Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Delivering Video on Thumb Drives

There are a number of ways to present your video on a thumb drive instead of a DVD, Video CD or on hard drive. Your method will depend not only on what operating system you use, or want to provide your product for — linux, PC, Mac, etc. — but what type of playback quality you want to deliver.

Many clients are still satisfied with standard definition. Others will want, desire or demand high definition or Blu-ray capabilities. Some will have the means for playing from a thumb drive on their computer via an available USB input. Some will have one of several choices of systems for playing from their computer and viewing on their television. And, of course, many televisions are beginning to come equipped with an USB input.

There are also a number of players capable of utilizing thumb drive playback ability, one of which is the WD TV by Western Digital that converts your USB drive into an HD media player. Again, this is not the only choice. Some clients and video producers will have higher needs and expectations, others ... well there are choices for playback and compatibility and it is beyond the scope of this article to address all the specifics and specifications of delivery for USB or thumb drive on video.

Many who have already developed an approach for ripping DVD content to a hard drive using one of many available programs, such as Mac the Ripper, HandBrake, etc. Being Mac centric myself, I will basically provide general information here for preparing DVD content for presentation on a USB thumb drive. Similar, even identical information is available for other computer platforms, formats and operating systems. Just be aware that it can be done, and the most popular formats are platform universal. People just need to download the preferred player for their computer.

Other programs include VLC Media Player, DVD Shrink and DVD Decrypter, all creating a VIDEO_TS folder and a number of files ending in .vob. Programs are available to then generate the more compressed formats you might want to try using. Again, it all depends on the quality and capacity of your USB drive. For purposes of conversion from one video format to another Wondershare Video Converter Pro is an affordable commercial alternative.

For quite sometime now companies like Disk Makers have provided not only duplication services for creating branded thumb drives for content delivery of more than just video. Disk Makers and others also offer multiple USB drive duplicators much like the older DVD tower duplicators, making in-house duplication of video and other digital product a reasonable, but still way more expensive, alternative for independent product developers and video producers.

Thumb drive delivery is still expensive when compared to the cost of DVD duplicators and blanks, the USB thumb drive has continued to grow in use to the point that virtually anyone with a computer knows what a thumb drive is, uses or owns at least one or more of varying capacity. It was inevitable that this media would find its way into the delivery mainstream for video and the video production market. There are even companies developing, or who have announced technology that they hope will enable commercial movie download and delivery to not only thumb drives but SDHC flash memory cards. Naysayers, however, predict that this unique delivery system is far from being commercially viable, or practical. But for the independent producer, it is easily done now.

To provide product on this media you will need to decide how you plan to deliver. There’s a wide range of format options from MP2, MOV, AVI and more. For my clients who are Mac users I can simply save a QuickTime movie file to USB and voila, done! At least for computer playback. Would that all could be that simple, right? Not gonna happen.

Larger capacity thumb drives can handle bigger files. Of course you know that, but one-to-two-hour productions and movies can fit on a USB drive as small as a gigabyte (1GB) if compressed to MP4, variations of H.264 or AVI. The length of your production is key to quality playback success.

Everything depends on factors such as desired playback quality, storage capacity of the drives (more expensive) which calls for bigger budgets on the part of your clients. And while it is nice to have branding of your company name or logo or website, etc. that too will increase the costs for delivery. If you have, or can develop, the market you can work out the cost issues based on your client needs and their ability to pay. For a fortunate few, cost is no object.

Using HandBrake, for example, pretty much all you need to do is rip the contents you want to install on your thumb drive. Convert to MP4, if that’s what you desire, by selecting the iPod option under presets. You select your USB drive as the destination and the video will save to the thumb drive.

There’s a lot more to it, if you want there to be a lot more to it. You’ve got decisions that include development of product from Flash (FLV) files and a host of compression ratios that can factor in, as noted earlier, depending on drive capacity, program/video length, desired playback quality and cost considerations.

What you deliver on a thumb drive, product-wise, is more of a concern than how you deliver on one. When you’ve decided on the variables just know that there’s an even chance of finding a suitable compromise between quality and costs, convenience and compatibility if you want to consider delivery on flash drives.

Delivery on USB, thumb drive, flash drive, whatever you want to call it, can be as simple as exporting a movie to MP4, saving it to your USB drive, plugging it into a compatible television or auxiliary player/converter, or properly connected computer, finding and selecting USB from the source command and hitting play.

In my humble opinion, however, while delivery of video product on a USB drive can be novel, convenient, perhaps even desirable, it still is not economical. And not really all that convenient compared to DVD delivery, or the widely-available capability of conversion to any number of formats for storage and playback access on everything from a cellphone to a popular game product such as the XBox.

Economically speaking: you spend a half-dollar, or less, for a DVD blank, and burning Blu-ray now comes in under a couple of bucks, both with significantly greater capacity than a comparably priced thumb drive. Even if, or when, thumb drives get to the buck or less per gigabyte cost, that’s still way more than what you pay to deliver on disk, notwithstanding all the other elements to consider — duplication, branding, and the fact that these puppies are a whole lot easier to lose than a DVD or Blu-ray disk in a nice library case that not only carries your branding (easily done in-house for pennies) but some pretty sophisticated custom graphics personalized for the client as well.

So, if for whatever reason you want to do it, by all means go with a minimal “wow” factor with branded (or not) thumb drive video delivery, but if you’re still looking at quality of presentation, value and cost-effectiveness, a printed case containing a quality product with printed graphics is still the market and delivery king. You can either be miles ahead of your time with something that isn’t guaranteed to be universally adaptable, and can result in client complaints or other problems, or be assured that you’ve got many more years and good mileage left in your disk delivery system.

Oh, and keep in mind that it’s usually going to take you longer to get the product ready for thumb drive delivery and ready to hand over to your client than the more conventional and universally accepted and player friendly DVD disk. I have to say, however, that today’s systems and thumb drive quality, notwithstanding costs, will often meet or beat the time it takes to burn the same video content onto a disk. How much sweat and experimenting went into getting the files ready, and of the desired quality, however, might be the tie-breaker.

Regardless of your purpose or intent, or media selected for delivery, remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2011 Earl Chessher

1 comment:

Jay said...

One thing. Thumb drives can be erased, so the user may not even see your message - just erase it and keep it.

For me the trusty DVD is both economical, easy to present, easy to use and adds flair to the presentation. You can print a message on the Disc or have it in an attractive case. Drives are small and easy to lose.

Yes, a drive is nice but I still use DVDs and probably will for a long time.

A DVD with case and insert sleeve is still cheaper than a drive and you can put so much more on it, and on the case itself.

Also, a thumb drive means the user has to go to the computer to view it. A DVD allows them to relax in their living room and sit back for the show. I guess that makes it less formal?

I like the idea of delivering some products on drives, but for me the DVD is still the best delivery media.