Top Technical Things That Confuse Vidders (fan video editors)


DISCLAIMER: PLEASE DO NOT FEEL BAD if you didn’t know about some of these things. We are all learning all of the time. I’m always feeling chagrined when I am reminded of how much I don’t know. Each of us is continually learning.

MOST OF THE THINGS ON THIS LIST ARE THINGS I DID MYSELF AT ONE POINT! And I’ll probably be adding more things to the list as I learn more! LOL. I apologize in advance if I sound a little “naggy” or strident with some of these entries, though. There is still some ignorance and/or resistance out there in  accepting some of these technical issues and I have to admit that it can get on my nerves a bit at times! LOL.

Have you seen certain qualities in so many videos that you assume, “That’s just the way it is”? Well, maybe it isn’t. So many errors/flaws in fanvids are easy to avoid once you know what they are called and know how to fix them. Here’s a partial list in no particular order.

  1. 1.Those weird horizontal “comb-like” lines that show up during scenes with movement or action.

It’s called “interlacing.” It often (but not always) is in NTSC DVDs (not as frequently in PAL DVDs). Not all DVDs have interlacing, so you need to first confirm yours does before you consider doing anything about it. Usually it’s easy to spot, especially when there is more movement on the screen. You may need to scroll more slowly through some portions of a clip (using the right and left arrow keys on your keyboard to go back or forward one frame at a time) to spot the interlacing.

If your footage does NOT have any interlacing, do nothing. However, if you see lines (something they’re thin and “comb-like,” other times they look more blocky), use a DEINTERLACE FILTER as you are processing your DVD footage (converting the ripped DVD to an editable AVI or MOV file). Popular converting apps like MPEG Streamclip, VirtualDubMod and Avidemux all have deinterlacing filters. Here’s a tutorial for deinterlacing in MPEG Streamclip.

  1. 2.ASPECT RATIO (my top pet peeve). Proportion of the video picture differs from the original.

I hope you can see the difference between these three images. Bad aspect ratio can cause your entire video to be distorted like the pictures on the right or left side, instead of looking normal (center image).

Aspect ratio errors are VERY common in fan videos, so DO NOT feel bad if you weren’t aware that it was a problem/didn’t know how to fix it. There are several reasons why these errors occur, but all you need to know is, there’s usually a way to fix it and often it’s easy once you know how. This tutorial should explain a lot of the basics.

Some people struggle for a while to get the aspect ratio correct in their videos, and that’s okay—that’s part of the learning process. However, there will be those who think keeping to the correct aspect ratio is a “matter of opinion” or “up to the individual vidder” or “a personal choice.” These are cop-outs. Deliberately singing off key is a “personal choice” as well, but for most listeners, it’s also an IDIOTIC choice.

I’m not directing my criticism at those who are still a little confused about aspect ratio (as I said, we all are always learning something new). But if anyone thinks that correct aspect ratio is an “optional” thing that they don’t have to worry about, please realize that knowingly messing it up (or not caring enough to fix it) will make some people think you’re clueless or a visual dullard. (Please click on these links to read some interesting discussions of “aspect ratio madness”!) They may not say it to your face, but they’re thinking it. (Again, please note I’m not saying this to those who still struggle with aspect ratio—not everyone has a sharp eye for it right away, but after a while most will start to see it better. But those who refuse to even try to fix it because they don’t think that it matters? They’re wrong.)

  1. 3.Widescreen video in fullscreen frame.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The reason you’re getting the black bars at the top and bottom of your video is probably because when you were setting up your video project, you didn’t set it up properly as “widescreen.” You shouldn’t always stick with your software’s default settings, as they’re usually set for fullscreen. But many movies and shows are widescreen. This tutorial (free forum membership required to view) shows you how to set up your project in most of the popular video apps (iMovie, Sony Vegas, Corel VideosStudio, Premiere Elements, Final Cut, etc). It’s not hard, it’s really, really, not hard. Exception to the rule: If your DVD is the “super widescreen” 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it’s going to have letterbox bars even if you set up your software as widescreen. See this page for an explanation of 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

  1. 4.Getting “blocky” video and overall crappy quality.

