Video is so much easier now, visitors are coming to expect it.
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There are a number of ways to host a video file so it can be seen by your visitors, each has it's advantages and disadvantages, and there is no one right answer, it all depends upon your needs. We will look at the 3 most popular options to provide your visitors with a quality video experience; self hosting, YouTube and Vimeo.

Self Hosting

By self hosting we mean actually having the video file on your server, or using a specialist hosting service such as Blip.tv. If you want to host the files, we prefer using Amazons S3 storage, as this provides cheap, reliable and scalable hosting, that is on a pay for what you use basis. This is the most difficult option in many ways as you must deal with the delivery of the video stream yourself, but leaves you with the most control over the process.

Any video requires a video player to show the video stream in the browser, and here the choice comes down to whether to use an Adobe Flash based player or not. Flash players such as Flowplayer are very reliable on desktop devices with over 96% of desktops able to run Flash, however this figure drops dramatically on mobile devices, and iOS devices such as iPhones, iPads and iPod touch do not run Flash at all. The alternative to a Flash player is to use an HTML5 player such as VideoJs, while these work across all mobile devices and many modern desktop browsers, older browsers notably Internet Explorer 7 and 8 do not understand the HTML5 video element that this player requires. In these browsers the player falls back to a non-streaming Flash based player.

Adobe Flash based player:

  • Quality playback
  • Supports a wide range of video formats (MPG, AVI, WMV, MOV)
  • Good support for desktop browsers, including older browsers
  • Poor support on many mobile devices
  • Processor intensive, so can drain batteries quickly
  • No support across iOS devices

HTML5 based player:

  • Quality playback
  • Uses native browser technology, does not require a plugin
  • Good support across mobile devices
  • Supports a limited range of video formats (Ogg, MP4 and WebM)
  • No support on older browsers, though many HTML5 solutions include a Flash based fallback

Pros and Cons of Self Hosting

Pros

  1. You retain complete control of the experience
  2. No external branding on the player
  3. No limits to the size or quality of the video files
  4. Visitors cannot be lost to external associated content.

Cons

  1. Video files must be prepared before hand for compression and converted into the correct codec.
  2. Video players must be set up correctly within your content.
  3. All bandwidth for streaming the videos must come out of your hosting limits, unless you use an external hosting option such as Blip.tv.

YouTube 

Before you can show a YouTube hosted video on your website you will need to find it on YouTube. If this is your own video, before that it will need to be uploaded to YouTube which means you will need to agree to the YouTube's Community Guidelines. These are nothing too strict and mostly ensure content does not violate copyright and is not offensive.

YouTube's help site has great articles and videos (well it would wouldn't it?) on how to get the best out of your creations, including editing, creating and promoting videos.

Pros and Cons of YouTube

Pros

  1. If the video is yours, your video content is exposed to YouTubes vast audience.
  2. YouTube take care of all the technical problems with video codecs and formatting
  3. YouTube supply all the bandwidth for hosting
  4. Unlimited HD uploading and video length for approved contributors

Cons

  1. The scale of the YouTube contributor network can leave your content lost
  2. YouTubes player loses a lot of play area to YouTube branding
  3. Visitors can easily drift away from your content to related videos

Vimeo 

Vimeo is very similar to YouTube in many ways, but is often considered the cooler new kid on the block. While YouTube has suffered from it's popularity in becoming notorious for the nature of some of it's content and the cruelty of much of the comments, Vimeo has managed to keep itself more focused on the quality of the content and stayed away from low quality shock-effect videos.

Vimeo's Community Guidelines are more commercially restrictive than YouTube, and will tend to inhibit most commercial uses of the service, no promotional videos of products or services for example. That said for content creators who can create an original video with good production quality it can be a better method to showcase your work.

Pros and Cons of Vimeo

Pros

  1. Exposure of your videos to the Vimeo community and potential viral effect that can have
  2. All technical issues are handled by Vimeo following upload.
  3. Vimeo's player is simple and has subtle branding
  4. Vimeo supply the bandwidth to deliver your content to your audience

Cons

  1. File uploads limited to 500Mb and 1 HD video per week
  2. Commercial limitations may prevent use by many organisations
  3. Smaller potential audience than YouTube
  4. Higher quality of typical video may leave some looking poor by comparison.

Which is the best way to display video on your website?

There is no single solution that will suit everyone, as it depends upon the nature of the content you are looking to show, the size and quality of the material and your own technical ability to set up more complex solutions.

For our clients we would normally recommend they go with YouTube if they are looking for an easy to implement commercially motivated, promotional video solution. If the nature of the content is more thoughtful and professionally created, and importantly of a non-commercial nature then Vimeo will be a good choice.

For those who are more technically aware, or are committed to creating regular quality video content, a self hosted solution, or one hosted on a 3rd party, will provide more control and a more professional feel.

Which ever solution you choose, it's important to realise the impact video can have within a website. What was an unusual sight just 3 or 4 years ago is now an expected aspect of a web experience whether as part of a product review, a tutorial or how-to, or just as an additional dimension to a blog post.