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Putting Video on Your Web Site:The Basics

Putting Video on Your Web Site:
The Basics

by Wayne Bremser

What The Pros Say

If this process sounds painful, or too much of an investment in terms of time and software, you can hire somebody to digitize your video and get it up on the Web for you. Hank Magnuski works at netvideo, a service that takes corporate videos, digitizes them, and gives them a place on the Web.

Netvideo charges $65 a minute for either MPEG or QuickTime, even though they have to send out video to be digitized in MPEG. The company charges $500 a month to host content using up to 100 MB of disk space. Magnuski prefers the MPEG video format: "The higher-quality data rate of MPEG of 100 to 200 KBps offers more quality in terms of both the audio and video." Magnuski says the company is dedicated to giving the customer what he or she wants, including the emerging streaming video technologies, which he is getting more and more requests for.

Peter Fierlinger is a CD-ROM developer and is currently finishing a CD+ (enhanced-audio CD) for the rock/rap group The Beastie Boys that uses a large amount of digital video. The company he owns with his brother, Turntable Media, plans to put video clips from The Beastie Boys' CD up on its Web site, which the brothers have been maintaining by themselves for about a year. The video format that Peter Fierlinger uses for both the CD+ and the Web site is QuickTime. "The fact that it is cross-platform and so ubiquitous makes it our choice and definitely a plus for the Web," he says.

Fierlinger actually owns an MPEG playback board for Macintosh that is a prototype he got while doing work for Apple. He reports that it produces near-VHS quality or better, but he believes that the quality of MPEG has a lot to do with the fact that people are playing it back through computer monitors, which have higher resolution than televisions. He looks forward to features that should arrive in QuickTime 2.2 this summer, such as MPEG audio standards and built-in QuickTime VR.

Ivan Belaúnde, who wrote the QuickTime plug-in for Netscape (see sidebar), shares some of Fierlinger's views about QuickTime's advantages for the Web. "The real strength of QuickTime is its flexibility; MPEG, for example, is just another media type, so raw MPEG doesn't have any advantage over the MPEG inside QuickTime--and in fact has a disadvantage, as QuickTime can simultaneously with MPEG do things like annotation via text tracks, layered sprite-based animation, or low-bandwidth music via MIDI."

Streaming Video

"Streaming" audio and video over the Web has received lots of attention this past year. It started with RealAudio, which allowed streaming audio. The quality was AM or worse, but it allowed near-instant playback without waiting for a full download, and this caught a lot of people's ears. Shortly after RealAudio became popular, Xing Technology released StreamWorks, which claims to deliver streaming video over even 14.4-Kbps modems. Over a faster connection, like a T1 line, I was able to get a large color image that was very out of sync with the audio, with audio quality that was about the same quality of RealAudio. This level of video quality would not be acceptable with content like sporting events and action films, but for a live event such as a press conference it is very suitable.

The concept beyond these streaming technologies is that complicated compression software is installed on the server side that encodes the video so that it is able to be sent to the client for real-time presentations in spite of severe bandwidth limitations. The client is expected to download helper apps that can read the compression type that the server software is sending. The helper apps are usually given away free to encourage a large user base. The server software is given out for trial periods and is usually pretty expensive for full versions.

Netvideo promotes another streaming video technology, VDOLive. Turntable's Fierlinger had a chance to test-drive VDOLive and praised the technology. "I saw a talking head demo which was fairly impressive for being over 28.8," he said. "The audio was seamless--a big step above RealAudio and CU-SeeMe." Despite his praise, Fierlinger has no interest in using the streaming technologies to show off music videos that his company has produced. "It's a quick fix for the bandwidth issue, and the novelty will wear off," says Fierlinger. Netvideo's Magnuski is also cautious about streaming technologies: "It is definitely instant gratification, and if that's what people want, we will give it to them."

Another area where video can be very effective and fast is over intranets, or internal corporate networks. Using Netscape and plug-ins, companies can distribute training videos across networks at high speeds and sidestep the bandwidth issue. The near future of video on the Web definitely includes these streaming technologies, because the promise of cable modems is far off. Meanwhile, those with T1 speeds can download 2- or 3-MB video clips relatively painlessly. Ultimately, if your video content is valuable and interesting to Web surfers, they will ignore the wait and make the effort to download it.

The Viewmovie Quicktime Plug-In

Netscape's plug-in page has had a banner for months about an Apple QuickTime plug-in. A programmer named Ivan Belaúnde got frustrated with the lack of plug-ins for Macintosh, and the lack of a QuickTime plug-in specifically. One day in January he sat down at his keyboard, and two days later he had the first version of a QuickTime plug-in called ViewMovie that works with the Netscape API. Belaúnde shrugs at his solo effort. "I knew the baseline stuff wasn't hard--I mean, the bulk of the development effort was in dealing with Navigator's quirks, which caused redraw artifacts, crashes, and the like."

With theViewMovie plug-in, one can embed a QuickTime movie into a Web page just like a regular image. Viewers of movies inside Netscape can then drag the clips to the desktop, like text and images in Netscape 2.0.

Inside the embed tag, several attributes can be manipulated. Loop controls whether the movie will play as a continuous loop. Autoplay controls whether the movie plays on download, or waits for the user to push the play button. Controller allows you to conceal the movie controller, while ISMAP gives the inline movie the ability to act as an imagemap.

Belaúnde says many of the features came from an interactive process with users. "I literally was hoping to put it out and be done with it in a couple of weeks, but what has happened is that people have been incredibly enthusiastic about it, coming up with all kind of cool suggestions."

ViewMovie also allows the movie to "drive" URLs, with a feature called "URL tracks." URL tracks allow the QuickTime movie to contain URLs at certain time intervals. The process consists of noting at what points in the movie you want to have the movie point to new URLs, creating a text file with Text Descriptor information, and then importing that text file with MoviePlayer 2.1. A sample of this code is:

  QTtext} {timeStamps:absolute} {timeScale:10} {height:1} {width:1} {donotdisplay:on} [00:00:30.0] <VMURL HREFABS="http://quicktime.apple.com/" TARGET="DemoDisplay"> [00:01:20.0] <VMURL HREFABS="http://home.netscape.com/" TARGET="DemoDisplay"> [00:02:10.0] <VMURL HREFABS="http://www.well.com/user/ivanski" TARGET="DemoDisplay"> [00:03:10.0]  

This code drives the movie on Belaúnde's demo, which has a small frame with a QuickTime movie and a large frame with the target URLs.

Belaúnde is excited about QuickTime and the Web, with the release later this year of QuickTime 2.2. Some new things will include MPEG compatibility and cross-platform features that will allow URL tracks to work on the upcoming Windows version of ViewMovie. What he is most excited about, however, is the possibilities for integrated video content in Web pages. "Myst is a shining example of this--in its time, it broke through the traditional use of QuickTime as 'video' and used it to generate, for example, photorealistically rendered 'widgets,' devices that the player manipulates."

For an example of an integrated page with ViewMovie that I put together using the tools mentioned in this article, see chiba.com. Belaúnde's list of sites that use ViewMovie can be found at well.com.

[ < Putting Video on Your Web Site: The Basics:
Part 1 ]




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