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Getting Started with Streaming Flash Videos
    Posting and Sharing on YouTube (2/2008)

    by Douglas Dixon

Steps to Streaming
Easy Streaming: YouTube Uploading
Easy Streaming: YouTube Sharing
Make Your Own Flash Video
Design Your Own Flash Pages
Hot Flash Sharing

See also: Flash Video: Downloading from YouTube and Converting Video Files

Web streaming media was a hot topic five years ago, but getting your videos on the Internet turned out to be a messy business -- with the confusion of dueling formats and their required media players (QuickTime, Windows Media, RealNetworks), the complexity of compression to low Web bandwidths, and the daunting logistics of hosting streaming content.

But streaming is back, and really hot, as today's broadband connections and access to digital video tools has exploded interest in video sharing through sites like YouTube. Meanwhile, the three-way format battle has been resolved in favor of a fourth dark horse -- the Adobe Flash format (originally Macromedia). The ubiquity of Flash (more than 95 percent of Web users have the Flash player) allows no-fuss video playback directly in the browser, right on the Web page.

So how do you take advantage of this new opportunity to post and share your own videos? We'll walk though getting started with using streaming Flash video, from posting to YouTube to customizing your own site with video clips.

Steps to Streaming

You can get started with sharing streaming video amazingly easily by just posting your clips on YouTube (as the most obvious example, the process works similarly on other such sites). Just trim and edit the clip as desired, and upload to the site -- YouTube even takes care of converting the video to the proper format. Another benefit is that YouTube carries the cost of hosting the clip, including the storage and bandwidth costs, and maintains the Flash streaming server to deliver it quickly around the globe.

        YouTube - Customized Player

Once your video is posted to YouTube, you can share it by posting or e-mailing the link (URL) -- people can then click to go to the YouTube site to play the video. Even better, with a little bit of HTML magic, you can embed the Flash video player in your own Web pages, and have visitors actually play the video while remaining on your own Web site.

Of course, using free third-party sites does involve a loss of control over your own content. The clip is open and shared -- you can tell your family and friends about it, and anyone else anywhere in the world can also view your personal movies. In addition, the site may reject the clip, for example if it is too long, or can remove it at any time if someone complains about it. There's also the issue of ownership -- the terms and conditions transfers significant rights to the site when you upload. The site then can do anything they want with your video, including licensing it to others and selling advertising to profit from your work. But certainly if you're just having fun, or want to make a name for yourself, these free hosting sites can be a great deal.

The next step is to take more control over the presentation of your videos by customizing how it is embedded in your own Web pages, and by compressing the video yourself. Sites like YouTube perform a default compression process, whereas you can customize the options to help your specific material look better. YouTube even uses an older version of Flash video format in order to be compatible with older players, but you may be willing to move up to the new format for your target audience.

And you can host the video on your own site, or on a commercial site with a defined quality of service to ensure it's available when people (like potential clients or customers) want to see it. You can actually stream Flash video from a regular Web server (i.e., where your website is hosted), but it's more efficient to host the video on a separate dedicated streaming server.

Easy Streaming: YouTube Uploading

Getting your videos on YouTube is quite straightforward, and well documented in the YouTube / Google Help Center (www.google.com/support/youtube). Just set up an account, get your video ready in a common format, and then upload it.

Videos for YouTube need to be shorter than 10 minutes, smaller than 100 MB, and in a common video file format, especially Windows Media (WMV), Windows AVI, QuickTime MOV, and MPEG (MPG). YouTube recommends the MPEG-4 format at 320x240 resolution and with MP3 audio. If you're editing just for YouTube, there's no need to save the clip at a higher resolution than it will be played back -- which also helps reduce the file size and upload time.

You can shoot and upload low-res videos from cell phones and digital cameras (typically MPG), edit Web cam and standard-resolution videos with simple tools like Apple iMovie (MOV) and Windows Movie Maker (WMV), or edit more sophisticated videos from standard-def camcorders using desktop tools (i.e., in DV AVI format) -- and then export them in a lower-res format for faster uploading.

YouTube also offers the Web-based Remixer tool built on Adobe Premiere Express for quickly editing or remixing videos already stored in your account (www.youtube.com/ytremixer). You can sequence and add footage, transitions, borders, captions, and audio.

To upload your video (after you've signed up for an account and are logged in), click Upload Videos in the top right corner of any YouTube page. Enter descriptive information to help users search for your content (Title, Description, Tags, Category). Then browse for the video file and start it uploading. The time required for the upload depends on the bandwidth of your Internet connection. YouTube estimates uploads will take some 1 to 5 minutes per MB over a high-speed Internet connection. After the upload is complete, YouTube still needs to complete the conversion and processing of the video before it appears online in your account under My Videos.

        My Videos

YouTube offers other upload options, including uploading videos directly from a mobile phone by sending a MMS multimedia email to an address that you set up in your account.

And, you don't even have to go though a separate upload process -- some new versions of video editing tools have built Web uploading directly into the application. For example, CyberLink PowerDirector 6 uploads to YouTube (www.cyberlink.com) and Pinnacle Studio 11 publishes directly to Yahoo! Video (www.pinnaclesys.com).

Once your video is posted, you can share it as a single clip to YouTube, or by creating a Playlist, or through subscriptions to a Channel that you define. If you don't want the video to be globally accessible, you also can set it to be Private and share it only with specific people on your contact list.

Easy Streaming: YouTube Sharing

The easiest way to access a video posted on YouTube is by using the link to the clip's page at the site. YouTube helpfully shows the URL to the page to the right of the video window, ready to copy and paste into an email or to post as a link on your own website.

