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Introduction to Digital Audio and Video for the Web


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Introduction

Preparing audio and video for the web is not a difficult process. However, it does require specialized computer equipment, software, and several sequential processes.  Different software packages are available for many of the steps, but the software chosen at each step impacts both the quality of the final product and the software that can be used for subsequent steps.

 

File Types

The most widely used file types (formats) for audio and video on the web are:

.mp3 MPEG3, audio only
cross-platform
.wav PC only, audio only
played by MS Windows integral sound system
.mov QuickTime 
audio or video
cross-platform
.rp, .rm RealPlayer
audio or video
cross-platform
.wmp Windows Media Player, claims to be cross-platform but in some cases, PC only

 

 

The Four Basic Steps

The four basic steps in preparing media for the web are listed below. In addition to these four steps, completed media files will need to be posted to a web or media server that is compatible with the file type (format) created.  Web pages will also need to be written that will allow access to the media files on the server.

1. Digitizing and editing the media
2. Self-containing the media to make it independent of the software that created it
3.  Compressing the file to make it a usable size for web transmission
4. Adding the 'hint' track

File format will dictate which software will be used in the final three steps, but the first step is independent of the file format.  The first step (digitizing and editing the media) requires specialized equipment.  To digitize audio, you will need  an audio suite (source such as a cassette deck and amplifier or a boom box that combines the tape player and amplifier in one unit) and a computer with a sound input jack.  The machine should have at least 128 Mb of RAM. To digitize analog video, a vcr and a media converter box (such as Dazzle or the Sony DVMC-DA2) and a specialized computer is needed.  The converter box actually changes the signal from analog to digital (DV) format that the computer can process and store.  Not all computers can handle DV, but most Macintoshes and some high-end PCs can.  Any computer destined to process and edit digital video should have a minimum of 256 Mb of RAM.

 

Considerations When Choosing File Formats

As mentioned above, file format (.wav, .rm/.rp, .wmp or .mov) will dictate which software must be purchased for the processes and server.   The table below lists some of the pros and cons for each format

.wav pro can be played as background to web page
con limited to PC users 
.mov pro plug-in is free, server software is inexpensive, no licensing required, works well on both platforms
con not as popular as RealPlayer or Windows Media
.mp3 pro very popular with students, excellent compression ratio &  quality sound
con audio only
.rm/.rp pro very popular with students, first 50 streams are free
con Expensive: Licensing fees for >50 streams from server( an aggregate for all files, not per media clip)
.wmp pro very popular with students, easy to use
con Not truly cross-platform

To learn more about these media types, visit the Retiarius Enterprises website.

 

Repurposing Video for the Web

 

Web pages are quickly becoming the 21st century equivalent of photocopying.  They require little storage space on a server, transfer quickly, and give immediate access to everyone.  But, more often than not, the information is distributed widely without clear cut purpose. 

Conversely,  video and audio files for the web require more storage space, can require long downloads and larger files are difficult for users with slow modems.  This creates an opportunity for stringent content analysis. If media files should be as small as possible (and right now that means short), then any video clips must be succinct and to the point.  I recommend a three-minute rule for video--if the clip is longer than three minutes, it is going to be too large for most users. (With the great audio compressions available, I use a 5 minute rule --because after 5 minutes, who is still listening?)

To supplement the three minute clip, the web page should become a complex media experience.  The page can offer text and activities supporting the media so that the user has something to do during the download.  In language learning contexts,  the page can provide vocabulary/idiom support or provide background information on the cultural aspects of the video.  Thus, video on the web becomes a more enriching experience than a photocopied handout. 

A terrific example of just such an enriching experience can be seen at SUNY Cortland, on a web site developed by French professor, Marie Ponteiro in a lesson on Europe for her French Civilization course. My apologies if you don't read French.

 

 

Getting Started

 

You will need a specialized computer and software.  I use and recommend  Macintosh computers.  They are designed to process media and there are many software programs already available for this platform. The following recommendations are for Macintosh platform only. Faculty, staff and students have access to these programs in the Instructional Technology Center (ITC- 217 Chafee) and the Fine Arts lab (Fine Arts - F102).

Audio: Macromedia SoundEdit 16 (if you can find it) or Bias Peak.  Peak reduces the number of steps in the process by self-containing the file when saving to QuickTime format. (One less step is good.) I use Cleaner for Compression--using either the Qualcomm Pure Voice codec or .mp3.  Lyrical or slurred voices (such as Russian or Portuguese) sound better using teh .mp3 codec.  English and other languages I have tried work well with Qualcomm.  Cleaner can hint the tracks automatically (this saving another step).

Video:  I use Final Cut Pro to log and capture video.  Apple's iMovie would work just as well if you have minimal editing needs.  You can also trim the beginning and end with QuickTime Pro, but this is like using a saber instead of a scalpel. I self-contain the files in QuickTime Pro and then compress them in Cleaner.  The codec varies depending on high/low motion and desired file size. Again, let Cleaner hint your tracks for you.

 

Storage Issues

 

Media just devours drive space. Anyone working with media needs an external firewire drive with lots of empty space.  If you can't afford an external drive, I recommend partitioning your hard drive.  Once you start capturing video, you'll need to defrag the drive on a recurring basis.  You won't have to reinstall programs, if you have a separate media storage space that can be defragged independently from the system and programs drive. 

Why defrag?  Because video clips should be stored (even on the scratch[capture] disk) without dropping frames.  If the drive is clean, the media file can be written in one continuous loop, without skips, jumps or breaks.  If the drive is fairly full, the computer will have to write the file in sections, 8 MB here, 8 MB there, oops dropped a frame...  You get the picture.  Norton Utilities can defrag your media drive while you sleep.

Another reason to have an external portable firewire drive is just that, portability.   

 

 

Getting It on the Web

 

I haven't mentioned authoring web pages yet (that could be a treatise by itself), but if you intend to embed audio or video directly into the web page, I RECOMMEND YOU DON'T USE MS FRONTPAGE. Take my advice and write the code yourself or invest in DreamWeaver, it is just too difficult to get the code right in FrontPage.

 
 
   
   

 

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Page last revised on Wednesday, July 03, 2002.