Let’s face it, every good song you write should have a music video. Every PC comes with easy to use free video editing software. The MP3 players and phones we use to listen to music on all play videos. YouTube and dozens of other popular websites are ready to help you spread your video all over the net. Why miss such out on such a great promotion tool? As I mentioned in another post every musician also has to be a performing musician. Since you have all these videos why not play them behind you when you perform live? I’ve been doing exactly that for years. Here’s a video of me performing in Stuttgart: The Horrorist Live, Stuttgart See my LCD projector shooting my record label’s logo behind me?
I just bought a new Macbook Pro and I decided to completely redo the video I project during my shows. Ableton Live allows me to use any Quicktime .mov file. Simple right? Well no because within the Quicktime format there are dozens of Codecs and options you can choose when rendering your video file.
Codec stands for Coder Decoder and in this subject it’s refering to Coding and Recoding compression. Why do we want compression on our video file? If you were to export your video from your editing system (Final Cut Pro) without any compression the file size would be huge. Wikipedia says about one Gigabyte every four minutes. Besides taking up hard drive space large video files make your drive work harder. There are some super compression codecs that make great looking video at low files sizes like the new codec called from Apple called H.264. But we have a problem. The problem is that H.264 uses a massive amount of CPU to decode the file. If your performing live with several audio tracks and plug-ins you don’t want 45% of your CPU going to play a video file.
So I set out to find the perfect codec for playing video in Ableton live on a mac during a live performance. I want to warn everyone about something important. Ableton’s CPU meter does NOT reflect the CPU hit from playing back video files! I put multiple video files each the exactly the same except with different codecs into the timeline and the CPU meter in Ableton never changed. This means Ableton is using some sort of external quicktime plug-in to handle video playback. The way to see how much CPU each codec demands is to launch Activity Monitor and double click Quicktime. Now one by one launch each rendered video clip using the Quicktime player application and watch the % CPU reading.
After rendering the same clip with many different Codec’s here’s what I found. The winner was “Photo – JPEG” on the medium quality setting. This produced a file that was small in size, low in CPU usage and also looked very good. To be honest I never heard of using “Photo – JPEG” as a video codec. I asked people on the Creative Cow and Ableton forums what codec they would use and consistently they mentioned “Photo – JPEG”. All the other codecs including MPEG4, H.264, Sorenson and PNG all require over 40% of your CPU.