Friday, July 17, 2009

Video Format War is over. And where's the Adult Industry?

Remember the first Video Format War? VHS won, and it's a common opinion that the adult industry was the decisive force, by flooding the market with VHS releases.

But this time? H.264 aka AVC has become the de facto video codec standard. Most portable players have it, it's the default codec on YouTube, nearly all satellite TV stations are using it, it's the standard for HD camcorders, and most Blu-Ray Discs come with it. Filesharers have started to embrace it as well. And it was suggested as the default codec for the coming HTML 5 specification. H.264 is everywhere.

Everywhere? But where is the adult industry? Well, they are slowly picking up. At least more and more of the larger sites (the ones who offer more than one video format to chose from) are adding H.264 encoded videos. Although a good percentage of those comes as low resolution versions for portables like the iPod. After all, H.264 has become a common format on adult sites. But, in sharp contrast to the other areas, on adult sites WMV still is everywhere, either as the only format offered or as the only high quality format. That situation is a thing of the past.

So we're talking H.264 vs WMV here. On a side note: To prevent members from saving the videos to their harddrives, a few sites only offer so-called "flash video streams" (the proper term is HTTP Progressive Download). That quality usually is even another quantum jump worse than WMV. And looks downright HORRIBLE on 24" display, something people can buy for only a bit more than $200 now.

Why is WMV a thing of the past? A rough explanation: for the quality of a video, the most decisive part is the bitrate it's encoded at, measured in Kbps (kilo bits per second). 1300 Kbps look better than 600 Kbps, 2500 Kbps again look better than 1300 Kbps. Next comes the video codec. Some codecs are better than others - they apply better and more effective tricks to deliver more detail and less graininess. For testing you can take high quality footage and make 2 test encodes, f. ex. at 1100 Kbps. First with a H.264 encoder, then with a WMV3 encoder. Then compare the results.. Even a half-blind will notice that H.264 clearly wins. Easy as that.

Further variables, just to avoid eventual misunderstandings: Such a comparison of course has to be done under fair conditions. I. e. with comparable settings (like 2-pass, advanced profile). Which means that a given codec like H.264 can be applied with different settings - f. ex. a simplified setup in order to save encoding time and/or processing power, resulting in lower quality. In other words, a H.264 clip running at 1100 Kbps can look different, depending on the encoding setup used. Same thing with WMV3 or other codecs. As a summary, your video encoding mainly depends on:

1) - the bitrate

2) - the video codec

3) - the other settings of the encoder

To break things further up - because from here even more confusion derives: A video codec is only a complex set of standardized instructions. And tells per se very little about the file type aka container or file extension of a video. A H.264 encoded video usually comes as .mp4 or .mov, but .avi and various flash video types are around as well. So when you see a .mov video, chances are good that H.264 is inside. But not necessarily. With an .avi file you simply can't tell. Windows Media (.wmv) can be WMV1, WMV2, WMV3 or VC-1, all different codecs. A small software like MediaInfo can show you the details of a given video.

A quick word to VC-1. It is dead! Developed (mainly) by Microsoft it was meant to be H.264's main rival. Its quality comes quite close, but the codec is not well optimized (it makes even fast computers bog down, much more than H.264). And its support in the 'wildlife' is almost zero (like mentioned above). It comes as no surprise that Windows 7 will offer native H.264 support. Very few sites are offering VC-1 - as .wmv - nonetheless. Scoreland is one example - makes me shake my head. Apparently the belief that Microsoft is written over it motivated that choice. An option that has nothing but disadvantages.

So, adult industry! You didn't have anything to do with the last Video Format War. But for how much longer do you want keep sitting in your easy chair, and stay in the grainy and bleached-out looking technological past?

Here's a little sample from browsing GingerBBW's site: Original screen capture in maximum quality DV quality (27,000 Kbps), encoded to comparable 1100 Kbps, H.264 MP4 vs WMV3. Okay, to be fair, WMV looks a bit less 'crass' when you chose one of the pre-defined setups (while H.264 doesn't need such pre-defined settings, it scales seamlessly and you can enter any preferred bitrate). But then again: video stills give very indication about the actual differences of video codecs. Because one of the biggest advantages of H.264 is motion precision, something you see only when the video is actually running. Just run a WMV3 clip that shows boobies bouncing. Notice how DISTORTED that looks? With H.264, that's a thing of the past.

To be continued. Next: playback and best ways to encode H.264 (PC and Mac).


Pornster said...

Uh, oh. You are mistaking flash video streaming with progressive downloads.

Youtube = progressive downloads, meaning the video will be cached in your browser and loaded in advance.

Streaming is different.
The stream can be tunneled and/or encrypted. And it cannot be downloaded without special tools.

Silverlight streaming demo site:

Pornster said...

And flash streaming:

panhype said...

With my comment i had sites like SupathickMami, FeedAFatty or several ones of HardTenEntertainment in mind. These sites indeed are using the YouTube approach (progressive downloads, with the video file temporarily stored on the user's computer). And not a streaming server. In discussions people nonetheless call progressive downloads "streaming" as well. Thus i mentioned it as "so-called" streaming (with the proper term in brackets), simply because i'm trying to reach readers with just basic technical knowledge as well.