PapaJohn
 
Newsletter #160 - July 28, 2007
Quality Check of Flash Files from 4 Free Online Video Hosts
 

 
Services Collage15 months ago, newsletter #101 was about 5 online 'free' video hosting services
5 months ago I added another to the website page, soapbox on msn video
 
A lot has happened since then. Besides YouTube's popularity, taking off like a rocket, the others have evolved. 
 
The historic YouTube Democratic presidential candidate debate earlier this week marked a good time to take another look at these services.
 
On the other side of YouTube's popularity buzz are comments and questions I routinely get from those disappointed in the quality of their online videos, asking why mine look better.
 
I'll focus on the quality dimensions this week. 
 
Before getting into details, here's...
 
... a note...
 

 
Note...
 
VoxBuy...
 

I joined a new Flatburger online venture last month, this one about software. My first efforts were to do some software reviews about audio editing utilities. They are now starting to appear online... here's a link to the main page of...

VoxBuy...

... browse the Multimedia & Design category or use these links to go directly to the reviews: GoldWave, FX Audio Editor, and Acoustica 4.

The site is under active alpha phase development, so don't be surprised if a link doesn't work.

With today's world so steeped in marketing and salesmanship, the guidance for the reviews was refreshing 'it's your review... write what you want... tell us the positives and negatives about the software...'. That aligns with my style.

I picked audio editing software to write about first. Having said for years the sounds of a movie are at least half of the viewing experience, a good audio editing utility is a natural for your software toolbox. We know that with Movie Maker and Photo Story have minimal to no audio editing features,

Goldwave and Acoustica can rip the sound track directly from a DV-AVI, WMV movie, or WMV story file directly. Fix problems or embellish it, and then save the audio track and it'll work well in your movie or story project. Of the 3 reviewed, Goldwave is my favorite.

One of these days I'll slow down my eagerness to roll a video out long enough to enhance the audio track. Until then, my audio editing is clip by clip and only when sorely needed.

 
.... back to the main topic...
 

 
6 'Free' Online Video Hosts
 
I'll run down them, note file size limits for uploading, and check the downloaded files to see how they compare with what was uploaded.
 
CannonAs a test file, I'll upload the 10 minute Civil War reenactment video I finished after last week's newsletter.
 
Original VideoI first saved the movie as a DV-AVI file... weighting in at 10 minutes and 2.1+ GB in file size.
 
I then used it as the source file for the wmv file, selecting my usual Video for LAN (768 Kbps) quality choice. 
 
The properties of the wmv file are shown at the left in Movie Maker...
 
- 58 MB in file size
- 856 x 480 pixels... widescreen
- audio - 64 kb/s stereo
- video - 704 kbps 
- 29.97 fps
 
I uploaded it to each of the services, viewed them, and studied the files that came back down. Each of them converted the wmv file to Flash.
 
For YouTube, I'll make and upload an extra file, a wmv file made with my custom YouTube profile.
 

 
Checking the Properties of Flash Files
 
When I did the newsletter on this topic last April, I had to jump through hoops to see the properties of a Flash file.
 
Today in a split second it's open in GSpot, with more than enough info. I'll revisit GSpot in next week's newsletter. My last issue about it was #68, almost 2 years ago.
 

 
Six 'Free' Online Video Host Services
 
YouTube... the one in the limelight today.
 
Files are limited to 10 minutes or 100 MB. It and the other services converts uploaded files to Flash format. I use it's 10 minute constraint as my rule of thumb when making videos for online viewing. Here's the link to the Civil War video.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVgBptkQsbs
 
As I view the video, I search my hard drive for files named get_video, copy the one I'm interested in, add a FLV extension, play it with the Riva Flash player, and open it with GSpot to study its properties.
 
Here's a typical location and file name on my XP laptop:
 
c:\Documents and Settings\PapaJohn\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\(folder with a name such as 7PWEZTYN)\get_video(2)
 
As YouTube is special and I have custom profiles to use when heading to it, this newsletter is a good time to do a calibration check. I rendered a second wmv file from the DV-AVI, this one with my custom widescreen profile for YouTube.
 
Here's a chart comparing the four files, the two uploaded wmv files and the two Flash files that came back down.
 
    YouTube     YouTube
 profile Video for LAN (768 kbps) Custom Profile from 768 kbps from Custom
 file size 58 MB wmv 27 MB wmv 24 MB flash 24 MB flash
 dimensions 856x480 428x240 320x240 320x240
 audio stereo stereo mono mono
64 kbps 63 kbps 58 kbps 59 kbps
 video 704 kbps 288 kbps 241 kbps 238 kbps
 frame rate 30 24 30 24
 
This validates the use of the custom profile. If you upload a higher quality file to YouTube, you get the same thing back and save some uploading time. YouTube throttles the quality such that it's about 300 kbps total, adding the audio and video bitrates.
 
Significant is the fact that YouTube maintains the frame rate of the uploaded wmv file.... without lowering the bitrate. Using 24 fps results in 25% more bitrate or quality available for each frame. You might have to ponder that for a bit.
 

 
Google Video
 
Google owns YouTube but still maintains Google Video separate from it.
 
The link to the Civil War file is...
 
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4413883781498689460&hl=en
 
Google Video - chaptersGoogle Video converts uploadeds files to Flash. In addition to the main viewer, it provides chapters with thumbnails... a nice touch.
 
