Five years ago, I attended, as a citizen, my first Technology Board meeting. I had prepared a 5 item technology checklist I thought the Town should be addressing. Some items, the municipal networking/WIFI initiative, a technology assessment, broadening civic engagement online our Council has finally started to move on. Others, like moving to non-proprietary software, open document standards, self-service kiosks, we’re still lagging on.

About a year ago, I began to experiment with using video posted to youTube and googleVideo to cover local issues that were getting short shrift.

One of my first experiments involved covering the local Superior Court race. While I supported two solid candidates – Chuck Anderson and Allen Baddour – for the office, I felt it important to give the wider community the option to see all the folks – Carl, Adam, Allen and Chuck – explain their positions in their own words.


I knew I’d never get that level of coverage from WRAL or NBC17, so I took on the challenge to cover all the forums as best as I could (with the now famous wobbly Will-cam).

Since then, I’ve branched out from my own efforts and began converting existing footage from various sources for redistribution on the Internet.

League of Women Voters Forum Sierra Club Forum

I think my passion for civic engagement and drawing the community into policy discussions explains why no one has asked me “Why do you do it?” Over the year, though, I’ve had a few folks ask me “How do you do that?”

Here’s a quick overview of how I currently convert the DVD’s produced by Chapel Hill and Carrboro into a format suitable for youTube or googleVideo. The same process should apply to most other video formats.


First, a quick comparison of youTube and GoogleVideo (both owned by Google):

youTube

  • superior tools
  • superior interface
  • superior online documentation and assistance
  • posts your content more quickly than googleVideo
  • limited to 100 megabytes or 10 minutes
  • simple URL addressability: http://www.youtube.com/citizenwill

googleVideo

  • terrible interface
  • terrible upload speed
  • multi-phase review process, can take a week to get a video approved
  • loses videos, no service response
  • one redeeming feature – supports long format videos – hours of free video storage

In both cases, you’re leveraging those services disk space, bandwidth and indexing to get the message out.

Both support meta-tagging (“forum”, “chapel hill”, “league of women voters”) to aid in searchability. Both have commenting, embedding, linking and rating.

Both require an account (for instance,CitizenWill).

I use youTube for short format video that I sometimes prep and push within an hour of producing. I reserve googleVideo, because of the hassle factor, for long form videos.

googleVideo technical specifications.

- The video must contain recognizable video content (video container files that do not contain video will not be accepted).
- The frame rate should be above 12 frames per second.
- The bitrate should be above 260 Kbps.
- MPEG4 (mp3 or mp4 audio) at 2 mbps
- MPEG2 (mp3 or mp4 audio) at 5 mbps
- 30 frames per second
- 640×480 resolution
- 4:3 frame
- de-interlace

youTube technical specifications

- recommend encoding directly to MPEG4 (DivX, Xvid, SQV3) at 320×240, MP3 Audio, 30 frames per second

In either case, I currently prepare video using the same process.

Tools:

  • googleVideo Uploader – Multi-platform tool for uploading large videos to Google Video. Recommended over Web interface.
  • youTube – Upload using the Web interface.
  • aviDemux – “is a free video editor designed for simple cutting, filtering and encoding tasks”. Multiplatform. Free and open sourced.
  • VLC – Free, open source, multi-platform video player used to validate conversion of your video.

I prefer using the XVID video codec and the LAME MP3 audio codec for the output conversion. Don’t worry, all the tools I listed already have these formats built-in.

If you have a reasonably fast machine, a Pentium 4 or above, running at least 800mhz, with one (1) gigabyte of RAM and about 1 1/2 times the size of the DVD VOB files you’re converting of free space on your hard drive, you should be set.

Don’t panic if you don’t know what a VOB (video object) file is!

When Chapel Hill or Carrboro’s staff create a DVD of an event, like a Council meeting, they split the combined audio and video stream into discrete chunks 1 gigabyte or less in size (there’s a really old reason for this). Each “chunk” is a VOB file.

Don’t worry, aviDemux knows how to assemble each VOB into one seamless whole – you only have to pick the first piece which is usually named XXX_VOB_1 (as opposed to XXX_VOB_2, the second piece).

Reference this “Howto” from the aviDemux site for full details but if you’re impatient, here’s a quick walk-through:

Crank up aviDemux and open the first VOB file.

- Open->

If aviDemux says it found other VOBs and would you like them to be appended, answer YES. If it asks to index the MPEG stream, answer YES.

Set the video parameters and audio parameters:

- Video->MPEG-4 ASP (Xvid4)
- Video->Configure->Main->Encoding Type->Two Pass, final size
- Video->Configure->Main->Target Size->100 (or less for youTube), 800M (or less for googleVideo)
- Video->Configure->Motion->Motion Search->6-Ultra High

- Audio->MP3 (LAME)
- Audio->Configure->Channel Mode->Stereo
- Audio->Configure->Bitrate mode->ABR
- Audio->Configure->Quality->3
- Audio->Configure->Bitrate->224

Format->AVI

Leave the rest of the options alone.

You can use the slider in aviDemux to select a start and end point for the video clip you wish to produce.

The “A/” mark sets the start. The “B/” mark sets the end.

After setting the length of the clip, all that remains is to “Save” to start the conversion.

Depending on how much horsepower your computer has, how long the video is, etc. the “Save” process will take from 5 to 30 minutes.

Once the “Save” is finished, open the resulting AVI file in your favorite video viewer. I prefer VLC from VideoLan.org.

If the video looks and sounds fine, you are ready to upload your creation to the ‘net.

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