How to Compress a Video: The Ultimate Guide

7 min read
Video compression tools on a laptop

Videos are an incredibly engaging and effective way to share content online. However, raw video files can be massive in size, making them difficult to store and slow to upload or stream. That's where video compression comes in.

Compressing a video means reducing its file size to make it easier to work with, without sacrificing too much visual quality. In this ultimate guide, we'll walk through everything you need to know about how to compress a video effectively.

Why Compress Videos?

There are several key reasons to compress your video files:

  1. Reduced storage requirements - Compressed videos take up much less hard drive space. This is crucial if you have a large library of video content.
  2. Faster uploads - Smaller file sizes mean your videos will upload to websites, social media, or the cloud much more quickly. No more waiting hours for a upload to finish.
  3. Smoother streaming - Compressed files require less bandwidth to stream. This means your viewers are less likely to encounter annoying buffering or stuttering during playback.
  4. Compatibility with websites/apps - Many platforms and devices have file size limits. Compressing lets you meet those requirements while still delivering high-quality video.

Understanding Video Compression

To compress a video, information that is less important or redundant is removed from the video file. There are two main categories of video compression:

  • Lossy compression reduces file size by permanently eliminating some information. The goal is to remove data that won't be missed much by the viewer. Most video compression is lossy.
  • Lossless compression reduces file size without removing any information. The original video can be perfectly reconstructed from the compressed file. Lossless compression doesn't reduce file sizes as much as lossy.

Several factors impact the amount of compression that can be achieved:

  • Codec - This is the algorithm used to encode/compress and decode/decompress the video. H.264 and HEVC/H.265 are popular lossy codecs that offer excellent compression.
  • Resolution - Higher resolution (4K) videos have larger file sizes than lower resolutions like 1080p or 720p. Reducing resolution is an effective way to shrink file sizes.
  • Frame rate - Videos with a higher frames per second (fps) will have larger file sizes. 60fps is common for action, while 24-30fps is enough for most standard video.
  • Bitrate - This is the amount of data stored per second of video. A higher bitrate means better quality but larger files. An efficient codec lets you reduce bitrate without losing too much quality.

Best Practices for Compressing Videos

Follow these tips to find the optimal balance between small file sizes and high visual quality when compressing your videos:

1. Choose the Right Format

MP4 is the best video format choice for compression. It's widely supported and offers an excellent balance of quality and file size. Other options like AVI or MOV are less efficient for compression.

2. Adjust the Resolution

In most cases, 4K is overkill - 1080p or even 720p video will look great and result in much smaller files. Reduce your video's resolution to the lowest level that still looks good to your viewers.

3. Reduce Frame Rate if Possible

60fps video is only needed for fast-paced action like sports or gaming. For most other content, 30fps (or even 24fps) will look perfectly smooth while allowing greater compression.

4. Choose an Efficient Codec

H.264/AVC is the most widely supported efficient codec. For even smaller file sizes, HEVC/H.265 or VP9 offer improved compression, but not all devices can play those formats yet.

5. Experiment with Bitrate

Bitrate has a big impact on video quality and file size. Aim for the lowest bitrate that still provides good visual quality. For 1080p video, a bitrate of around 5 Mbps is a good starting point. For 720p, 2.5 Mbps is often sufficient.

6. Use Two-Pass Encoding

With two-pass encoding, the compression tool analyzes the entire video first before compressing. This allows the bitrate to be allocated more efficiently compared to single-pass encoding, resulting in better quality for the same file size. However, it does take longer to compress this way.

How to Compress Videos on Windows and Mac

Now that you understand the key concepts behind video compression, let's walk through how to actually compress a video file using free tools on Windows and Mac.

Compressing Videos on Windows with Handbrake

Handbrake is a powerful, free, open source video compression tool for Windows, Mac and Linux. Here's how to use it:

  1. Download and install Handbrake from the official website: https://handbrake.fr/
  2. Open Handbrake and click "Open Source" to load your video file.
  3. In the "Summary" tab, choose "Fast 1080p30" under "Presets" if your original video is 1080p or higher resolution. For lower resolution videos, choose "Fast 720p30". This selects compression settings optimized for quality and speed.
  4. Click "Browse" next to "Save As" to choose a location and filename for your compressed video.
  5. Click "Start Encode" to compress the video. The time this takes will depend on your computer's speed and the length of your video.
  6. Once complete, you'll find your compressed video file in the location you selected. The file size should be significantly reduced from the original.

Compressing Videos on Mac with VideoProc Converter

VideoProc Converter is an easy-to-use video compression application for Mac. Here's how to compress a video with it:

  1. Download and install VideoProc Converter on your Mac. Launch the application.
  2. Drag and drop your video file into the app, or click "+Video" to load it.
  3. Select "Target Format" in the bottom left. Choose "MP4 H.264" for the best balance of compatibility and compression.
  4. Use the "Resolution" dropdown menu to lower the resolution of the video if desired for greater compression. 1920x1080 is full HD 1080p, while 1280x720 is 720p.
  5. If your video doesn't need to be 60fps, change "Frame Rate" to 30.
  6. Click "Browse" to choose where to save the compressed video file.
  7. Click "Run" to start the video compression process.
  8. Once finished, your compressed video will be saved in the selected location with a much smaller file size.

Online Video Compressors

If you prefer not to install any software, there are also websites that let you compress videos online for free:

While convenient, online tools typically have a lower file size limit than installing a dedicated video compression app. They also require a good internet connection to upload your original video file.

Conclusion

Compressing your videos is essential to save storage space, speed up uploads, and provide a better experience for your viewers. While there are many video compression tools available, they all work by selectively removing data using efficient codecs to reduce file size.

For the best results, reduce your video's resolution and frame rate if feasible, use a modern codec like H.264 or HEVC, and experiment with different bitrate settings to find the optimal balance of visual quality and file size. With practice and the right tools, you'll be able to quickly and easily compress your videos.

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