Here are six different ways to reduce visible compression on video uploads. Follow these tips to keep your videos looking sharp.
Have you ever edited an awesome video and rushed to upload it online, but then it looks . . . smudgy? You’re not alone. This happens all the time with video platforms, and it’s a direct result of transcoding. This often results in smudgy or blocky “artifacts” in your uploaded video.
So how do you avoid it? Let’s take a look.
Transcoding and Compressed Video Codecs
Regardless which video platform you upload to (YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), they’re all going to transcode and compress your uploaded video. This is unavoidable, but it’s also necessary to ensure your video plays back smoothly online.
However, this compression will cause a quality loss in your footage. Your subject matter will determine how visible the compression is — such as fast-moving objects, for example. (You’ve probably seen footage of confetti falling in a video that quickly turns into a blocky mess. This is because the compressed video codec can’t efficiently process all the random movements.) This video from Tom Scott is a great resource if you want to learn more about the effects of compression on video.
Reducing Visible Compression in Videos
Since the actual subject of every video is going to be different, there is no perfect science here; however, there are some steps you can take to reduce the visible compression in your videos. And notice I stated visible compression — because the actual compression is still unavoidable. Some of these tips involve how you shoot a video, others on how you edit it in post, and (lastly) how you export and upload the video online. And obviously, you won’t be able to use all of these tips on every project, but keeping them in mind should help improve your results — for whichever video platform you use. (Looking at you, Instagram and Twitter.)
Filming in Slow Motion
The first shooting tip we can use to reduce visible compression is filming in slow motion. (If your camera doesn’t have a dedicated slow motion mode, you can try shooting at 60fps, then slowing it down in post.) Now, you might ask, “Why does slow motion reduce visible compression?” Without getting too technical, the simple answer is that it reduces any drastic change from one frame to the next. Because of the slow movement, the compressed codec can recycle more pixels from one frame to the next, resulting in better detail overall. Fast motion and compressed codecs don’t mix well. And they can quickly turn videos into a blocky mess.
Filming with a Shallow Depth of Field
The next shooting tip involves shooting with a shallow depth of field. Not only will a shallow depth of field help isolate your subject, it will also be more forgiving to the overall image during compression. This is because the background detail, similar to slow motion video, usually won’t be changing drastically from one frame to the next. The compressed codec can focus more data bits on the in-focus portion of the video, which, in turn, will preserve more detail. And even though the out-of-focus areas in a shallow depth shot will be heavily compressed, there is no fine detail there anyway, so the compression won’t be as visible.
Avoid Uploading Flat Footage
Moving on to post-production, avoid uploading flat footage. When you upload your video, that compression codec is going to look for details in your scene to preserve. Contrast and saturation are going to help the codec preserve different elements of your scene. This is also the reason a lot of dark or nighttime footage doesn’t look good online. In most night scenes, there isn’t a lot of contrast or saturation. So everything tends to take on a muddy appearance.
Daytime footage naturally has more contrast and saturation, but if you upload your video with an overly flat color grade, you can still get the muddy artifacts on daytime footage.
Prevent Color Banding
The next post-production tip is preventing color banding. This is more common in motion graphics, usually those with gradient backgrounds. But it can also occur in video footage — usually with a blue sky or walls that might be monochromatic. The easiest way to break up this banding is by adding a bit of noise to those scenes. You can use the Noise effect in After Effects or Premiere Pro, set it around 2 to 8 percent, and leave it on the Use Color Noise setting.
Upload a High Bitrate Video
Moving on to export tips, upload a high bitrate video. If image quality is your number one priority, start by uploading a high bitrate video — usually with a codec like ProRes, DNxHD, or Photo-JPEG. And yes, the video file is going to be large and take longer to upload. But, if you’re highly compressing your video before uploading, you’re just going to subject your video to more detail loss when it gets transcoded.
You can still upload video with an H.264 codec. If you go that route, just increase the encoding bitrate. The minimum bitrate I would recommend is 20Mbps, but I typically recommend 50Mbps or higher for H.264 encoded videos.
Export and Upload Your Video in 4K
Finally, export and upload your video in 4K. Try this even if your video isn’t 4K. Let me explain. More and more, video platforms compress 4K videos differently than other videos. This is because viewers expect 4K videos to be better quality. For example, when a 4K video gets uploaded to YouTube, YouTube will compress that video with a different codec than most other videos.
Most user videos on YouTube get transcoded into a codec called MPEG-4 AVC. However, 4K videos will get transcoded into a newer codec called VP9. The VP9 codec can yield much better results, even during video playback at only HD settings. By uploading in 4K, you’re prompting YouTube to use the VP9 codec instead of AVC. You can check the codec of your uploaded video by right-clicking on it, and selecting “Stats for nerds.”
Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?
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