If h.264 was a snake, it would’ve bit me


I’ve been reading and hearing a lot lately about new video products now that NAB is going on. NAB is the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas. I’m always interested in the new camcorders that get introduced. What is gaining in popularity are the h.264/MPEG4 AVC based solid-state memory card cameras. The format that they use is what is known as AVCHD. This relatively new MPEG4 format is being used in a wide variety of ways from DirectTV’s HD compression, to Blu-ray’s new HiDef disc technology, to cell phone video. The advantage of using h.264 (or any of those other names that get used) is that it results in a high quality picture in a smaller file size. For example a video using an MPEG2 format (as in a standard DVD) will require a file that is about twice the size of a file using h.264, at the same quality.

Now you’ve heard me blather on and on about that “other” MPEG4 codec known as DivX. It remains a popular format for online movies (legal, and well, not so legal), and a popular format that is include on many DVD players. Where it hasn’t caught fire is with web video, despite my excitement about it in the past. I had hopes of it being the Yang to Flash (FLV) video’s Yin, but it means a separate plugin to play DivX encoded video. Wouldn’t it be nice if a high quality format could be supported, along with Flash video, in one player/plugin.

Ever since last year, when Adobe announced the beta Flash player that supported not only FLV format, but also h.264, I had this “ideal” situation in the back of my mind. Now, as I’ve been working with video so much in the past few months, I’ve wished for a bit of consolidation. I was almost on to it when I discovered YouTube was encoding a high quality version (h.264) of their standard (FLV) video. I’ve also been wondering what format the “high quality” versions of the Great Lives videos would be, and what format would be used as the “archive” format. Finally, there was the question of how would I implement this on a website? The answer was right there. H.264!

The Jeroen Wijering Flash player is everywhere. Actually, it’s a media player, but it’s referred to as the FLV Media Player. Maybe that’s why it took me so long. It isn’t called the FLV/h.264 Media Player. So how easy was it to use? Well, thanks to Jeroen’s Setup Wizard, it was simple to do some testing. What source material to use, was the next question. How about the best looking video on the web, Apple’s Movie Trailers. I saved the trailers on my hard drive and then uploaded them back to my server, then I plugged the URL of the file into the Wizard. Wow! Gorgeous video! Alright, let’s get this into a blog post right away. So which plugin uses JW’s player? There are plenty including the WordTube and Anarchy plugins, but WordTube isn’t quite what I’m looking for because it is geared toward displaying a playlist of videos, and Anarchy uses the FLV Media Player, but not for h.264. It uses QuickTime. Don’t get me started on the crap that is QuickTime for Windows. No, the best choice for ease of use is the Viper’s Video Quicktags (VVQ). I made one modification to the Javascript code to give fullscreen capability and then produced a post using the FLV button. I filled in the URL to the h.264 video, supplied the width and height, and it was up and lookin’ good. Thanks to Jim Groom, VVQ is working in WordPress Multi-User, allowing anyone at umwblogs.org to take advantage of h.264.

The point here is that the h.264 video acts just like FLV. The file extension can end in .MOV or .MP4, as long as it is an h.264 encoded file, it will work in the FLV Media Player. I even did a test using Hi-Def content (another movie trailer). The file is 1280×544 pixels, weighing in at 85MB, but it does prove the concept. The whole scenario does require that you install the latest Flash Player plugins (version or on your system, but it’s available for PC, Mac, and Linux. Conceptually, if you have a beefy enough system, and a display to go along with it, you can watch videos that are 1920×1080 pixels. On other words, true 1080P HiDef. It’s a breakthrough that’s been around for a little while, but it holds great promise for having Home Theater quality video playing from a little old blog.

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7 Responses

  1. ..it results in a high quality picture in a smaller file size.

    Well, not quite. I think correct way of putting that is that h264 gives smaller filesize at the same quality that of the other codecs, but better quality of picture and about same size of file if bitrate etc. are the same as other codecs’.

    That is, it is not necesserily so that quality is better than mpeg2 etc. and filesize is smaller at the same time, though it could be if proper encoding settings and so forth.

  2. h.264 provides alot of opportunities online. I am having trouble finding editors that support it, however (I use Premiere- they have a plugin, but it costs $250 from another vendor). I think the new Vegas and Roxio edit h.264. Know of any others? Looking forward to trying this out on umwblogs!

  3. So, wordtube was not your thing… but it is mine, That is cool. I need the playlist functionality. would you happen to know off hand if wordtube plays back h.264/mp4 stuff? I am having trouble with it, and was wondering if i am just missing some javascript file, or if the plugin just won’t work.

  4. Chris, I have not tried it myself but I wouldn’t be shocked that it doesn’t support it, based on what the wordtube plugin website says. The player looks to be based on the JW FLV player, so I’m not sure why there isn’t native support. Maybe a note to Alex Rabe, the creator would produce some useful info.

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