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This chapter is from the book

Importing Video

Importing video into Flash is only slightly more involved than importing other media types such as sound or graphics. It really is as easy as selecting File, Import and selecting a video. But just like sound and graphic files, there are different types of video files—each with its respective attributes. In addition, the tasks of making a video look good, play well, and download quickly can all be involved. The first step—always—is concentrating on your source video.

Making Video Look Good

We'll look at specific format types in a minute, but it's worth noting that the entire creation process for video involves many specialties. Even if you don't employ a Hollywood crew, you will always have the responsibilities of sound engineer, camera operator, casting agent, writer, and so on. Also, technical issues such as background noise, camera shake, and lighting all affect the final outcome. There's not enough room in this book to teach you everything about video making. Just consider learning about traditional movie making.

When selecting or creating videos, there are a few considerations specific to video on the computer. The entire "viewing experience" is much different on a computer than in your living room. The following tips come down to the fact that video on the computer has restrictions. (Additionally, there are other issues related to compression discussed later this hour.)

As far as video content is concerned, refrain from using many fine details such as small text—it can become illegible in a small video window. Changing viewpoints and camera angles (such as going from close up to far away) is always good—just be aware of details that may be difficult to see on a small screen. Also be conservative with special effects; everything has a "price"—be it lower performance, large files that download slowly, or gratuitous effects that become tiresome. Although the limits of computer videos may appear restrictive, they are really just challenges to overcome. In some ways, the restrictions of regular TV are removed. For example, you can use nearly any aspect ratio (that is, the shape—wide or narrow). You can even mask the video to make any shape you want as Figure 17.1 shows.

Figure 17.1 Despite computer video's restrictions, you can do cool stuff such as change the viewing window's shape.

Supported Formats

Flash supports video in that you can import source digital video footage, compress it (so that the files aren't huge), use the video in your Flash movie, and then export as a .swf file to post on your Web site. Notice that you always must start with a source video. In addition, it must be a digital file saved on your computer. For example, if all you have is a videotape, you'll need to digitize it first. This involves video capture hardware, which basically records the analog video into the computer's hard disk. However, if your source video is already in a digital format (such as a mini DV video camera), making a digital copy on the computer takes little more than a cord to connect the camera to the computer (naturally, this is also a piece of hardware). Finally, although your favorite movie on DVD is in fact already saved as a digital file, you'll find it next to impossible to convert this to a digital file that Flash will import (besides the fact that you'd likely have to break serious copyright laws).

There's much more to say about the way you create high-quality digital video files on the computer. However you do it, you must create one of the following digital file formats:

  • QuickTime (.mov)

  • Digital Video (.dv or .dvi)

  • MPEG (.mpg or .mpeg)

  • Windows Media (.asf or .wmv)

  • Video for Windows (.avi)

NOTE

It's possible that your system configuration won't list this many digital video formats. To increase the types of video your computer will support, install QuickTime 4 or later (from http://www.quicktime.com). Additionally, if you're on Windows, be sure to install DirectX 7 or later (http://www.microsoft.com/directx/). Direct X 8.1 is preinstalled on Windows XP.

Although the list of video formats is relatively long, you'll probably only use one of the first three. Although each format has its unique purpose, when it comes to importing video into Flash, you always want to start with the highest quality source. That's because Flash always compresses the video (a little or a lot—but always some). Video is like images in that quality degrades when you compress a file that's already compressed. Unfortunately, true uncompressed video files will be huge. In practice, a video that's only slightly compressed will still be high in quality but not nearly as big.

Professionals creating source digital video files should have no trouble creating a QuickTime with little or no compression. Also, if you're copying video directly from a digital video camera, you can use one of the DV formats. Many cameras will let you save a QuickTime video alternatively. Although MPEG can be high quality, there are actually several versions, so you'll have to test your entire system to make sure that it works for your needs. I suspect that many MPEGs you'll find have already been compressed, so you really should find a higher quality original. The same can be said for Windows Media. I think you'll be hard-pressed to find non-compressed high-quality .asf or .wmv files. Finally, Video for Windows (.avi) files are simply not as good as QuickTime. They're old technology. (This isn't to say that you can't make a decent .avi, but just that you'll do better with QuickTime.)

Don't let this section sound like a rule book for how you should progress. Basically, you just want to start with the highest quality original.

NOTE

If you haven't already, you should definitely download and install QuickTime from http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/ (for the exercises in this book, you can use the free player). QuickTime is arguably the best product Apple has ever created. The fact QuickTime offers such high-quality digital video (for both Macintosh and Windows) is the reason that most new movie previews are available in QuickTime.

Task: Import a Video

In this task, you will import a QuickTime video into your Flash movie. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. To make this go quickly, we'll just use the sample movie that comes with QuickTime. Start a new Flash movie and select File, Import. Select the file sample.mov, which is located in the QuickTime folder (inside Program Files/QuickTime).

  2. The first of three dialog boxes that appear asks whether you want to link or embed the video (see Figure 17.2). You only see this option when importing the QuickTime video format because linking to an external video works only with QuickTime. More important, linking is an option only when you plan to distribute a QuickTime video—not an .swf file. This is slightly confusing because Flash can produce QuickTime videos that only play in the QuickTime player. We'll touch on this again in Hour 24, "Publishing Your Creation," (because, after all, QuickTime is a publishing option). Anyway, for this exercise, select the embed option.

Figure 17.2 When importing QuickTime, the option to link (not embed) is used only when you plan to export QuickTime videos.

  1. The next dialog box that appears includes Flash's built-in settings for Sorenson Spark compression (a proprietary technology included with Flash). The selections you make in this dialog box affect the ensuing process that's about to occur. The process is select a video to import, choose the compression settings, let Flash compress the video, and then use the video in your Flash timeline. The settings you make here are comparable to the settings you make for imported raster images; however, in this case, compression happens first, and you can't change the settings (where in the case of graphics you can keep clicking the Library's Test button after every change). After all this talk, just leave all the defaults—make sure that Quality is 100 and that the Synchronize Video... check box is selected as in Figure 17.3; then click OK.

  2. The final dialog box appears to ask whether you want to extend the current timeline to 61 frames (the length of the video). Click Yes.

Figure 17.3 The choices for Sorenson Spark compression appear once upon importing a video.

  1. At this point, you'll be back in Flash with the movie you just imported on the Stage. (The first frame of this particular movie is white, so you might move the red current frame marker out past frame 20 or so.)

  2. That's about it! You need to test the movie to hear the audio play.

If that's all you wanted (a video inside Flash), you could stop there. You could use the Info or Align panels to move the movie to the top-left corner and then set the document properties to the same size as the video. Just click the video to see its coordinates in the Properties panel; then click the Stage, click the Size button, and change the document properties to match the movie size (190x240 in this case). However, if all you wanted was a video inside Flash with nothing else, I'd suggest you consider simply using QuickTime instead.

Anyway, I hope you want to do more than just watch a video inside Flash. So much more is possible, and you'll see some of it next.

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