November 27, 2013

How YouTube Tries to Keep Videos Playing Smoothly No Matter What

Video thumbnail for youtube video How Youtube Works - No Film SchoolIn an effort to get videos to stream more reliably regardless of your connection speed, the YouTube team at Google continues to innovate and utilize different distribution methods to get videos buffering as little as possible and in the highest quality possible. Here's a great video from Computerphile that explains just how complicated their delivery system actually is, and how they get high-traffic videos to actually load faster (and the video itself is on YouTube, of course):

Just like how Netflix encodes each video many, many times, YouTube has a few dozen different encodes of each video that is uploaded, from your average cat video all the way to full-length feature films. These different encodes include multiple resolution options for each video, as well as the different file formats which you can actually see for yourself when you try to download videos from YouTube. The way that YouTube actually tries to work with the speed of your connection is one of the reasons videos tend to play smoothly on the service. For sites like Vimeo to compete better, I think at the very least they need options for users to select different resolutions rather than having the uploaded default to 720p or 1080p (as only one of these versions will be displayed when HD is on).

Computerphile has a number of fascinating videos on YouTube, so head over to watch some of the others.

Link: Computerphile -- YouTube Channel

Your Comment

53 Comments

Youtube Video player is the most annoying, stupid and trouble making player i have ever noticed with medium speed connections while streaming, auto resolution change bugs and lot more.

November 27, 2013 at 1:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

I thought it was my connection. I understand how and why it may load slow slow, but it's annoying when it just stops at about the 1/4 mark of a clip with no sign that it's buffering or even cued to play the remaining segment.

November 27, 2013 at 4:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Marc B

The title should read: 'How Youtube tries to keep videos from playing, no matter what'

November 28, 2013 at 5:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

6
Reply

I experience the same frustration with most YouTube vids. It rapidly buffers the first 30 seconds then stops.
Which means I only get to watch a lot of crappy title-cards/intros.

November 28, 2013 at 12:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Ben

Totally agree. It's a damn pain in the ass. I wish it would just you set the quality you wanted (eg, 480) and just use that each time you watch a video, but no; every video I watch i have to manually change it. I don't mind waiting a little bit for it to load, but the change is resolution up and down is a pain.

December 3, 2013 at 8:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Fletch

100x better than the Vimeo player...

November 27, 2013 at 1:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

Vimeo still wins because of the awesome creative community that it boasts.

November 27, 2013 at 2:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
avatar
Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
4510

Sorry, but what does that even mean? I get that there are a lot of trolls on YouTube but what makes you think that it's lacking creative people? Arguably YouTube has a much larger creative community than Vimeo just based on sheer numbers. Saying that it wins for it's awesome creative community is just failing to see the big picture. It honestly doesn't even win in that regard...

November 27, 2013 at 3:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

It's a community built from the ground up to support what we do for a living. Because of it's features that make it work so well for us such as replacing an existing video, it's iframe customization when embedding, and lack of advertising all over our videos it tends to attract an audience that prefers those things, and doesn't mind paying a little bit of dough for even more. On top of all that, Google's recent google+ integration with youtube profiles may play out with a better class of comments, but also signals a more ambiguous direction, one that might indicate that when using it's social network it would prefer you upload portrait-skewed videos taken with your cellphone through their service, as opposed to a competitor, further adding to amount of crap on that site, and more keywords to wade through to actually source your creative content for viewing.

November 27, 2013 at 4:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply
Chris

None of that matters when the video pauses 20 seconds in and kills any sort of mood that the video/creators were building. YouTube obviously has more resources than Vimeo and probably SHOULD have the better player...but Vimeos isn't even passable IMO. I literally, cannot load an HD video from that site.

November 27, 2013 at 5:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

It means that Vimeo is built around the idea of having a legitimate community of creative people. Its sole purpose is to provide a place where people can share their creative content with other creative folks. With the exception of some of its technical issues (of which it has quite a few), it succeeds in creating that community.