No, it doesn’t have to be this way either.

If your video looks blurry, murky or “blocky” on YouTube or elsewhere, there’s probably something you can do on your end to avoid it. Sometimes if you only have downloaded clips, you have to settle for less quality, but usually not this bad.

If you own the DVD, there’s simply no reason for having a poor quality fan video. Using better techniques (and having some extra disk space) can allow your finished, web-ready fan video to have quality that looks almost as good as the DVD.

This tutorial explains more and links to other tutorials.

  1. 5.Software unexpectedly crashing, rejecting some file types. (“Vegas doesn’t ‘like’ AVI files.”)

It’s the codec. It’s the codec. It’s the codec. The type of video files you’re using probably have the wrong codec. A lot of vidders are unaware of this, but those downloaded AVI files (that maybe are 400-500 MB per hour of footage) are unsuitable for editing. Converting your DVD to “some kind of AVI (or MOV, or MP4)” (that is also maybe 400-500 MB per hour of footage) is also problematic. No, your software probably isn’t unstable or buggy. No, editing with more compressed files (like those downloaded AVI or WMV files) is not “normal.” No, I don’t care if all your friends edit with those same files. No, it’s probably not a virus that is causing your software to crash. No, I don’t care if you’ve been doing it for ages and it’s worked okay. That’s what everyone says, until one day it suddenly stops working.

And if you have wondered what causes the overall “blockiness” suddenly appearing in a video, or weird “smears” (example of “smears” circled in screenshot on left) that seemingly randomly occur? That’s also due to unsuitable codecs. Read this tutorial for more information about what codecs are good for editing, and why others aren’t.

If all you have is downloaded AVI files, you can still use them, as long as you convert them to a better codec first. This tutorial for Windows users shows you how to convert XviD/DviX AVI files to an editable codec with VirtualDubMod. Final Cut users can use this MPEG Streamclip tutorial (start following along when the tutorial gets to the heading “Finally, MPEG Streamclip will open the video”). Mac users should have the free codec pack installed in order to get MPEG Streamclip to recognize XviD/DivX AVi files.

  1. 6.Not knowing what codecs/settings to use when exporting a finished video.

When you’re first starting out with video editing, I know it can be confusing. (Been there, done that!) There are a lot of different options for exporting your video, and some of them look good, while others won’t.

This tutorial tries to demystify the export process by describing an easy (and good quality) process that will work in both Mac and PC software. There are also links to other tutorials that you can try.

A few tips I’ll add here are:

  1. a.Not every codec is good for the web. Try DivX/XviD, MPEG-4, or H.264. I personally recommend H.264 (MP4 or MOV) when possible.

  2. b.If you’re compressing your video (to codecs like DivX, H.264 or other) then compress your audio too! Do not choose an audio codec that says it’s “PCM” (that’s uncompressed and way too huge). MPEG-4 and H.264 MP4/MOV files usually use AAC audio (44 kHz or above, 128 kbps or above). DivX and XviD usually use MP3 or MP2 audio (go for MP3 when possible). Same as with AAC—44 kHz or above, 128 kbps or above.

  3. c.Don’t trust your video editor’s default settings for frame size (aspect ratio). To do so usually gives you a squished/squashed aspect ratio. You’re going to have to go into the “custom” settings to manually set up the frame size, or else you can just follow this export tutorial which I linked to above.

  1. 7.Audio of music track is “breaking up” and sounding choppy.

It’s the audio codec. Usually what causes this is you imported an MP3 or AAC file into your video editor and used it as-is. NEVER do this. Convert to WAV (Windows) or AIFF (Mac). Follow this iTunes tutorial for converting your music file to WAV or AIFF. If the audio on your video footage is sounding choppy, please read #5 above. That’s also due to the audio codec.

  1. 8.Confusion about what NTSC and PAL means.

