Video Formats Demystified

By November 27, 2012

When beginning a new video project there are several decisions to be made with regards to format.

Not sure what high definition, frame rates, and aspect ratios are? We’ve got you covered.

What is High Definition?

High definition (HD) just means we will use higher-resolution cameras than what used to be referred to as ‘standard definition’. There are a few variations of high-definition but the two we use are 720p and 1080p.

DVD’s are actually only standard definition and we tend to recommend that our clients stay away from Blu-Ray because of a lack of industry-wide compatibility, but since you can upload video to the web in high-definition you should still have your footage filmed in HD.

We will sometimes film in full 1080p but finish a video in 720p since this will allow us to zoom in on the footage and take advantage of the extra resolution (ie. get a close-up and wide angle from one camera). But if you have a specific requirement for broadcast, or in case where a video uses entirely motion graphics and no footage, 1080p can be used throughout.

What’s a Frame Rate?

You will have two options from which to choose: ‘30 fps’ and ‘24 fps’. This refers to the number of frames per second of video, and essentially results in two different ‘looks’ to the video.

30 fps can be compared to a typical News broadcast. It is what we would consider standard video and is a safe choice, when in doubt.

24 fps, on the other hand, is the frame rate of Hollywood films. It has become very popular since the advent of cheaper cameras than can achieve this frame rate, as it tends to lend the video a more cinematic feel, thereby raising the perceived production value. The effect is entirely subconscious, but very real.

Aspect Ratio What?

Aspect Ratio is literally the width to height ratio of the video image. The two choices are 4:3, and 16:9 or ‘widescreen’.

4:3 is the original standard aspect ratio which you will recognize from older Televisions. This standard had been adopted to match the aspect ratio which had originally been used by the Film industry in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

But Hollywood changed, and eventually created the widescreen format. It may have taken decades for Television manufacturers to catch up, but Widescreen or 16:9 Televisions are now being manufactured and sold in increasingly higher numbers than traditional 4:3 Televisions.

When a 16:9 DVD is played on an older 4:3 Television, the image will simply be ‘letter-boxed’, which means that black bars will be added to the top and bottom. This is done automatically by the DVD player.

By contrast, if a DVD shot in 4:3 is played back on a newer, 16:9 Television, the image will have to be cropped on the top and bottom, stretched horizontally, or will have vertical black bars on the sides which tends to be more distracting.

What We Recommend

For most projects, we recommend having us film in High Definition, in a 16:9 Aspect Ratio, and at 30 fps or at 24 fps if a more cinematic feel is desired.

In cases where we are to incorporate footage into a project which has been previously shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio, at a different frame rate, or perhaps in standard definition, we’ve got a few tricks we can use in post-production.

Contact us to request a consultation to discuss how this might apply to your next project.