Speaking Good Video -- A Beginner's Guide

Musicvid wrote on 11/13/2016, 7:27 AM

There are a number of new users to the forums who are in the dark about such terms as file extensions and containers, codecs, bitrates, resolution, and the like. As a result, confusion or occasional misunderstanding may occur.

To introduce new users to the basics of video-speak, plus save wear and tear on us oldtimers, I am repeating a little tutorial I wrote seven  years ago, with minor revisions, It is not intended as a comprehensive guide, nor to replace the many fine video editing resources on the internet; however, if it saves a bit of angst for any of us, new or experienced, then repeating the information here will have served a purpose.

Let's Get Started
I am posting this glossary / tutorial for use with the Forum Search feature so you can understand the kind of information you need to provide here in order to solve many kinds of problems.

1) File extensions -- these are the three (or four) alphanumeric characters following the "." in Windows files. They tell you what type of media file it is, but not the CoDecs used. See below.

2) A container file extension,  like .avi or.mpg or .mp4 or .mov or .whatever does not give much information about how your video file was "encoded." To do so, you must also provide a little more information. To do that, see below.

3) If the file opens in Vegas, or in Quicktime, or in Windows Media Player, or in Whatever Player, these programs will possibly provide some information about the CoDecs used to encode the file. Usually, this information is found in the "Media Properties" or "File Information" in these programs. Consult their respective "Help" files and functions for additional information.

4) A more thorough method to provide the file information needed is to download a free media file information utility. There are several, and a convenient one is called MediaInfo (from Sourceforge, be careful not to install unwanted toolbars). Having installed such a utility, you can obtain lots of useful information about your media files that others here will find useful in assisting you to solve your issue.

5) A CODEC, or COmpressor-DECompressor, is a specific method that was used to encode (create) your media files. There is one codec for the video, and one for the audio (if present), both of which are "wrapped" in the container file extension (see above). If you think that providing the file extension alone is enough information, think about that holiday when you were handed a wrapped package and asked to guess what was inside. Enough said about that!

6) The BITRATE is the amount of compressed data used to encode one second of video and audio into your finished movie. For media, it is usually expressed like 6 Mbps or 6000 Kbps (actually the same thing). The higher the bitrate, the better the quality, and the larger the file. A lower bitrate will produce smaller file sizes, but the quality will suffer accordingly. An example would be trying to fit a 4 hour Superbowl game onto a single DVD. It can be done, but many people would find the quality unacceptable. It's a fact of physics that can't be undone. Some video codecs do a better job of preserving quality at low bitrates than others. A good example is the MPEG-2 codec used for making DVDs. A better one is the AVC/h.264 codec used for everything from iPhones to Blu-Ray discs, although you can't use it to make standard DVDs. You cannot make a small video file look better by re-encoding (rendering) it at a higher bitrate.

7a) The RESOLUTION of a video file is a reference to the dimensions (in pixels) of the video file, expressed in the order of Width X Height -- 720x480, 320x240, or 1920x1080 for example. This affects the size and shape of the video image you see on your player, assuming it is set to play back at 1:1 (100%) video size. 640x480 contains four times as much information as 320x240 (not twice as much, refer to 5th grade math). Within the physical limits of your original video and playback monitor or TV, the highest resolution results in the best quality. Once again, you cannot make a small video file look better by re-encoding (rendering) it at a higher resolution.

7b) In addition to native resolution, there is sometimes the issue of ASPECT, where pixels are not perfectly square in order to give a different viewing experience. For instance, your 4:3 DVD and 16:9 Widescreen DVD both have 720x480 resolution, but use a different pixel aspect (PAR), to give the proper display aspect (DAR) for viewing. You can find more detail at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel_aspect_ratio

8) Once you have provided enough information to give others here a reasonable guess as to why the video, audio, or both didn't work in Vegas as you planned for, then you may receive a "suggestion" based on the information you provided to take one or more actions. These may include, but are not limited to:
a) Renaming the file extension to another one that Vegas will recognize with the video and audio codecs in your media file. You do this in Windows Explorer by right-clicking on the file icon, and not by using any "software";
b) Downloading and installing one or more video or audio codecs so that Vegas will recognize your files; or rarely,
c) Rendering your file in a third party utility to a new file that Vegas will recognize. Rendering is not the same as renaming a file extension. Rendering involves a bit-to-bit conversion of one file format to another using another codec, and sometimes takes a long time.

