PowerPoint Video: Embed vs. Link


By default PowerPoint 2010 will embed video files.  That is, it will make them part of a single PPTX file.  This has a dramatic effect on the size of the PPTX file, but Microsoft opted to change the default behavior of PowerPoint with the release of the 2010 version because of the chief problem with linked video files:  portability.  With previous versions of PowerPoint, when people took their presentations to a venue with a different computer than the computer on which the presentation was created, they inevitably left the linked videos behind, and when it came time in the presentation to play the video, it failed to play.  PowerPoint was looking for it on the old computer because that is what the link in the PPT file told it to do.  This was such a consistent problem that Microsoft changed the behavior of the program, sacrificing file size for a more satisfactory user experience.  However, they left the ability to link video files, rather than embed them, should the user be knowledgeable enough to do this.  On the whole embedding is the best solution, but there are a couple of reasons you might wish to link your video files rather than embed them, especially if you are the kind of person who can remember to move your media files along with your PPTX file.

First, let’s go over the basics of embedding a video file that you already have on your hard drive, into a PowerPoint 2010 slide.  Below you see the default, general purpose slide (using the Horizon theme) with its multiple placeholders.  Most people will click the video placeholder, navigate to the video file on their hard drive, and click the Insert button.  Then, when the file is saved, PowerPoint embeds it in the PPTX file.

Standard Insert Slide
Standard Slide with Placeholders

This works, but it has the unfortunate effect of inserting the video at a size relative to the size of the placeholder’s container—the dashed or solid lines around the placeholder.  It is far better to use the Insert tab to insert a video, and dispense with placeholders.  Therefore, instead of using the “standard” slide, with its multiple placeholders, use a slide with Title only container, or a blank slide layout.  That way the video will be inserted at its native dimensions.

Here;s how:  Click the Insert tab; click the drop-down under Video; select “Video from File…”; navigate to the video on your file system and click Insert.

Video Insert

Once again, when the presentation is saved, PowerPoint will embed the video file.

To demonstrate the effect on file size, let’s take a look at file sizes before and after embedding video.  Here is a look before and after embedding the video file malaria_human.wmv and saving the file named Malaria.pptx:

Save File Before
Before saving the file
Save File After
After embedding and saving

As you can see, the size of the presentation includes the size of the video file.  It doesn’t matter at dimensions you render the video within the presentation, it will always be just this big.  It can help if you compress media before saving (File > Info > Compress Media), especially if you choose “Low Quality,” but by doing so you will be sacrificing video quality.  Whether this is worth doing is a judgement call by you based on your video quality requirements.

Compress Media in PowerPoint 2010
Compress Media in PowerPoint 2010

OK.  So much for embedding.  Now, how do you link a video file rather than embed it?  Simple.  Follow the same procedure described above to find the video you wish to Insert, but on the Windows Explorer Insert Video dialog box, select the file you want, click the drop-down on the Insert button, and choose “Link to file” rather than “Insert.”

Link To Video File
Link To Video File

This time when you save the file, you will see its size increase only by a few bytes.  Link to as many videos as you wish, and you will hardly increase the size of the PPTX file.

So, why would you want to link rather than embed?  I can think of X reasons:

1.  You may be storing/transferring your files via a cloud service, and the size limitation per file will not allow huge files. Microsoft’s SkyDrive, for example, limits single file size uploads to 300MB, a file size easily exceeded once you begin embedding a number of video files, especially if they are not severely compressed.

2.  You may want to edit the video independently of the PowerPoint presentation.  Embedding it means that it is part of the PowerPoint PPTX file, and it cannot be edited except through the fairly primitive video editing tools built-in to PowerPoint.  Linking means that you can make any sort of edits independent of PowerPoint, and as long as you do not change the link name or path, your changes will be reflected in the presentation without having to change it.

3.  You may have to deliver your PowerPoint presentation on an earlier version of PowerPoint.  If you link the video file, it will work.  If you embed, you will have to go through a conversion to the old format in order to use it.  This can have embarrassing consequences if you are asked to present but you forget to verify that the venue you will be using has the latest (2010) PowerPoint.

The main drawback to linking is that you may forget to bring your media files along with your presentation file, and when you reach the point in the presentation where they are supposed to play they won’t.  This is just a matter of discipline, however.  If you are going to be linking, be sure all the media files you will be using are in the same folder that contains the PowerPoint presentation file.  Then, if you need to move the presentation to a flash drive, copy the entire folder to the flash drive.  The relative path between the PPTX file and the media files will remain the same, and they will work every time.  I strongly discourage creating separate folders for media.  If you do, be sure to copy the entire folder structure to the flash drive.

If you are not the disciplined sort, then PowerPoint’s default embed behavior is for you, and you will just have to live with large file sizes and their drawbacks.  If you are disciplined, however, just ever so much, then linking is a better alternative.