2. How the h*ll was I supposed to find that out ... *ever* ... without the kindness of strangers?
Well, the way you learn the basics is to learn the basics first, and not jump into CG software before you know what you’re doing. Not trying to be a pain, but all too often people complain bitterly about the software when the fact is they don’t know what they’re doing in the first place.
Every step of the process of image generation requires that you are mindful of the compression of your images, all the way thru the process. That means when you render it you know exactly what you are rendering, when you make it into a movie you know what your compression is, when you view it you have to know what the viewer is doing, when you edit you have to know what the editor is doing and how/if it’s doing any compression, etc.
Professionals generally have a plan for image compression, and start out with uncompressed renders and try to maintain as much of that quality throughout the process to the final product. That often takes a lot of planning and consideration, and you can’t expect the software to do that for you. It’s a function of speed vs. file size vs. quality.
Players are often designed to play faster and use a highly compressed version of the movie so that all users can see the movie in real time independent of their hardware. And sometimes that’s okay for editors because they just want a draft view of what they’re doing. But sometimes people want to see the full quality of their movie, which is especially the case with editors looking at the final product. But it all depends on what YOU need. Which is why you need to decide what you want and make sure you have the software set up to do that.
And occasionally, that means you actually have to find the user’s manual and read it.