In 1986, Mike Mobley Reporting was involved in a big case between two computer companies. The attorneys were taking depositions all over the country and we needed a way to transfer ASCII files so we could deliver the transcripts overnight. Our computer people came up with a solution. We used PC Anywhere as a file transfer protocol and received the ASCII’s. We then imported those ASCII’s into our court reporting software and printed final transcripts for each party in the case. This was the start of the digital age in court reporting for Mike Mobley Reporting. Things have changed at an exponential rate and file formats are one of the biggest questions our office staff, court reporters and legal videographers receive.
Advances in technology have certainly made the legal industry more efficient. Digital transcripts and videos coupled with advancement in cloud technology has untethered us from our offices and allows access to materials without lugging around boxes of transcripts and exhibits. However with new technologies also comes new file formats and it’s not uncommon for files that work perfectly on one computer to be totally unreadable on another. With that in mind, we’ve come up with a small list of popular file formats for both video and transcript files and how to access them if you can’t seem to open them.
Transcript File Formats
Adobe’s PDF files have become the standard in digital documents across all industries. PDFs are incredibly versatile allowing high quality text, images (in color or black and white) and fillable forms. These files have become so standard that most web browsers and tablets come with built in PDF readers and if for some reason you are unable to open one Adobe offers a free reader/viewer program at https://get.adobe.com/reader/.
RealLegal’s E-Transcript is perhaps the most popular format today for specifically transcripts. E-Tran has been around forever and for good reason. PTX files are small and easy to email and contain the transcript in full sized and condensed forms as well as the word index. Some firms also offer hyperlinking of exhibits within the ptx file itself. The free E-Transcript viewer allows your office staff to easily print out the transcript in whatever format you prefer. The viewer can be downloaded here.
Another popular deposition production software, Visionary, works much like a combination of PDF and the E-Transcript viewer. Most of the time when getting a disc made using Visionary you will find a viewer program that allows reading the transcript alongside any exhibits or video files (if synced) in addition to a PDF file for your own use.
ASCII files are the raw text files that essentially every program uses to create their formats. ASCIIs are very small in terms of file size but have none of the formatting that makes reading transcripts easier. If you were to print an ASCII you’d find a hard to read mess but emailing an ASCII to a court reporting firm would allow them to convert the transcript into pretty much any format you’d want.
Legal Video File Formats
MPEG1s are the standard format for video synchronization programs. These files work well for synchronization purposes because they are generally smaller and easier to transport. Where an eight hour deposition might span 4-5 standard resolution DVDs, converting the files to MPEG1s allow us to fit the entire run time on one DVD. The tradeoff however is that to fit the files on one DVD the resolution (quality) has to be lower. MPEG1s work great for quickly reviewing videos in your office but for presenting them to clients or during trial some of the other images might be better.
MPEG2 files are higher quality versions of MPEG1s. For shorter depositions these work fine but longer depositions tend to be too large for a single DVD and spanning them across multiple discs causes all sorts of issues trying to put them back together on a computer. It is possible to transport these files over online repositories like dropbox but depending on internet speeds it could take a while download. Unlike MPEG1s not all computers can play all MPEG2s without additional software. Depending on what codecs are installed on your computer you may need to download software like VLC Player which can be found here.
MP4s are newer formats and work on most computers without much problems. The standard windows media player can play these without much issue and MP4s also allow a higher quality than most MPEG files. The downside is most syncing programs don’t use or export these types of files so in order to use or produce these we need to convert them either too or from an MPEG anyway. And every time you convert a video files you tend to lose a little bit of quality and can introduce audio errors.
MOV files are an older format that is mostly used by Apple products. Depending on how the video is encoded you can generally get fairly high quality video files without a massive increase in file size. However MOV files usually do not work without a special player to run them like VLC Player or Quicktime. And as far as I know, there are no syncing programs that can use these types of files, which requires a conversion before they can even be used with any kind of legal software.
AVIs can come in all shapes and sized but these days you find them most commonly in raw uncompressed video files. With an uncompressed AVI you get the highest quality the camera could film on. The tradeoff however is that the files quickly balloon to simply unmanageable sizes. Trying to sync with an AVI file can cause the program to lock up and crash, and transporting the files is a giant pain.
I’ve highlighted the most common file formats you will find there are of course others as technology constantly moves forward and as cloud computing/hosting grows more and more videos will start being hosted on the web itself. For a while .FLV files were growing in popularity for easy uploading to sites like YouTube, however with the switch over to different video software FLVs are slowly being phased out. And of course those of us who work with videos are always looking for a file compression that maintains the original quality while keeping the file size itself down.
Summation is a very popular case management/database software that allows for attorneys to keep all their transcripts, exhibits notes, etc in one place. A fairly common question/comment we get when asking for order information is if whatever we send will work in Summation. The answer to this is almost always yes no matter where you are. All major programs like E-Transcript, YesLaw, and InData export their files into a variety of formats that allow for easy importing into Summation and it’s kind of software.
If you have any questions about these different formats, give us a call at (937) 222-2259.
In another article, we discuss Six Tools to Make Attorneys More Efficient.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steve Troncone has worked in the court reporting field for over 12 years in multiple areas including videography, production, technology support and trial presentations. He has been working with Mike Mobley Reporting as a legal videographer and office support team member since May 2016.