Breakpoints on streaming video

YouTube has been around long enough that it has a significant number of competitors. Some of them are good while some of them aren’t. And many of them are simply unusable. Here’s why.

The amount of bandwidth allocated to the kind of streaming video that Flash players do is not a spectrum of qualities. Either enough bandwidth is provided for the video to run in real time, or not. It’s very much binary. Video services that can’t pump out enough data to view the videos in real time without having to pause for buffering aren’t worth using. YouTube is good because they have enough bandwidth to transfer videos to you at faster than the rate that they play at. Thus, you can spend hours browsing around the site from video to video with a completely uninterrupted viewing experience.

Now compare this to other video sites that have insufficient bandwidth. You load up each video and then have to wait awhile for the site to buffer the video enough so that it can play through uninterrupted. Even worse is when the algorithms used do a poor job of estimating how much data should be buffered before starting playback, and so the video starts playing and uses up all of its buffer before the end of the clip. Then, the video has to be paused, in the middle of whatever the viewer was watching, and re-buffered. RealPlayer became infamous for this “feature” alone.

Exceeding playback throughput with download throughput is the one breakpoint on streaming video that decides whether a video site is good. Of course, really fast data transmission rates are nice, because you don’t have to wait awhile before being able to skip to a later point in the video, but this isn’t nearly as important as simply being able to play the video uninterrupted without a huge wait at the beginning.

Well, there’s one more issue that makes a video site unusable: if they try to force you to view an ad before the video you were interested in starts playing. These sites are the absolute worst, and I always just close the site rather than let them force me to sit through some ads.

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