How Can I Convert an Unplayable Video from CCTV whilst keeping the Best Quality?

Welcome, dear friends, to the weekly “How do I do this” appointment! As we discovered in the previous posts, most surveillance footage is normally available in proprietary formats that standard players won’t play. We’ve also seen that Amped Replay lets you play many of such formats, so you can view them. How though can you convert them, whilst maintaining quality to preserve their evidential worth, so that other colleagues can play them?

Spoiler of the day: just head to Amped Replay‘s Export tab and use “Export Original Video as AVI” (for preserving the best quality) or “Export Original Video as MP4” (for top compatibility)

If you’re a follower of this blog, then you know we always stress the importance of working with the original pixels. If you’re faced with a video in a proprietary format, it’s good news: it means you’ve likely been given the original recording without any post-processing. However, when you’re given a CCTV video stored in a standard MP4 or MOV file, it may have been “converted” by someone else. What you are seeing may not be the original pixels; they’ve been recompressed (and probably degraded). Therefore, if a license plate is not readable, you’re left with a question: would it have been readable in the original recording?

So far, we’ve drafted two issues:

  1. You need to play the proprietary video file, which has been discussed in the first post of this series.
  2. You also need a way to export the footage from the video to make them available to colleagues or to the media and do so in a proper way.

When it comes to exporting a video, there’s one main question you need to answer: What do I care the most about? Make your choice:

  1. I care the most about preserving the original pixels since the video has to be sent to a colleague who will do further processing, enhancement, and analysis.
  2. I care the most about maximizing the compatibility since the video has to be sent to a non-technical person who simply needs to watch it promptly, so it should play on whatever computer/device they may have.

The two options relate to different necessities, so there’s not a “good” one and an “evil” one. But don’t worry: Amped Replay will assist you in both cases. Let’s try it with an example.

We have this proprietary video file, which won’t play in Windows Media Player, VLC, nor any other “consumer player.”

We double click on it and the Amped Conversion Engine makes it playable seamlessly.

We can now see from the File Info panel that the codec is H264, which is a standard codec.

As it often happens, then, the main obstacle to playback was the proprietary container, that is, the “box” inside which the video stream was placed, and the way the data was stored inside this box. The video stream itself was encoded with a standard codec (H264). So, the video file now being viewed is built with the same pixels as the original, just stored in a standard way.

Now, let’s say we need to export the video to send it to a colleague for further processing, which means we want to maintain the best possible quality. We just need to go to the Replay’s Export tab, click on the Export Original Video as AVI button, and choose the destination folder.

In a few moments, even for large videos, Amped Replay will produce a new .avi file.

If we try to drop that file into VLC, it will now play nicely.

However, if we drop it in Windows Media Player, it won’t play.

Why is that? The explanation is that, when you use Export Original Video AVI, Amped Replay will extract the original video stream and place it inside the standard AVI container. Again, notice that, since the video stream is just copied, the pixels do not change at all. It is just the container and storage method being changed.

However, as demonstrated by the Windows Media Player vs VLC experiment, compatibility is still limited: some consumer players will now be able to play the converted video, but some not.

When compatibility is of the essence, we recommend using the other tool: Export Original Video as MP4.

This will “re-save” (transcode) the video to H.264, using a basic configuration of it that will be supported by most players. Then, the converted stream is put inside an MP4 container, which is also largely supported everywhere, including by browsers. The transcoding process may take some time, but you’ll get a nice progress bar staying with you.

Once done, if we drag the output file into Windows Media Player it works like a charm!

And please notice we’ve used the vanilla Windows Media Player, as it comes with Windows, without any additional codec installed or any other geeky stuff added.

Time for a summary:
We’ve seen that Amped Replay lets you play proprietary files (we already knew!) and also export them. You can choose between preserving the best possible quality or maximizing the compatibility, based on the scenario you find yourself in. All of that, it’s just a button away, with Amped Replay!

That’s all for today! We hope you’ve found this issue of the “Amped Replay Tutorials: How do I do this?” series interesting and useful! Stay tuned and don’t miss the next ones. You can also follow us on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook: we’ll post a link to every new tutorial so you won’t miss any!