Article Focus: With a nearly infinite variety of possibilities to deliver your final project to your client, there are an almost infinite numger of ways to mess it up. Get it right, and the client is happy. Get it wrong, and nobody's happy: the job's not done, and you're not getting paid. No matter what kind of work you do, Creative Cow leader Aharon Rabinowitz tells you everything you need to know about output and media formats before you get to work...and before you can get paid.
What am I talking about here? I’m not talking about choosing between UPS or FedEx, I’m talking about the final format and medium in which you deliver your video to your clients.
This might not seem like such a big deal to you. You may tell yourself, I’ll worry about it when I finish creating everything, but by then it may be too late. If you’re not prepared, there’s a good chance you’ll miss a deadline, and possibly lose a client or a job.
I’m going to deal with 2 issues here:
The Project Specifications that need to be dealt with immediately
Technical Specifications for delivery (QuickTime, DVD-/+R, tape), which aren’t as pressing, but also need to be addressed before delivery.
PART 1 – Project Specifications
What are the technical specs that you need to adhere to for a final product?
Is your video going to be played on a wide screen TV or a standard 4:3 monitor?
Are you working on video for a DVD, or videotape, which have different resolutions and pixel aspect ratios?
Is it for watching in the Untied States, which uses NTSC format, or does the video need to be delivered in PAL, the format used by most other countries, and which not only has a has a completely different resolution, but a different frame rate as well.
If you are dealing with any of these, you also have to work within Title and Action Safe areas.
Title Safe occupies the center 80% of the screen. All things being equal, it’s within this area where you can safely place text and be sure that it will be seen and legible. This of course excludes a really hard to read font or text color.
Action Safe occupies the center 90% of the screen – yes, it overlaps with title safe area, plus it has an additional 10% further out towards the edge of the screen. It’s generally understood in the broadcast industry that It’s within this area that you’re safe to keep any action or animation if you want to make sure gets seen – although in my experience, it’s not always the case. Some TV’s have their images shifted to the right or left a bit and, as a result, some images in the action safe area, get clipped.
Anything placed within the outer 10% of your video composition, will likely be cut off. Most editing and compositing programs provide guides for safe areas, so you shouldn’t have to work blindly.
OK, so that’s all a little off the subject, but the point is, that if you are aiming for a TV of any kind, you need to consider Action and Title Safe areas in your project.
On the other hand, if your final target is going to be video for the web, you don’t actually need to adhere to title and actions safe areas, which can give you a lot more room to play with.
Just as with delivery for television, another important thing to consider is if it the video will be shown in widescreen or on a standard 4:3 monitor. Choosing one completely changes how you approach everything from design to final output.
Now, it’s these factors that must be dealt with before you start on the project. Otherwise you can spend a ton of time working on something, only to have to go back and do it all again later. It’s the kind of issue that can literally make a project cost twice as much as you budgeted for, because you, or the digital video artists working for you, have to spend double the amount of time you originally intended.
So whose responsibility is it to clarify all this?
The truth is, even though your client should know what they want, they may not know what they need to know to make the decision. It’s up to you, as the multimedia professional to make sure your clients understand all the issues so that they can decide what they need.
But one thing is clear. You cannot start the project without taking care of these things first. And there is little or no room to budge on this. You clients have to get this part of their act together before you can really do anything, or you run the risk of ending up with a lot more work than you bargained for.
If you think getting this kind of information from your client is hard, wait until you try to get them to double the project budget because YOU got it wrong.
Technical Specs for Delivery
Whether it's for review or for final delivery, in what format does your client need it?
This is probably the biggest problem area I encounter regularly.
You have to keep something in mind. As a multimedia professional, you probably have a higher-end computer than most of your clients, meaning hardware that’s more up-to-date, and therefore more able to deal with the varying formats that are currently in use, such as DVD+R and Dual Layer DVD’s. In addition, you probably have more video and audio programs and codecs installed on your system as well. That means that while you can watch a particular video format, your client might not be able to.
And really, this issue is 2-fold.
One aspect is software.
The thing is, digital Video is not like digital images. Photoshop as a program is fairly universal across the multimedia industries, so that if you are dealing with a client who regularly works with images and art, it’s usually an option to deliver as a PSD file – but even there you have to worry about what version of Photoshop your client has, just to be sure they can open your files. But, on the other hand, if you run into that problem, a Targa (TGA) or PNG is guaranteed to open on virtually any computer, as are several other image formats.
However with digital video, it’s not that simple. There are so many formats that hardly anything is really universal. When it comes to sending your clients compressed video for review, there are a lot of options – will you use a QuickTime movie, Windows Media, an mpeg, an AVI? Is it compressed? What codec are you using? Animation compression? Sorenson 3? DivX?
Nothing can hold up a project like a client being unable to see your work.
