How To Compress Large Video Files (and One Massive Reason Why You Shouldn’t)

by Greg Wood | December 1, 2020

Compressing video files can be incredibly useful when sending raw footage or particularily large video files to collaborators, partners, and clients (special shout-out to film festival print traffic coordinators too).

It helps get around the often-frustrating file size limitations of many file transfer and email platforms. Compressed videos also reduce bandwidth usage, upload and download times, and the amount of buffering required when streaming video. 

But for all its positives, the unfortunate reality is that compression has a lot of downsides.

  1. It’s an extra step in a workflow when there are already a dozen other things to do.
  2. Compressing video files takes time and can add hours to your turnaround time.
  3. Compressed video takes data from your video file which downgrades video quality. This is especially noticeable if your viewers use a large screen; that pixelated or grainy look is the result of a compression artifact). 

While this may not be a huge issue for weekend warriors transferring clips of their latest snowboarding session, it’s an existential threat for filmmakers and post-production houses who live and die by their quality. 

Below we’ll outline the pros and cons of video compression, explain how to compress video, and list some of the most popular techniques and codecs used by video professionals. We’ll also answer the question of whether you really need to compress large video files in the first place.

Especially when there’s a large file transfer service available such as MASV, with no data limits and automatic lossless compression. 

But first, let’s take a step back and outline the nuts and bolts of video compression in general.

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What is Video Compression?

In short, video compression is the act of reducing video file size by lowering its resolution and bitrate. This is done automatically by an algorithm, which parses the video file and searches for any data that can be removed without corrupting the overall file.

The stronger the compression, the more it impacts the video.

It’s why some video disciplines, like colorists prefer to work with the original file (or files with minimal compression). A video compression algorithm might take out shades of the same color to save space, which in turn, affects the color grading process.

The quality of the compression depends on the video codec used to start the encoding process. Some codecs, like ProRes 422 will reduce the file size but just enough to maintain quality.

How Does Video Compression Work?

A file being compressed from 89 GB to 42 GB

There are three main factors that go into determining the size of a video – resolution, bitrate, and encoding – and they can all play a role in helping reduce video file size:

  • Resolution is the number of pixels, typically represented by a horizontal x vertical measurement (1080p HD video, for example, has a resolution of 1920 x 1080).
  • Bitrate measures how much information is transmitted for each second of video. It’s usually measured in megabits per second (Mbps).
  • Encoding consists of both the codec (the code used to compress the video, including MPEG and ProRes), along with its container or file type (such as AVI or MP4); some file types feature more efficient codecs (MP4 files offer more efficient compression than FLV files, for example).

There are other factors that help determine video file size including video length and frame rate (measured by frames per second, or FPS). 

The size of video files, like all data files, is typically measured in bytes or variations thereof: kilobytes (KB, 1024 bytes), megabytes (MB, 1024 kb), gigabytes (GB, 1024 megabytes), and terabytes (TB, 1024 GB).

Videos living in the gigabyte neighborhood and above traditionally have been considered for compression before transferring due to the enormity of this content. Without compression, these massive video files would choke networks and simply not get delivered without the use of more robust networking technology (such as UDP solutions like IBM Aspera).

It’s why so many video professionals still prefer the logistically complicated-if-tried-and-true method of saving files on a hard drive and shipping it by courier. The UDP option is fast but expensive. Hard drives are slow, and you actually run the risk of losing your content in the mail.

Because it involves shrinking or scaling video, it’s crucial for filmmakers or post-production houses using manual compression software to think about where their video will most likely be consumed. 

If primarily on YouTube, then a resolution around 1080p will likely be adequate (YouTube offers a guide to its recommended upload encoding settings here), but a video meant for larger screens or sharp, 4k-and-higher displays, should have a higher resolution.

What are Video Codecs and How Do They Compress Video?

New Generation Codecs

Camera/Codec Data Rate GB/Hour
Panasonic GH4 4K 100 Mbps 45 GB/hr
RED RK FF (6:1) 151 Mbps 68 GB/hr
ProRES 422 proxy 4K 155 Mbps 70 GB/hr
XAV 4K 330 Mbps 148 GB/hr
AVC-Ultra 4K 400 Mbps 180 GB/hr
Canon 1DC MPEG 4K 500 Mbps 225 GB/hr
ProRES 422 4K 503 Mbps 226 GB/hr
KineMAX 6K CinemaDNG 672 Mbps 302 GB/hr
ProRES 422 HQ 4K 754 Mbps 339 GB/hr
Sony F5/55 RAW 4K 1.0 Gbps 450 GB/hr
ProRES 4444 4K 1.1 Gbps 509 GB/hr
BlackMagic 4K 1.4 Gbps 630 GB/hr
RED 6K WS (4:1) 1.4 Gbps 630 GB/hr
ProRES 444 XQ 4K 1.7 Gbps 764 GB/hr
Sony F65 RAW (3:1) 4K 2.0 Gbps 900 GB/hr
ProRES 444 XQ 5K 2.1 Gbps 955 GB/hr
Canon Raw 4K (12bit) 2.3 Gbps 1036 GB/hr
Phantom Flex 4K RAW 3.5 Gbps 1500 GB/hr

 

Codecs are the ubiquitous codes used by various file formats to compress large video (or audio). Several types of video codecs exist including MPEG4, Quicktime, ProRes, or WMV. These codecs compress data automatically when a file is saved as a certain format or file container (such as AVI or MP4). 

