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Preparing Your Media
In order to get your media ready for streaming, you will need to capture it into a digital format and then encode it to a streaming format.
Capturing Your Media Content
Capturing is the process of recording audio and video from a source to a hard drive in a digital format. The process starts with the source format, which can be audio or video. That source is then played on the deck that supports its format. The deck is connected to a capture card, which receives the playback information and digitizes it with the help of capture software. The capture software takes the input from the capture card and saves to the hard drive.

A) What equipment will I need?

Equipment needed includes playback decks and capture cards. The playback decks include audiotape, VHS, Beta and DV. The capture card will depend on what your playback deck is. For DV formats you can use FireWire/IEEE1394. The advantage of FireWire is it gives you device control of the playback deck. All new Macintosh computers come with FireWire built in and you can buy FireWire cards for PC's at a low cost. Many DV decks have analog inputs that can be used for analog formats like audiotape, VHS and Beta. By playing the analog format through the DV deck you can capture using FireWire, which reduces the cost and amount of equipment needed to capture if you have multiple source formats.

For analog formats like audiotape, VHS and Beta you can use an analog capture card. The capture card can have audio and video jacks in a range of formats from RCA to XLR, BNC and S-video connectors. Many companies make capture cards including Winnov, Osprey and Pinnacle.


B) What software will I need?

Capture software can be video editing software like Apple's Final Cut Pro and Adobe's Premier or encoding software such as the Windows Media Encoder and the Real Producer Plus. Capturing with either the Windows Media Encoder or Real Producer Plus will save video in the encoder's format. Using encoder software to capture will not produce the best quality encodes.

With video editing software the source is captured to your hard drive, and you can make any edits or changes. Then export your source clip into a format that the encoder software will be able to read. In some cases you can export directly into your target format from the editing software, but in most cases software made specifically for encoding will do a better job. When exporting video to be encoded we recommend exporting as an .AVI. For maximum quality and best usage of storage space we recommend the Indeo Video 5 codec for the video portion. The codec is available for both Mac and PC from Apple's web site. Export at the same frame size and frame rate as the capture. Set key frames to every 15 frames and do not limit the data rate of the video. For the audio portion we recommend uncompressed mono or stereo depending on your needs.

Encoding Your Media Content
Encoding is the process of converting audio or video into a streaming format. The process starts with the source. The source can either be a file or a live feed. The encoder is set to take the source and format it for a specific bit rate, frame rate and frame size. As the source is processed it is saved to a file and/or sent as a stream to a server depending on if the content is for on-demand or live use.

A) What software do I need?

Encoding software will depend on your target format. For Window’s Media, we recommend the Window’s Media 9 Encoder.The Windows Media Encoder is free and only available for PC. For Real, we recommend using the Real Producer Plus. The Real Producer Plus is available for both MAC and PC for a price; there also is a free basic version, but it lacks many features. For QuickTime you will need the Sorenson Video 3 Pro codec, QDesign audio codec, Sorenson Squeeze or Media Cleaner 6. All of the necessary QuickTime software is available for both MAC and PC at a cost. For MPEG encoding we recommend the Ligos LSX-MPEG encoder. Here are some other useful software for transcoding formats; FlaskMPEG, QuickTime Pro and avi2mpg1.


B) How to encode video?

Most video codecs encode for what changes frame to frame. In general low motion content and static camera work will produce a higher quality encode. Since there is a limit to the data rate of the video set by the target audience, codecs maintain that data rate by reducing colors, lowering the frame rate and reducing image clarity.

The target audience will establish the bit rate, which in turn determines the frame size and frame rate. For low bit rates (20 - 45Kbps) we recommend a frame rate of 5 to 7 frames per second (fps), and a frame size of 160x120 going no larger than 192x144. For high bit rates (80 - 350Kbps) we recommend a frame rate of 15fps and a maximum frame size of 320x240. Many encoders have a variable bit rate (VBR) option; we recommend only using VBR for download and never for streaming content. VBR can cause excessive buffering and doesn't provide a consistent data rate.

For Windows Media, we recommend the Windows Media Video 8 codec. Windows Media supports both single and multiple bit rate encoding. When doing a multiple bit rate encode using the 8 codec, be aware the Macintosh version of the Windows Media player only supports single bit rate encoding using the 8 codec. If you want a multiple bit rate encode that will work on the Macintosh use the 7 codec.

For Real, we recommend the Real 8 codec. Real Media also supports both single and multiple bit rate encoding. Be careful when doing multiple bit rate encoding using Real, for each bit rate selected the encoder will do one to two reduced rates, which can cause very large file sizes. For example, if you encode at 34 and 150Kbps the file will have 5 bit rates in it, 20.4, 25.5, 34, 112.5 and 150Kbps. We recommend using the 2-pass encoding option in the Real Producer Plus for higher quality encodes, but not in Media Cleaner because the 2-pass option is linked to the VBR option.

For QuickTime, we recommend the Sorenson Video 3 Pro codec. QuickTime only supports single bit rate encodes. The Sorenson 3 codec is the least user friendly. In the options of the Sorenson 3 codec be sure to check image smoothing, set key frames to none or rare and always do constant bit rate encode (CBR) for streaming. The encoders will have an option to prepare for streaming. For streaming content be sure to select hinted streaming and set the payload settings to use QuickTime. For download content select fast start.


C) How to encode audio?

The audio codec used in encoding will depend on the target format and if the audio is voice, music or a combination. For Windows Media, we recommend the Windows Media Audio V8 for both voice and music content. For Real, we recommend the voice codec for voice only content and the Real Audio 8 codec for music or combination. For QuickTime, we recommend the QDesign codec for most voice and music. If the clip is audio and voice only, the Qualcomm PureVoice can also be used.

When encoding audio choosing mono or stereo has a significant effect on quality. If you encode at 20Kbps stereo the overall quality will be 10Kbps, because the bit rate is split for each audio channel. We recommend encoding voice anywhere from 5 to 20Kbps mono. For music encode at 10 to 64Kbps mono or 32 to 128Kbps when stereo is necessary.

Tip: Before encoding audio use a compressor/limiter to reduce the range of the audio. The encoder will cut out the high and low end. Using the compressor/limiter will insure more of your original audio is translated into the encoded format.

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