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A Quick and Easy Guide to Basic Video Specs for Animated Video

Sometimes it can seem like your video production team is speaking a secret language. You might hear us talk about codecs or FPS and wonder what it all means. This quick and easy guide to basic video specs will introduce you to some of the standard technical specifications you might hear us talking about. These include: file types, codecs, frames per second (FPS), and video dimensions.

These details matter, because getting them right helps your video look great on social media, your website, or wherever else you want to share it. Learning this language can also help you communicate more easily with your video producers to make sure you get a quality video.

Basic Video Specs: File Types

File types or formats are the names for different ways that information is stored in a computer file. Most animated videos are delivered in one of three basic file types: mov, wmv or mp4. You can tell which one yours is by looking at the last few characters of the file name. These are usually written with a period before the letters and numbers. 

For example:

The same video can be delivered in several different file types, sometimes called containers. Each container is designed to fit in different places. 

An .mov is a Quicktime file. Developed by Apple, this is the most common video file type you’ll run into. These containers hold higher-video-quality content, which means they tend to be larger. That makes them ideal for video editing. This format is easy to work with and widely supported, but some Windows-based media players may need a plug-in to display it.

MP4 stands for Moving Pictures Expert Group 4. You may sometimes see it written as MPEG-4 as well. This file type is the international industry standard for video files. As a result, it’s the preferred file type if you plan to host your video on the web. MP4 videos are mobile-friendly and also look great on desktop.

Finally, a .wmv is a Windows Media File. While we can deliver your video in WMV, we’ll caution you that MP4 is the better choice in almost every case. WMV files tend to be smaller, but that often means they’re lower quality as well. 

Letting us know where and how your video will be used helps us pick the right video specs for your project.

Compressing Video With Codecs

We started with the easy one. Chances are good you already knew what a file type was even if you didn’t know which ones were the most popular for video. So let’s move on to one of the video specs you might not have heard of: codecs. What is a codec?

First, understand that video files are big. We have to compress them to make them more manageable. Basically, the information in the file is condensed into a smaller package that gets rid of redundant data. The file is temporarily unplayable in its compressed form.

A codec is the tool we use to compress and decompress video files and the most common codec we use for animated videos is H.264. Small and efficient, this codec is perfect for web videos that need to load fast. The trade-off for that high compression is that you do lose a small amount of data in the process. Graphics get a little fuzzier, but not enough to notice on a computer screen, and certainly not on a mobile device. 

If you want to store your video for archival purposes, or if you need to be able to edit it, you  might need to make different codec choices. That’s one of the many reasons it’s a good idea to let your production team know where and how the video will be shared. 

Basic Video Specs: Frames Per Second

Frames per second (FPS) is just the number of pictures that display in every second of your video. Think of it like a flipbook. Videos are really just a number of still images that flash by really quickly to give the illusion of motion. Each one of these images is called a frame.

If you don’t have enough frames per second, the motion looks jerky and unconvincing. It might sound like the more frames the better, but there’s an upper limit too. The human eye can only take in so many images at once, and more FPS means your file gets larger.

We almost always deliver animations at 24 FPS, the standard for online video media. Televisions generally run at 30 FPS, although you might see some higher rates used for 4K and Ultra HD. This is another case where knowing where your video will be shared can help us deliver the right video specs.

Sound Options: Mono or Stereo

a woman wearing orange headphones watches a video on her mac

Sound is an important element in many videos. Even if you’re working the silent video trend, you might still have music for those who watch with the sound on. In that case we’ll need to consider whether mono or stereo is the right option. 

Mono is recorded on one channel. Stereo is recorded on two, divided into left and right channels. Well-mixed stereo sound can create an aural landscape where different parts of the audio are coming from different parts of the stage. 

You can take multiple channels further by going to 5.1 home theater sound. The 5 refers to five different location speakers: Front left, front center, front right, rear left, and rear right. The “1” refers to a subwoofer channel that reproduces the low frequencies of the soundtrack. This sounds great in a home theater, but it’s overkill for digital web delivery. 

Multiple channels make for bigger file sizes. Choose what you need and nothing more. If your audio is a voice captured by a single-channel microphone, there’s really no reason to make your file stereo.

Audio also has a resolution that affects file size and clarity. Measured in kilohertz or kHz, audio with higher sample rates will deliver higher resolution audio. A good sample rate is usually between 44.1 and 48 kHz. Plan ahead so you deliver the audio experience your audience expects for each platform. 

Video Dimensions and Resolution

Video resolution comes down to how many pixels are contained in each frame of your video. Usually this is written as two numbers, like this: 1280 x 720. 

In the example above, the video dimensions are 1280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall. The shorthand for this is 720p HD. This size is ideal for most web applications and is the most common way we deliver video.

Don’t confuse resolution with aspect ratio. Resolution refers to the number of pixels, aspect ratio is about physical dimensions. Most television and computer monitors use a 16:9 aspect ratio, because they’re longer than they are tall. 

Now that mobile video has taken over the world, many social media sites are favoring vertical formats. Videos on these platforms look best in 9:16 — taller than they are wide. So, once again, you’ll get the best results if you let us know where you plan to share your video. 

Use Video Specs to Your Advantage

By now you should be a little more comfortable with common video specs. We hope you’ve also realized how important it is to discuss your distribution plan from the start. We’re here to help you manage your video project and create a custom animated video that fits all the right specs. If you’re ever confused, just ask, we love talking about video.

Contact us to get started on your next video project. 

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