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More and more video is being placed on the web. Unfortunately, not every video producer is giving us the control we want. I look at how this comes to be.

Is there any way I can control the stop-start view of videos on the web? I often give up in aggravation, log off & never see the end.

It can be very frustrating, and to quote a famous politico, "I feel your pain".

Since I produce some on-line video myself, I try to provide a good user experience - one that I, myself, would appreciate. However not all on-line video producers do everything the way you and I might want.

And yes, they're the ones in control of this situation.

First, let's look at a common player interface:

Common On-line Video Player

That's a frame from a video I took of one of my dogs some time ago - it's intended for a wide range of viewers so I couldn't make any assumptions about who would be visiting or what their capabilities might be. The player I chose to expose is simple, yet provides the basic functionality most people might want; play, pause and stop, as well as a way to control the volume. In fact, the only "problem" with this video is that once it's loaded it starts automatically - something not everyone appreciates. You can see it in action here.

"Video on the internet has a long way to go to fully mature."

This highlights what is perhaps the most important point: whether or not you have the ability to play stop or pause, or have the ability to adjust the volume within the player, or several other options isn't in your control. It's up to the video and/or website producer to make those abilities available to you when they publish the video on the web.

Here's another example, from Google's on-line video service:

Another Common On-line Video Player

Here you can see that Google has exposed fewer controls - there's only a play/pause button for example, instead of the three separate controls in the previous example. They still provide a volume control, though. And yes, once partially loaded, the video begins playing automatically. You can see this video here: Making the Podcast. You can also see a higher resolution version, in yet another player, right here on Ask Leo! here: Making the Podcast.

One more example:

A Third Common On-line Video Player

This includes a Google-like pause/play button, and a not-so-obvious volume control. This one, however, does not start automatically ... you have to click on the introductory frame first. You can see this one in action here: How to Make a Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Now, all of the examples used so far use Macromedia Flash as the technology to display the video. It's turning out to be the most ubiquitous technology for video display on the web. As you can see, though, it also allows a tremendous amount of customization. If, for example, an advertiser believes that you should not be able to stop or control the volume of their video ad they can simply start playing their video as soon as you reach their page not supply a stop or volume control at all. Annoying? Yes, but quite possible.

And, an important note: Flash requires a one-time download to install the Flash player, and it typically requires that Javascript be enabled for the site on which the video is displayed.

To further confuse matters, while Flash-based players appear to be the most popular, there are several other video players in use as well: Windows Media Player, Apple's Quicktime, Real Video, just to name a few. Even iTunes, which uses Quicktime, can be considered an additional player that many people are using.

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that these players tend to be less easily customizable, and hence when they're used they expose the common controls for playback and volume control that most people want. The bad news is that they're all additional downloads and they often represent proprietary file formats. If you want to play a video that someone has made available in Quicktime format, you'll need the Quicktime player.

Video on the internet has a long way to go to fully mature. Right now it's a fairly confusing mix of players and formats - don't even get me started on codecs and compression formats that even further confuse the landscape. It holds a tremendous amount of promise, but for now, we all get to experience the growing pains.

Article C2894 - January 10, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

January 13, 2007 10:21 AM

I find that the biggest irritation (and one that has caused me to click off more often than not) is that *&^%^*$% stop-start while it is loading. Sure, maybe to you and some others it's no biggie, but I find it extremely irritating. I would much rather have a little sign pop up telling me the video is loading and then be able to see it in its entirety all in one hit. I am not a fan of pic bites, nor sound bits.

February 4, 2007 2:44 AM

As a web developer, how do you customize the flash player interface?
Would it be possible to get the source for your player example with the dog? (i.e. probably a file called guido_controller.fla)

Phil Payne
May 15, 2009 7:14 AM

I want to be able to programmatically start, pause and stop a video that I will have on my web page.
The viewer will get to see only a portion of the video after successfull answering a question.
What software can I use to enable this? I am presently using Dreamweaver, Javascript and the other usual stuff.

Phil Payne
July 17, 2009 12:51 AM

I still haven't got an answer to my query - "Posted by: Phil Payne at May 15, 2009 7:14 AM " Can anyone help?

I'm not aware of a solution, or I would have posted one. Lack of response would seem to indicate others have no idea either.
- Leo

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