The party-goer’s guide to H.264 support

If you’re at one of those parties where you find yourself discussing H.264, then you’re probably going to be hard-pressed attracting the attention of that hot-looking person of your opposite sex standing just by the window looking wistful while downing the Rioja. So, just how do you make H.264 /HTML 5.0 sound sexy while still seeming smart and not too dorky?

BELOW: At the Streaming Media East conference in New York City, video expert Jan Ozer led a how-to presentation on encoding for Apple iOS devices. It’s in Flash…

It’s challenging… 

Sure, you could try talking about how previous online video codecs didn’t have the support of two big industry standard bodies (ISO and ITU) which mean the electronic components to support other codecs ended up becoming more expensive. 

H.264 devices benefit because the support’s strong so components are cheaper, which drives demand, which drives support and so on. That’s why there’s lots of cameras and computers with built-in support. Though I’m not convinced that’s the kind of conversation which convinces anyone you’re some kind of tech industry Lothario.

Perhaps you could say “iPhone” and “Steve Jobs” loudly a couple of times and see if that interesting wine-drinker that’s caught your eyes looks up. If they do, you could blast into that conversation where you talk about how visionary Apple’s CEO was, and how he fought tooth and nail against a hail of criticism to get Flash kicked out from mobile devices in favour of the faster and less power-hungry H.264 standard.

Getting rid of Flash is why your phone can show you movies without running out of battery power too quickly,” you might remark while sashaying over to ask, “More wine?”. Channeling the power of Jobs may cast your countenance with a reality distortion field — but be warned, not everyone gets the Californian serial entrepreneur.

Though it might be worth a go.

Bosses of control

One of the reasons some don’t follow Apple’s shining path is a belief that the company is too controlling. They’ll point out that if you want your video to run on Apple’s devices (and it’s hard to think of any filmmaker who wouldn’t want some form of support on these) then you need to encode your assets into H.264. They’ll complain that Apple didn’t leave you a choice of formats, and that its determination and problems faced re-tooling other codecs to run effectively on low power devices caused the industry to coalesce around the standard.

To be honest of course, if you want to stick to party speak, you’ll probably need to explain that H.264 is why you can watch YouTube clips and iPlayer footage on your iPad or iPhone in such a seamless way, it’s an open format and doesn’t require third-party software be installed.

That’s not to say it’s easy.

There’s numerous questions you need to consider when encoding into H.264. What resolutions do you support? What video rates? Should you distribute multiple files? Where a device supports 1,080p video, should you make a version specifically built to offer such support? Should you even bother making assets available in 320-x-240?

As you can see when crafting clips for delivery to Apple’s devices, there’s a huge host of decisions to make, which is why video expert Jan Ozer’s advice at Streaming Media East should be essential reading to anybody considering support for iOS devices (there’s a screengrab from his presentation above).

He argues that unless you have a really good reason to support 720p or above, a single 640-x-480/640-x-360 video stream should be fine if you want to make your clips playable on most devices. In the event you do choose to offer your content in an HD format, he recommends you produce dual streams, the HD version and one at a lower resolution.

But, what about Flash?

What about those of use who don’t just want to deliver video to iOS devices? Those of us who still recognise that Flash continues to exist in the big world beyond Cupertino?

The good news is that Transmuxing technologies now exist which mean video producers don’t need to deliver content in two separate encoding and delivery workflows. These solutions come from Wowza, Microsoft and Adobe, he explains.

It’s possible that if the conversation’s moved to this level of complexity, that that wine-drinking beauty has already flown. If however getting the right answers to the complex question of transcoding video to iOS and other devices happens to be your career, you may want to take a look through Ozer’s full presentation which is available at this link (PDF).

After all, maybe, just maybe, the person you’re really going to end up with will like transcoding, too. Meanwhile, why not amble over and ask for a glass all the same?

Happy coding.


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