Saturday, December 19, 2009

Online Video -without ads

As I'm getting closer and closer to posting videos to an online video service like, I'm starting to pay closer attention to how a lot of major content providers, providing their content. In-browser. I'm looking more at how they handle ads, but I'll start my small observations with a few without advertising: Amazon, Netflix, and G4. More observations on other services in a later post.

Amazon VOD is built on a great idea but is crippled by DRM they use on downloaded videos. I haven't used it myself besides looking at some of their samples of online video (usually the first 2-minutes of many television shows and movies so you can see the quality). From what I saw, the SD quality is pretty good, the HD quality was, well, far from spotless. Not worth the extra money, in my book.

The service is interesting--you buy a video and you have the perpetual option to watch it online or download it. Even once you've downloaded it, you can still watch it online. That way, you do tangibly own it in case the service goes under, but you also have the perpetual convenience of watching it on demand whenever you have internet access. My favorite part, you can buy seasons of televisions shows that are airing right now, and watch them a little while after they air (I think you have to wait a day after most shows have aired to view them via Amazon VOD). You can keep up with your shows without having cable, which I think is cool. You can do that for many shows on their own sites or on hulu, but you have to wait longer and sit through ads. With Amazon VOD you're paying for faster availability and less ads and other hassles.

The problem with this service is that the videos you download are WMV and contains DRM. The problem with DRM is two-fold. One, it ties your hands: Can you watch it on a Mac? On Linux? Can you transfer it to other computers or can you only watch it on the PC that downloaded it? As someone with multiple PCs running multiple OSs, this DRM is stopping me from using their service.

Two, in 2, 5, 10 years will Amazon still use this type of DRM? Probably not. Since Windows Media Player needs to contact their servers to make sure you're allowed to watch DRM'd videos, it can be reasonable assumed that eventually these video files will be rendered useless, EXCEPT that in 10 years there'll probably be a easily found way to "free" these files of their DRM, and computers will be all the more capable to do it in 10 years (as they can with DVDs, which generally are encrypted but are very easy to unencrypt). It's still a hassle and, to be honest, most WMV files I've seen are crap anyways.

Quick side note, I've also just found out that you can send Amazon VOD shows to a Tivo box, perhaps a reason to use it if you have one. I also know you can use it with boxes like Roku, and many Blu-Ray players are starting to support it as well.


I just subscribed to Netflix. Like, literally a half an hour before writing this. I haven't watched any full programs yet, but I've tested a few shows and movies and they look okay. I watched some shows at my friend's house streaming over his HDTV and it looked surprisingly good. It also handled their crappy, throttled, Citywide-Wireless connection pretty well.

My main problem with Netflix is it's lack of Linux support. Really? Linux gets the multimedia short end of the stick. I know I can't easily or satisfactorily play Blu-Ray discs in Linux, and sometimes even playing a DVD is a chore, but something like this, that's in-browser, should be a snap. Of course, hitch number one is that Netflix uses Microsoft Silverlight. There is a--I'm actually not sure what it is--port, fork, emulator, something, called 'Moonlight,' which I was led to by Silverlight's own site, that lets Linux users view Silverlight content. My understanding is Moonlight can't yet handle the DRM that Netflix's player uses.

And a quick note on DRM. I don't like DRM on something I'm buying, something that I'm keeping on my own hard drive, because as I explained above it gives a false sense of security. If the servers that provide verification are shut down, all the files are un-playable (among other issues). However, everybody using Netflix knows they're 'renting,' DVDS, or 'streaming' videos and there's no real transfer of ownership. DRM in their streamed videos is fine with me, because I don't 'own' the content they're locking down. That said, it really bothers me that I can't view Netflix videos on Linux.

That aside, it's wonderfully convenient, and it's pretty easy to navigate which episode of a TV show you want to watch. Let the player load, and there's a drop-down menu that lets you choose a different episode. Works really well.


I watch Attack of the Show and XPlay on G4, and that's about it. Even though they have a lot of content on their website, you can't watch shows in their entirity on their website. I wonder if they're trying to distance themselves from all the tech-themed internet stations whose back catalog you can freely and easily download. Perhaps they're afraid that if someone without that channel goes to their website and sees you can download all their shows, they think, "That's odd, I thought G4 was a television station, not an internet station." Not that that would be a bad thing.

You can view certain segments online, piecemeal, but you can't watch whole episodes. G4's website has a lot of other content you can watch, online-exclusive versions of popular segments like "Fresh Ink," as well as vidcasts only available online such as a new personal favorite of mine, "Sessler's Soapbox."

The quality is okay, but I have the damnest time getting these videos to play smoothly in-browser on any computer other than my gaming supercomputer. My netbook? Forget it. They don't display a download link that I've seen, but they do provide a link to their RSS feed. If you click on that, you're taken to Feedburner's list of that vidcast's recent posts. Each post has, not an embedded player, but a link to an MP4 file which plays on all my computers beautifully. I can't say how much I appreciate this. Not only do they do a good job separating their content's RSS feeds (some sites throw them all together on the same feed, which is a nice way to get me to stop subscribing), but they provide a file I can play on any operating system with VLC.

Oh, and I know I said their in-browser player is resource intensive, and it is. Having it open in a window severely slows down my netbook. It does do something really cool though, it doesn't start loading anything unless it's actually visible in your browser. The links I provided above go to the vidcast's main pages, which has all their recent updates listed, with a video embedded in each post. Those players don't even initialize until you scroll down to them, so they don't all collectively eat up your bandwidth or CPU power. That's pretty cool.

Well, that wraps up the post on non-ad supported videos. I really was only going to touch on these three services before moving on the the ad-supported ones, all in one post. I've just got so many thoughts in my big ole head it's a rarity if any topic is ever restrained to just one post.


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