The Not Ready for Prime Time HTML5 Players

CoversHTML5 video is taking over the world! It’s just that the world isn’t ready for it yet. Flash has powered both good and bad websites for years now, but video publishing has been democratized by the ability of anyone to publish their content by embedding a Flash player into a blog post or a web page. Shoot your video, upload it to YouTube, and publish. Simple.

And now, the downsides. Flash is a plugin in a web browser, which needs to be installed – and updated on a regular basis. The other downside? It doesn’t work on iThings – iPods, iPhones, iPads. Flash is having it’s performance problems on other mobile devices, and it doesn’t seem to be that Apple is just making it up.

So how does this all clear the way for HTML5 video? What is HTML5 anyway? The what is it question is answered by a very informative website called Dive Into HTML5 by Mark Pilgrim. HTML5 is (the shortened description) a specification about how components work in a web page, but they include fancy new capabilities like animation and video, and more interaction – you know, like Flash – but without the plugin. It does it natively with whatever browser you have, as long as the browser supports the capabilities. It’s why HTML5 is not quite ready for prime time yet. Not all the browsers fully support it. The Internet Explorer browsers have been particularly slow to adopt it, though IE9 will make up quite a bit of the distance that its predecessors left it.

HTML5 video is being adopted more quickly that the other HTML5 bits because of the Flash deficiencies mentioned previously. However, the browser support issue needs to be dealt with. A common way forward is to program for the HTML5 video and then have a “fallback” plan in case it isn’t supported in the browser. In other words program so that Flash kicks in if there is no HTML5 video support. Do a search for “html5 flash fallback” and you get a bucket load of procedures.

Now this is where you should be shouting, “You’re doing it all wrong!” Why? Because the HTML5 support is immature, and it shows. The built in players just don’t have the functionality of the Flash players. Use the same search terms for falling back to HTML5 and you get much less information. But that’s how it should be done. Look, Flash works great in the modern web browsers because it has been around for so long. It has years of development on its side. So use it. Then if your device doesn’t support Flash (I’m looking at you iPhone and iPad), fall back to HTML5. A great tutorial by Lee Brimelow shows you how it’s done.

A word of caution is that the HTML5 fallback works for standard web pages, but it gets tricky to make it work in a WordPress installation. Luckily there is a nice plugin for that. Rodrigo Violante has created the HTML5 and Flash Video Player plugin which allows that Flash player with HTML5 fallback functionality, and it works like a charm. It should be noted that sites like YouTube and Vimeo are also using a Flash interface, but support for the iDevices is there as well (you need a Vimeo “Plus” account for their mobile, non-iPad, support). However, keep in mind – it’s still early. We’re still in the dress rehearsal phase.

Evom. Is it Mov(i)e backwards?

Stormie Steve Does HomeworkFlickr photo by ShellyS

Welcome to the new school year. I’m still shaking my head about where the summer went. I’m also still grinding gears from vacation last week, but despite those issues, I’m very excited about 2010/11 at UMW. While perusing my RSS feed today, Lifehacker reminded me about Evom, a Mac only (sorry) video converter that is super slick and easy. If it were on the PC it could be the one program I would recommend to do a myriad of tasks.

Evom window
Evom comes from a company called Little App Factory, makers of the Mac DVD ripping software RipIt! I don’t know where the name Evom came from, but the program works great. It converts many types of videos, and uses the ffmpeg engine to perform its magic. The beauty of the program is the ease in which it gets video into the right configuration for Apple devices. You drag a file from your hard drive into the interface and you get asked which device you want to prepare the file for.

Evom convert
Choosing the iTunes or iPod buttons gives you the option convert the video, or to ditch the video and just save as an MP3 audio file, so it’s handy for ripping audio from video files. You can also prepare videos for an Apple TV (and therefore iPad), or for uploading to YouTube. It’ll even take care of the uploading part (supply your YouTube credentials). You also have the option to simply save the file to a folder anywhere on your computer.

OK. So lots of converters do similar things to Evom. Big deal. Well, for me the big deal is that it can also convert videos that are ON YouTube. If you’re using Safari or Firefox, simply drag the YouTube link from the address bar to the Evom window, and then choose your destination. The downloading and conversion can take a while, depending on connection speed, length of the video, etc., but it all happens in the background. So it’s YouTube to iPod, or iPhone, or iPad, or Apple TV, or to PowerPoint or Keynote, in minimal steps.

One wrench in the works, and it’s not Evom’s fault, is that the Google Chrome browser doesn’t allow the dragging of links into the Evom window. I don’t know what prevents this, but there’s a simple solution. Simply copy the link, with a Command-c shortcut, or by clicking the Edit menu and Copy, then paste the link into Evom (use Command-p or choose Edit>Paste in Evom). Since Google Chrome still does not have a YouTube downloader extension, this is a great solution for grabbing those videos.

