I’m looking at a lot of video lately. Being in the vicinity of prolific film blogger Jim Groom isn’t helping in reducing the amount I’m viewing. I’ve got a bunch of projects I’m working on that involve homegrown video, from Chemistry instructional videos, to historic UMW videos, to soon to be webcast projects like the Great Lives series. That latter project is causing me to challenge my way of thinking and re-imagine what video on the web really means. When I first got involved in the Great Lives Webcasts, I thought long and hard about which technology to use. Many of the issues that existed then are still true today. Making the videos work well cross-platform was my overriding mission. Real Video was the most tolerable format to go with. Berkeley was also using this format, which is what UMW Webcasts were modeled on. Windows Media was awful or non-existent on the Mac, and QuickTime was awful on Windows. It’s still the case. What has changed is that Flash video (FLVs) has matured, and frankly revolutionized the online video world. Even Microsoft admitted it not too long ago.
So why am I not running full steam ahead with Flash video for everything? Well, for many things it’s great. YouTube lives by it. My blog is filled with it. Most users have the Flash plugin before they have anything else (98% is the percentage bandied about). Encoders are bordering on ubiquitous. The quality is quite good with comparable file sizes to the other platforms. It was the most pliable to work into an interactive format. Most of the video that is incorporated into the numerous graphical design intensive sites is Flash video.
So why am I hesitating? Well the presentation of Flash video isn’t all there. 320 by 240 pixels videos are fine for shorter projects (less than 20 minutes), but after that you need to start thinking in the home theater/big screen realm of video. That’s why I’m thinking a lot about Divx web delivery. Let me get the disadvantage out of the way straight off. File size. It’s not that Divx files are abnormally large, it’s that Home Theater quality sizes (640×480 and larger) are inescapably big. However, with a speedy broadband connection, the problem isn’t even noticeable. Divx has one of the best buffering schemes available, allowing you to seamlessly start watching a video while the rest of it downloads quietly in the background. The broadband issue WILL become less and less of a factor.
So what of this experience? Well if you clicked through on the picture above, or have seen my post of Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride, you can begin to see the possibilities. Not only can it play well in a bigger window, that’s just one of the viewers choices of viewing modes. Clicking on the full screen button or right-clicking the video and choosing fullscreen mode allows you to watch high-quality video on the big screen. At almost DVD quality. The Mac experience is somewhat weaker than the Windows experience in that you need to minimize the browser after going into fullscreen mode. The Divx Stage 6 site can provide you with more videos to sample the quality (UPDATE: Stage6 is, as they say, no longer with us).
One part of the experience that was immediately a hit with me was that using Firefox and viewing a Divx video led to a pleasant, quick, and painless plugin download. And, of course, once it’s done the first time, you’re done. More testing needs to be done (I invite you all to test and leave comments) and while there is no Linux player available yet, there are (less elegant) solutions. Go watch some Divx movies on the web and see what you think. At least one viewer of my blog is beginning to experiment with it, and another is beginning to see the light.