Apple is trying to force a defacto ‘standard’ for audio and video files on computers users, Mac and Windows.
So far, that strategy is working well enough but the confusing variety of audio and video file formats is still there, ready to bite if you’re not careful.
Confusing? I’ve yet to meet anyone who fully understood all the various file formats and settings available in QuickTime. Adrian Monk would say, ‘It’s a jungle out there.’ Or, Randy Newman would say it in Monk’s behalf.
I’ve never seen a more bewildering array of options when saving or exporting audio and video files. Seriously. And I’ve been doing audio and video on my Mac for nearly 20 years. It’s not pretty.
For example, let’s say you have a movie playing in QuickTime player (whether a home movie or one pulled from the internet). Click Save As and your choices are slim and easy.
Click Export and you have more choices than the Jolly Green Giant has beans. Click the Options button and the choices seem to expand exponentially, which is a big word for a lot more.
Each of those choices even has choices.
Obviously, Apple is trying to simplify the audio and video file format mess by adopting as many ‘standards’ as possible, then limiting the choices to the two they like best. The world would be a better place if everyone recognized Apple’s big brotherhood posture and simply followed along.
For video, Apple seems to have developed a good relationship with H.264, which is a high definition video version of MPEG-4. File sizes are small, resolution is good, and it’s already built into QuickTime (as is everything else including, I’m sure, tin cans, strings, and smoke signals).
Because QuickTime is so ubiquitous these days, even Windows users have the ability to manage popular video formats despite the fact that Microsoft prefers to use their proprietary formats instead.
So, for video, the defacto standards are Window Media Video, and now, H.264, with a bunch of MPEG this or that thrown out there and still surviving.
The world of audio isn’t much different. The MP3 audio format has been around awhile and isn’t likely to go away, despite so many other audio formats with better quality. That said, Apple settled on AAC for music from the iTunes Store.
AAC is known as the Advanced Audio Coding format, which is simply a successor to MP3. Think of it as MP4 and you’re OK. Contrary to popular belief, AAC is NOT Apple’s proprietary audio format.
So, for audio, the defacto standards are Windows Media Audio, AAC, and MP3, with a bunch of other better and worse file formats here and there.
Confused? That’s as simple as it’s going to get for awhile, and Apple should be commended for adopting the MPEG-4 video and standards and making both prominent. Microsoft would not do the same.
What can you do if you want to take a video or audio file and put it someplace else besides your Mac, like email it, stick it into a web site, park it on your iPod or iPhone? Again, the choices are many and if you start looking for answers you’ll find even more.
Both will take files in one format and convert them to files of another format. For video, if you have a DVD and want to convert it to fit on your iPhone, VisualHub does the trick quickly, and easily, so long as you don’t select the Advanced button.
Ditto for AudialHub. Converting from one audio file format to another is made somewhat painless. Select your files, select the format you want, click.
AudioHub even supports some of the less popular audio formats such as Ogg Vorbis, FLAC and does the standards of WAV, AIFF, MP3, AAC, and Windows Media Audio.
Audio conversion doesn’t take long. Video conversion can take freakin’ forever, so start the converting before lunch or bedtime or go out to a movie.
There are plenty of other audio and video file converters available for Mac users, including Apple’s own QuickTime. The reason to convert a video is easy to understand. Take a big movie file and make it smaller for your iPod or iPhone, or to fit onto a CD.
Why would you want to convert audio? I don’t do it often, and usually so a particular audio file will play on a friend or family member’s computer without them mucking around trying to figure out why it won’t.
Otherwise, converting an blah lah quality MP3 to the well respected Ogg Vorbis audio format won’t make it sound any better. Likewise, taking an Apple Lossless format and converting it to MP3 will make it sound worse, though you may not know it unless you’re Vulcan.
It’s a jungle out there. Thanks to Apple it’s easier to know what file formats to use (at least, for most of us) AAC for audio, and MPEG-4 – H.264 for video. Everything else is either proprietary to Windows or just an exercise.