One final word about Evom. It’s free!

I know.

You’re welcome.

Standard disclaimer about grabbing YouTube videos or ripping audio from files. Remember there are copyright issues.

Recording DVD Segments on a Mac

In the “how long were you going to have that feature and not tell me” category comes the ability to record in the Mac version of VLC. What it allows you to do is record segments from a DVD. You see, in the Windows version of VLC (since version 1.0 came on the scene), you have been able to record a DVD that is playing. The Windows version has a record button in the program (you need to select View>Advanced Controls to make it available). Once you do that you can hit the button to start recording, then hit it again to stop.

For almost a year now, and even during my recent NMC presentation, I have been under the assumption that this was a Windows only feature. In exploring the new version 1.1 for the Mac, I discovered in the keyboard shortcuts area a “record” option. Invoking “Shift-Command-r” starts a recording, and pressing the same key combo again, stops the recording.

This, of course, dramatically helps the workflow of using clips from DVDs on the Mac. After saving the recording, I would use Handbrake to convert it into a web ready MP4 file, then upload it to a web server. The result would look like this:

See my screencast on Recording Segments from a DVD. Insert the standard disclaimer here about copying DVDs and Fair Use.

The Making of an HD Screen Grab

After my last post, you may be asking how I do an HD screen grab from a recorded TV show. If there is such a thing as a rabid fan of my blog, you may remember a similar post from back in the day (it was Feb 12, 2006!). That was back in my PC days and I did the digitizing via a firewire cable from my cable box to a firewire card in the computer. A program called Nero played the video and it provided a button to take a still frame from the recorded video. So what has changed in the 4 years?

Let’s start with the computer setup, which is a Mac Mini that has a Hauppauge HD-PVR. What this little beauty does is allow me to connect component cables from my FIOS set-top box to my Mac (via USB). Yes, I did say component and not composite, so I get full HD quality up to what the programming is broadcast in. I can get up to 1920×1080 pixels in an image from 1080i video. I can record any HD content from FIOS using the Eye TV software from Elgato. There is also more simple recording software (but not as feature rich) known as HDPVRCapture that could be used. For $30 you get basic recording from the HD-PVR, and conversions to QuickTime compatible files.

Once you have your Eye TV recording*, you need to transcode it to a non-proprietary format for the Mac, typically an h.264 QuickTime video. This is not a full blown conversion so it doesn’t take hours (like a Handbrake conversion). Now that the video is in a QuickTime compatible format, you open it in the VLC media player, play the video to the point where you would like to grab a frame, and then choose Video>Snapshot. This will save a .png image file on your desktop, ready for you to post to whatever website you choose.

Now the actual procedure that I followed was needlessly convoluted however. The Colbert clip was crashing VLC, and so I couldn’t even get to the snapshot step. So I decided to use a combination of QuickTime Pro, and Preview. VLC is definitely the preferred way to go because it is free, and as it turned out, upgrading VLC to the latest version fixed the problem. However, if you do have a registered version of QT Pro you can do it. You open the video file in QT Pro and then navigate to the frame of video that you want. Click on the File menu and choose Export… then select Movie to Picture. Unfortunately, no matter what you change in the Options area, the file will be saved as a .pct file (a “pict”). You should be able to open it with the Preview program and then save it out (File>Save As…) as a .jpg or .png. Then use it how you wish. However, a 64-bit issue read its ugly head. In Snow Leopard, Preview is a 64-bit program, but it gave an error (see below) when I tried to view the .pct file that suggested I open the file in “32-bit mode”. To force Preview to run in 32-bit mode you need to go into your applications directory, click the Preview icon and choose File>Get Info from the Finder menu. Check the box labeled Open in 32-bit mode and then close the window. I could now open the file and save it out as a jpeg image. There, that was easy wasn’t it.

* I have since discovered that the Eye TV software has a snapshot feature, so I just find the frame I want in the original recording and make a snapshot. In other words, never mind. Still, the feature in VLC to take snapshots is applicable to many other projects. As I stated in my post from long ago, Hi-Def television is a great resource for high quality images, keeping in mind copyright issues, of course.

Oh, and I fully expect people to comment on other programs that can play the video and take a snapshot from a frame, so let’s have at it.

cc licensed flickr photo by Tyler Howarth:

Whistleblowing Via YouTube

The Read Write Web brought to my attention the plight of a Russian police officer who, rather than surrender to the rampant system of corruption, decided to go public and expose it. Now, corruption in Russia is hardly a surprise, and one can imagine that in a world before Internet video, anyone who tried to speak out against the system likely went missing permanently. However in 2009, you can literally reach a world-wide audience with something like YouTube, and Alexei Dymovsky did just that. While he was fired from the police force (for libel), he is calling for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Russian President Medvedev to follow through on their promises to fight corruption.

