Video File Types: Recommendations for Church Websites

May 17, 2019 Andrew Osborne

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One of the greatest blessings we have as a church is that we have such amazing ways to share our faith. In the past, information and stories had to be passed down orally. Later on, with the invention of the printing press, books of information could be produced quickly and shared. At the beginning of my lifetime, we still received information primarily from our televisions and in the mail.

These days, we are able to send a vast amount of information to someone on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, simply by typing a message on our phone or doing a video conference with them. Communicating has become so easy that even my six-year-old child knows how to take a video of herself and send it to her grandma.

While creating and distributing videos is pretty straightforward, some best practices will help make your videos look their best. Some of this might seem like it’s getting into the nitty-gritty, but mastering these details is not as hard as you might think and can make your website and social media presence look much more professional.

Defining Our Terms

Before we get into how to make your videos look and perform their best, we need to know a few terms we may encounter that might be a bit foreign to some of us.

  • File Format—There are multiple formats for saved files. These will be signified by the letters following the dot after the file name. Some examples are documents (.doc), images (.jpg), and songs (.mp3).
  • High Definition (HD)—HD videos are videos with a high resolution, meaning there are more pixels to view, making the image clearer. In Full HD video (or 1080p), there are 1,920 pixels horizontally and 1,080 pixels vertically.
  • Encoding—Encoding is the process of getting a clip ready for output. This involves converting the clip into a certain file format and compressing it (making it smaller and lowering the quality) to make it compatible with certain video players, such as for DVD or use on the internet.
  • Frame Rate—Frame rate refers to the number of frames that are captured per second when filming. The fewer frames per second that you have, the jumpier your footage will look. As you increase your frame rate, the action in your footage will appear smoother and more lifelike.
  • Bitrate—The amount of data used to encode a single second of video is the bitrate. Having a low bitrate will lower the size of your video file, but it will also lower the quality of your image.

Versatile File Format for Web Use

There are pros and cons to all the different file formats you can export your videos to. The size and quality of your video plays a large role in deciding what format to use. Some formats, such as WMV (Windows Media Video), will compress the video a good amount so that the file size is smaller and takes up less space on your hard drive, server, or website, but with those smaller sizes, you also will lose quality. With other formats, like MOV (Apple QuickTime Movie), you get the opposite effect—larger file sizes, but higher quality.

Another important factor when choosing a file format for your videos is compatibility. It’s important to be sure people will be able to watch your video, regardless of what type of computer or mobile device they are using to view it. If you look at the two previous examples, WMV and MOV, you’ll notice that one is made by Windows and the other by Apple. As you might imagine, sometimes those formats are more difficult to view on certain devices than they are on others, so it’s also important to pick a format that is widely used so that you can avoid problems.

Picking the Best Settings for Web Use

There’s a balancing act that needs to be performed when choosing the best settings for your videos. You need to find settings that give you the best quality output while also keeping your file size small and ensuring your video format is compatible for most people. The settings that I tend to use for my videos and that I think balance those three factors the best are as follows:

  • File Format: MP4—The MP4 format is supported by the majority of mainstream video platforms, ensuring that they will be compatible wherever you intend to share your videos. The videos have relatively smaller file sizes, while keeping the video quality relatively high.
  • Resolution: 1080—With a ratio of 1920p x 1080p, this resolution is in full high definition, giving you sharp, crisp images without going overboard on the file size.
  • Encoding: H.264 codec—H.264 is an industry standard for video compression. It compresses your video to a smaller file size without losing much quality at all.
  • Frame Rate: 24fps (frames per second)—While higher frame rates, such as 60fps, are truer to the way we see in real life, cinematographers throughout the last several decades have tended to use 24 fps. The reason for this was the need to balance what looked good (having smooth, lifelike images) with what was frugal (using less film stock). Because 24fps is what we see most of the time when we go to the movies or turn on our TVs, it’s what looks normal to most people. For that reason, it makes sense to go with this lower frame rate.
  • Bitrate: 15Mbps (megabits per second)—Bitrate is yet another example of a setting you need to find a middle ground on. While exporting your video with a higher bitrate will make your video look great, it will make your file sizes much larger. A good middle ground is around 15Mbps.

