Cameras and editing software weren’t in the job description, but it’s still falling on you to figure how to adapt your service to meet the moment. You’ve been struggling for weeks to take your in-person worship experience online and you can’t seem to figure out why this process—which was definitely not on the syllabus in seminary—is taking so long. The simple answer? Everything’s hard until you know how to do it. There are many challenges that come with adding video production to your operation: equipment, infrastructure, staff, skill, style, and budget to name a few. For Staff in Hand’s first blog post, we’d like to jump right in with a common sticking point that many congregations face when they’re making the transition into video—the frustration of feeling like they’re spending too much time waiting around for the video stuff to click into place every week.
“Taking too long” technical problems are solved the same way a gardener troubleshoots a watering hose that’s only producing a trickle—you need to find the bottleneck!
If video editing is new for you and your church (if you’re here reading this, we’re assuming so, and that’s OK!) then chances are high that you may actually be running into more than one of these three common bottlenecks!
1. Your computer may be too old or underpowered for video editing
2. You have accidentally chosen an export setting that’s creating more work for the computer than is necessary
3. Your Internet connection may not be fast or stable enough to reasonably upload
1. INVESTING IN YOUR TOOLS
It’s less about the price tag than the age. Working on a $400 laptop you bought in 2008? Might technically be possible to pull it off but it’s going to be frustrating. A $400 laptop from two years ago would do a lot better, but investing only $400 in a professional tool isn’t exactly setting yourself up for smooth sailing either.
Why is age a bigger factor than budget? For the last 20 years or so, circuitry has improved at such a ridiculous year-over-year pace that computers that are even two or three years old are already exponentially worse than brand new ones. Price points usually stay the same, but Moore’s Law generally illustrates that what’s under a computer’s hood doubles its capabilities every two years.
Lastly, if you’re in the market for a new computer, remember that a $700 desktop will be appreciably more powerful than a $700 laptop.
Why? When you buy a laptop, you buy a small computer, a small monitor, and the ability to take them anywhere. When you buy a desktop, your money is going towards a computer, nothing else.
Everyone’s situation is different, but if you aren’t required to transport your edit computer around, strongly consider buying a desktop computer.
$100 will get you a basic monitor that can do everything you need.
2. EXPORT SETTINGS
This is very common and can accidentally happen when you start building a sequence using something high resolution, like a still photograph.
Programs like Adobe Premiere Pro often give you the option to match a new sequence’s settings to the first media being used in them and, if you start with a photo, the sequence may default to being many times higher resolution than your intended platform (YouTube, Facebook, Zoom…) could ever make use of.
Why is this a problem? The higher the resolution you work in, the more work your computer has to do and the more time it will take to do it. Also consider making an adjustment to your video bitrate when you are ready to export.
What is bitrate? For the gardening hose example, the bitrate is like the current of the water coming through the hose. Like a shower head that advertises 1.5 gallons of water per minute, digital video is measured in how many megabits of data are used to display every second worth of video. The higher the bitrate the more data is being used and in most cases, the ‘cleaner’ the video looks. Using a low bitrate will use less data to convey the same content, ‘compressing’ the video to fit into a smaller size. Too much compression results in blocky-ness or pixelation as similar colors in the video are smushed together and averaged to use less data.
So what’s the right bitrate to use? Many export presets for online distribution choose a relatively high bitrate and result in larger files that will take longer to upload once they are done. For example, Adobe Premiere Pro’s preset for standard 1080p for YouTube defaults to 16 megabits/second. If you have an hour-long product to upload, your export will be about 7GB.
Depending on your Internet connection—see section #3 below—that could take a very long time to upload. The takeaway is this: be deliberate with your bitrate. In Premiere Pro, it can be changed by clicking on the blue number (“16” in the above screenshot) and typing in a new number. Try experimenting with different bitrates to strike a balance of quality (higher bitrate) with faster upload (lower bitrate). Only you and your audience will know what balance works best for you, your equipment, and your timetables for distribution.
Yes, there are many other settings available to adjust when it comes time to export things, but choosing a platform-related preset (YouTube 1080p, Facebook 1080p, etc.) and then intentionally setting a Target Bitrate is a very simple way to take immediate control of both the final size of your product and the time it takes to upload it when you’re done.
This will only be a factor once you’ve successfully exported your service, but it can be make-or-break on the whole process. You need to have a basic grasp on your Internet situation—keep two things in mind and you’ll be able to handle 99% of Internet-related slowdowns.
- Are you using a wired connection? Great! If not, consider restructuring your network to allow you to plug in. Wireless uploading isn’t going to prevent you from being productive, but it’s susceptible to small transmission errors that could interfere with big transfers and require them to be restarted.
- What’s your upload speed? Sending finished videos to YouTube or hosting livestreams and video chats uses the Internet, but more specifically it uses the upload side of your connection. Downloads come in; uploads go out. Beware, ISP’s will often structure their plans to advertise a good download speed and downplay or even hide a substantially lower upload speed. You don’t need anything crazy fast, but providers are notorious for charging modern rates for ancient access speeds. Why? Updating their infrastructure costs them money and legions of bean counters tell them that a customer is statistically unlikely to call them out. If you haven’t changed your Internet provider or plan recently, make sure that you’re not still paying for a product that they started offering ten years ago!
- Are you actually reaching the speed you’re paying for? I could go on forever about the unfortunate reality of ISP’s (Internet Service Providers, think AT&T, Comcast, Verizon) in the United States being allowed to structure their business models to provide the very minimum product for the very maximum cost to consumer. Make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for! Use online tools like speedtest.net to verify your realized download and (most importantly!) upload speeds and check them against the service speeds promised on your monthly Internet bills. If you can, check the speed on wired and wireless connections to see how you stack up. Try different rooms and floors so you can make sure you don’t have a deadzone exactly where you intend to be working!
These three situations are the common kinks in a workflow that feels slow. Iron out your bottlenecks by following your source material from camera, to computer, to Internet and you’ll be well on your way to spending less time pulling out your hair and more time thinking about WHAT it is that you’re making. Kind of a great tradeoff.
And if this gave you something to think about but you’re still not really sure how to try it, please reach out. Our first priority is helping you make the most of what you’ve got.