Risky QuickTime? Safety QuickTime!

by Chris Adamson

The nice people at AN Entertainment recently released an entire episode of their upcoming anime comedy series Risky Safety in QuickTime format.

The show, about an angel and a death-spirit (a shinigami) sharing the same tiny body and competing to help/hurt a sad girl, looks very funny and very cute.

But, and this is not meant to slam, you can make your QuickTime movies much nicer for end-users than this. In fact, this is a really good example of several things not to do:

Don't zip QuickTime

Most video files are going to employ heavy compression already; such is the nature of modern video codecs. That's why they work. So trying to apply lossless compression like zip to a QuickTime movie is usually a waste of time. In this case, the 26.8 MB QuickTime file is still 26.2 MB when zipped... about a 2% savings. Why make users unzip for that?

Offer multiple sizes

26.2 MB for a 10-minute movie is fine by me, but I have DSL. A dial-up user wouldn't stand a chance. With QuickTime Pro, exporting to a smaller size, appropriate for modem users, is easy to do with the QuickTime Player's "Export" menu item - when you choose to export "Movie to QuickTime Movie", one of the "Settings" presets is "Modem". Easy!

Another option would be to stream the video in multiple sizes, rather than offer downloads. Granted, this involves getting set up with a streaming server, so it's a lot more work.

Download or plug-in

Why break up the browser experience? The QuickTime plug-in lets you embed QT content in web pages

Sub? Dub? Whatever!

The US anime companies have embraced the DVD because it saved them from having to release two tapes of every title - one dubbed into English, the other with original Japanese audio and English subtitles. With DVD, both can be accomodated with one DVD, allowing users to select the audio and captioning they want.

But the Risky Safety downloads offer you one or the other... it's like being back in VHS!

It doesn't have to be. QuickTime has had multiple audio tracks since long before most people had heard of DVD's. In fact, if you download both the dubbed and subtitled movies, you can combine them into one movie with QT Player:

  1. Open the dubbed movie
  2. Open the subtitled movie
  3. Do an "extract track" on the subtitled movie, choose "sound track". It opens in a new movie window
  4. Select-all from this new movie and copy
  5. Back in the dubbed movie, do an "add" (not paste!). Your movie now has two audio tracks. Hit play and you'll hear English and Japanese simultaneously.
  6. Use "enable tracks..." to turn off one or the other
  7. With "view properties", you can change the names of the sound tracks to "english track" and "japanese track"

Now the user can just enable whichever audio track they like - and if the movie is embeded in a web page, the audio track enable/disable can be handled with JavaScript and LiveConnect on browsers that support it.

Putting both soundtracks in the same movie pushes the size up to about 30MB... not bad considering we're eliminating a whole second download.

Consider client-side captioning

What about the captions? Again, this is something that on the DVD would be turned on or off as an overlay by the user. With the download, they've turned on the captions and then compressed the video. Because most video codecs are lossy, the captions are somewhat distorted in the process:


This could be averted by adding a text track, and letting QuickTime handle the captioning.

Here's a text file to caption the first 10 seconds of the show... which are a curious warning to watch TV with the lights on (apparently a boiler-plate warning on many anime shows ever since the whole Pokemon seizure incident). These use a Text Descriptor format that QuickTime supports:

{QTtext} {font:Geneva} {bold} {size:12} {anti-alias: true}
{timeScale:30} {width:320} {height:40} {timeStamps:absolute}
{language:0} {textColor:65535, 65535, 0} {backcolor: 0, 0, 0}

I have a warning for all
you viewers out there
When watching television it's
best to leave the lights on

Ah ha! Tokyo Tower!


This allows QuickTime to render the captions on top of the video, no compression artifacts involved:


And instead of doing the captions by hand like this, you might consider using a tool like WGBH's Magpie to do them for you (thanks to Andrew Kirkpatrick for the tip!)

BTW, getting the overlay nice and transparent took a few steps in the properties dialog... ask in the talkback if you can't figure it out.

Think about your choice of codecs

The Risky Safety movies are in QuickTime format, with Sorenson Video 3 and MPEG-4 audio. This is a somewhat dubious choice because it can only be played by QuickTime 6. Earlier versions of QuickTime won't be able to handle the MPEG-4 audio (QDesign Music would be more compatible with earlier QuickTime versions), and other players that can handle the QT file format, especially those on non-Mac/Win platforms, may not be able to handle the proprietary Sorenson video codec. Granted, Sorenson is a really nice video codec, and QuickTime's MPEG-4 video encoder isn't the best (compressionist Ben Waggoner actually says it's the worst), but great MPEG-4 video could be had with encoders from Sorenson or Envivo.

Think about your choice of formats

If the goal is to be seen, maybe it would be better to make a full-blown, standards-compliant MPEG-4 file, which could be played not only by QuickTime, but also by DivX, vlc, IBM's all-Java MPEG-4 toolkit, and other applications on various platforms. An MPEG-1 would be another valid choice - though the video and sound wouldn't be as good (at least not at the same bitrate), there are lots of apps that can play MPEG-1. Granted, both of these choices may sacrifice some of the niceties described above - when I exported my multi-lingual, captioned movie to MPEG-4, the captions apparently got burned into the video and the soundtracks got mixed into one audio track.

But really, chill

Really, I don't mean to hassle. It's great that AN has put an entire epsiode on the web for fans to check out (and it'll be greater still if they don't send me a cease-and-desist for using small crops of two frames of the video in this weblog). My point is just that if you take a little time to learn the vast expanse of QuickTime's toolset, you can either make more clever movies for your QuickTime users, or make movies that an even larger user community can enjoy.

Does this make the QuickTime experience better for users, or am I just being mean?


2003-06-12 08:34:32
Great points!

Thanks Chris for posting this. There are lots of good reminders here for QT authors -- including me!

-Derrick (via VisorPhone)

2003-06-12 15:14:50
Why zip
In a download, not streaming, situation it makes sense to zip a large movie even if the savings are minimal. I imagine a free movie like this is extremely popular and over the course of several thousand downloads that 2% adds up saving someone a bunch of money on their bandwidth bill. Even the "Lord of the Rings" trailers are zipped for download, I assume for this very reason.
2003-08-18 15:11:09
Captioning media
You might like too to check out Captionkit (www.captionkit.com) for subtitling web media - it handles real player, windows media and quicktime natively, allowing you to subtitle and index video before publishing it to the web.

You can also pull down the published subtitles for use on your own website, or get a text transcript.

Running in IE5.5/6, and loading your video into the webpage while you caption it, the captioning tool is a 75k download : Its an XML application so it needs at least those browser versions to work ;-)

Hope that helps
Cheers - Neil Smith.

2003-10-27 11:03:11
Why zip
Actually we did this too, and the reason is that it's the best way to get all the browsers to download the file. Otherwise they play in the browser, but the user is unable to select "Save as...". This is ridiculous I know, but it was the only way to get downloading to work across all browsers on windows and mac.