At one time, Webmasters were advised to limit the amount of video on a Web site. Internet connections were slow and unreliable, and most visitors didn’t want to wait for the file to download. Today, video is hot, Internet connections are mostly high-speed, and most Web sites can benefit from the use of at least some video.
If you want to create a video-heavy Web site, your first decision will have to be whether you will use true streaming video or simulated streaming (HTTP streaming).
True Streaming Media
True streaming media requires a server running special software that sends your file to the viewer in a steady stream. The viewer sees the video as it arrives.
Streaming video servers have the advantage of being able to handle higher traffic than regular servers, as well as detecting users’ connection speeds to automatically stream the appropriate file. They also allow for broadcasting live video.
You can either run your own server, or buy a hosted streaming plan. Maintaining your own server is expensive, and even a hosted plan is pricey. Unless you plan to stream live events you’re probably better off starting with HTTP streaming and upgrading later, if necessary.
There are actually two types of HTTP streaming:
- Download:Your video file must download completely to a visitor’s computer before it will begin playing.
- Progressive Download: This method allows the file to start playing after a certain amount of the file has downloaded. This more closely approximates true streaming, but still cannot be used for live events.
The biggest advantages to using HTTP streaming is it’s simple and cheap. You also don’t need any special software or type of host. Just make sure your host’s server will recognize the most common video file types (Windows Media, QuickTime, Real Media, MPEG-4 and Flash).
While this streaming method is usually best to start, it does have a few disadvantages. It’s less efficient than true streaming, causing a heavier server load. This makes it unsuitable for sites with more than modest traffic. It also cannot deliver files based on connection speeds.
Creating Streaming Media Files
Assuming you’ve decided to start with HTTP streaming, the process of actually putting them on your site is simple. Save your video file in one of the common streaming media formats, upload it to your server and either link to it or embed it on the appropriate Web page.
The best user experience will be to embed the videos, so that visitors can watch them right on the page. Hyperlinks cause the video to open in a media player on the user’s computer, which is a more disruptive experience. The embed code will be different, depending on the file type. The Center for Instructional Technology at UCSF offers an Embedded Media HTML Generator that makes it easy to use the right code.
Once you know how you’re going to stream and what file types you’re going to embed, the rest of your design issues will be mostly aesthetic ones.