Most hated question

As you know, I try to help out people with my video tutorials. But the dumbest question that someone could ask me, and usually I am asked via email, IM or on forums, is this:
How to export my video to get the best possible quality“.

If I was to take that question literally, the right answer would be “use a lossless codec, like Huffyuv, or uncompressed”. This would create a file that’s several GBs per minute.

But that’s not what these people want as an answer. They usually ask this question meaning how to export in a codec that it’s viewable at a reasonable bitrate, and it’s web (youtube/Vimeo), DVD, PS3/XBoX360, and PC friendly — and by retaining a good visual quality.

Problem is, there is not a single format or way that covers well all these viewing platforms. Depending what the user wants to do, different options or codecs must be used. In general though, h.264/AAC in the MP4 container, progressive, is the best way to export. In detail (assuming HD camera):

DVDs: just use the way your video editor usually exports for DVDs. On Sony Vegas for example, you export separately audio (AC3) and video (mpeg2 template), and the Sony DVD Architect app puts them back together.
Vimeo: 1280×720 at 4-5 mbps MP4. Example.
iPod/iPhone/YouTube: 640×360 at 2mbps MP4 is more than enough. Adapt tutorial above.
PS3/XBoX360: Same as Vimeo above if you own a 1080i TV, or 1920×1080 at 12 mbps if you own a 1080p TV. These devices don’t support h.264/AAC in MOV btw, but only in MP4.
PC/Mac: Like Vimeo if your computer is not very fast, or in 1080p if it is.

Of course, then there’s the problem of your video editor not supporting h.264/AAC in MP4, in which case you might want to investigate XViD AVI or WMV. No matter the codec used, just use the same bitrate/settings as discussed above.

If you don’t use an HD camera, then it gets more complicated as PAL/NTSC use different resolutions and there’s the point of 4:3 vs widescreen. Some ideas here.

So next time you want to ask me this question, always tell me four things:
1. Format that video was shot (e.g. miniDV PAL 50i, HDV NTSC PF24).
2. Aspect ratio of the said video (e.g. 4:3, widescreen).
3. Video editor or video tools owned.
4. Target viewing platform.

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