Pushing a wombat down a garden hose

Jeff Atwood's new post about Easy, Efficient Hi-Def Video Playback does not, in the final analysis, find that there's anything all that easy about it. But it reminded me of one of my own pet peeves.

I watch a lot of game-promo video clips, because my ISP has a nice fast mirror of the GamersHell archive that doesn't count toward my download allowance. So what the heck.

Many of these clips have an outrageously high bit rate. It's not at all unusual to see a clip that's less than three minutes long, but more than 400 megabytes in size.

The download time, I don't much care about. I just leave FDM ticking away in the background, with its download speed restricted if I want to get stuff done at the same time. But it irritates me considerably when I finish getting some whole-CD-sized video clip that I then can't even play, because its 600Mb bulk encodes only 2.3 minutes of video, which means the data rate is so tremendous that my computer chokes on it and I only get to see one frame out of 50.

VLC does a pretty good job on the more obnoxious files, especially when they're QuickTime format, the bane of Windows video viewers. But sometimes all the decoder-tweaking and task-priority-boosting in the world just can't cut it, because the people who made the clip decided to slide the "Quality" control to 150%.

Game PR people: Stop doing this!

I assure you that a mere 100Mb per minute is quite adequate to promote your product!

See all those pirated TV shows? See how 43 minutes of great-looking 720p video only takes up 1.1Gb? Are any light bulbs going on in your tiny minds?

(Sometimes a video manages to consume 300Mb a minute, and not even look good. I swear - I've seen composite-video-resolution clips with a giant black border all the way around that still had the kind of data rate you expect from an IMAX demo reel.)

UPDATE: Here's a magnificent example that I just discovered in my folder full of unwatched game vids. It's a promo video for the Battlezone-y Tank Universal, called TeaserSound02_2.mov. The clip is 36 seconds in length, and has a resolution of 640 by 480.

It is nine hundred and fifty-five megabytes in size.

That's 26.5 megabytes per second. A ninety-minute movie would take up 140 gigabytes at this data rate.

How did they manage to achieve this? Easy. Somebody just forgot to compress the video, or the audio for that matter, at all!

The clip has uncompressed CD-quality PCM audio, but that only accounts for 172 kilobytes per second (two channels times 44,100 samples per second times 16 bits per sample). It's the video that's the real heavyweight - 640 by 480 pixels, times 24 bits per pixel, times 30 frames per second. Hey presto, that's exactly 900 kilobytes per frame, and 27,000 kilobytes per second.

At least this means I must not have spent too much time downloading the clip. All GamersHell clips are zipped, which usually reduces their size by only a couple of per cent but which also stops people from using the GamersHell download servers as streaming video sources. Even high-speed light compression can get this clip down to 10% of its uncompressed size, though.

18 Responses to “Pushing a wombat down a garden hose”

  1. evilspoons Says:

    The title of this article deserves some sort of award.

  2. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Thank you.

    The bawdy idiom of "suck an X through a Y" was prominent in my mind when I wrote that headline, but I thought that saying "push", and something other than the usual "golf ball", would give the phrase its own, non-sexual, identity.

    The wombat is one of those weird Australian creatures that people in the rest of the world usually treat as pseudo-mythical, like wallabies, or Woolloomooloo. But wombats do, in fact, exist. I think they're actually one of the most conclusively existent animals in the world. I certainly wouldn't want to be the guy who told a wombat it was fictional.

    I have, in my life, patted a (captive) wombat a couple of times. The most recent time was at the previously-recommended Featherdale Wildlife Park.

    Wombats feel exactly as anybody who's looked at one would think that they would. They're an ovoid block of muscle, covered with short, coarse fur.

    Wombats are neither aggressive nor affectionate. If you stroke one, it'll just stomp off somewhere else.

    At no point will it seem even slightly unreal.

  3. Gareth Pye Says:

    The solution to playing such gigantic video files is probably to re-encode them with a scale reduction step. Now that probably isn't the easiest thing to always do, especially with those quicktime movies, but at least then after an hours work you'd be able to watch the game preview.

  4. michal Says:

    You could use Handbrake (http://handbrake.fr/) to transcode, or even batch transcode the files as of 0.9.3. Probably the easiest solution, though if your computer has trouble just playing the files I imagine that transcoding will take quite some time. Probably an overnight job.

