Video Encoding: Overtaking Streaming Media’s Speed Bump

I’ve explained why a network attached storage (NAS) device is an ideal place to stash huge video files. And I’ve explained how to stream video from NAS to networked devices within your home. Thanks to the wonders of UPnP, or Universal Plug and Play, network devices can talk to each other without forcing you to tackle a complex configuration process.

But things may not always go so smoothly. Systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 might be able to see the videos you share on your NAS device, but they may not be able to successfully stream them. Even within a single file type, videos may be encoded in a variety of ways. You can’t assume that type will work with a particular device — even if the device is supposed to be compatible with the associated filename extension.

The trouble is the specific video compression/decompression scheme — or codec — the file’s author used. Certain file types are containers that hold data processed by any of a number of codecs. A file might be called David.avi, but the codec used to squeeze the data into an acceptable file size can vary. Even more confusing: The .avi filename extension does not mean that the video uses “AVI compression,” a common misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all encoding technique that’s guaranteed to work in all cases, even using a third-party compression/decompression application that comes with preset encoding configurations, like Handbrake or XviD4PSP. For example, I’ve had trouble getting videos encoded with Handbrake presets to stream to my Xbox 360, whereas videos encoded with the Xbox 360 preset in XviD4PSP work perfectly.

So how do you figure out whether your videos are compatible with the devices in your living room? And how can you re-encode them if they aren’t? You have to do your research.

Hit up the online forums for your devices to learn which encoding techniques others have used successfully on their videos. Or, if you’re restless like me, grab some freeware encoding apps and give their built-in presets a try. It’s trial-and-error in its purest form, but you might luck out and strike streaming gold on your first encoding attempt!

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