I highlight this story because I continue to be amazed at the democratization that YouTube enables. Anyone with a video camera – in this case Mr. Dymovsky and his brother-in-law – can speak their minds and, hopefully, bring about change in the world, or at least in their world. To date, this video has been seen by a million or more people, a level that certainly qualifies as “viral”. It is also on the public record that is YouTube, and if Mr. Dymovsky does indeed disappear, it makes it more difficult to explain to the world what happened. If Russia is truly willing to change its corruption problem, he could be a true hero. The world is watching, and more importantly the world is now able to watch!

Sesame Street – That’s Where I Will Be

I wonder if kids would have the attention span to make it through this today, but this is a little gem, and worth watching to the end. Besides the absolute joy that Stevie exudes while he is playing, there are lots of little bits to look for in the background. One is a little kid going absolutely wild on a staircase (at :39 and again at 4:10), complete with long hair (I think it’s a young boy) flailing back and forth (pure joy!). The other is a kind of Led Zeppelin riff that occurs a couple of times in the latter half of the performance. Yet another is watching Stevie’s hands flying on the keyboard, quite literally feeling the music in his fingers. The last is the mixture of white and black musicians in the band, a concept that Sesame Street was always trying to show, of all cultures playing together and getting along – Something that was not always the reality in the early 70’s (and still not?). That this video still exists and has been made available, is truly the magic of YouTube. What a way to start a Monday.

Making YouTube More Cinematic

Here’s a neat trick to use next time you want to show a YouTube video in class, or in your home theater (h/t to WebWare). You need to have the Firefox web browser and an add-on/plugin called YouTube Cinema. So you can go from this:


To this:


You can still view a given YouTube video in a normal fashion (with all the distracting images and adverts) by either clicking a button in the lower right corner labeled “Go To Site”, or you can hold down the Ctrl key while clicking the link to the video, which will prevent YouTube Cinema from kicking in. Then if you want to watch in cinema mode, right-click somewhere on the page and choose “Play in Cinema” from the menu. You can also play around with the background color used to display the film. By default it uses a dark-green color. I personally would go with black. It doesn’t appear to be an instant change, but will take effect on the next viewing.

YouTube may start to include a similar feature in all of it’s videos. It already has a “turn down the lights” button on some videos, including the Star Trek Original Series videos (for example). Also, it doesn’t appear to work with High Definition videos, and it also doesn’t work on videos where embedding has been disabled. You can display videos using the high quality setting and you can even make the video slightly larger than the normal size. It also will work with a playlist of videos, so you could conceivably watch an entire movie that has been broken up into parts and uploaded to YouTube – not that such things exist. Popcorn anyone?

Ubiquitous YouTube

Sarcasm notwithstanding, the sentiment in the above video is held by many people – “YouTube is a site of millions of sucky videos.” I have, in the past, argued against that statement here, here, here, and here. Until recently, a valid argument for YouTube’s suckiness would have been that high quality video was not an option. Today, that is no longer an issue and it’s ushering in a whole new incentive to get YouTube into new arenas such as the home theater market, and mobile computing realms. So what new places is YouTube popping up? Would it be a gross overstatement if I said “everywhere”? Without addressing further the argument of there being good and valuable content on YouTube, here is a list of some of the interesting places that YouTube is rearing its far-from-ugly head.

New LCD and plasma panels – Manufacturers are starting to experiment with the idea of networked flat panel TVs. YouTube is one of the services included in Panasonic’s Viera Cast TV, and Sony’s Bravia Internet Video Link Module, an add-on that attaches to Sony’s Bravia televisions.

Streaming Media set-top boxes – These devices are connected to the Internet, either through WiFi or wired Ethernet. Apple TV was one of the first to offer YouTube as an option for video content, in addition to playing movies, music, photos and podcasts from your iTunes library. Vudu is a set-top box for movies on-demand and adds YouTube access.  Netgear, makers of networking hardware, is dipping its toe into the YouTube pool, and Tivo looks to have a pretty robust implementation as well.
Update: Add a Kodak box to the list.

iPhone – Though Apple is now boasting that it has had over 500 million apps downloaded and 15,000 apps are available in the iTunes store, there is a built-in You Tube application for the iPhone. It connects directly to YouTube and plays the h.264 versions of the videos. The quality and the experience is first rate, unless you’re trying to access it over the slower EDGE network, then the fun subsides quite quickly. Oh, and Windows Mobile (ick!) has a YouTube Player too.