On the other hand, while there are certainly creative people with lots of great content on YouTube, the platform itself is not necessarily conducive to the idea of community. Just because it has larger numbers of viewers doesn't make it a community. It's more of a free for all, where it's perfectly acceptable to post any content (whether you created it or not) and say anything you want (whether constructive or not).

I don't have any beef with YouTube. I just think that Vimeo serves a different purpose, and is a better platform for filmmakers.

November 27, 2013 at 4:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
avatar
Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
4510

But there are communities. That's like saying there aren't clicks in a big high school. Communities form...

November 27, 2013 at 5:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply

Honestly only like that vimeo displays videos in the correct aspect ratio like cinemascope etc. I have many issues with vimeo playing HD videos just like Luke. It won't even play and I have Optimum Ultra connection (101mbps). This community of creative people is something I don't see as a big deal because it feels very empty to me. I add videos to groups etc but still I find youtube to be stronger as far as gaining an audience. Pages don't feel important to me in relation to youtube. Youtube you can set up your channel to feel like its own TV network.

Differnt strokes for defferent folks. I do find the notion that vimeo has more creative people and is better for filmmakers absurd for two reasons. 1) Youtube has more people creating content and the content is diverse. 2) More filmmakers may be on youtube but that doesn't mean it's better for filmmakers because 9 times out of 10 your audience will be everyday people not filmmakers.

Either way I find it stupid to champion one plateform over the other. Use both.

November 27, 2013 at 6:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply

Agreed, I just simply cannot view a video on Vimeo and find that to be THE most basic requirement. Others seem to have the same issue with YT...so who knows. I also like how Vimeo handles aspect ratios...wish YouTube would implement that.

November 27, 2013 at 6:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

To bring it down to simple facts: at least for me vimeo streams smoothly , youtube doesn't. Vimeo allows me to jump back to an earlier point that has already been loaded, youtube will dump everything that has been loaded and buffer all over. Vimeo allows me to create any thumbnail I want, youtube doesn't. Vimeo allows me to replace a video file without loosing links, stats and rank, youtube doesn't. I also gladly pay a little extra to get to choose where my videos can be embedded while youtube has no such option. Youtube has, in several occasions, flagged my videos for third party content although I was the sole creator or owned all licenses which I then had to dispute, never had an issue with vimeo. When I have a problem with anything on vimeo I can ask their staff and will have a reply within a day, try asking google anything. At least as far as I am concerned I get a lot more exposure on vimeo while uploading to YouTube feels like throwing a needle into a haystack and hoping for someone to find it. I could go on about layouts and other stuff but I guess I made my point. To be fair, it would be nice to have better stats on vimeo, specifically I like the one on youtube telling you when people drop out on your videos (although drop outs on youtube are probably caused by thr fact that it simply stops streaming...)

November 28, 2013 at 5:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

I honestly don't have any reason to not like Vimeo...I have just never been able to watch a video on that site. Even when I turn off "HD" it loads 25% of the way and then crawls. I don't think I have ever been able to watch a video in HD from start to finish, regardless of length. Never had that problem with YT. For whatever reason I can watch stuff in 1080p like it's nothing. No lag, no loading. Now when I see a Vimeo video embedded on a site I don't even bother unless they allow downloads. Having a video pause when you're viewing is one of the most annoying things. Up there with people talking during movies...

November 27, 2013 at 3:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply

Vimeo works fine for me. Maybe you need a better internet connection. I would never put anything on youtube, it's a sea of crap.

November 27, 2013 at 5:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Lucian

For me, YouTube plays 4K better than Vimeo plays SD.

Also, you're a sea of crap

November 27, 2013 at 5:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply

So much hate :/

November 27, 2013 at 7:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply

Luke, I think the problem with Vimeo may be a problem on your end. Vimeo loads every video fine for me on both my Mac and my PC, on both my home and business's networks; its performance is about the same or maybe slightly worse than YouTube. If Vimeo's player was that broken for any number of people then they would have addressed (or should have addressed) the issue. Have you reached out to Vimeo's customer/tech support to troubleshoot it? Have you tried it on different browsers? On different networks, maybe at a cafe for example?

