I’ve had a few requests late­ly to send orig­i­nal or very large video files to clients online and when I respond that send­ing a portable hard dri­ve might be more effi­cient, I get con­fused replies. To sum­ma­rize the issues, and hope­ful­ly provide you with a sim­ple and use­ful ref­er­ence, here is a short and sweet post on the mat­ter:

File Size vs. Transfer Time

This is the thing it comes down to: what are you ask­ing to be deliv­ered and how much band­width do you have? Video files are huge as they are, at their sim­plest, 24 (or more, see frame rates) images for every sec­ond of footage. Have you seen how large a sin­gle JPEG image can be? Mul­ti­ply it by 24 and then the result of that by how many sec­onds long the piece is and you get the idea (note: I said “idea,” I did not say “the actu­al answer” — more on that in a sec­ond). The oth­er fac­tor involved is res­o­lu­tion (i.e.: pix­el dimen­sions) of the video. Obvi­ous­ly a video at 640x480 pix­els in size is going to be small­er than full HD at 1920x1080 pix­els in size. But you still have the 24+ frames per sec­ond (fps) rate and you’ve only got so much band­width in your inter­net con­nec­tion and time in your day…


How much speed do you actu­al­ly have? You might think you have 7 Mbps or 25 Mbps con­nec­tion, but that is typ­i­cal­ly adver­tised for the down­load speed only (the vast major­i­ty of inter­net users are con­sumers, not cre­ators, after all). Upload speeds trail far behind those lev­els. The aver­age inter­net speed for the U.S. is about 13.68 Mbps (megabits per sec­ond) down­load and a mere 3.65 Mbps upload (but I’m guess­ing you prob­a­bly have some­thing slow­er). And upload speed is going to be crit­i­cal when you are ask­ing some­body to “send me that video.” They aren’t going to be ter­ri­bly inter­est­ed in tying up their computer/connection for hours on end if they can’t charge you for the ser­vice!


The answer to video’s great size vs. time chal­lenge is com­pres­sion. Video is often times not just RAW unprocessed native sig­nals record­ed to a dri­ve (because that is a data man­age­ment night­mare and very expen­sive), but has some lev­el of com­pres­sion applied to keep the files man­age­able. There are a great many types of video com­pres­sion schemes, but the most com­mon you’ve prob­a­bly run into are H.264 (for most types of online deliv­ery) and MPEG-2 (all your DVDs use this). Your video pro­duc­er is like­ly going to be using some­thing much more high-quality and with less com­pres­sion like may­be XDCAM, AVCHD, ProRes, DNx­HD, or R3D. Let’s take a look at approx­i­mate­ly how large one hour of 24fps 1080p HD footage might be in var­i­ous for­mats:

  • AVCHD = 12 GB
  • XDCAM HD = 19 GB
  • REDCODE = 30 GB
  • ProRes = 60 GB

Note that I did not include H.264 or MPEG-2 in that list as a part of data com­pres­sion is what bit rate you choose. This is vari­able depend­ing on your needs. For exam­ple you might use 5 or 8 Mbps for YouTube or Vimeo files but a Blu­Ray uses up to 40 Mbps. Regard­less, you want to know…

But How Long Will It Take?

This online band­width cal­cu­la­tor will give you an esti­mat­ed down­load time (or upload time if you look at the cor­re­spond­ing rate) of your video file. You don’t need to know what com­pres­sion scheme or data rate was used on the file, sim­ply the final file’s size. For sim­plic­i­ty, let’s use a 1 GB video file (some­times a stream­ing video file of a movie will be about this size on Net­flix or iTunes because of res­o­lu­tion and com­pres­sion) and see approx­i­mate­ly how long it would take to upload or down­load. Remem­ber that real world con­di­tions will like­ly be some­what slow­er due to net­work con­tention and over­head.

Speed 1 GB 16 GB
768 kbps 3 hr, 6 mins 49 hr, 42 mins
1.5 Mbps 1 hr, 32 mins 24 hr, 43 mins
2.0 Mbps 1 hr, 11 mins 19 hr, 5 mins
8.0 Mbps 0 hr, 18 mins 4 hr, 46 mins
24 Mbps 0 hr, 6 mins 1 hr, 35 mins
50 Mbps 0 hr, 3 mins 0 hr, 44 mins

Delivery Methods

So, the next time you ask for video files to be sent to you online, con­sid­er what it actu­al­ly takes (besides disk stor­age). Drop­box or FTP might not be the best option if you have large or numer­ous files, espe­cial­ly as Drop­box is a mir­rored fold­er on somebody’s com­put­er (i.e.: yours and mine). Keep in mind that it may be quick­er and eas­ier to uti­lize a portable hard dri­ve sent via FedEx!