Best Practices for Video in Digital Asset Management

Many organizations I’ve worked with have recently expressed interest in doing more with video content in their DAM. Workflows that initially focused on managing still images and documents are now involving more and more video. The entire landscape of digital media is changing and even traditional print designers are being asked to create interactive, rich media, and tablet-specific content. Digital publishing, mobile apps and the web are now part of the broad advertising and marketing landscape which has both enabled the use of and increased the demand for video content. It’s become a no brainier that DAM should be used to hold those assets.

In this article I’ll provide a primer on video asset management. I won’t address advanced aspects of a video production workflow in DAM, but will introduce you to key terms and guidance on managing video content in a DAM.

Video Terms

It’s helpful to be familiar with the following terms since they’ll probably appear as metadata in your dam, and knowing what they mean will help you understand the video best practices in the next section.

Resolution

Commonly used video resolutions (width x height)

Just like image formats, the size of a video on screen is determined by it’s resolution – it’s width and height measured in pixels. You may have heard the terms “720p” and “1080p” for HD televisions, which correspond to 1280x720 pixel and 1920x1080 pixel resolutions. (The p actually stands for progressive, not pixels, but you can read more about progressive vs. interlaced video here.)

Frame Rate

Frames per second (FPS), or frame rate, is the number of images (frames) displayed each second as the video is playing. Television is typically 30 frames per second. This means 1 second of uncompressed HD video would require approximately 30 images, each one 1920 pixels tall and 1080 pixels wide, to be displayed in one second!

Codec

High resolution videos with high frame rates can mean really big files. Fortunately a type of software called a codec is used to shrink file sizes of video files by filtering and compressing video and audio. “Codec” is a portmanteau of “compressor” and “decompressor”, because codecs can be used to compress a video file when saving it to make it smaller and decompress (or decode) a video file when playing it back. The codec used to save a video is also required to play back a video, which will cause problems if you don’t have the right codec installed. Your DAM should support or include codecs to play the video files you have, and support or include the codecs you need when converting files.

Container Format

Similar to image formats, video formats have standard “container” formats that usually correspond to a file extension. Some common video container formats are AVI, MOV and FLV (just like JPG, GIF,and PNG are common image container formats). However, container formats do not always use the same codec – just because you can play one AVI file doesn’t mean you will be able to play every AVI file you come across (unless you have the correct codecs).

Best Practices

If you’re new to digital asset management, or are already familiar with DAM but want to do more with video, here are some best practices for getting started with video in DAM.

Standardize on an Accessible Format

If the video files in your collection are from a variety of sources or have gradually been added over the years, it’s likely they use a variety of container formats and codecs. Ensuring that users are able to access the videos in a standard format can help avoid problems when the correct codec isn’t installed or when a media player or device doesn’t support a certain container format (for example, the iPad and iPhone cannot play the Adobe Flash video). Your DAM system can help by ensuring that video is available in a format that works for a variety of computers and devices.

Use Proxy Clips

Configuring video preview clips in a digital asset management system for instant playback on a variety of devices.

One way to standardize on an accessible format is to generate proxy clips for every video added to the DAM. Proxy clips (also known as preview clips) allow quick previewing of video and are automatically generated when video files are cataloged. Proxy clips use a container format and codec that is compatible with media players and the web, meaning video can be played on a variety of devices besides traditional desktop computers. In addition, proxy clips are streamed when users need to play a video file which means they don’t need to wait for an entire video to download or convert before they start playing it.

Understand Cataloging and Processing Time

The cataloging process is typically longer for video files compared to picture files. Video takes longer because there is more data (30 pictures per second instead of a single picture). The amount of processing power in your DAM (CPU, memory, hard drive speed) will determine how quickly you can catalog and convert files. You’ll want to make sure that your DAM server exceeds, not just meets, the system requirements. A new related trend is a media engine cluster which utilizes multiple computer (instead of one) to decrease cataloging and processing time.

Understand Storage Needs

Video files also take up more storage space compared to images. While images may be in the range of a couple megabytes videos can range from tens, to hundreds or thousands of megabytes (gigabytes). Ideally you will want to catalog the largest resolution and highest quality video available, instead of saving and cataloging lower quality clips, so you have the flexibility of converting to whatever quality you need on demand. Also keep in mind that if you’re automatically creating preview clips during the cataloging process that this will require more storage space, depending on the size and quality of the preview clips.

Understand Bandwidth Needs

As we’ve already established – video files can get really big! You’ll want to make sure you have enough bandwidth for uploading and downloading video. The best way to judge this is to try it out with your existing DAM or an evaluation of a DAM you’re considering. Simply upload some video files and download some video files. If your cataloging process involves moving files between two locations, you’ll want to include those locations in the test.

Embed Video Metadata

Metadata is the lifeblood of DAM since it affects how people find and use files – including video. Ideally you should use your DAM to embed (write) metadata like keywords and descriptions into your video files so that it is accessible in other applications (like Adobe Premiere for example). Vice versa, your DAM should read metadata written to video files in other applications so that it’s available for searching and other purposes in your DAM.

Summary

Even if you aren’t already managing video today, chances are you soon will. Video is becoming more common with modern devices and applications that are increasingly capable of creating video content. In addition, more business activities such as marketing, training and social media are relying more on video content. The above tips should provide you with a good primer on video related terms and some considerations for handling video in your DAM.

If you’re new to video in DAM, what other questions do you have? If you’re experienced with video in DAM, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thanks to Charles and his mom for pointing out some typos and issues that needed fixing in this article!

About Edward Smith

Edward Smith has a background as a Mac OS X and Windows system engineer, technical trainer, and DAM consultant. In his current position at Extensis, Smith is the in-house expert for all things digital asset management related and contributor to the DAM Learning Center. Edward often conducts customer training sessions, including product implementation tutorials and presentations at relevant conferences including Macworld Expo and the Extensis DAM conferences. You can contact Edward via Twitter or his Google+ profile.