NTSC is a video standard used in North America and Japan. PAL is used most everywhere else, like UK, Australia, and much of Europe. Region 1 DVDs are always NTSC. Region 2 and 4 DVDs are always PAL, and so forth and so on.

The difference between the two standards is this: NTSC DVDs usually have 29.97 frames per second and the DVD files (.vob files) are 720x480 frame size. PAL DVDs have 25 frames per second (fps) and the DVD files (vob files) are 720x576 frame size.

That the frame size is fixed (is always 720x576 or 720x480) confuses a lot of vidders. How can the frame size stay constant if there are two different frame aspect ratios (4:3 fullscreen and 16:9 widescreen) possible in DVDs? Well, each DVD is set up with “flags” (little embedded “messages”) which tell the DVD player to “stretch out” the image so it looks properly widescreen or fullscreen (depending on the desired aspect ratio of the film or show).

Go to “File >> Show Stream Info” in MPEG Streamclip to get more information on your VOB (DVD rip) files. (You need to follow this tutorial to edit/convert DVD rips in MPEG Streamclip and you’ll need a special plug-in to get MPEG Streamclip to open VOB files.)

The numbers circled in pale green show the frame size (720x576). The numbers circled in pink show the aspect ratio (16:9 or widescreen). The number circled in pale blue show the frame rate (25 fps or frames per second).  This is obviously from a PAL DVD.

When you’re setting up your video software (and exporting out your  finished video) it’s good to know what the frame rate and aspect ratio of your original source files. That way you can set up your video project correctly and everything will look better.

When you convert a DVD rip to another format (AVI or MOV) for editing, you may have to resize the clips to a different frame size or else you’ll get aspect ratio errors. (Or you may not—some video types, like DV, do not require resizing.) This tutorial explains one process for converting your DVD to a good quality AVI or MOV.

Exception to the rule: Some DVDs (either PAL or NTSC) can have 24 fps or 23.976 fps. Usually these are DVDs of feature films (Lord of the Rings, Phantom of the Opera). If your editing software does not support 24 or 23.976 fps, just go with 29.97 for NTSC or 25 fps for PAL.

9. Not understanding the differences between codecs (there’s more to it than just saying you’re using a MOV or AVI file).

A MOV or AVI file (or MP4) is a “container.” It can contain various different codecs (or types of compression). When a vidder says that they are using “AVI” files, they are not being very specific. Or when they claim that their software won’t edit AVI files, they probably mean, their software won’t edit a codec contained within the AVI file.

Some codecs are good for sharing online, because they are very compressed and don’t use up a lot of disk space (make for a small file size). DivX/XviD (usually using the AVI container), MPEG-4 (MP4, MOV, or AVI container), WMV and H.264 (MP4 and MOV container) are such codecs/file types.

Other codecs (like DV, Lagarith, MJPEG, ProRes) are larger in file size, but this is not bad, because they are meant for editing in your video software. They’re supposed to be larger in file size. (For technical reasons, this makes them more stable to edit and also makes them better quality.) Codecs like DV and MJPEG can be contained within either the MOV or AVI containers, while other codecs tend to stick with one container. Lagarith has to be in the AVI container, while ProRes usually is MOV.

Also take note of #5 on this page, because it also discusses codecs and why they might be causing problems for your video editing software. Please read this tutorial to learn more about codecs and AVI and MOV files

To find out what codec your video clips have, download GSpot (Windows users) or Mac users open file in Quicktime, go to “Window >> Show Movie Inspector” and the codec will be listed under “Format.” You’ll also get information on frame rate (is the video NTSC or PAL?) and frame size.

More to come! (There always is!)

A companion video tutorial is on YouTube.

Keywords: fan videos, editing, vidding, vidder, codecs, final cut pro, final cut express, sony vegas, sony vegas movie studio, corel, ulead video studio, videostudio, adobe premiere, h.264, h264, XviD, DivX, avi, mov, export, render, interlacing, deinterlace, aspect ratio, quality, video quality.