Trying to work out the technical aspects can feel a bit like pulling teeth, but sooner or later, you have to go to the dentist. If you can get these details worked out before a milestone or review date, you’ll be saving yourself from a world of hurt.
That's why it's crucual to find out what your client has on their computer, and what formats your clients are able to work with. If they don’t have QuickTime, what video can they watch? Keep in mind, clients not savvy enough to have QuickTime or DivX on their machine, might not be willing or even know how to install the proper software, even though it seems simple to you. So you really need to work within their framework.
In other words, don’t ever assume that just because a given format is popular, that your client has it on their system. The only way to know for sure is to ask.
But don’t expect a definitive answer, either. There’s a good chance that they won’t know.
And while, ultimately, it’s their responsibility to be able to tell you what they can and can’t use, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to. You may have to do several tests and send them several different formats before you hit the right one. So take the time to plan ahead, and test as much as possible before you have to give them something for review.
If you find yourself dealing with this kind of thing regularly, It might even be worthwhile to come up with a few standardized test CDs with different video formats that you can send clients when you accept a project. This way you can ask them to tell you which video or audio file worked for them, and then keep that in mind for later, when you need to send something for review.
Even better, take the test CD to your client's office and see for yourself what works and what doesn't. You'll do it more quickly than the client, and you'll get the test right.
By the way, there are a number of programs out there that can compress video in several different formats, giving you a lot of options to work with in these situations. Personally, I use Sorenson Squeeze, which does an incredible job of compressing video in formats like QuickTime, Flash, Windows Media, mpeg, and a whole bunch of others too. It does a cleaner, more compact job of this than any non-linear editor out there, and you can even specify a target file size if that’s an issue for you.
For example, maybe your clients can only accept a file in their email with a maximum of 10 MB – Sorenson Squeeze will do its best to compress to that 10 MB size, figuring out where it can cut corners to keep the video quality at it’s best. And since it uses the standard codecs, your clients don’t need any special software if they already have the ability to watch that format on their computer.
Which is why you need to know what your client can see before you begin.
Of course for final delivery, many of the options we talked about aren’t really appropriate. Generally unless you’re specifically making video for the web, you are limited to delivering your final product as either uncompressed video files, Videotape, or a DVD master. But even in this situation, there are several options to consider.
What's the physical medium on which you are delivering your final product? Is it a CD? A video Tape? A DVD?
With tape, there are many possibilities – VHS, Beta, DigiBeta, ¾ inch and more. If you’re going to tape, find out what your client needs. They will need to send it out to another facility for broadcast or duplication, and so, you may need to talk to someone at that facility.
If you are delivering something on CD or Data DVD, always, ALWAYS, make sure to close the disc after putting the files on it. If you leave the session open, there’s an excellent chance that you’re client will not be able to open it.
Finally, if it’s on DVD, then there’s a whole other can of worms to open and deal with. You may not know this, but there are 2 competing popular DVD formats – DVD+R and DVD-R.
For the most part, DVD-Rs are the ones you want to use for making DVD’s that can play in a standard DVD player, or for delivering large files on a data DVD. I’ve read that DVD-R’s are compatible with as much as 93% of DVD players currently in use. On the other hand, DVD+R’s are in popular use, but they are by no means nearly as universal, and unless you know you’re client can definitely read them, stick to DVD-R.
Again, coming up with some test DVD’s, one for each format, might be a good idea, and keep you out of trouble later.
As a side note, you may be wondering why would anyone use DVD+R? Well, for starters, they burn a lot faster than DVD-R’s. You might think that that’s small potatoes, but when you consider how long it can take for a full DVD to burn, start doing the math and you realize you could be waiting as much as twice as long for a DVD-R. That can add up to hours of extra burn time if you have a lot of discs to make. Also, DVD+R’s handle data a lot better, and the system for DVD+R’s is more likely to keep that data in tact during the burn and read process. So if you know you’re client can read a DVD+R, work with those. Personally, that’s how I back up my stuff.
There’s also rewritable DVD’s - these cost more than standard DVD’s and they aren’t as universal. Skip them for delivering to your clients.
Finally, there’s the new Dual-Layer DVD format, which holds twice as much data, but currently they aren’t in popular use yet, even within the multimedia industry. So don’t bother. In a year from now this may change, but for now just use them to back things up.
Make sure everything's there and that it works
You know, I was going to end this here, but I wanted to mention one last aspect of delivery - making sure everything is actually on the disc or tape you hand off, and making sure everything on the media works.
It’s a real pain in the butt, but if you don’t test your files, you’re tempting fate. Don’t run the risk of losing a client to avoid an extra hour of work.
The point I’m trying to make here is that, no matter how good your final product, it’s worth nothing if your client can’t see your work.