The Flash file downloads as you view it... a typical location and file name on my XP laptop, similar to all the services, is:
 
c:\Documents and Settings\PapaJohn\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\(folder with a name such as 4J61BQKY)\23a0b07f494509df.wmv[2].flv
 
The Flash file had properties of  
- 27 MB in file size
- 320 x 240 pixels
- audio - 64 kb/s mono
- video - 291 kbps 
- 30 fps
 

 
You can copy the Flash file and convert it to get it into Movie Maker, but Google Video provides a higher quality download option, a GVI (Google Video) file.
If a video is available for download, a "Download" button will appear on the right side of the playback page. However, in some cases, content providers may opt not to enable their videos for download. Users located in the US may also have the option to purchase videos for download.
It's a bit confusing when you opt for a Download... another browser window opens and the file plays in it again as it downloads a .gvp file, a small file that is a link to the video itself.
 
Clicking on the .gvp file opens my Google Video Player and plays the associated GVI file... saved to the folder you select in the Google Video Player Preferences. The figure shows me using the default location.
 
GoogleVideo Save Options
GSpot can open a GVI file. It showed the properties of the Civil War file as:
The quality of the GVI file is significantly higher than the Flash file viewed on Google Video.
 
Getting a GVI file to Movie Maker
 
Movie Maker wouldn't accept it directly. GSpot said it's a Divx encoded AVI file, so I tried simply renaming the extension to .avi, but that didn't work.
 
I was able to easily convert it to a DV-AVI file using  VirtualDub, adding a resize filter to align it with a DV-AVI file size of 720x480, and selecting the Panasonic DV codec for compression. The new file worked fine in Movie Maker.
 

 
Putfile
 
The link to the Civil War file is...
 
http://media.putfile.com/Civil-War-reenactment---July-2007
 
I hadn't logged into this service since my first newsletter about it. It made me update my profile by uploading a picture of myself before I could upload another video, and swear the picture wasn't of me nude or pornographic. As just a facial shot, I had to think a minute about it being nude or not. I used one with glasses on.
 
In newsletter #101 I had said it Putfile delivers back the same file that is uploaded one. I found it today converting the wmv to Flash. The location and file name is something like:
 
c:\Documents and Settings\PapaJohn\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\(folder with a name such as 7PWEZTYN)\file(1).flv
 
You can upload files as large as 200 MB and there isn't a duration limit. 
 
Putfile is the clear winner in this group for the quality of the Flash file. It's obvious when viewing, and the properties confirm it.
 
- 41 MB in file size
- 864 x 480 pixels
- audio - 64 kbps stereo
- video - 514 kbps 
- 30 fps
 
I'll show you a chart later that compares the different files.
 

 
I found VideoEgg... cracked on my XP laptop system
 
It advertises impressive stats... 554+ million videos uploaded last week, 155,000 videos uploaded last week, 22 million unique viewers each month.
 
It's amazing that with those stats, its uploading user interface (the 'classic' beta or the current beta) crash my IE7 after I select the video and click 'upload'. As I didn't have any issues with the other services, I didn't need to spend time trying to figure out why.
 
I'll leave Humpty Dumpty for this round and move on to AddictingClips.com... after watching the two videos I uploaded to it on April 25, 2006. They're still there and play well.
 

 
AddictingClips.com... has moved in with AtomFilms... I won't disturb them
 
My two uploaded files are still there, but to log in and upload another, it said I also had to sign up for an AtomFilms account.
 
While 3 flirting babes invited me in from the banner ad at the top of the page, I pondered opening another account, but left them disappointed as I decided to not stop, and move on to Soapbox. 
 

 
Soapbox on msn
 
The link to the Civil War file is...
 
http://soapbox.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=93257ca9-4e1c-4e54-ba64-16eb87e2b937
 
The FAQ says you can upload AVI, ASF, WMV, MOV, MPEG /4, 3GPP, QT, Xvid, or DV files. The limit is 100 MB... I don't see a 10 minute limit.
 
It's a clean sweep... each of the four services convert the uploaded files to Flash format, even this Microsoft one. The downloaded file goes into a folder such as...
 
c:\Documents and Settings\PapaJohn\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\(folder with a name such as CJYUQ8WC\93257ca9-4e1c-4e54-ba64-16eb87e2b937[1].flv
 
The file has properties of:
  
- 58 MB in file size
- 432 x 320 pixels
- audio - 96 kbps stereo
- video - 575 kbps 
- 30 fps
 

 
Other Differences
 
Digging deeper into file properties using GSpot shows other differences. The YouTube and GoogleVideo Flash files use the FLV1 video codec and can play in Flash 6+ capable players. PutFile and Soapbox files use FLV4/VP62 and require Fash 8+ players. YouTube and GoogleVideo Flash files encode the audio track to MPEG-2 Layer 3, and PutFile and Soapbox files use MPEG-1 Layer 3.
 

 
Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
 
For the playing quality of the Flash files, PutFile and MSN Soapbox win this round over YouTube and GoogleVideo. VideoEgg and AddictingClips dropped out.
 
Here's a chart showing the tally, comparing selected properties against the uploaded wmv file.
Final Tally
GoogleVideo's GVI file would be the clear winner if I was to count it. Use it if you need a file for movie-making purposes. With the extra steps needed to get it, it's not for the casual viewer.
 
But there are other, perhaps overriding factors. When I mention putting a video online, people are interested. But if I mention putting it on YouTube, they are all smiles. I have over 100 on YouTube and just a few on the others. Why if not for quality.
 
For me the playlist feature YouTube provides is a compelling feature. My answer to those who ask about the quality of videos on YouTube is '.... try my custom profile... if that isn't enough for you, then consider using other services....'. 
 
Here's a good exercise if you're interested in comparing the quality of downloaded files from other services. Go to this website with embedded players or links to 51 services, find the downloaded files, and check their qualities.
 
51 online services
 
 
Have a great week and enjoy your summer fun and video work...
 
PapaJohn