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Some People Still Don't Get It

10/22/08

Permalink 08:42:49 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 1603 words   English (US)
Categories: News, Background, Video

Some People Still Don't Get It

Note: kbps used in this article are 1024 bits per second, not 1024 bytes.

I have no idea how many places try rolling out video content over the Internet where it's clear that they don't know what they are doing, and apparently either have never seen anyone else do video content or apparently don't care if someone can use the content they are putting up on their site. I have no idea why they even bother, maybe they just don't care, or they don't think, or they have no idea what they are dealing with.

An author who has released a book is apparently able to be seen in a video on C-Span, and he posts a link where you can see the video from a prior broadcast. Now, if C-Span was smart, they wouldn't bother going to the trouble of setting up video - especially for previously broadcast shows that are simply replays of recordings - on their site, they would most likely use either YouTube (which provides the ability to put a video window on one's web page; there are a few of them here for some of my videos) or possibly use another hosting service that runs ads (or one that doesn't if they do not want ads to be used), or some other video hosting service where they have developed properly devised systems for delivering video over the Internet.

Well, C-Span isn't smart. They're going it on their own and using their own pop-up window to deliver video. So, first, you have to disable a pop-up blocker. YouTube doesn't require this. None of the other services, require it. Okay, so you enable pop-ups from this site, and they run video in a separate window. And it's a fairly nice player, you can apparently select where in the clip you want to go, same as YouTube and many others.

They're using a flash video player to do this, same as many others, and video flash players are pretty much ubiquitous, and almost all are the same: they show videos; you can back up; if it's stored recorded video, go forward; because the Internet is not smooth delivery all the time, they usually cache a few seconds ahead to ensure all of the packets arrive; and typically even allow you to "stall" the video by using the Pause button in case, say, the phone rings and you want to stop the video to answer the phone.

The nice thing about that is that while the video is paused, if it still has more material, it will continue to cache the rest of the video while stalled so that if you have a slower connection, you can get the video by simply stalling it in pause mode until all of it has been cached.

So these are the standard, expected behaviors of video delivery systems over the Internet. Let's see how C-Span stacks up to professionals who do know how to deliver video successfully in ways that ordinary consumers can use it.

So I hit the play button (or it autostarted, I forget which), and it runs for a bit before Verizon's crappy inadequately provisioned and heavily oversold Internet Service kicks out and the video is waiting for bandwidth. With YouTube and most others, it will stop, cache enough for a second or two, then start up again. And they'll keep repeating this every time the user's player consumes video (by displaying it) faster than the site feeds the video to the consumer. This is the "run - jerk stop - run - jerk - run" I alluded to in a previous posting. It's a pain, but what you can do to make up for it is to stall the video - hit pause - and wait for caching to catch up. If, maybe I've got 40Kbps of bandwidth - I'm not kidding, I've seen my so called "up to 768kbps" connection from Verizon be that slow - and the video requires, say, 300kbps to work, then basically you stall ten seconds for each second of playback to allow the network to acquire enough data in cache to be able to watch the cached video.

Yeah, this would mean, for example, that it takes an hour for a six-minute video to come through. And would be ridiculous for very long videos. Usually it's no where near that bad, a video would come through at speeds of about 30%, e.g. for a video which might require 400kbps my connection is doing 150kbps. So a six-minute video might take 20 minutes to download. And now you know why I use a downloader in order to look at the video; if I close the browser window and want to go back, I'd have to reload the entire video and wait 20 minutes again for that lousy 6-minute video to completely reload before I could go back to it.

So at least the idea of caching video so you can watch it is all fine and good except for one thing: C-Span does not cache! I'm not kidding, their player will only stream video, and does not cache! If your connection is not as fast as the video you're streaming, you're S.O.L. This is basically unforgivable; what kind of brain-dead moron believes that every single user who would connect to their site always has a flawless, full high-speed connection? I don't know whom is running this, but clearly they either think the Internet works like Cable or Satellite where you just transmit to the customers and it always works because it's a direct transmission, or they never even considered that not everyone's connection is a full 300K or 400K and continuously operates at that speed without failure.

What I am seeing is a video with continuously dropped frames, so that it will run about 1/2 of a second of video every two seconds; this means that you get a bit of one second and the lost packets are simply dropped, going to the next frame in the sequence. This makes the video and audio essentially unintelligible. This is ridiculous; as slow as YouTube is when Verizon can't get its act together, if you stall the video you can watch it, it may simply take three or four times as long as the video actually runs to be able to see it because you have to wait that long for all of it to cache, but you can cache it and you can (eventually) watch it.

After I had saved this article and noticed a couple of format errors, and before I went back to edit the article to fix them and add a couple of points (like this paragraph), I went to look back at the paused video window, to find a red indicator "connection closed" over the window. So, clearly, I cannot even stall the video either because I'm doing something else or I'd like it to cache properly. Clearly, I guess someone got some money to implement streaming video, decided to use it, and didn't really care whether it would work or be usable.

Sort of like soft-drink companies and others who spend a lot of their advertising dollars on heavily-loaded flash web sites for their sugar water high-fructose corn syrup water, without making any effort to see if those websites have any effect on increasing the number of people who buy their product (or reducing the number who switch to a competitor.

I "cheated" again, I pulled the ethernet cord that runs from my firewall/router into the DSL modem and plugged it back into the Cable Modem, and had C-Span archive bring up the video. It does autostart, and the playback is flawless. So what it comes down to is, they probably commit one of the biggest sins web developers commit: they test this locally on their internal network, which is an internal high-speed connection and is not going to fail or be slow, presume it works and make no consideration for anything below perfection.

I mentioned it months ago with The New York Times being unable to get their video site to work correctly, and here we have yet another who puts up video that, probably to the vast majority of people who would watch, might not even work correctly. It might make sense to expect full-speed for someone who was watching a live transmission in real time, but it makes no sense at all where you're sending out a stored transmission of recorded video.

And these companies who are putting out stuff - newspapers, music companies, television networks - complain about the Internet eating their lunch, while at the same time showing that they have no idea how the Internet works, wonder why they are dying on the vine. They refuse to recognize that the way they did things in the past no longer works and they need to change their business models, and at the same time if they do look at new ideas, they don't even know how to implement them properly.

The successful and adequate delivery of stored recorded audio and video content over the Internet is a solved problem; YouTube, Google Video, Yahoo Video, and several other sites have all figured out how to deliver video content that doesn't drop frames and does cache properly for those whose bandwidth is less than adequate, even to allowing people to "stall" delivery so that they can store up cached video until finished to allow it to be delivered where the speed of delivery would otherwise be less than the speed of consumption of that video. But now we have yet another "service" trying to deliver stored video where they don't know what they're doing, and it shows.

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