  5. mcarden Says:

    ffmpeg can help with your crazy high bitrate vids, but it's only slightly friendlier than your average wombat. It's not for nothing that they're sometimes called The Bulldozer of the Bush.

  6. wally Says:

    The worst I've seen was a 60 second home-made promo clip for a seminar which weighed in at around 670MB - a bitrate of almost 90Mb/s, or ~2.5x the bitrate of the DV format the footage was originally shot in. Understandable, though - you wouldn't want the awful lighting, poor delivery and dodgy edits (Premiere use, like many things in this world, should be licensed) to be spoiled by nasty compression artifacts...

  7. peridot Says:

    Let me weigh in on the opposite side of the issue: what does one do with video that causes video codecs to have the screaming heebie-jeebies? I make a certain number of these as astrophysical visualizations (that is to say, gimcrack plotting software dumping frame-%04d.png) and it's not always clear how to make watchable video out of them. One particularly bad one was using line integral convolution to visualize a vector field. This relies on noise flowing along streamlines of the vector field, but almost all the video codecs I tried butchered the noise so badly you couldn't tell anything was changing. The best I found (apart from ffmpeg-specific lossless formats) was motion JPEG with ridiculously high quality settings. Is there a reasonable solution to distributing this sort of video?

  8. KnightRT Says:

    See, and I'll bet you thought there wasn't any reason to buy a quad-core. When all else fails, the solution is Glorious Excess.

  9. Major Malfunction Says:

    Dan said, "Wombats are neither aggressive nor affectionate. If you stroke one, it’ll just stomp off somewhere else."

    I dunno about that, Dan. I touched a tame(ish) one busily munching grass at a camping ground and it growled at me! Weirdest noise I ever heard. Kinda like the Predator breathing, but scarier. I promptly withdrew my hand but it glared at me until I backed off a few steps, then went back to munching... I don't know what it would have done if I hadn't retreated, but I'll never interrupt a hungry wombat again!

    Anyhoo, that's all I have to contribute. I'm on dialup. What are these "moving pictures" of which you speak?

  10. Ziggyinc Says:

    I read the Wiki on wombats, and I still cannot get over the image that formed when it described how the wombats deal with predators. Wombat says "Leave me alone or I'll sit on you." Or crush you against the tunnel roof actually.

  11. DBT Says:

    One of my favourite children's books:

    ...and the back story; more epic than the book:

  12. Itsacon Says:

    One thing I always liked about video-encoding was how the industry is always one step behind the `pirates': A full DVD (about 5 GB, MPEG-2 encoding), has pretty much the quality as a well-encoded MPEG-4 movie the size of a CD. A full blue-ray disk (which is what, 50 GB?) has the same quality as a DVD-sized h.264 rip...

    Granted, the hardware required for the the ripped version is a bit heavier, but any modern graphics card can do it.

  13. Daniel Rutter Says:

    When I was a kid I read various Muddle-Headed Wombat books, but all memory of them was driven out of my head because I also read "The Death of a Wombat" by Ivan Smith, which is a good a way to aim your kid at a life of severe clinical depression as I've ever encountered.

    I only remembered the cheerful Muddle-Headed Wombat just now because I was looking for the name of that book in which the wombat BURNS TO DEATH.

  14. michal Says:

    Oh my god. I'm going to have nightmares now. Poor wombat.
    Please tell me it was fiction. I'm afraid to check myself.
    Even if it isn't, just say it is.

  15. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    I'm convinced, Dan, that people named Ivan want the rest of the world to be as miserable as they are, because they're freezing their toes off.

  16. michal Says:

    They still have the same problem even when it's hot. Ivan Milat anyone?

  17. Alereon Says:

    Peridot, if high bitrate H.264 through x264 doesn't give you good enough quality, you're pretty much left with MJPEG or a lossless codec, and you'd probably have to include the codec with your file. If you've got the bandwidth you'd probably get the best results from CorePNG, especially if you can reduce the color depth of the video. You might also try high-bitrate XviD with Quarter-Pixel motion compensation on. Use this same setting when you test with H.264 as well.

  18. GemmaWilson Says:

    Oh my my - is this for real...Poor wombat

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