Let’s Find a Way to Simplify This

It’s important to know some of these details we’ve been looking at so you get a good quality video that’s versatile enough to be used both on the web and with other devices, such as DVD players. But to most of us, all this jargon can still seem a little intimidating. Thankfully, services like YouTube and Vimeo are around to make the process of getting our videos on the web much simpler. While both of these services support a wide range of video file types, if you have your video exported with the settings I suggested above, you should have no problem getting your video on these platforms. While I love Vimeo, the more popular option for uploading videos is YouTube.

YouTube has some amazing features that are extremely helpful for us when posting videos for our churches. First, YouTube does a lot of the heavy lifting for us, such as making sure videos are compatible on different devices by automatically converting videos to YouTube-specific settings, ensuring all videos on YouTube are viewable. Second, YouTube allows you to upload some incredibly large videos. As of right now, with an unverified YouTube account, you can upload a 15-minute-long video, but with a verified account, you can upload a video that is up to 128GB or 12 hours. That means that you’re able to export your videos with higher resolutions and bitrates with less compression if you choose to. The only downfall is that, with those large files, the time you wait for your videos to export and upload can get ridiculous unless you have an extremely fast computer and network connection. A third awesome feature is that YouTube has some great analytical tools that allow you to track how your videos are performing. Fourth, YouTube makes it extremely easy to share your videos to other destinations.

Sharing YouTube Videos

Uploading your videos to YouTube can be a great hub for all of your content to travel through. YouTube allows you to link to and embed your videos in various locations throughout the web. Probably the most common and, for churches, most useful places to share these YouTube videos are on our websites and social media accounts.

Website

Most website builders, like Church360° Unite, allow you to embed videos from other locations throughout the web onto your church website. This is done using an HTML container called an iframe. YouTube makes this process super easy. All you need to do is go to your YouTube video and click on the “Share” link; then on the popup window, click on the “Embed” button, which will give you an embed code to copy and paste into your website builder.

The best part about embedding videos onto your website from services such as YouTube is that you won’t bog down your website with large video files. Rather, you’ll link to them, saving you money and website performance. 

Social Media

Most of the big social media services like Facebook and Twitter allow you to embed video from YouTube directly into your account feeds simply by copying the URL and pasting it into your timeline. This also makes sharing videos a breeze. However, there are a few drawbacks to not posting your videos directly to your social media accounts. The first is that videos you upload directly to Facebook will look much better aesthetically; they will look much more like an actual Facebook post rather than a link to something else. Second, one of the great things about Facebook is that if you upload your video directly to Facebook, it will start playing automatically when someone scrolls over your video in their timeline. This is not the case with links to YouTube. Instead, a person has to click on your link and be sent to your YouTube video to view it. Third, Facebook also has a lot of great analytic information that you’re missing out on by not using their video service.

Because of those drawbacks, it might be beneficial for you to upload your videos to both YouTube and Facebook separately (which is what I personally do at my church). With that in mind, you’ll again want to consider keeping those quality and file-size settings in balance, as the size limit for video file uploads on Facebook is currently 1GB. If your video is only a few minutes long, the settings I listed above should work fine for social media. If your video is longer, you’ll have to play around with lowering the resolution and/or bitrate until it’s the quality and size your looking for.

I hope these few tips, definitions, and ideas are helpful to you. The world of internet multimedia content is challenging as it tends to change regularly, so if you find the settings you’re using aren’t working well, do a quick Google search for the best video settings for the destination of your video. For example, you might try searching for “Best Settings for YouTube Video.” Feel free to share in the comments below if you have any other tips or ideas on creating great video content for your church!

This blog post helps you share your video after it's been recorded, but what if you need help purchasing the equipment that you use to record it? To learn how to work with sales reps, manage installations, and navigate the rest of the audio and visual equipment purchasing process, read the ebook “Purchasing Audio & Visual Equipment: A Guide for Churches.”

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