I’ve recently converted two “perfectly good” QuickTime movies into MPEG-1 format to accompany a journal article in a widely-read astrophysics journal. This made me sad.
Scientists make animations all the time, and being (unapologetically) quite a visual person, I see a strong case for animations when we’re trying to illustrate dynamic phenomena. We’re animals that perceive time, after all, and in the case of the paper we resubmitted, it definitely helped get the context of the paper across. But converting these animations to an old standard like MPEG-1, from the beautiful H.264 .MOV files I started with, was a little heart-breaking. And then I caught myself…
As a Mac-less scientist (until a few years ago) I remember swearing under my breath at the growing use of .MOV files as a format for solar and simulation movies. Although the quality was fantastic, these files were big, and in a proprietary format – so they took ages to download and were very difficult to play on Linux machines (think back to the mid-2000s). Since then, I’ve converted to being a Mac user, and got into the habit of making movies in QuickTime format, even paying for the licence to do so. MOVs are pretty reliable, and presentation-quality, but really… can everyone play them? Or do I just subconsciously generalise from my own case now? Is there convergence or divergence of formats these days? Are video-dedicated resources like Vimeo and YouTube now the only ones that can cope with the variety of different types?
What format should we default to for animations at this point in the 21st century? Is M4V already replacing the old MOV format? Will Windows and Linux machines play nicely with them, or are they wedded to other formats of their own?
And, last of all, should we be trying to publish (and pay for) movies in journals when there are services out there like Figshare that will not only host them, but give them a DOI – right away – for free?
I’d be intrigued to know the landscape of opinions on this*, so I set up my first poll. I even had a hot whiskey to celebrate**.
(*if there are any readers out there. I’m braced for some enforced humility…)
(**actually, it was to medicate a suspected case of man-fluenza.)