How to Compress Videos for YouTube

I get bags of e-mail each week about how to compress videos for online use. Since I use iMovie, I simply select “Share: CD-ROM” and transform a potentially 30 GB iMovie file into a small (10-20) MB .mov file that seems to upload well. (UPDATE: Don’t do this. Do this to get the best compression]. Butterfly.

I’d appreciate if you PC users could identify your software package (Windows Movie Maker, Sony Vegas, etc.) and what compression you select to export your video for use online. I simply don’t know those packages.

Kevin Nalts headshotI’m going to now lay out “Nalts Guide for Good Compression” based on a lot of online research (I’ve listed the best sources listed below).

  1. Output highest size possible. If you’re a perfectionist, part of your goal is to have the largest possible file that you can upload or send, but that’s a little impractical. I don’t need 350 100MB files hogging hard drive space, and I don’t want to wait 20 minutes for the video to upload.
  2. Customize your compression or find good default.Most editing software allows you to customize your output based on dimension, frames per second (fps), keyframes and various formats and codecs. Yuck. Who wants to fuss with that on a regular basis. Try to find a good “default” output that works for you.
  3. Shoot Smart. When you shoot your video you’re actually altering the file size. Avoid rapid movements that aren’t necessary. As Adobe puts it: “reduce the noise.” A wobbly camera or trees blowing in the background will increase the file size. A simple background means less data to encode and compress.
  4. Set your compression specifications based on what the website uses.According to the “Making Movies” blog (see below), here are the specs for YouTube’s flash: It is transcoded (decoded to raw video, then re-encoded) into Flash Video (FLV) format. The video frame size is scaled to no larger than 320×240. The frame rate appears to be between 25 and 30 frames per second, and the video data rate appears to be somewhere around 200 Kilobits (kbps) per second. Audio is reduced to mono and transcoded to a lower bit rate. This transcoding is what’s going on in between the time you complete your upload to YouTube, and the time that the video is finally available for viewing.
  5. Save your source files!I try to save every original file (on iMovie) I create, but that’s getting difficult now that my high-definition camera is producing 3-minute videos that take 30 GB of space. However you want to be able to return to a good resolution for alternative uses (like television) and you want to maintain the ability to change the video.

Additional sources

Note: I plan on revisiting this post based on reader feedback. My list will get longer, and I’d like to broaden the list of good, comprehensive and simple sources (which are hard to find).

Trippy directions

File > Export
Where it says Compress movie for: (select the dropdown and get “Expert Settings”)
When the save dialog opens look at the bottom where it says “Export:” and select “Movie to quicktime movie” and select “Options” to the right of it.
Now the fun part!
Click “Settings” – for Compression Type: select H.264
Where it says Compressor (this is key, this brings your quality of the movie up BIG TIME – move the slider between high and best – the longer the movie the lower it has to be to stay under the 100mb limit – short ones can be a lot higher = better quality.
Click Ok.
Now click “Size”
For Dimensions click the drop down for “320×240 QVGA”
Now, below that is “Preserve aspect ratio using:” check the box and click the drop down and select “Crop” –
click ok.
Final step.
Under Sound click “Settings”
Format: AAC
Channels: Stereo (L R)
Rate: 48.000 khz
click ok.
click ok again.
then save your video where you want it and you’re done!

9 Replies to “How to Compress Videos for YouTube”

  1. Hi Nalts –

    I usually edit with Sony Vegas Pro 7, or its very capable little brother, Sony Vegas Movie Studio 7 (Platinum version). You can get it on ebay for less than $100.

    I also use QuickTime Pro a lot. I’ll convert my uncompressed edited AVI files to 320×240 .mp4 files using the H.264 codec (YouTube converts mp4s quite nicely). QT Pro is great for exporting to different formats (and grabbing individual frames), and is a steal @ under $30.

    BTW: Here’s a related tutorial I did recently just for YouTube newbies:
    How to Upload a Video to YouTube


    PS – nice hat

  2. windows movie maker compresses, actually it’s the only choice you get, to wmv. uploading to youtube or any place convert them auto to flv.

    If you use RIVA (free) you can convert avi to flv and visa versa. I tried uploading both, not much faster show time on any of the sites. flv will also cuts out a lot of the depth to your videos, they never ever look as good as a mov or wmv. If you use photos convert or process in png format, if you have jpgs and gifs convert them to png. if you are making videos start or convert the flvs to avi. There are a lot of programs and converters out there and a bunch come in bits and pieces and parts, I like the whole package, but I’ll use different programs for specialized effects.

    Best to dl a couple different brands and find out what effects you like best. They all run between $50 and $120, most are sharware for 30 days with a watermark or 1 to 5 min conversion time.

    In the end though you’ll want to take anything you make and stick it in movie makers. Best to do this in parts as well, because it locks up often and works you CPUs like a race horse. Make and edit the video and narrative together, process to one file, then reload and add your music, you’ll save a lot of time and crashes. Reboot often.

    alternatives: get a really really good video card and tons of mem.
    better yet: get a MAC!

  3. How to rip youtube vids in IE and FF. PC

    You don’t, if the whole video you are watching downloads they are in these folders no program needed.

    TIP: clean out your temp folders in IE and FF options before you watch, easier to find the video later. Careful not to delete certain cookies, you may have to relog into your account if you do.

    C:\Documents and Settings\your user name\local settings\temporary internet\

    note: sometimes explorer will ask, do you want to open this system folder blah blah, click yes.

    find video by clicking either size or name at the top. highlight copy. past in C:\temp

    note: if the original page in IE is still open windows might not allow you to copy, change name or move until you close or move off the IE page.

    C:\Documents and Settings\username\locals setting\applications\mozilla\firefox\profile\org9…\Cache

    FF has other cache folders as well, you may have to dig a little.

    tricky part – firfox converts everything to a number you’ll have to find it by size, sometimes it’s hit and miss, but don’t worry they are only temp files anyway.

    When you find the file you think is the video right click change the name to whatever you want and add .flv .mov .wma whatever the formate on the original page was.

    i.e.FF file – FA11S13d03 highlight right click rename naltafunny.flv move to the folder you want to store it in. c:\temp

    note: Once you find the right file FF never gives you any trouble renaming or moving a file in use.

    Got an easier way or tips let me know 🙂

    Rip streaming videos is a whole different animal and I hope they make a better easier free program soon.

  4. I film with a Sony hard disk handycam, which uses a useless-without-the-Sony-software mpeg4 (or something codec). I use the totally ugly, totally useless yet totally free Windows Movie Maker 2. Who could possibly do any decent editing using one video layer? I export at highest quality, which is usually below 50Mb for my less than a minute videos. I don’t mind the extra upload time for a better quality video.

    I’d like to see a breakdown of all the freeware video editing, conversion, compression and effects programs that are out there.

  5. @ blindman – that Squidoo story is the best I’ve seen on this Compression business. I’m on Mac imovie and Final Cut Studio and i’ve tried all sorts of Codecs but I keep coming back to H264 and Quicktime .mov. I’m now on a canonHV20 (like nalts) and yes the file sizes are getting out of hand. Time to get a hard drive plugged in as well so I can clear some space for these outrageously big (but beautiful) HDV files. Have a look at our “Win a HDV camera” project under “Wallyworld” Channel at YouTube. I’ve uploaded 10 minutes of HDV footage for people to hack/slash/mash into 3 mins as part of a ploy to get some gear out of a Majot camera Company. Thanks again for that link. Brilliant.

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