The YouTube playback URL link looks like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1b2c3d4e5z

Anyone then can use the link to jump to the YouTube site, with the clip loaded in a player and displayed along with information about the clip, including the nuber of times it has been viewed and other clips with similar descriptions.

Even better, you can post the clip on your own site, as part of your own Web page. Again, you can restrict the sharing options for the clip to specify that you do not want the clip to be embedded on external sites.

Embedding does not require any special Web authoring magic. Along with the page URL, YouTube also displays an Embed box with a chunk of HTML code to insert the video player on your own page.

Just paste the code into your website or on your blog. The HTML code inserts a Flash window on the page with your movie loaded for playback.

The YouTube Embed HTML code looks like:

<object width="425" height="350">
<param name="movie"
value="http://www.youtube.com/v/a1b2c3d4e5z"></param>
<param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param>
<embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/a1b2c3d4e5z"
type="application/x-shockwave-flash"
wmode="transparent" width="425" height="350">
</embed></object>

You also can customize the look of the player by selecting options under Custom Players. Choose the layout and color scheme, and select a clip from your videos, favorites, or playlists. This generates new HTML code to use on your site. Any further changes to the settings for the custom player will be automatically updated everywhere it is used -- without needing to edit the pages again.

        Custom Players

The YouTube Custom Player HTML code looks like:

<object width='425' height='366'>
<param name='movie'
value='http://www.youtube.com/cp/a1b2c3d4e5z a1b2c3d4e5z='></param>
<param name='wmode' value='transparent'></params>
<embed src='http://www.youtube.com/cp/a1b2c3d4e5z a1b2c3d4e5z ='
type='application/x-shockwave-flash'
wmode='transparent' width='425' height='366'>
</embed></object>

Make Your Own Flash Video

Once you start taking advantage of streaming video, you can move on to customize how your videos appear by doing the compression and embedding and hosting yourself.

       

Be aware that Flash video actually uses two different video formats, the older Sorenson Spark codec (up though Flash 7, www.sorensonmedia.com) and the newer On2 VP6 codec (introduced with Flash Player 8, www.on2.com/technology/vp6). Adobe recommends the newer VP6 as the preferred video codec for higher quality, but the older Spark still works fine for sites like YouTube.

While exporting to Flash is not (yet) a common option for video editing tools, some New conversion tools are starting to build in support for exporting Flash video, including Sorenson Squeeze for Windows and Macintosh (www.sorensonmedia.com).

You also can export directly to Flash in Adobe Premiere Pro CS 3 (also now for Windows and Mac, www.adobe.com/products/premiere). The built-in Adobe Media Encoder provides presets for different formats (including widescreen) and bitrates, and provides options for setting the Flash codec and advanced settings. The result is a FLV file -- video and audio compressed into a single file in Flash video format.

   
        Premiere Pro - Flash Export

Also, if you're already working with the Flash professional authoring tool to create Web animations and movies, Adobe Flash CS3 Professional has several options for encoding clips to Flash video (www.adobe.com/products/flash). There's the built-in Flash Video Import wizard, the stand-alone Flash 8 Video Encoder, and the Flash Video QuickTime Export plug-in, which encodes into FLV format when exporting from third-party video editing applications that support the QuickTime exporter plug-ins.

Design Your Own Flash Pages

Then to play the video, the Adobe Dreamweaver CS3 Web design tool has built-in support for embedding a Flash video clip (www.adobe.com/products/dreamweaver). Under Insert > Media, choose Flash Video, and then select the options for the player, including the look of the skin, and whether the clip automatically starts playing (and rewinds at the end). There's also an option to insert code to check whether the user's version of Flash is too old to play the video, and offer to download the upgrade if needed.

   
        Dreamweaver - Insert Flash Video 

The generated code references the Flash video clip as an external FLV file, which may be hosted on your website, or on a separate media server. The other option you need to specify when creating the Flash file is whether the video is going to be delivered by Streaming, or by Progressive Download. True streaming requires that the video be hosted on a Flash streaming server, which is required for advanced interactivity and features. But you can host clips quite satisfactorily on a plain old regular Web server, i.e., along with your website. With progressive downloading, the Flash player works behind the scenes to download and buffer the clip in order to provide a smooth playback experience -- even including seeking around quickly in smaller clips.

        Dreamweaver - Flash Player 

When you insert a Flash clip, Dreamweaver generates the required HTML into your Web page, and adds support files to your site, including the skin for the player (SWF) and JavaScript code (JS).

Then when you upload and open the page in a browser, the FLV file is displayed in a nice video player, with play controls, a shuttle slider, and volume control. Ta da!

Hot Flash Sharing

As we have seen, getting started with streaming video is no longer a big deal. It's wonderfully straightforward to quickly post your own clips on free sites like YouTube, and share them around the globe. While you give up some control over your work in the process, it's a great way to have fun and experiment with very little hassle.

Even better, you can embed the clips right in pages on your own site, without sending visitors off to another site, or requiring a separate player application. However, the video player window is branded by YouTube, and may show other material from YouTube.

You then can move on to preparing and hosting your own clips. Compress your videos at different resolutions, and trade off options for better video quality. Host the videos on your selected server -- a simple Web server, or a dedicated Flash streaming server for longer clips. And embed the clips deeper into the design of your own Web pages, using pre-defined players as in Dreamweaver, or even with custom controls authored in Flash Professional.

So get out there, have fun, and start sharing your videos!

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     Find Adobe Flash CS3 Professional on Amazon.com

Portions originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video magazine, 23, 6, December 2007.