Most video codecs perform “lossy” compression in that they always throw out some data in order to compress the file and make it smaller – hence the video quality issues related to compression that we mentioned earlier.

Next-generation video codecs such as HEVC (also known as H.265) have also gained popularity in recent years, offering more efficient data compression with far less impact on video quality. Even newer next-gen codecs include Versatile Video Coding (VVC), Essential Video Coding (EVC), and Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding (LCEVC), along with Google’s VP9 and the open-source AV1. 

Most next-gen codecs such as HEVC are classified as “lossless” compression, in that they don’t lose any data and keep the same video quality after compressing (although there is mild debate about that in some quarters).

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How to Compress Video?

If you are wondering how to compress video files, there are two relatively easy ways: either make the video shorter by trimming footage or remove the audio completely (which probably isn’t a realistic option). Barring those methods, here are a few other ways to compress video files using either desktop or web software.

Method 1: How to Compress Video via VideoProc Converter

  1. Run VideoProc Converter and choose Video tab on the main page.
  2. Click +Video to upload your video files.
  3. Click Option and set the compression parameters. There are 6 methods to help you compress a video. You can also compress the video by cropping, trimming, splitting or cutting a video.
  4. After setting all the parameters, click the RUN button to start compressing your video.

Method 2: How to Compress video via VLC

  1. Download VLC
  2. Click Media > Convert/Save
  3. Click Add to select your video file (or multiple files)
  4. Click Convert/Save to bring up a list of conversion options. You can select your preferred type in the profile dropdown
  5. Select your conversion option (the software offers useful suggestions such as YouTube HD or Video for MPEG4 1080p TV/device) 
  6. If you still need to reduce your file size, you can next lower the video resolution by going to Settings > Resolution
  7. Once you’re satisfied with your selections, simply hit Save, select your destination location (on your hard drive or cloud storage), and then click Start.

Method 3: How to Compress video via Shotcut 

  1. Download Shotcut
  2. Click Open File to open your video
  3. Click Export
  4. You’ll next see a large list of compression options – select your preferred option
  5. You can use the Resolution and Aspect ratio fields from this screen to further reduce video size and proportions (it won’t automatically adjust your video’s aspect ratio for you)
  6. Click export video

Method 4: How to Compress video via QuickTime 

  1. If you’re on a Mac, launch QuickTime
  2. Click File to open your video file
  3. Click Export As
  4. You’ll next get a list of options, but you’re limited to just four: 4k, 1080p, 720p, and 480p
  5. To compress your file, select a smaller file format than the original file

Other video compression services include VideoSmaller, Clipchamp, and HandBrake.

Additionally, InVideo summarizes a few ways to compress videos on their blog. They all do the job reasonably well, but also suffer from the same drawback: they add several (often needless) steps to the workflow of video professionals, who in most cases have enough on their plates without having to compress large video files before sharing.

The Disadvantages of Compressing Video Files

The addition of several steps is just one downside of having to compress video files.

Loss in quality

As mentioned, most codecs perform lossy compression, so you’ll inevitably lose some audio and video quality. In some cases this may be imperceptible, but it can be problematic in other scenarios, such as the color correction phase of post-production when minutely small visual details are vital (and can be lost forever after being compressed).

Added time

There’s also additional processing time required, especially for higher-quality codecs such as HEVC (which has been described as having “glacially slow encoding times”).

File corruption

File errors can crop up during the compression process. And your recipients may also not even be able to open your compressed file immediately if they don’t have the right software. Determining how to compress video properly and efficiently is a fine balance.

Related: Why File Zipping is a Problem For Large File Transfers

How to Send Uncompressed Video Files?

So here’s the straight dope on compression: if your video quality matters, don’t do it.

Video pros who need to send content at maximum resolution or in RAW will find that MASV can deliver terabytes of data (including individual files up to 5TB in size) from the browser or the insanely fast and reliable MASV app. Furthermore:

  • MASV has a network of 150+ global data centres, which means you can send and receive files on a worldwide scale.
  • MASV maintains your folder structure so you don’t have to spent the extra time zipping files prior to upload (that avoids corruption too).
  • All MASV transfers are encrypted at in-flight and at rest.
  • All transfers also resume where they left off in the event of a network failure.
  • Signing up for MASV also means gaining access to file transfer automations, direct-to-cloud storage, and our free desktop app which is faster than our browser instance.

It’s free to get started. Our free trial gives you 100 GB of data so you can test our speed and see the MASV difference for yourself. Once you sign on, you’ll pay just $0.25/GB and can send as much or as little data as you need to.

So on your next project, instead of adding needless compression steps to your workflow – and then having to spend time watching over your large file transfers in case there’s a problem – just use MASV. We think you’ll be glad you did.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the easiest ways to compress video files?

Two easy ways to compress a large video file are to either make the video shorter by trimming footage or to remove the audio completely. If neither of those options is preferable, there are several ways to compress video files using software like VLC, Shotcut, or QuickTime.

How to compress video via VLC?

To compress a video via VLC, follow these steps:

  1. Click “Media” then “Convert/Save”, then click “Add” to select your video file(s).
  2. Next, click “Convert/Save” to bring up a list of conversion options. You can select your preferred type in the profile dropdown.
  3. Now select your conversion option. If you still need to reduce your file size, you can lower the video resolution by going to settings then resolution.
  4. Once you’re satisfied with your selections, simply hit “Save”, select your destination location (on your hard drive or cloud storage), and then click “Start”.