We are going to start off here today talking about video hosting options. I think there are probably three types of video delivery methods. The first kind is hosted, and that is the kind you are probably most familiar with. Secondly, there is self-hosted which puts you in total control. Finally, there are downloadable only. I have seen videos delivered in all three of these contexts, and in fact the very first membership site I was ever a member of had no video online at all, rather they delivered their video content as downloadable content only. So we are going to talk about that a little as we go through these ideas.
To begin you create a video. We are not going to talk a lot about how to create videos here. I do recommend that when you are creating videos you use an .mp4 format. MP4 format is the most universally viewable format. Generally speaking, browsers have a viewer that can play mp4s. It is stand alone and doesn’t need any special plugins, and it is optimized for web viewing. So an Apple movie file or Windows Movie file, those all can be used as well but I do recommend that you use the optimized mp4 videos for web viewing.
So you create a video and then you upload that video to a hosting service. The hosting services we are going to discuss today are YouTube, Screencast.com, Vimeo, EZwebPlayer, and VideoPress. These are all services that I have used at one point or another, and most of them are actually still being used on the site right now even though we are standardizing the use.
So you would upload one of those to this hosting service and then that hosting service will encode the video. By encoding the video I mean that they take that raw MP4 video that you uploaded to them and convert it into smaller formatted versions. It optimizes those versions for streaming, and it also optimizes them for download speed. So the specific interest here is in optimizing – optimizing for bandwidth, for streaming, and optimizing for the actual delivered video size. The process of doing that is called encoding.
Once they have encoded your video they will provide you with a player that is an integral part of that video to embed on your site. The process of embedding your video includes, or equals, the process of embedding a player. There is no separate player that you have to add. You just take your embed code, stick it on your site, and away you’ll go. Then what they do is stream the content.
Streaming the content means that they host it and they deliver it to your viewers, or to your users, using their own hardware, using their own connections, all that sort of thing. So the video is entirely on another site and is delivered to the users from that site.
Hosting services may provide you with special features. For example, they may provide you with statistics or with the opportunity to provide private branding, or they may even provide you with some security features. All of this is talking about true streaming of video. Streaming video is video that is delivered as it is needed. So you don’t end up downloading significantly more of the video then you actually watch.
That is if you watch for a while and then stop, aside from filling up the buffer, the video is not going to continue to download. If you cancel the play the rest of the video won’t be downloaded to your computer. You can also jump around, generally, so that if you want to move to the end of the video then most of these services won’t require a download of all of the video in between where you stopped and the end; it will just resume downloading that portion of the video from where you placed your mouse. So that is video streaming. It essentially delivers video on demand about as fast as you can watch it.
Self Hosted Video
Now self-hosting videos is different. In a self-hosted video you create the video, again, but in this case you upload it to a server that you are in control of in one way or another. So that could be uploading a video to your own hosting account, it could be uploading it to Amazon S3, or some other content delivery network. There are a number of them out there besides Amazon S3. I am going to talk about Amazon S3 today because it is very inexpensive, it is very accessible, and it is what I use. But there are plenty of other content delivery networks that you could host your video on and still be considered to be self-hosting the video.
If you watched my videos on the plugin FV WordPress Flowplayer then you’ve seen an example of where video is being self-hosted. In all of my examples there I actually store the videos in a folder called Video in the root of my website. I place the videos in that folder and then I place the URLs of those videos in the player, and that is a self hosted video. Then what this involves, of course, is that you have to install a player, or install a plugin, on your site.
The video itself is just a raw file and in the absence of a plugin it will not be playable on your site. So you end up installing a play plugin on your site and configuring that plugin. Once you have that installed you are going place player code on any given post or page that will actually play the video. That usually takes the form of a shortcode, and if you have been participating in these lessons to date then you will be familiar with shortcodes. But we will take a look at that probably next week. We actually probably won’t get to the point where we use a shortcode to add a video to a page today, but if we do then we will take a look at that.
Now in this case there is no encoding. That is, the raw video is displayed without modifications so if you uploaded a 1280×720 HD version of the video then that is the version that is going to play. It may be that you have told the player to show it at a smaller size but that didn’t reduce the size of the video file itself. It is still the full size video being downloaded.
There is no optimization for streaming speed or download speed. In fact, this isn’t considered streaming at all. Sometimes people refer to this as semi-streaming because the plugin can generally begin playing the video before the video has fully downloaded and it will keep downloading the content until it has finished downloading, regardless of whether or not you are playing it until the end.
You might only want to watch the first thirty seconds of the video, but if you are looking at a self-hosted video and you have a very high-speed connection then it could turn out that you have downloaded the whole half-hour video in that first thirty seconds, whereas with streaming you would only have downloaded an additional fifteen or twenty seconds of video.
There is a great deal of bandwidth difference between self-hosting video and a hosted video for the two reasons. One of them is that the hosted videos are encoded so that they are smaller in the first place, and secondly they only deliver as much as is requested whereas the self-hosted videos are going to be whatever size you create them and will deliver all of the content as quickly as it possibly can until all of that content is delivered.
Then your third choice is a downloadable video. In this third choice you aren’t actually displaying the video on your site at all. What you do is you create a video, you store it on a server that you are in control of, and you provide a download link for that video. At that point when they click on that link the video is downloaded to the user’s computer and all of the video displaying is handled by that user’s computer.
The advantage of this is that it is a very inexpensive way to deliver content because you can easily use a shared hosting account to deliver this content. Since most shared hosting accounts have unlimited bandwidth you can place files for download on your account and it doesn’t really matter how fast they download. Your user might wish it could download as fast as possible, but if there is some reason why your server needs to slowdown then it is not really going to change the user experience since the user doesn’t start watching the video until it is fully downloaded.
It can be a very inexpensive way to deliver the data, or the video, to the user. However, it does not provide them with the experience or the opportunity to watch the video on the site. So those are your three options; hosted, self-hosted, and downloadable videos.