to individual projects. H.264 can also be encoded to videos formatted as MP4 or MOV, though we suggest MP4 as it generally takes up less bandwidth and looks just as good.

Within H.264, there are two crucial variables to consider, video size and video bit rate (or data rate), which impacts the video resolution. Audio bit rate also plays a role but it’s best to always be generous here as it takes very little space to ensure top quality audio and will not compromise playability.

Device Optimization

If you want your video to reach the broadest range of people, you need to make sure it’s encoded for mobile devices, where the goal is to provide a video that is watchable without using too much bandwidth. Optimum viewing on laptops, desktops, and television will require higher resolution or HD. Image and sound quality are more important on these fixed platforms than on mobile devices. Working with H.264 files, you can also arrive at a format that is accessible on both ends of the device spectrum by choosing something in the middle of the range of bitrates and sizes suggested below. It's a good idea to experiment and play the videos for yourself in these different formats to see what works best.

Bitrates & Size

Optimal video bitrates will vary from about 200 Kbps (Kilobytes per second) to play videos over a simple mobile device to 8000 Kbps to play a large HD video on a big screen or computer. Your video size will also vary from from an aspect ratio of 480x360 pixels for a squarish screen on a small mobile device to 1920x1080 on a large desktop. HD videos are shot and edited in an aspect ratio that is a multiple of 16x9 so your output settings (whether 640x360, 960x540, 1280x720 or 1920x1280) need to match that or your video will be distorted or cut off. The 480x360 is not HD but may be fine if your only desired output is a squarish mobile device screen.

To recap, you can optimize your video for different screens by producing high quality content from start to finish then export your video to an H.264 format that maximizes accessibility1 on a range of devices.  Many video hosting sites, including YouTube, will also take your H.264 video and convert it to their site specifications which enables easy viewing once uploaded.

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1An OnlineVideo.net article that features a chart laying out examples of maximized H.264 video for different platforms.