It would be a shame for you to completely dismiss an entire website (and, apparently, its community) for what could be a simple issue on your end.

November 28, 2013 at 6:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply
Adam

Vimeo is pretentious garbage lol

November 27, 2013 at 8:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
john jeffries

I agree, Vimeo not a good place because their feed is really bad. I have nothing against either YT or vimeo but YT feeds a lot better even with crappy connection. Also the quality is just fine on YT. I can jump ahead on YT but it stops on vimeo and never starts or stop playing.

BTW, you can find just as good video as on vimeo but have to look for it. Not all trash.

November 30, 2013 at 1:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
web

Would it change your mind if I told you that I pretty much stopped watching any of your stuff simply because it is a nightmare to watch anything on youtube from where I live? ESPECIALLY since this feature was launched!

November 27, 2013 at 3:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

The only features Vimeo's player has that I wish the YouTube player would add are a scaling option, to display videos in their original resolution, and and better compression. I just want to not stretch the already low-bit rate video -- I don't mind waiting a tad longer for videos to load as long as I can watch a 1080p video containing dense grass that doesn't blow up into macroblocks the second the frame is filled with too much of it. Also, YouTube recently disabled the ability to buffer entire videos at once -- that sucks.
Other than those three points, I agree that YouTube, its tools, and its player are great and generally work well.

In terms of the Vimeo player, videos tend to play just fine for me... unless I wait more than a few minutes to play them. I'll tend to open a bunch of tabs all at once and work my way through them one-by-one; by the time I get to some of them containing Vimeo videos, the videos no longer work. It's like they're on a timer, or something. Even upon re-loading the page, the videos sometimes cease to function. Further still, sometimes Vimeo videos only begin to play once I have "jiggled" the play button a couple times (starting/stopping the video). These are consistent and repeatable problems that I wish would be rectified.
When they do load, though, the videos play well and actually buffer just as fast, if not faster, than most YouTube videos I view.

The occasional YouTube video would give me problems sometimes, as well. I think it depended on what web rendering method was used (HTML5 vs. Flash, etc.), but some videos would outright never load for an entire day. This would only happen with select videos, meaning one of two videos uploaded on the same channel could malfunction, while the other would play flawlessly. YouTube videos I've viewed haven't had this problem in a good six months or so, so I'm hoping the issue is resolved, whatever it was.

November 29, 2013 at 4:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
Mr Blah

I also don't like youtube player very much. It often hangs, when I try to choose higher resolution, and won't start again if I don't reload the page. And then again it is set to 360p, and when I change it, it hangs again. Does it happen to anyone else?

November 27, 2013 at 2:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
RK

That happens to me all the time.

November 27, 2013 at 2:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

7
Reply
avatar
Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
4510

All of what you said absolutely happens to me on a daily basis. Drives me up a wall. Also, when I try to change to high res, the gear icon will eventually say HD is active but the video will keep playing very blurry still until I reload the page.

November 27, 2013 at 3:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply

This happens 100% of the time regardless of the browser I'm using or the computer I'm using. It drives me insane.

November 27, 2013 at 4:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

I thought I was the only one!! This is really REALLY annoying! I have a relatively fast connection (50Mbps) and youtube insists on playing at a really low resolution (even 144p sometimes!!). Everytime I try to up the resolution, it just stops. Very frustrating... And don't even get me started on their aggressive advertising policy!

It's a shame because I really enjoy how YouTube becomes more of a custom made TV channel..

November 27, 2013 at 5:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

7
Reply

Here's what you do - (presuming you have the required bandwidth) - click play, then click pause, then select your bit rate, then click on full screen, then hit play again to resume the video. This sequence allows the stream to re-buffer sufficiently and then play, at worst, 1080p. I only have the 8-8.5 mbps, so the 4K will buffer regardless but 1440 plays fine.
.
PS. I will say Vimeo usually plays fine for me as well but, with all the pros on it, it needs at least a 1440 (aka 2.5K) streaming capability. I do sometimes wonder if am I watching in actual HD, however, because the indicator of their bit rate is absurdly unclear. You can hover a mouse over it but it's so much better to show a variety of options - 720, 1080, 1440, 2160, etc.