9) Vegas does not act at all like Windows Movie Maker. That is a consumer PHD (Push Here, Dummy) program designed to give you a quick capture and render with virtually no user options or cross-application compatibility. It will give you quick AVI files (often incompatible with Vegas) or compressed WMV files compatible mainly with Windows Media Player. That's about it.

9a) in addition to codecs and containers, there are other things that can prevent your video file from opening correctly in Vegas, or any editing / encoding application. Stream Type is becoming more of an issue as broadcast and satellite TV capture become more common. Where Program Streams play and open almost universally, Transport Streams used for hardware and software capture contain an allowable number of stream errors, which will probably play fine, but are likely to choke your editing application.

Playability in a hardware or software player is not an indicator of the presence or absence of transport stream errors. We generally expect things to play well in VLC or Windows Media -- so really no need to mention it.

But if your broadcast streams are not opening in Vegas, try the trial version of VideoRedo. It "Quickstream Fixes" most problems. I have no interest other than as a registered user.

10) The collective base of knowledge and experience here is staggering. To take full advantage of those resources, you need to provide as much information as possible and be patient. No one here is being paid to help, so you can be sure that we do it for the love of the art. It is not a good idea to provide your personal email or contact information in a post, because this kind of information occasionally gets misused.

AGAIN, if you will post the relevant details about the file (not just "I captured it from my camcorder" or "I downloaded it from the internet"), USUALLY someone with a similar experience will be able to help you.

The other (and often preferable) alternative is to contact Magix Technical Support through the links at the top of this page. Be aware though, that they will "probably" ask you for the same kind of information mentioned previously.

If you really want a PHD solution, and do not wish to provide the kind of information here necessary to lead you to that solution, then the best any of your peers can do is to guess around your problem, and maybe hit upon a lucky guess, and it has happened! Otherwise, despite our reputation, our clairvoyant powers here are no better than anywhere else, and decidedly not worth counting on if this is the first time you have tried the software, and also have a critical assignment or project due tomorrow morning.


vkmast wrote on 11/13/2016, 8:53 AM

Another essential post especially for newer users to bookmark and for others to remember.

Richard Jones wrote on 11/14/2016, 5:41 AM

Well done! I am sure it will be remarkably helpful and only wish something like this had been easily available when I started this game. Thank you.


Richard Jones wrote on 11/14/2016, 5:43 AM

PS. Incidentally, I think this should also be posted in the Pro and DVDA sections as stickies.


set wrote on 11/14/2016, 7:54 AM

PS. Incidentally, I think this should also be posted in the Pro and DVDA sections as stickies.


I have make a link to this article on my tutorial lists - only in Vegas Pro and Movie Studio section.

Musicvid wrote on 2/12/2018, 4:31 PM

Lots of new users here at Magix Vegas, some of whom don't actually own a copy, registered or otherwise.

OK, it's a shameless bump -- please don't spank.

vkmast wrote on 2/12/2018, 4:37 PM

Bumping also set's https://www.vegascreativesoftware.info/us/forum/vegas-pro-tutorials--103245/, which includes a link to this article by Musicvid under "Other Sources".

Musicvid wrote on 2/12/2018, 4:49 PM

Yep, that thread has become such a magnificent resource over these months. Congratulations set!

set wrote on 2/12/2018, 4:55 PM

Hi @Musicvid, you're welcome 😉... Thanks for this article too...

Also thanks @vkmast for bumping my tutorial list 😊

There might be some newer tutorials out there - but I haven't research and update... If anyone may found new updated tutorials - just let me know on that thread..., and will update the list.

chris-h wrote on 1/28/2019, 3:37 AM

I can't believe there are only 6 "Thank You" votes for this post!
Thank you for this and the hundreds of other helpful, informative responses you've already provided.

PC (Windows 10 64Bit)

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Vegas Pro 16 Suite

Steve Grisetti wrote on 1/28/2019, 7:05 AM

Excellent reference, MusicVid!

Musicvid wrote on 1/28/2019, 11:31 AM

Thank you gentlemen.

The original thread on SCS went up in 2009, well before I became a curmudgeon.


Hard to fathom all the codec issues we had back then!

Gary-Vrckovnik wrote on 5/1/2020, 10:23 PM

Just found your tutorial MusicVid while browsing to ramp up my knowledge having just acquired Vegas Pro 17. Very well written and very helpful - thank you very much!!

Musicvid wrote on 5/1/2020, 11:42 PM

You're welcome - the original post from which this one was pulled is now 10 years old!