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Streaming Video on your Website

By Heshy Friedman

Streaming-Video-on-Your-Website-2Streaming videos have become a standard on the web. It’s not just the broadband speeds that allow optimal video streaming, but also the explosion of video production and self-made videos with cell phones. There are several ways to embed videos on a website to have them stream off a web page.

Going back to the late 2000’s and earlier, most videos were placed in a Flash encoder. Encoders took popular video formats such as MP4 or WMV formats and streamed them using Flash. Videos were also imported to the flash video (.FLV) format and streamed directly as flash videos.

Apple was largely responsible for the demise of Flash, including video played using Flash. Steve Jobs intentionally crippled Flash from being played on the iOS, which essentially prohibited Flash from being played on any iPhone or iPad. (Read Jobs’ open letter titled “Thoughts on Flash”.) While Jobs mentions that the reasons for blocking Flash are entirely technical, citing issues with “reliability, security and performance,” as well as being “closed and proprietary,” many programmers and web developers disagree. They claim that Jobs’ purpose was for business reasons and control, rather than the technical reasons he mentions in his letter.

With Flash blocked on the popular iOS, and Flash technology indeed becoming antiquated, video alternatives started growing in popularity. The MPEG-4 container format (.mp4) has become the most popular, with compatibility in almost all browsers and newer mobile devices. In order for the MPEG-4 videos to play within a web page, it needs to be placed in a video codec. The standard video codec is H.264, which allows high quality combined with maximum compression. This allows for smooth streaming of quality video. H.264 is the codec used by YouTube Vimeo, as well as Apple products.

HTML5 was built to standardize video directly within the HTML code without the need for a container. Prior to HTML5, there was no standard for showing videos on a web page, and they could be played only with a plug-in (like Flash). With HTML5, the video file reference and controls are coded directly into the HTML code of the page. While this works great for updated browsers, older systems, especially mobile devices, have trouble or are unable to support HTML5 video.

A big drawback to hosting video files on a web server is file storage and bandwidth. Video files can take up a lot of space, and streaming them will hog bandwidth, especially if many web visitors are watching them. For this reason, I am a big fan of externally hosted video solutions such as Vimeo and YouTube. Both of these systems host all videos externally, and stream them in a universal container that is cross-platform compatible. They are both very easy to integrate, with embedded codes provided that can be customized. Furthermore, almost any common video format can be uploaded and converted to be universally streamed.

I always recommend to my customers who want to have video on the site to use one of these services. Both YouTube and Vimeo are free. YouTube has fewer restrictions on video length and doesn’t have the same file size restrictions as Vimeo, but many filters do block YouTube. YouTube also has a less corporate feel over Vimeo.

Vimeo, on the other hand, is not blocked by most filters, and is used more in professional settings, but has limitations in the free version. Limitations in the basic version include a maximum of 500 MB of uploading per week (which also excludes videos with a file size over 500 MB), increased time to post a video, and only basic stats. However, a yearly subscription of $59.95 (as of December 2014) will block these restrictions.

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