November 27, 2013 at 9:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
DLD

Well, vimeo's site looks nicest - but the search function doesn't work at all. Youtube has started to look like myspace, cluttered and full of children - with a player that hangs and crashes fairly frequently. Not to mention the ad situation.

Someone needs to just do a clean restart on an internet streaming site. DO OVER!

November 27, 2013 at 2:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply
alex

Agreed. I really do wish Vimeo's search worked properly. It has always been a frustrating experience.

November 27, 2013 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

Good point about VImeo's search function. It is next to useless.

November 27, 2013 at 7:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Tom

I feel like all the popular video players currently are just not as reliable, stable or friendly as they where all over three years ago. All this "innovation" has only degraded everything, especially Google. Everything they changed in the past few years is only becoming worse - everything has more buttons and things make less sense.

November 27, 2013 at 3:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
D

I recognise the voice of that interviewer! https://soundcloud.com/stephen-slater-2/meeting-highlights

November 27, 2013 at 4:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Vanderdecken

There's a plugin called Youtube center for Mozilla, Opera and others. It lets buffering go all the way, and it may fix resolution problems. I had these too and now everything opens in 720p as I set it. YT is a much better service after this.

November 27, 2013 at 6:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

By the way, Frost said last week that they will migrate all of their videos to VP9 (35%-50% more efficient than VP8 or H.264) for the playback. Chrome got the plug-in in September. I am not sure if other browsers have yet. I am on Firefox but I downloaded Chrome out of curiosity. 4K still buffers at my 8.5 Mbps and VP9 will adjust the streaming rate down. And, by that, I meant way, way down. Firefox does not do that, preferring to keep on buffering instead while maintaining quality. On the other hand, VP9 will allow them to have a load of 4K clips at under 10 Mbps (their 1080p is at 3 to 3.5 Mpbs) once all the videos have been formatted.

November 27, 2013 at 9:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
DLD

Where I Live in Australia Youtube player is shit. As others have said, it does not buffer the whole clip and if it plays correctly you cannot click to watch a different part without more buffering. Trawling through the sea of crap just to find something interesting is a nightmare. If i find something I might wanna watch, a fucken ad pops up, or those annotation things are all over the clip. I dont like cats either...and why is the player no centered?? Just a frustrating experience all round for me...

November 27, 2013 at 9:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Dean

Vimeo has honestly always worked fine with me. Youtube works most of the time too, but it's ridiculously annoying when it doesn't.

November 27, 2013 at 10:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

YT is biggest waste of time because footage is destroyed by all that stupid OSD graphic which is sitting in the center of frame and thefore covers action in video itself so you just miss it!! Wow it looks like from the history of the net and nobody in Google is not able to put it at least ti the corner or away just somwhere else. It just big ergonom disaster.

November 28, 2013 at 1:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Kuk

Why does Youporn play better than youtube? Seriously.

November 28, 2013 at 3:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Dan

If I remember correctly, it's "u-porn" not... ehm ... ahem... *cough*, not that I would know, I mean...

November 28, 2013 at 9:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply

Didn't watch the video, so maybe I'm sticking my foot in my mouth, but I'm quite sure that any developer with some experience in this area could build a far better product in 1 week of dedicated time, and it would cost pennies to host per gig.

Here's how:

1) Encode all videos at a wide array of bitrates, more options the better, CBR (it really doesn't make that much of a difference at this level, and makes the bitrate switching easier / more predictable). As bitrate gets higher, so does resolution. Create a SMIL file to reference them all.

2) Host all videos on Rackspace Cloudfiles. It's Akamai under the hood and, although not widely known, actually allows HTTP video streaming with dynamic bitrate switching. Very cheap for what it is and you only pay for what you use.