Computer (well duh?) – I know, you can go to and access the videos, but the popular Miro software will search and play YouTube videos, in addition to managing video podcast feeds.

DVD players and game consoles – Soon, in addition to watching your Blu-ray movies and Netflix Watch Now content, owners of the new line of LG networked Blu-ray players will also be able to connect to the YouTube service. Also, recently announced was the addition of YouTube interfaces for Sony’s PS3 and the Nintendo Wii.

PowerPoint – I’ve talked about this before, but just in case you don’t know, it is fairly simple to Embed YouTube videos in PowerPoint.

SlideShare presentations – Speaking of PowerPoint, the great SlideShare service now offers the ability to insert YouTube videos in between the slides in the online version of your presentation.

Plugins for WordPress – Again not anything new, but a reminder that there are easy plug-ins available for the WordPress blogging (excuse me, web publishing) platform to embed your YouTube videos into posts. Anarchy and Viper’s Video Quicktags are two examples. There is also a built-in YouTube Plugin for Microsoft’s Windows Live Writer, which I still use (and am using now) to write my blogs posts, even though the WordPress interface is much improved with version 2.7.

Now that’s a lot of places to put your lame videos!

What is HD video? Even Mark Cuban gets it wrong

Tekzilla screen grab

Mark Cuban has lots of ideas. His best one was back in the late ’90s when he decided to create a webcasting business that was ultimately sold for millions of dollars to Yahoo! Cuban may well have another great idea to save Internet video, but I’ll leave commenting on his ideas to a possible future post. Mark should know something about HD video. He is the Chairman of HDNet, a cable television network that broadcasts exclusively in high definition (HD).

HDNet is one of the few networks that has original HD programming, and by that I mean an independent network broadcasting exclusively in HD. HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports is an example of original HD programming. Depending on who your cable provider is, you may or may not have HDNet available to you. Without getting into the sordid details about why, you likely will have either HDNet or a network known as Mojo available with your cable or satellite provider, or with fiber-optic systems such as Verizon’s FiOS, or AT&T’s U-verse.

So Mark Cuban started a business and is one of the leaders of a company that produces HD video. It is with that knowledge that makes this statement so confusing:

100pct (sic) of the internet video that you see offered on the net as HD, is not HD. Plain and simple.

He then offers the following definition (of sorts):

What is HD video ? HD Vidoe (sic) is video you can watch on a screen of ANY size and say…”that looks good, almost as good as it can get “.

My purpose here is not to picks nits, but if that is his definition of HD video, then by who’s standard do we define “looks good” and “as good as it can get”? Look, there are lots of sites, services, and networks trying to distribute HD video on the Internet, or at least what they self-define as HD video. I should also point out that high definition video on the web is mostly a buzzword, and Cuban’s definition doesn’t help.

Here, let me define HD video. It is digital video that is represented by the minimum dimensions of 1280×720 pixels (720p). Now was that so hard? You can also take a look at the Wikipedia entry for high definition video for many more details. Having tendered those definitions, it should also be said that like all things digital, there is a quality factor that can affect how good HD video looks.  It is generally represented by what is known as bit rate. It is also something that most directly relates to the fudge factor that gets used on some supposed HD video sites. Again, the details start to get way too complicated in terms of what makes good (and bad) HD video, so let’s just stop before we hurt ourselves.

What makes Cuban so wrong is that there are good, and successful, attempts at providing HD video through the web. The screen grab at the top of this post is from one of these Internet TV networks called Revision3. The show is called Tekzilla, and by every measurement that I know of it is high definition. The basic specs of the video are, 1280×720 pixels (again 720p), h.264 video codec, AAC audio. It’s video quality that I’ve raved about before.

There’s a great way to check out more HD content by using software called Miro. It is similar to iTunes, but geared toward online video, and it provides good quality HD programming. If you check out their Miro Guide, you can check out some of the HD choices. I use it on my home theater PC which is connected to my Pioneer Plasma and it looks good, almost as good as it can get. Oh, sorry. That definition is taken. So what’s with Cuban’s 100% not HD statement? Is it because it’s not Blu-ray quality? Well, it will be a while before we are downloading 20GB files to watch on our HDTVs. Is it because it isn’t the same quality as HDNet? Well, no, Tekzilla probably doesn’t use XDCAM HD (cameras that still sell for over $20,000). However, it looks as good as a lot of the broadcast HD content out there, because it not further compressed by the cable or satellite company. All of this technology (do I have to say it?) is constantly improving. Codecs are being developed that will surpass what we have today that will deliver higher quality at equivalent bit rates. Cuban’s standard sounds like something that we may never achieve, and when it comes down to the basic definition of HD video, he’s wrong.