Expression Media Encoder Woes

To put videos in a Silverlight application you have to use Microsoft Expression Media Encoder. This program has great potential but there is one annoying little problem that drives me crazy: It’s damn near impossible to get an export to the file size you want.

The problem originates from the 22mb size limit of video files uploaded to Silverlight Streaming. As you can see on this blog my video tutorials are intentionally large to give the viewer a good view of the screen and as a result so are my files. To solve this I tried to muck around with the different settings in the right hand panel. This turned out to be a massive headache:

First off VBR (Variable Bit Rate) crashes the application every time forcing the use of CBR (Continous Bit Rate?) which causes the files to become unnecessarily large. This is not due to my system (I edit videos using Premiere on a daily basis and export them to a variety of different formats) but might have to do with the input file so I’ll leave it pending further testing.

estimated.jpgSecondly the estimated size panel is all over the place. In the 50 or so times I’ve exported something from the program this number has never been anywhere close to the actual final size. The last video I posted had an estimated file size of 68MB while the actual export was 21.9MB. Needless to say this is just a bit confusing. Unfortunately with this estimation being off there is no way of knowing what the actual output file size will be so you are left with random experimentation.

Here is a short list of things that don’t work if you are trying to reduce the size of your file:

  • Changing the video bit rate alone has little to no effect
  • Changing the audio bit rate has minor effects
  • Changing the video size has an effect but only as long as you don’t change the video profile size – this will override the former
  • Using CBR doesn’t work, at least not for me
  • Changing key frame intervals seems to have little effect

The only thing I’ve done that does make a difference is reducing the size of the final output and drastically reducing the bit rate of both audio and video. My original file was 1024 x 768 and I originally wanted to export it at 800 x 600. No matter what changes I made (reduce bit rate, increase key frame interval, reduce quality, reduce smooting, 2 pass encoding, you name it) the file insisted on being either 25MB or 46MB with very little variance between them. The file only landed at 21.9MB when I reduced the video bit rate to 400, the audio bit rate to 48 and the video size (using the Video Profile area) to 600 x 448. This was an acceptable compromise and because Silverlight video is scaleable it was satisfactory.

So, to sum up: It seems (at least for now) that the only variable that has any significant impact on final file size is the video size. This should be changed in the Video Profile area because it allows for locked aspect ratios. Pending further experimentation I therefore advise you to screw around with the size of your video before you touch any of the other variables as they seem to have little impact on the outcome.