Adobe Premiere Pro: What are the best export settings?

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me or posted on a forum about the “best/ideal export settings for Adobe Premiere,” I would be a rich man.  So I’m posting a guide for Premiere users to use.  I know that there are a million different ways to export video…so I’m going to show you my best practices and choices for export settings in each category.

The categories are:

  1. Uncompressed
  2. Master Copy (Deliverable and Intermediate)
  3. Exporting for uploading to web-based video sites like Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc.

First there are a couple of general tips everyone who uses a non-linear editing system needs to know:

Bitrates come into play when you export a file that is compressed using a codec.   The codec (AVI, H264, Mpeg, Flash, WMV) is compressing the file to make it smaller yet attempt to retain the quality of the video.  It goes like this: The higher the bitrate, the better quality video you will get and the bigger the files.  The lower the bitrate, the smaller the files but to the expense of quality.  Variable Bitrates (VBR) mean the bitrate changes throughout the video depending on how hard the video in particular section push the graphics.  For example, parts of the video with alot of movement will have a higher bitrate versus static shots.  Alternatively, Constant Bitrates (CBR) maintain the same bitrate throughout the video regardless of what happens in the video.

It is also important to know that Adobe Premiere has the capability to edit footage natively…meaning it actually uses the original files to edit rather than convert the footage to an intermediate codec prior to editing (like Final Cut Pro and it’s proprietary ProRes codec).  This plays a key role in #2 below.

The first (and still the best) format that Adobe Premiere’s software on PC was built to edit is AVI.  Audio Video Interleave was created in 1992 by Microsoft as part if it’s video for Windows technology.  It’s MADE for Windows. Adobe then added the other codecs as options but AVI remains the best.  For MAC users, the best type of video to edit with is Quicktime (.MOV).

1) Uncompressed

Why would you want to export uncompressed?  First of all, you can export to an intermediate codec (like DNxHD, free from the Avid site) or uncompressed if you plan on either converting or editing the exported footage later.  This keeps the files smaller. But sometimes an intemediate isnt possible, like exporting to Prores from a Pc for editing in Final Cut Pro. For example: I have been given footage exported by a Final Cut Pro editor in ProRes Quicktime to edit in Premiere.  I can import it into Premere (on Pc) to edit but I cannot export it back into ProRes to give back to the editor. Therefore I must export to an uncompressed format like Quicktime Animation or PNG. I can then deliver this back to the Final Cut user knowing they will have no problem using QT with their software.

Uncompressed AVI or Quicktime (Animation, None, or PNG) are basically your choices.  Uncompressed AVI is chosen if you plan to convert or edit the exported file with Premiere.  Quicktime should be used if you plan to work on a Mac.

Editors who use uncompressed formats should know that these files are going to be huge.  Most of the time the uncompressed version is overkill.  Converting a compressed format to an uncompressed format does not increase the quality of the video, but it ensures there isn’t any degradation of the video quality.

2) Exporting a Master Copy

My practice is to immediately export a master copy of the the finished video and use that file to create other versions for use in the following categories.  The master should be exported to a less compressed intermediate like DNxHD that will help reduce any compression issues. If you are creating a master for another post house or distributor, make sure you find out which intermediate codec they require. They usually have a spec sheet that is very detailed in their requirements.

3) Exporting for uploading to web-based video sites like Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc.

Most of these sites accept many types of files…Quicktime (MOV), Windows Media Video (WMV), H.264 (MP4), and Flash (FLV).  Each site will transcode the video into an FLV format and embed it within their sites automatically.  It’s important to know that your exported video does not need to be of a quality that exceeds these sites’ bitrate threshold.  For example, a Vimeo video that was from an uploaded WMV exported at 5 mbps IS THE SAME QUALITY as the same WMV exported at 20 mbps.  That’s because Vimeo’s bitrate cap is 5 mbps.  It is pointless to export higher than this bitrate, as you’ll only be increasing the size of your file but not gaining any quality in the uploaded and converted video playing on the Vimeo site.

The bitrate cap for Youtube is lower than Vimeo, and Facebook and Myspace even lower than that.  You’ll notice that Youtube videos never look quite as good as Vimeo, that’s because the bitrate on converted Youtube files are around 3-4 mbps as opposed to Vimeo’s 5.

The best type of file to export for uploading to websites is h.264 (mp4).  The quality to size ratio for these files are efficient and ideal.

MULTIPLEXER: Select MP4 and Standard.  Use PSP if you want to enable the video to play

on Sony Playstation or Xbox. (NOTE: The PSP option is buggy in CS5 and not recommended)

VIDEO: Adjust the frame width/height and Frame Rate to match your project settings.

AUDIO: If you get audio sync issues with 48khz, try 44.1khz.

As with ANY CS5 project, I recommend selecting QUEUE.  This sends the project to Adobe Media Encoder, which frees up Premiere to

work on other projects or simply close to free up memory while it encodes.  Using this option will also make rendering ALOT faster.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT RENDERING TIME:  If you select “Use Maximum Render Quality,” it will drastically lengthen the encoding time and will add very little to the quality of the final product.

UPDATE FOR DSLR USERS

I’ve been asked by several to share DSLR workflow.  For master copies and/or intermediate codecs, (since you cannot export to the same H264 file) I highly recommend using Cineform.  The best all around!  You will need Cineform Neoscene to encode into Cineform AVIs. 

MY CUSTOM H264 EXPORT SETTINGS (CS5)

Here are links to my h264 export settings should you want to install them on your system, saving you time setting them up.  I’ve included several variations including the elusive “anamorphic” setting to export video to a 2.35:1 aspect like theatrical films.

Right-click and “save as” to your computer.  Place the downloaded files here:  C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Common\AME\5.0\Presets

Anamorphic (2.35:1) HD 1080p, at 24fps (NOTE: this preset crops the top and bottom of the video to achieve the correct aspect)

Widescreen (1.78:1)  HD 1080p, at 24fps

Widescreen (1.78:1) SD 480p, at 24fps

 

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