3) Make a player that uses the dynamic bitrate switching, but provide an option to lock on a certain resolution+bitrate.

4) Short of making a deal with Akamai to push content to edges, rent nodes in a few key geographic locations which systematically pull the content to keep it fresh on those edges. Popular videos won't need this.

Done.

iOS and Android can natively handle HTTP adaptive streaming, as can Flash. I'm pretty sure JWPlayer can handle it on all the platforms, would just need a plugin/extension to give the user choice to control which mode they want.

The headache comes in trying to find ways to monetize the content and keep the business afloat. There's basically 3 options: 1) Get the producer to pay for it (Vimeo) 2) Get the audience to pay for it (Netflix) 3) Get advertisers to pay for it (Youtube). All of those are risky assumptions unless you've got incredible content or investors with deep pockets.

Honestly, my guess is they are all appear a bit "lazy" because they built their system on old or proprietary technology, and it's a PITA or impossible to move all the old content onto a newer system.

Anyone who wants to follow my advice above can build an extremely competitive product for a few bucks and elbow grease.

November 28, 2013 at 6:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply

FYI this is how we are playing the videos at https://tjandpals.com/videos-for-kids ... though we only built the Flash client, using OSMF and the Akamai plugin. The documentation on all of that was very hard to come by, but it all works as you can see using open sourceish technology and cloudfiles. Only thing is we didn't set up the edge-nodes to pull, so your experience will depend on how much traffic is coming from your geographic area, and we only used the adaptive switching without an option to lock on to a resolution (though we do sortof do that at the beginning, setting the initial resolution to a value higher than the native default)

November 29, 2013 at 2:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

YouTube and Vimeo play fine for me most of the time. One thing I have seen on YouTube is I have to start the play then pause it. Hit the gear Icon I call it then take it to 1080P or 720P then I get the HD then it plays fine. Vimeo the search does not work in IE 10 but work ok with Firefox. I have a 10MB upload and 50MB down.

November 28, 2013 at 8:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Michael Bishop

By the way, one thing to remember when talking about bandwidth is that 10 MB = 80 Megabits. 10 Mb = 1,25 MegaBytes. For each Byte there is 8 bits. Byte is Capital, bit is lower-case.

And then there is mb and mB... which is basically unpossible since it would be thousands of a bit and thousands of 8 bits...

uhm... yeah... nerd-rant ends here, I think...

November 28, 2013 at 10:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

The only problem with these players is they don't support 3D very well on either the producer or audience side

November 29, 2013 at 2:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

hey... I added "trollbait" tags to the beginning and end of that but NFS swallowed it... anyway, it's a joke ;)

November 29, 2013 at 2:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

If I want a seamless Youtube experience I'll simply watch at 480. A seamless experience on Vimeo is impossible. HD on or Off. (I live in Brisbane, Australia)

November 29, 2013 at 7:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Peter Gell

For some time, youtube videos have been fairly reliable on my antiquated DSL connection. However, in the past month, most videos stall after a few seconds, and are painfully difficult to watch at even the lowest resolutions. If I pause the video, they will not...ever...buffer, so the only option is to watch in tiny increments. I have no patience for that. For me, youtube videos have reached an all time low in delivery performance.

November 30, 2013 at 11:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Dave

In addition to my previous comment, vimeo videos are far more reliable for me. If I need to buffer a video, I can. Yeah, I need a faster connection, but at least I can watch vimeo.

November 30, 2013 at 11:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Dave

I guess if you didn't know what adaptive bitrate was...

December 4, 2013 at 9:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Chris N

Also in Australia, my internet connection plays other streaming video fine, but vimeo (HD on or off) is a constant problem. I wouldn't mind so much if it just stopped to buffer, but the fact that it inexplicably jumps to the end of the video, so that (after paying $5 to rent something) I have to have a guess as to where in the 2 hour film I am, allow it to buffer, and then have another guess when I get it wrong, is ridiculous.

April 25, 2014 at 5:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Emma