H.264, WebM, F4V, MP4, HTML5 and the f4vpp.exe

For a few years it was simple; Flash Video in the form of a .flv file was the preferred method of streaming to reach the widest possible audience. Then the H264 codec came along, HTML5 became a hot topic and Apple decided not to support Flash Video any more. Oh dear… it all got complicated and confusing again as the string of numbers and letters in the title of this blog confirms. Follow this link if you want to know more on the subject of The State of HTML5 Video.

So now, once again it’s a battle and we have two major competing formats; H264 and Google’s WebM (using the VP8 codec). Why oh why can’t they give these formats more user friendly names? This week WebM, took a major knockback when Mozilla (creators of the Firefox browser) announced support for H.264, which is now looking increasingly victorious in this latest format war.

Okay, so let’s assume that H.264 prevails and becomes the video compression technology of choice. Aside from concerns about H.264 being encumbered by patent royalty payments against the royalty-free WebM format, what does this really mean in practical terms for people like us who stream video both live and on demand?

Well, H.264 uses the MPEG-4 standard and can equal MPEG-2 quality at around half the data rate and across the entire bandwidth spectrum. So that means it’s great quality and efficient to stream to many different types of device using different speed connections. All good news so far, but there is a problem and it’s this; if you are using Flash Media Live Encoder 3.2 to create H.264 files as many webcasters currently do, then the F4V files created are designed to be streamed and will not play locally and cannot be edited!

Don’t despair; there is a sand wedge available to get us out of this particular bunker. Thanks to our CTO Mark Buckland for being a great Caddy and figuring out how to play this shot and making it as simple as possible! (Apologies for the abrupt jump into a golfing analogy, but it seemed to fit.)

First you have to ‘flatten’ the file using something called the f4v post processor. You can download this from the Adobe website as part of the Flash Media Server Tools. It doesn’t take long for a reasonable size file to process, but it is important to follow the following steps;

  1. Place the f4vpp.exe file in the same directory as the file you need to flatten.

  2. Open a command prompt window, by hitting Start and then type RUN in the search window.

  3. In the box that opens up type cmd.exe to open the Command prompt window.

  4. You now you need to Change Directory to the location where your f4v file (and of course the f4vpp.exe file) are located. If it happens to be a folder called ‘c:capture’, then the command you need to type is ‘cdcapture’.

  5. Next you need to enter the command to start the conversion. It must be typed accurately or the conversion will not work. Note that you cannot cut and paste either. The command is f4vpp.exe –i filename.f4v (where filename is the name of the file you wish to convert).

    Hit enter and the program will generate a new file with an ‘-f’ appended to the name, indicating that it has been flattened. This file can now be played locally.

  6. However, your troubles may not be over yet. These are not straightforward files to edit; if you don’t want it to re render itself completely that is. Often there are time pressures precluding this. The simplest and fastest technique we have found in this case is to first of all to change the file extension to mp4, simply by renaming it. The system will warn you that the file may not be usable afterwards but you can ignore this.

  7. Now you can use a program called Xilisoft Video Cutter 2 to mark the start and end points of the video. Note you can mark multiple video clips by hitting the + symbol and marking more clips. When you are ready hit CUT. The system will prompt for a file name and location for the new files and you can select to ‘keep the original format’ if that is what you want. When you are ready click ‘OK’.

    A new file will be created with ‘–cut’ added to the file name. These are true mp4 files and will play on most devices.

I wonder what challenge will be thrown at us next?

Saving money on foreign transactions

CaxtonFX

Occasionally when I come across a service which just seems to make perfect sense I feel the need to write about it.
When it also offers a way to spend less money on stuff you really don’t want to have to pay for at all, then I feel it is all the more important I share the good news!
CaxtonFX is the provider of one such service and I would like to point out at the outset that I have no connection, affiliation or any other commercial interest in them save for being a happy customer! I also realise this service is not unique, but it is the one I have happened across and works for me. CaxtonFX offer a number of services in the foreign transaction space, but the one I am particularly enamoured with is their online foreign currency payments product.
I have used this to pay a number of suppliers and partners in both the Eurozone and the USA with ease and it is certainly a tool we will be making more use off as our global conference recording and web broadcasting business continues to expand.
In a nutshell this service allows me to easily make foreign currency payments at any time I like at a better exchange rate than the bank offers and for NO additional fee. Compare that to the bank who charge me £17 every time I make such a transaction, which can rack up to a significant amount over time. I know some banks don’t even allow foreign currency payments without a lot of form filling. Not only that, with CaxtonFX I can access the payment system at any time I like; with my bank it has to be between 0830 and 1530 (UK time) Monday to Friday, which if you are dealing with a supplier in a different timezone can delay a payment considerably. The service is very simple to use and I make my payments using a debit card, but I think you can also do a bank transfer.

I got to hear about the service when I met Guy Richardson who is Corporate Sales Manager of Caxton FX at an Eventia evening last year. When he told about what they did I was sceptical and thought there had to be a catch – you know the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is”, or that I wouldn’t be doing enough transactions to be able to access the service. But having used this service a number of times now there really doesn’t seem to be a catch at all. It really is an easy and convenient way for anyone who needs to make foreign currency payments to avoid spending money on stuff you don’t want to! Guy and his team made setting up the account quick and easy and were very available to answer questions the first couple of times I used it.
Thanks CaxtonFX!

Embedding webcasts into Facebook

Live stream embedded in Facebook

As I write this, we are working with our friends at George P Johnson to live webcast the IBM Smarter Business 2011 conference taking place in Oslo. Their clients at IBM have embedded our stream into their Facebook page.

I must admit to thinking it was only possible to embed a live video stream in Facebook using the Livestream plug in. Very encouraging to see this is plainly not the case. I think we will be shamelessly borrowing this technique in the future! Good work IBM!

A little thing that makes a big difference

Forklift

It’s part of daily life for us to be uploading heavy files up to the web. Anything from a 200MB flash video recording of a speech to high definition corporate videos weighing in at a few gigabytes. Not so long ago files of this size would have necessitated physical delivery on a disk or remote drive. For over five years now we’ve been moving this type of file around effortlessly, and in the spirit of sharing a ‘good thing’ I thought the service we’ve been using worthy of a plug here.

That service is called YouSendIt. To date the facilities they provide have been faultless and highly efficient. A number of innovative applications make it readily usable from a number of common software packages and the ability to add branding (paid version) gives the interface a polished and professional look.

My favourite bit is the YouSendIt Express desktop application. Using this, if you lose your Internet connection or have to shut down for some reason, when you connect again the upload will resume from the point of interruption – a great usability bonus!

YouSendIt logo

We tried a few other services before settling on this one, but none of them we found matched up to the all round quality that YouSendIt provides.

Thank you YouSendIt!

[BeThere Global Limited has no commercial interest or connection with YouSendIt – save for paying our monthly subscription that is!]