YOUTUBE and Vimeo are wonderful services for spreading your video globally, so if you have footage of a gorilla playing Beethoven on the Steinway, then these online services are the way to send it viral and make you famous. But let's assume you have something more personal, private and less vulgar, for sharing with family and friends - what's the best way to do it?
If you bought your digital camera in the past four years, you already have video-shooting capability. The price of hardware is zero, unless you need a bigger memory card; 16 gigabytes is about the minimum. And you have a computer, which means the editing suite is already to hand. So far, so cheap.
Windows Live Movie Maker on Windows or iMovie on Mac will do a reasonable job of editing and come built into the operating systems, but we prefer a dedicated editor. It's hard to go past Adobe Premiere Elements 11 ($126). This is an easy-to-use, comprehensive application that can do just about anything an amateur can imagine.
If you have ideas of mixing voice, music and effects for a soundtrack, you need Audacity, a free Windows and Mac audio editor (audacity.sourceforge.net/). To export your soundtrack as an MP3 you also need the LAME converter, which is free, and there is a link to it on the Audacity download site.
Premier Elements has a range of export format presets. The obvious choice for a large video is DVD or Blu-ray, with physical distribution of the disc. Shorter videos can be distributed over the internet.
Exporting involves finding an acceptable compromise between image size, file size and quality. Cameras these days will record in full high-definition 1920 x 1080, and that's the best format for shooting and editing but not for distribution electronically. A widescreen output of about 854 x 480 gives a picture large enough for most purposes.
One of the widescreen iPad high-quality settings in Premiere Elements works well, producing a video in the H.264 format that will play on every platform. Experiment. It's free.
The simple free alternative to YouTube and Vimeo, which is both more personal and has better quality, is Dropbox. Make the video, upload it to the Sharing folder and send the file link to the people on your distribution list.
Uploads are generally faster this way because there is no queuing and waiting while the video is reprocessed by YouTube or Vimeo. Upload speed depends on the internet connection; we find a four-minute video takes about eight minutes to upload on a cable connection.
The free universal video player, VLC, will play any video on any platform (videolan.org). The DivX player is a good alternative. (divx.com).
Next week: The more expensive, complicated and satisfactory method of sharing videos.