The video Web is re-awakening... again. The planned mega-merger between AOL and Time Warner underscores the mega-trends of continually expanding bandwidth and the opportunities for Internet video content creation that have been the hallmark of this column for four years.
Thus, it's not without a keen sense of irony that in the shadow of this ground-breaking announcement, I follow last month's 3,000-word mega-column with a finer focus on one of the most fundamental components of the video Web, the literal links between web pages and video clips.
In the past, this column has covered some of the major procedures that are required to integrate streaming video into online video communications. These have included various approaches to the capture (or digitizing) of video, the compression of video clips down to acceptable data rates, and the server options for the hosting and online distribution of video.
As with all of the subjects above -- and as with the many multi-faceted faces of the web itself -- there are multiple options. In fact, I feel that there is a continual need to remind many readers that the web itself is not one thing. It is many different things; and, likewise, the presentation of video on the web is accomplished via a rich variety of technical approaches. There is no standard approach. After all that has already happened in the emergence of the video Web, those of us who are experimenting with video on the Web are
pioneers with a long way to go.
As you might expect, the approaches to linking video clips vary in complexity (the low-end being illustrated by the new template-driven, web-based "tool" from Apple that's described below),
and the approaches also vary according to the type of authoring software (or lack of authoring software) being used (as illustrated by the options within Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Adobe's GoLive covered below). As you may also expect, the
variety of styles for linking and presenting video clips also varies as a function of your choice of video format in the on-going streaming media battle between Real Networks, Apple's QuickTime and Microsoft's Windows Media Player.
As usual, I will not attempt to be comprehensive; but rather, I hope to illuminate a couple of major approaches with an eye focused on techniques that I think will be of special interest to video professionals.
And, in another bit of irony, despite the fact that QuickTime is still
playing "catch up" in the streaming video market, there are more software options for linking to QuickTime clips than to either of the other online video formats.
APPLE'S NEW iTOOLS
One of the most forward looking and at the same time limited ways to link to a video clip within a web page is by using Apple's new iTools web site. This approaches uses a combinations of components of the iTools "suite" including iDisk and HomePage. Both of which are online, web-based applications.
After uploading a QuickTime video clip into the "Movies" folder of your new online accessible iDisk storage space, you can use the very basic, but easy-to-use, online HomePage site builder
web application to link your QuickTime clip into a theater-style web page template. Because this service is targeted to consumers, customizing the clip is not an option; but this service (like Loudeye's mediaupgrade.com) is an interesting way to leverage the power of the Internet to deliver video.
I lead off with this approach because it reflects what I think is an
important dynamic on the web that is also illustrated by what are called ASP's (Application Service Providers). This new breed of software application is completely network-based. It delivers software functions via the web with no need for the local installation of software applications on individual computers. Normally, the term ASP is applied to more sophisticated
corporate software applications, however as with simpler applications like online calendars, e-mail systems and so
forth, online applications can also be build and implemented as web page builders (like Apple's HomePage), network accessible storage (like iDisk), render and compression "farms" (like MediaUpgrade.com) as well as for other relatively simple applications (like linking to a video clip.)
The Apple example is "limited" because it does not enable the use of QuickTime's clip presentation flexibility. For example, despite the fact that QuickTime can be embedded in a web page without its built-in controller and without launching a separate player application, there is no option in iTools to take advantage of these features.
And while I'm exploring applications for linking video, I should also
mention that, of course, any of the three streaming media types can be accessed via its own player application by using a simple HTML link to the clip (as long as it resides on a properly configured streaming server); but the commands for other presentation options can be more complicated to implement; and this is where authoring tools can help expedite things
For more sophisticated online video implementations, to the best of my knowledge, the web page authoring software which offers the most flexibility in presenting video online is Macromedia's Dreamweaver. In fact, as professional web site developers, my company has found Dreamweaver to be the most stable, consistently useful and collaboration-friendly web authoring tool of the many that we have tried.
course, for the specific purpose of integrating video content within web pages, Dreamweaver offers useful flexibility because of the extensible architecture that it delivers via its own online library of plug-in extensions. While these extensions offer all kinds of pre-coded features for the integration of everything from database applications like Allaire's Cold Fusion to e-commerce applications like iCat and NetStores, the Dreamweaver extensions also offer "Objects" for two out of the three of the major streaming
formats, RealSystem G2 and QuickTime.
Among other functions, these integrated HTML code components enable web page authors to use Dreamweaver to implement RealSystem features such as customized and/or embedded versions of the RealPlayer (both with "embed" commands as well as via Windows Active-X controllers) including playback controls, status panels, and volume sliders. Likewise, these Objects enable basic functions like AutoPlay as well as the creative integration of other Real-supported online multimedia types such as RealFlash, RealPix, and/or RealText. In this way, with a little more effort, video, audio and these other media types can be placed anywhere on a Web page and are no longer limited to being displayed only by the RealPlayer.
In the same way, Dreamweaver's QuickTime Object enables the customization of QuickTime clips within web pages including options to show or not show the controller strip, Loop and Autoplay. Normally, each of these options would require an individual piece of hand-written HTML code.
Please note that due to its recent upgrade, extensions for Dreamweaver 2 may not be compatible with Dreamweaver 3. In fact, Macromedia is planning an expanded web site called Dreamweaver Exchange for the sharing of HTML code components. (For Dreamweaver 2, go to http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver/download/extensions/. For Dreamweaver 3, go to http://www.macromedia.com/exchange/dreamweaver/.)
INTEGRATED CLIP EDITING
For QuickTime-only web page integration, Adobe's GoLive is perhaps the most versitile web page authoring tool. While it does not include extensible objects like Dreamweaver, it does offer the same kinds of functionality for QuickTime movies via its built-in "Inspector" palette. In addition, GoLive is the only web page authoring software that I know that also includes a simple QuickTime editor. This module of GoLive will allow you to do simple timeline video editing and enables you to add tracks such as HREF (or link) tracks to your QuickTime movie right from within this web page design application.
To date, GoLive offers these features only for QuickTime and leaves both RealSystem and Microsoft Media authors to sort out the code for themselves. In fact, one would have to expect that Microsoft may offer another tool in the future; but for now Microsoft ASF files do not have either the extensible or integrated support from this kind of professional web page authoring software.
Of course, as always, all of this software (and the web itself) is subject to continuing change. I certainly expect to see more web-based software like Apple's iTools, and I expect these online applications to continue to make putting video on the web easier. For example, it is easy to imagine applications similar to iTools; but ones which offer more sophisticated features.
In the meantime, if you're only interested in streaming QuickTime, Adobe's GoLive is a serious contender; but if you want shortcuts to both QuickTime and/or RealSystem G2, then Macromedia's Dreamweaver offers the most sophisticated video-to-web page linking and customization options.
In fact, our studio has found Dreamweaver to be the most productive and dependible tool we've found for building professional web sites and many of the time-saving features in their impressive new 3.0 upgrade have reinforced our confidence in this product.
At the same time, I highly recommend that you stay tuned.