Ideal Formats for Video Playback

Ideal Formats for Video Playback

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How-To by Jim Carter: IT Specialist 
Talking about video formats can be overwhelming, and there are many options to choose from. We would like to take a moment and give you the best options for playing back digital video at your next event. Below are some guidelines you can follow to have the most success with your videos when it comes time to play them back on show site.


Before delving into specifics, lets talk briefly about HD. High-definition video is video of higher resolution and quality than standard-definition. While there is no standardized meaning for high-definition, generally any video image with more than 480 horizontal lines (North America) or 576 lines (Europe) is considered high-definition. A 720 scan line is generally the minimum, even though many systems greatly exceed that. The number of lines in the vertical display resolution High-definition television (HDTV) resolution is 1,080 or 720 lines. In contrast, regular digital television (DTV) is 480 lines. (2014, Wikipedia)

Common high-definition video modes

Video mode Frame size in pixels (W×H) Pixels per image1 Scanning type Frame rate (Hz)
720p 1,280×720 921,600 Progressive 23.976, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60, 72
1080i 1,920×1,080 2,073,600 Interlaced 25 (50 fields/s), 29.97 (59.94 fields/s), 30 (60 fields/s)
1080p 1,920×1,080 2,073,600 Progressive 24 (23.976), 25, 30 (29.97), 50, 60 (59.94)


Emerging HD technology pushes the standards even higher:


Ultra high-definition video modes

Video mode Frame size in pixels (W×H) Pixels per image1 Scanning type Frame rate (Hz)
2000p 2,048×1,536 3,145,728 Progressive 24
2160p 3,840×2,160 8,294,400 Progressive 60, 120
2540p 4,520×2,540 11,480,800 Progressive
4000p 4,096×3,072 12,582,912 Progressive
4320p 7,680×4,320 33,177,600 Progressive 60, 120

(2014, Wikipedia)

For the purposes of this blog, we will focus only on the information pertinent to playing back video using our standard equipment. Alford Media has a responsibility to KISS it for our customers. Keep It Simple…you know the rest! It’s part of the reason you hire Alford—to handle the technical issues. Alford’s video playback is primarily handled in a Mac environment, which helps us keep it simple. Our Video Department head, Bill Brady, recommends our clients use the following formats when creating show content for playback.


• Pro Res 422 – a Quicktime Codec that has a few variations but maintains very high quality. ProRes 422 HQ employs a data rate of around 250 MB/sec, but file size can become very large. ProRes422LT creates a smaller file size, with data rates around 80 MB/sec. Standard ProRes 422 employs data rates around 100-150 MB/sec, creates manageable file sizes, and performs on par with the larger ProRes 422HQ format.  The file type that is used determines ProRes bit rates.  This includes all .MOV, .MP4, and .M4V files.
• H264 – a more compressed Quicktime Codec, is also recommended with a few caveats. For HD in H264, data rates need to exceed 10 MB/sec. As an example, YouTube’s data rate runs at about 3-4 MB/second. Alford aims higher than YouTube quality playback, for purposes of our shows. H264 files with data rates lower than 10 MB/sec. are acceptable, but not ideal.
• DiVx. and AVI files – These codecs are acceptable as well, though .AVI is a Windows based Codec that is not preferred, due to the fact that .AVI files can come in many different forms, and may need conversion to properly play back.


There are other file types that should be avoided for playback using Alford’s standard playback systems. For example, WMV  files are Windows based, require converting software, and the conversion can be time-consuming. Other files types such as .MPEG, .MXF,  DVD, and .VOB formats are hit or miss regarding playback, and may also require lengthy conversion, depending on file size.
24 frames per second, or cinema files, which are recorded at 23.9 Hz, are playable, but may suffer data loss during the 3:2 pull down conversion taking place through 60 Hz computers and switching systems. PAL files recorded at 50 Hz are also playable, but can also suffer data loss during the 3:2 pull down process. For more explanation on the 3:2 pull down process, please visit You can visit our website at, hover over the ”More” tab on the top right of the page, and select the “Digital Media Standards” tab for additional information.


Whether you’re a client, a sales person or a show technician, you may ask yourself how playback opportunities can be avoided prior to load-in day. That’s a great question that we can answer.
First and foremost, previewing playback files on the computers that will be used for the show is ideal. Many clients instinctively send their files to us prior to a show, to verify that playback will not be an issue. This gives everyone involved a warm, fuzzy feeling heading into load-in. Clients and producers can use Dropbox, Alford’s Webshare server, or standard shipping to get files to our shop for preview. The size or number of files that need to be reviewed determines how files are sent.
If for some reason files cannot be previewed at the shop, there is a test that can be done anywhere there is a Mac computer. Very simply, if you play a file in Quicktime 7, on a Mac computer, and it plays as expected, then you can rest assured the files are ready for show. Media for playback should arrive on show site on a Windows or Mac formatted Thumb drive, or on a USB or Firewire 800 hard drive. Data DVDs should be avoided, as new computers no longer have optical drives in them.


When naming your files, the best practice is to use letters and numbers only.  Give your files a descriptive name to avoid them becoming mixed up with other shows or rooms at your event. Using the show name, date, ballroom name, lecture title, and name of the speaker are great examples of file naming that will be easy to recognize and organize.
For example:


We hope this gives you a much better idea of what you can do to help ensure that your videos play correctly and look their best on the big screens during your next event. If you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to give me a call or send me an email. My job is to help you have the best experience possible; before, during, and after a show.
Alford Media