YouTube Shines Spotlight on New High-Def Content

YouTube continues to bring its high-definition video strategy into sharper focus with the announcement late this week of more support for HD videos. And while the new development may not make it any easier to know just where the hell Matt is — regarding the globetrotting dancer in one of YouTube’s most popular videos — his scenic backgrounds will indeed look much clearer.

The Web site has made it easier to find content uploaded in high-definition with an HD link in the Videos section. Even if you don’t choose to you use that link, YouTube pops up an on-screen notice alerting you to the availability of an HD version if there’s one available for whatever video you are currently watching.

Users must find a “watch in HD” link underneath the window showing the standard-quality version of a video. Once they click on that link, the video automatically goes widescreen; no user adjustments needed, although the full-screen option is still available.

Making It Easy

Perhaps in anticipation of all those HD-enabled camcorders now gift-wrapped and sitting under Christmas trees, YouTube has also added a FAQ site for instructing users on how to properly upload their HD videos in the right resolution and frame-rate speed. The less re-encoding that takes place, the better, according to YouTube.

Making HD videos easier to find, however, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easier to play. On its HD FAQ site, YouTube admits that it’s still in experimentation mode with higher-quality uploading. But there’s still not a lot of instruction on the HD section to help users determine if they have the right multimedia software, processor or memory in their computers for optimal viewing of high-definition content. Some of the comments regarding the new HD section reflect some of that user frustration; one-frame-per-second playback speeds, for example.

“For older computers, processing required by Flash player could result in poorer performance,” YouTube spokesperson Kathleen Fitzgerald told TechNewsWorld. “We will continue to monitor and optimize performance, but users can watch in standard quality if it’s an issue.”

Higher-Quality Competition

YouTube clearly sees the battleground taking shape in 2009 with Hulu over user eyeballs and advertiser dollars, Allen Weiner, digital media analyst for Gartner, told TechNewsWorld. “They are feeling the competitive strain of Hulu breathing down their neck, and they are beginning to take steps to be more competitive in the commercial space,” Weiner said.

Prior to offering HD videos, YouTube tightened restrictions regarding adult content. “They’re beginning to make YouTube a far more clean, well-lit place that will attract advertisers, and that means higher-quality video that advertisers will want to be a part of. It’s about the quality of content as well as the quality of the viewing experience. They don’t like the fact that Hulu is making money and they aren’t.”

Weiner plans to attend next month’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. When he gets there, he expects to see more examples of another trend that YouTube and Hulu hope to ride in 2009: HD content from their sites to your flat screen TV. “The whole theme of moving content from your PC to the big screens around your house will be a super major theme at CES. I’ve already been briefed by various companies who have plans to do that. They’re hoping to make it pretty seamless with more and more easy-to-install solutions.”

HD Not so E-Z on a PC

Weiner’s aforementioned “quality of the viewing experience” is still a little troublesome, according to some of the comments on YouTube’s HD section. “It keeps freezing the video, no matter how long you let it load,” says one user. “My PC can’t handle it. I get one frame rate per second,” says another. To be fair, others are telling YouTube that they are enjoying the new developments, but they may also be watching the videos on newer, more powerful computers.

Hulu’s HD Gallery puts the requirements for optimal high-definition viewing front and center; the processor speed, memory and latest version of Flash required for Windows computers, Macs or Linux. There is still some drilling down needed on YouTube for that information.

“The newer computers are going to give you the best experiences, the more-like-TV experiences,” Weiner said. “Watching it on a large 20-inch flat screen monitor, it will look like TV. And on an older computer, it will still be better” than standard quality viewing, he added.

Fitzgerald said that widescreen versions will not play on embedded players and mobile devices. Also, for the moment, Apple TV users won’t be able to watch YouTube’s HD videos. All of this emphasizes the work-in-progress nature of the Web site’s strategy.

“We will listen to the YouTube community feedback following this launch and iterate accordingly,” Fitzgerald said.

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