HD video on the web is not all sunshine – revised

The big problem with HD video is that it is heavy and therefore it can present problems for viewers with slow computers. And then there is the issue with slow connections.  If you live in the United Kingdom, watching HD videos with DSL is not such a great experience.  Stuttering frames, full stops for minutes on end because the video doesn’t load as fast as it is playing, etc …  I heard the same from places all over the US.  It can be so bad at times, that even a standard video with a bit rate above  300Kbps (Kilobits per second) can create playback problems, let alone playing HD movies.

To give an example: At my end, a converted video I uploaded for a client with a bit rate of 500Kbps placed on Brightcove played wonderfully, while the client complained about stuttering frames from her end in the United KIngdom.  I tested all sorts of bit rates and finally ended up with a video compressed to 200Kbps. This situation is not the norm, of course, but it shows that broadband is not always “broad”.

What about my videos?

In the current situation, you have to assume that a part of your audience will not be able to view HD video as it should.  Now, many video services found a way around this problem by actually creating 2 instances of the video, a low end- and a HD version, and depending on the video service, either you click on a button to play the HD version or the service detects automatically if the connection is fast enough to handle HD.   This is all automated for you when you upload an HD video to YouTube, for instance.
As found in the help files of YouTube: The quality of the uploaded video combined with individual viewers’ bandwidth will determine if the video is displayed at “Higher Quality.”

Yet, this is all in theory.  In reality, hiccups not exceptionial at this time of writing. Although the quality of the video on YouTube increased dramatically, and many people do enjoy HD video on the big networks, there are still a lot of viewers having problems with HD video.

Showing HD video hosted on your own site:

If video networks have these problems, is showing HD videos an option on your own site?
If you  want HD videos on your own site, you probably won’t have the sort of functionality you have on YouTube where connection speed of the viewer is detected.  But you have one small advantage:  your site is not as crowded as YouTube.  Therefore, if you play your cards right, and the server of your site is a powerful one AND you have enough bandwidth at your disposal, you can get away with it.  I recommend to use the following workaround:

  • Create a standard- and a HD version of your video
  • Set the standard video as the initial video – 480×360 (or 320 if you want a wide screen view).
  • Place a link below the video to the HD version

This way, you don’t waste bandwidth to viewers having problems with HD and they will have a better experience.  I also would add a feedback box near the HD video in case someone have difficulties with the HD movies.  If you get loads of complaints,  better postpone the HD experiment until later and save bandwidth.

Important: If you put HD videos on your site, keep a close eye on your bandwidth.  HD will dramatically increase the bandwidth usage.

Video Sizes:
On YouTube, you can now upload whopping sizes, like 1280 x 720 (16×9 HD) and 640 x 480 (4:3 SD), but that is in theory, since the maximum weigth limit is 1GB. Videos of 1280×720 are very heavy.  A five minute movie is easily 4GB and YouTube recommends to use as little compression as possible, but if you use MPEG 4 compression with a maximum bitrate of 1500 to 2500Kbps, then you will be able to upload a video up to 8 minutes or so.
In any case,  there is no way you can upload  1280×720 videos on your own site unless you have an enormous amount of bandwidth.
The good news is, there is no point in uploading such big sized videos on your own site because in practice 640×480 is already higher resolution then a television set.  In theory, if viewer watches your video full screen on a normal sized laptop, the resolution is still a lot better then regular TV broadcasting, provided the compression is not too strong. Hence, you create a simulation of the desired HD effect.
That said, the HD version of a video on YouTbue shows up as a whopping 1024×650 pixels and that gives crystal clear footage you wouldn’t be able to get with a 640×480 movie.  See also: HD art video on YouTube
Apart from that, I doubt that YouTube will actually save your uploaded 1280×720 video as such.  I have no way to find out yet to what size the videos are actually down sized, but I presume it is 640×480.
If anybody of you knows better, please give us a comment.

Compression recommendations:
H.264, mpg-2, mpg-4 and onV6 are good compression types to work with, although you probably will have to save in onV6 if you want to use the Flash Video Player.
For audio, we are spoiled these days:
You see many high quality sound videos coming up lately, so instead of using 128kHz stereo, we are getting used to 44.1 kHz stereo, which is in fact CD quality.  There is no point in going higher then 128kHz stereo if your video only contains speech.

Related to this topic, read also CNET comparison between video services related to  HD video quality.

Please, let us all have fibre glass connection!

Europe and the US must make a serious effort to get everyone hooked up on fibre glass cable, which is capable of streaming 1Gigabit per second. We are running far behind compared with Asia and if we do not get our act together,  Asia is going to lead the next internet revolution.  Ever tried to visit a modern Chinese site?  Chances are that you have to wait for minutes on end for a page to load because they do not look at weigth at all.  It is simply not an issue for them.  Imagine how great it would be not to have to worry about weight?

2 thoughts on “HD video on the web is not all sunshine – revised

  1. I found your website when trying to find a way to change ours. Very informative and well done.

    I am commenting here because your ad for DreamHost is pointing to the wrong location. It is pointing to DreaHost.com instead of DreamHost.com. I finally figured it out and ended up at their site.

    Thanks again,


  2. Hi Joe,

    No wonder the dreamhost ad didn’t do anything for me!

    Thank you very much for telling me this. I was already thinking about removing the ad 🙂

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