I've been trying to get the hang of working in video and to join the YouTube generation. One of the things I've been trying to figure out is what is the best source format for videos to post.
As a preface, let me say that my home movies are shot in super-short clips on my Kodak point-and-shoot digital camera (or something comparable from a friend or family member) or from my Sony HandCam Digital8 (tape) video camera.
I do most of my conversions using Quicktime Pro because it is easy to use and doesn't cost too much. The comments below are based on using Quicktime Pro. I also sometimes use Adobe Premier but will cover that in a later post.
AVI format - If possible, this seems to be the best source format to use. For my source material, AVI format is the highest fidelity (resolution, frame rate, color depth, etc.) source format available... and so it makes sense that the AVI source format videos I post to YouTube look the best.
AVI format material is a realistic source format.... for me at least. Most of the point-and-shoot cameras I use save (or can be configured to save) their short clips in AVI format. When I read the content off my video camera tapes, they are by default are in AVI format.
The primary downside of AVI is that it takes up lots of space. On some of the point-and-shoot cameras I use, if you use AVI, it eats up the space on the camera really fast. YouTube also has a file-size limit when using the default file uploader and AVI segments from my video camera exceed that limit... so I have to use the alternative YouTube uploader.
QuickTime format (MOV). As you'd expect Quicktime Pro easily converts AVI files to Quicktime (mov) format. There are two default profiles - "Broadband" and "LAN". For a 31mg AVI source file, the LAN file will be about 2mg and the Broadband file will be about 1mg - a huge size reduction. Both produce nice results when uploaded/converted to YouTube . The LAN profile produces a file with modest degradation in video quality (from AVI) and the Broadband profile just a bit more. For me the "sweat spot" in the AVI-to-MOV conversion is the LAN profile. The only downside for these profiles is that Quicktime isn't a universally recognized format. Anyone with Quicktime (or iTunes) can use this but it isn't accessible for most users of Windows Media Player, Zune, etc.
MPEG formats (MP4). Quicktime Pro has two "MPEG" profiles - "LAN" and "BroadBand". Both produce files that look fine when viewed on my computer but look really bad when converted on YouTube. Since the video quality is soooooooo poor, I don't use either of these profiles.
Apple TV, iPod and iPhone MPEG formats (M4V). Quicktime Pro also has profiles intended to convert source content into video file for various Apple devices. For a 31mg source AVI file the Apple TV file is about 3mg, the iPod file is about 2mg and the iPhone file is about 1mg. I originally assumed the larger Apple TV file would result in a higher quality image on YouTube - I was wrong. The image quality is pretty poor - about the same as the MP4 MPEG files. The iPod and iPhone files look pretty good - about the same as the Quicktime files. The big advantage for the iPod/iPhone MPEG files over Quicktime format is that the MPEG files can be read/used by Windows Media Player, Zune, and other media players.
Conclusion. For me, where file sizes permit, I stick to AVI and use this as a source format for my YouTube videos. When I need/want a smaller file size to post or need a file in a format that will also be used by media players (iTunes, Zune, etc.), then I use the iPod MPEG M4V format.