What is the best video format for home videos

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post on converting old cassette tapes to a digital format. This is part of a bigger series on converting old formats to new digital ones. I’m going to have an article on how to convert old video (on tapes/cine film etc) to a digital format. However before I launched into that article, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss the ideal video format for long term video storage.

Usually, people will just leave their videos in their default format or the format their software recommends (eg, windows users seem to have every video in .wmv format). However the reason so many video formats exist (apart from copyright and license issues) is mainly as they are used for a wide variety of applications. To start with, the first aspect you will need to consider is the quality of your video.

The one thing you don’t want to do is lose some of the video quality by using a bad video format. For example, if you’re in the uk taking home video, it will be PAL, probably wih a resolution of 720×576 (because that’s what PAL is). What you don’t want to do is then save it as VGA WMV, with a resolution of 640×480. What I mean by all this is that you don’t want to degrade the quality of the video. What you’ll find is that high quality video takes up a lot of hard drive space, that’s why video compression exists. You’ll have to find a balance between quality and file size that bes suits your needs. As one last example on quality, you may notice that CCTV pictures are often jerky black and white videos, this is to save space, it requires a lot less memory to store 2 frames per second black and white than 25fps (PAL UK Standard) colour.

Something else you might want to consider when choosing a format is the decode/encode time. With nearly any computer you buy today being capable of decoding full HD video, this is something you probably won’t have to think about, but I’ll go over the principle. The time taken to encode the video is the time your computer will take to save the original video file. The decode time is the time it takes the client (the computer trying to play the video) to show each frame. If you’ve ever tried to run a 1080p video on a 10 year old computer, if it runs at all, you’ll find it’s very jerky because the computer can’t decode the video in time. Just something to bear in mind if you’re publishing your video for mobile or other low-powered devices.

Finally, format lifetime. Think about how people have stored home videos in the past, cine film, VHS tape, miniDV tape, DVDs and now formats on the computer. How many of those formats do you think you will be able to play in 10 years from now? Any Cine projectors would have probably broken by then… either that or the film degraded, I don’t even know if we have a video player any more and last year we upgraded our miniDV camera to an SD card one. The point I’m trying to make is that if you want to preserve your family memories, you’ll need to be on the look out for new formats to store them on. Don’t stick with one forever, times change, technologies become obsolete. You don’t have to go out your way now to make sure all your films are stored on next-gen blue ray disks, just make sure that you’ll have a way to get the content off your last format in time to update it.

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