Web site chase video saga: Realvideo to Windows Media

Dan Robinson

Thought I'd post this - if you're facing these same issues, this info will hopefully be of some help.

One of the most frustrating issues I have run into with chase video for web site use has been video format. After years of holding off the inevitable, I finally ditched RealVideo in favor of Windows Media. It has been a tremendous task converting almost 130 video clips to Windows Media, but I am finally finished tonight.

For years, I had been using RealVideo (RealPlayer) because it had (and still has) by far, the best quality-to-file size ratio of any encoding format. That is, its video and audio look/sound very good and the file sizes stay low enough for the end user to easily download. This is especially true for storm video, where video quality is essential to show the detail of what is happening. The problem with RealVideo is that a large percentage of web users absolutely loathe RealPlayer because of its obnoxious, pretentious player, annoying 'piggybacked' software packages and alleged spyware problems. Many refuse to use it altogether because of this, and therefore by using RealVideo a web site operator is losing a large percentage of his/her audience. That is what was happening to me, so I had no choice but to switch.

Windows Media, on the other hand, is a universal format. Just about everyone on the web can view WMV files, and the player is very basic and non-intrusive. So, by encoding with Windows Media, you know that most everyone will be able to see your videos with no issues. The problem with Windows Media is that the quality/file size ratio is not nearly as good as RealVideo, and the audio noise/distortion is almost always bad. You'll notice tinny, garbled noise on all but the highest bitrate WMVs. I did extensive experimenting with various encoders and software packages, and to get a Windows Media file to look as good as RealVideo, the WMV file will have to be three to five times the size of the RM at the same frame size.

Many software packages and video editors (like Pinnacle, Premiere, etc) have built-in Windows Media video encoders, but interestingly enough, Windows Movie Maker seems to yield the best quality/file size ratios. I have been simply exporting 320x240 AVIs out of Premiere and converting them to WMVs in Movie Maker with better results than using Premiere's WMV encoder. Of all of the AVI formats, Indeo seems to be the best 'interim' AVI format for conversion to WMV.

If you 1.) have a lot of RealVideo stuff on your site, 2.) if you don't have your original material handy, or 3.) if you don't want to re-capture and re-edit all of your video, there is a software package called "River Past Video Cleaner" that will convert RealVideo files to any other format.


It does batch conversions of multiple files, which in my case was helpful. It runs $30. Due to disk space concerns, I didn't keep all of my old AVIs and didn't want to re-capture and edit - so that $30 price was worth the cost for me with as many videos as I had to convert.

River Past's WMV encoder, like Premiere's and Pinnacle's, is not as efficient as Windows Movie Maker. Acceptable quality WMVs from River Past were six times larger than the original RMs! For instance, 3MB RMs converted to 18MB WMVs! That was not going to work. So, I converted directly to Indeo AVI 320x240 with River Past, then converted these AVIs to WMVs using Windows Movie Maker. River Past's RealVideo to Indeo AVI encoder is VERY slow - it took three full nights (from the time I went to bed to the time I woke up) to convert 100 files. But this is likely far less time than it would have taken to convert these 'by hand' one-by-one! I would have been sitting at the computer for weeks on end twiddling my thumbs watching the progress bar forever.

After all is said and done, my videos took a small hit in quality by going with WMV, and the file sizes are slightly larger. But at least now everyone can see them. Maybe Microsoft should just buy RealNetworks! One thing is for sure, that's the last major format conversion I'm going to do for a LONG time.

One big tip I can offer is this - if you're converting a large number of videos, test-convert a small clip to see if it is going to meet your standards. It's easier to find problems early and adjust beforehand than to re-convert numerous files!