Optimizing Videos for Mobile: Keep it Big and Keep it Small

This post is part of a series of “do it yourself” articles by Glenn Forsythe, Chief Soundscape Architect here at TourSphere. We hope you find it helpful when creating your own audio and video content!

Producing videos for mobile devices is not hard to get right but its easy to get wrong. If the end result is going to be streamed over a mobile network and displayed on a screen only a few inches wide, there are 2 simple keys to keep in mind: Keep it Big and Keep it small.

Keep it Big

When I say keep it big I am referring to the visual content. Make sure all people, images and copy in your videos are large- so that people can clearly see them when viewing a 3-inch screen.

Focus of shots

Make sure the focus of your shot is large – taking up about at least 1/3 of your screen space. If you are interviewing a subject for instance, don’t use a long shot, otherwise it will be much harder to see when shrunken down. The same goes for using images. If there is a detail of an image, crop and zoom way in on it as opposed to having people squint their eyes when observing a detail.

High resolution images

In order to create those detailed crops, it is important to work with high resolution material. Though creating a very high resolution final video is not recommended due to bandwidth, the content that you are using while assembling your video should be as high resolution as possible to give plenty of headroom for downscaling. In other words, if you have an image of a painting and you want to bring out a detail in the lower left corner, you can crop it so that the detail still fills the frame of the video without becoming blurry or pixilated.

Use large, bold fonts

Though it may look a little bit silly on a normal monitor, using larger fonts for titles, lower thirds and subtitles will vastly improve legibility. I also would stay away from heavily ornamented and thinner fonts like Zapfino and the like. You just want to stick to bolder or stroner fonts, and if using a program like final cut, I wouldn’t really go below 28 for the size of your text.

Keep it Small

When I say keep it small I am referring to the output size of your video file. Though this can be an intimidating procedure with all of the different options when rendering a movie, there are really just a handful of terms that are worth familiarizing yourself with in order to get the smallest compression possible without compromising the quality.

Bit or data rate

This refers to how much information per second is in the final video, affecting the resolution or quality. This also affects file size, so if someone is downloading instead of streaming your videos, a smaller bit rate would be wise.

Frame size/dimensions

The frame size is the physical dimensions, usually in pixels, of your video. Seeing as how all mobile devices will play movie files in fullscreen, this isn’t crucial to match the output of your video’s dimensions to an iPhone, but it is good to be aware of so you don’t make a huge frame (like an HD size of 1280 x 720) and waste unnecessary file size.

Frame rate

A standard component to how video works and has always worked, the frame rate is the amount of still frames per second in your video. When making your quicktime movie, I mostly leave this one as is or whatever it was shot at. However, sometimes to help improve streaming videos if the buffering is taking a really long time, you can cut the frame rate in half for smoother streaming performance. In some cases this can make the video look worse, so always test it before publishing to make sure the video doesn’t look choppy.

If you have any other tips to share or issues you’re having that you need some help with let me know in the comments.

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