Read This Before You Upgrade to iBooks Author 2.0
I recently published my first iBook Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion.
It features over a dozen historic propaganda videos. I used iBooks Author 1.0 (iBA) to create the iBook, and with lots of advice from experts, I managed to create good quality videos of manageable file size.
Before I upgraded to iBA 2.0, I thought I'd do some research.
I'm glad I did, because it appears that the new iBA 2.0 "Media Optimization" feature has mixed reviews in video management. That early analysis comes from Dr. Frank Lowney, Projects Coordinator, Digital Innovation Group @ Georgia College. Frank spent many hours online answering my questions about importing videos into iBA 1.0 and I owe him a big thanks.
Here's some of what Frank wrote about iBA 2.0 in his comment to a recent MacWorld review.
IBAv1 was terribly finicky about video. It rejected videos that played perfectly well in the Videos.app on iPad. The current optimization routine is an apparently a well intentioned correction of that finickiness.
… If you are writing a textbook or any kind of book containing video that requires providing soft subtitle tracks to address accessibility and other important goals or alternate audio tracks to reach a wider, multi-lingual audience, be aware that this optimizer will strip out those valuable assets without notice. Of concern to a wider group of authors is the violence done to certain videos by this "optimization" routine. Although it works quickly and does a reasonably good job on video that is already close to optimal, it wreaks havoc on video that is not.
…The worst part is that you cannot revert to the old regime.
For more a detailed analysis see this thread in the Apple Support Communities Preventing iBooks Author Media Optimization where Frank comments:
The optimization routine in iBooks Author 2.0 is well intentioned but the execution of those intentions is quite poor. In addition to bloating the size of your videos and, hence, your iBook, it can also degrade visual quality in dramatic fashion.
… With iBooks Author 1.x, I had figured out how to create very efficient and highly capable video that IBA will accept. This "feature" throws me and a lot of other capable people into a ditch.
I asked Frank if I can use his comments and he agreed, while noting he hasn't had time "to do full range of tests and documentation that I prefer to do." But his early reviews suggest that I'll wait to upgrade. Who needs bloated files, lost subtitled tracks and poor video quality?
Nov 9 Update from Frank Lowney:
As you'll recall, the caveat was that my findings re video in IBA 2 were preliminary and, therefore, subject to revision as I conduct more rigorous tests. I may well have to eat some of those earlier words. I'm still nowhere near a definitive opinion but I did manage to do a comparison between videos submitted to IBA and what they looked like after the "optimizer" got through with them.
The way to do that is to change the suffix of an *.ibooks file to zip and then use something like the free Stuffit Expander to expand the archive and reveal its folder structure and enable examining the contents. Video files are all in /OPS/assets/media/.
So I created five new videos for my iBook, loaded them into IBA, let the optimizer have at them and then compared the file size of the originals with what I found inside the *.ibooks file. I was surprised and pleased to find that four out of five were pretty much the same as the originals in both file size and quality. The odd one was 7.6 MB in the original and 8.2 MB in the *.ibooks file which is not huge. IBA apparently jacked up the data rate a little.
Of course this was a "soft ball" since the source came out of the recently released ScreenFlow 4 using a custom settings designed to be optimal for iPad (a multi-pass encode at 1024x768 using H.264 in a MOV container). Except for changing the container from .mov to .m4v, everything was the same in the *.ibooks file: bit-rate, frame rate, height, width, etc. So if you give IBA something that it expects and respects, it does no harm.
I'll start throwing hard balls in the coming days and we'll see what happens.
I'm sticking to what I said about soft subtitle tracks and alternate audio tracks. These are incredibly important in an educational environment in terms of Section 508 and 504 compliance. As well, being able to offer multi-lingual access is critical to the success of on-line learning. What IBA's "optimizer" does to them is indefensible. There seems to be a contingent at Apple who think that Closed Captions, a throwback to analog TV broadcasting, is sufficient but they are dead wrong. It relies on a binary format that can only be created by expensive and difficult to use software (go ahead and price MacCaptioner) as contrasted with SRT, ASS, etc. that anyone can create with a simple text editor.
So, for people who aren't concerned about subtitles and alternate audio tracks, the upgrade to IBA 2.0 appears to me to be a good move. The new widgets are awesome, especially the scrolling sidebar which looks a lot like what I described in an enhancement request that I submitted. The only people for whom this is a show stopper are the folks that are prepping video for iBooks and working for institutions and corporations that simply must address these accessibility issues. Indies like you and I can ignore these issues for the time being. The stuff I do at work is another story altogether.
More later and thanks for being a great sounding board.