How to Save Disk Space – Converting Videos & Reducing File Sizes

21 Oct

Last weekend, I was copying some files from an external hard drive to my computer when a little message popped up in the corner of the Windows taskbar:

 

Windows 7 low disk space message

low disk space – oh no…

 

I had just upgraded from my laptop’s original hard drive to an SSD* a couple of months ago and had hoped that 256 GB would be sufficient to keep all important apps and files easily accessible without having to outsource too many of them to an external drive.

Running Low on Disk Space

However what I hadn’t taken into account was that it wouldn’t just be the usual music, photo and video collections as well as games bought on Steam that would take up space. I had also started to use a Linux Virtual Machine that I had to allocate plenty of disk space to so that I could help my fellow founders get clipchamp.com off the ground. Since I had installed the VM, the “low disk space” message started to appear on a regular basis. So far I had been able to make enough space again by deleting temp files or moving old files from past projects to the external drive.

Unfortunately, not this time.

After a recent holiday trip with plenty of photos and videos taken, there weren’t any obsolete files any more that I was willing to not have available on my main drive.

pretty houses in Bad Sooden-Allendorf

pretty houses in Germany

More Videos, Bigger File Sizes

A quick disk analysis revealed that the most space by far was taken up by photos and videos. Accumulating those had started with the first digital camera I bought in 2003 continued with its successor from 2008. Back then, the video collection’s share of disk space was still easy to ignore. However this situation gradually changed when I replaced the 2008 camera with a digital SLR and this one was additionally substituted by generations of iPhones and a GoPro. This led to more photos getting snapped and more videos being recorded at much higher resolutions (720p, 1080p, more recently getting into 4k territory), greater pixel counts and increasing frame rates.

I started to wonder what I could do to free up some space as I couldn’t delete any apps, didn’t want to delete any games or push any music, personal photos or videos to an external drive or into the Cloud. I also didn’t want to upgrade my SSD to a bigger model just yet.

Luckily, some of the biggest files that I could do something about were videos I had taken with my first 2 digital cameras between 2003 and 2010 – this situation might sound familiar to you. They were all at rather small resolutions – only 480p – before the era of widely available Full HD and in either MOV or AVI containers. Many had file sizes of hundreds of MB or more but were only a few seconds to a few minutes long. They were also encoded in less efficient video and audio codecs than what is available today.

Using clipchamp for Video Compression

Thanks to plenty of testing videos of all shapes and sizes we had used to optimise clipchamp’s output presets and quality settings, I knew that converting my videos to MP4 and taking advantage of the H.264 video and AAC audio codecs used in the process would be my best bet to get lower file sizes. There would also not be any noticeable difference in display quality between input and output video.

I made sure I picked the right resolution and output device I wanted my videos to work on – in the case of 480p videos this was the Desktop/Web 480p output preset combined with the slow conversion, very good quality setting on the quality slider – and let clipchamp do what it does best.

The result – videos I recorded between 2003 and 2010 used up 6 GB on my disk before conversion. After the compression, 2 GB. At no visible quality difference, just by converting them from older video formats and codecs to a modern one.

In addition, I also compressed some of the more recent videos I had taken at Full HD resolution with my digital SLR, iPhone(s) and GoPro. I decided that I didn’t have to keep them in the state they came off their respective recording device and that they could do with some efficient conversion treatment as well. This time, I went for the Desktop/Web 1080p output preset and the slow conversion, very good quality setting. Again, file sizes were reduced by up to 65% without any visible reduction in display quality. Overall disk space gained – about 10 GB.

I was pleased.

Here is a sample video before (25.7 MB, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 29.97 fps)

and after conversion (4.7 MB, 18% of original, same resolution and frame rate).

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s experienced this problem of running out of disk space and wondering what to do. Short of buying a bigger SSD or outsourcing important files to an external drive, I’d say that converting videos to MP4 and compressing video files through the use of a more efficient codec  can be a good way to make some room on your laptop’s or desktop’s main drive.

If you’re unsure if video compression is right for you, I recommend you try it with 1 video file, compare the before and after versions and then decide.

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*the speed increase is amazing , if you’re wondering how to speed up your computer old or new, get an SSD, it is absolutely worth it.

 

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