RealVideo: Letting Community Voices and Images Be Heard and Seen

Nov. 1997

(Note: This article about RealVideo follows-up the RealAudio overview article that appeared on page 45 of the Spring-Summer 1997 CTCNet Review. This series of articles describes how RealAudio and RealVideo can allow the voices and images from CTCNet affiliates to travel to interested individuals, organizations, and companies all around the world. RealAudio and RealVideo are software programs created by Real Networks.

RealAudio is an exciting software program for compressing sound so that it can be delivered over the web, or as relatively small files on floppy disks, Zip disks and CD-ROM's. When I first heard about RealVideo, the follow-up to RealAudio, I wondered whether it could deliver on its promise. But having used RealVideo for several months, I can attest that RealVideo is every bit as miraculous and useful as RealAudio.

First, I ought to point out that RealAudio and RealVideo software require at least a Pentium or Power Mac computer. (There are a few notable - - but convoluted - - exceptions to this requirement. I haven't been able to find any easy way of to run RealAudio or RealVideo on earlier computers.)

The power of RealVideo came alive for me in July, 1997, when a colleague, John Rosenthall, asked me to videotape the television news story of a press conference being held by the National Urban Internet - - an organization doing excellent work getting donated computers for public-housing sites around Washington DC.

Channel 5 (Fox) did a wonderful job of covering this event. Their crisply delivered news story inspired me to create a RealVideo movie. Knowing how small RealAudio files can be, I had a hunch that I might be able to compress this 4-minute video clip to fit onto a single floppy disk. Lo and behold, my hunch proved true.

For others who might wish to create RealVideo movies, here are the basic steps. The process is straightforward for those with strong general computer skills. I performed the following steps on my Power Mac. (You would perform similar steps on a Pentium.)

The first step is to download the free RealVideo Encoder software from the Real Networks web page. You can use Netscape or Internet Explorer to perform the download from

The second step is to digitize your video source to create a Quicktime (Mac) or AVI (Windows) movie. I used an Apple TV Tuner/Video Input card on my Power Mac. This card (actually 2 cards) sells for about $80 to $110, can can be installed as easily as installing RAM. As they say, "Easy enough that an adult can do it."

You can use the Apple Video Input card to play video from any source on your Mac's screen. The source can be a VCR, a camcorder or live television from the Apple TV Tuner card. Just hook up your video source (via either RCA connectors, or S-Video and RCA-audio connectors) to your Video Input card, and you're off and going.

I used the Apple Video Player software that came with my Performa 6360 to digitize the video clip from Channel 5 news. I clicked on "Record," right underneath the "Capture Movie" part of the "Controls" screen, to digitize the movie that was playing on my screen. In about 15 minute I had a 35 meg Quicktime movie on my hard drive. (I chose the smallest screen size for the movie, 160 x 120 pixels, so that the 4-minute RealVideo movie could have a fighting chance of fitting onto a floppy disk.)

Then I "encoded" (or compressed) the movie. The 35 meg Quicktime movie on my hard drive would be the "source" movie in this compression process. The very small (about one meg) compressed RealVideo movie would be the "destination" movie.

I started the RealVideo Encoder software and chose "Open" from the File menu. I then chose "Add" and navigated around my hard drive to find the Quicktime file I wanted to encode. After choosing the Quicktime movie, I clicked on the "Select" button to create a name of the "destination" RealVideo movie. All RealVideo movies have a suffix of "rm" (standing for RealMedia), so any file name you choose is fine as long as it ends with a period and an "rm" suffix (without the quotation marks).

Choose a file name for your "destination" movie, and then click on "Save." (This file name can always be changed later.)

Here's where the fun begins. The RealVideo Encoder software gives you many choices for how much you want to compress your movie. You can compress your movie to a very small file size, but it would look and sound grainy. In my experiments, I've developed a fondness for what is called "LAN 250" compression. This compression setting gives good sound and picture, while at the same time making small movie files.

The key to the RealVideo treasure chest, in my view, is the choice of "frame rates," which is a slide-bar setting at the bottom of the screen when you double click on LAN 250 (or any of the other "advanced settings.") I've gotten the best results by choosing a frame rate of .20 to .40 frames per second. (Note the small decimal before .20 and .40.) This setting gives me a "slideshow" movie with frames that change every 5 seconds, or every 2.5 seconds.

Interestingly, the faster frame rates of one frame per second, or 5 frames per second, can annoy the eye. A slower frame rate not only makes smaller RealVideo files, the smaller files are easier on the eyes.

After you've chosen your frames per second, click on the "Save" button. On my Power Mac it takes about 5 seconds for the computer to save these settings. Only then can you move on to the next step. After the settings are saved, click on "Close."

Click on the "start" button to start encoding your movie. A rough rule of thumb is that encoding a movie takes anywhere from 4 to 20 minutes. (Encoding a movie can take over an hour if you're encoding a large movie at the fastest frame rate.)

When the movie has finished encoding, a screen will appear on your screen saying so. This screen will give you some statistics about the encoding process. The statistics are not too relevant to anything, but you can impress people by looking over the numbers and nodding your head wisely, saying, "Hmmmm, very, very interesting."

At this point you can hastily quit the RealVideo Encoder program, and rush over to the folder where your Quicktime source movie is located. Opening the folder will show you a file with the sweetest little RealVideo movie you could ever imagine. If the free RealMedia Player software has been installed on your computer, you can double click on the RealVideo file, and sit back to enjoy your handiwork.

If, perchance, the RealVideo movie you create is slightly too big to fit on a floppy disk (1.3 megs), you can easily go back and re-encode the movie at a slower frame rate. You do have to experiment a bit to come up with RealVideo movies that make people want to stand up and applaud. But if your source video has good lighting and clear sound, your RealVideo movie ought to look and sound good, too.

Having tasted early success in creating RealVideo movies, I'm ready to tackle more challenging RealVideo projects. My next project involves finding a way to fit all 4 hours of Dr. Zhivago onto a double density floppy disk. It's going to be a bit tight, but I think I can squeeze it in. (grin)

Phil Shapiro (personal) (personal with QuickTime clips) (national work) (local work) (music)

Phil Shapiro works as the Washington DC Regional Coordinator for the CTCNet, and is easily distracted from serious work when creative projects beckon.

Heartfelt thanks are owed to Alfred (Alf) Bawcombe and Miles Fawcett at Interactive Applications (iapps), a web solution company in Washington DC, for introducing me to RealAudio and RealVideo, and for encouraging me to discover how these programs can be best put to use.

And thanks are owed to everyone at the One World Media Center, who gave me free rein to experiment with RealAudio and RealVideo on the Power Mac and Pentium computers at their nonprofit video training facility in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington DC.

Return to Phil's web page.