Remote Synchronized Online Video Viewing: Watch Any Video In Sync With Anyone Connected Online - Best Tools Reviewed
Internet video and online collaboration were massive growth sectors in 2006, and as 2007 forges ahead the two are finally coming together.
With the emergence of the first real-time video synching and sharing solutions, the Internet video experience is definitely bound to become a critical work platform for video and television production as well as for a thousand more applications from research to collaborative review, where watching video together while being at a distance, provides a truly breakthrough new opportunity.
Photo credit: Tomasz Trojanowski
The ability for groups of people to watch the same video in real time - from different locations - has two main applications so far.
On the one hand we are seeing communal video watching and commentary emerge as an extension of social software. Groups gather around a video playlist and chat about the videos as they view them, just as friends might talk as they sit in front of a TV show.
The second major application of this emerging technology is that of video review, and is likely to be of more interest to video professionals or online independent producers looking to discuss video footage at a distance.
As online collaboration has made working from remote locations increasingly easy, and popular, it was only a matter of time before the opportunity to work on video projects joined the list of possibilities for those working in different cities or even countries.
Our own team at Robin Good's Media Network is scattered around several countries, and the ability to discuss video productions in real time has become increasingly important in our day to day work. As such, the time seems ripe for online collaboration that allows for a strong audio-visual element, and several contenders have risen to this gap in the market.
Today I am going to take you through three recent applications that promise to do the same for Internet video.
Three levels of complexity
It would be unfair to compare the three applications I'm going to take a look at, as they are attempting to reach different audiences and satisfy different needs. On the other hand, depending on the level of complexity you may need for your remote video viewing and sharing needs, one or more online tools may be suitable for your requirements.
The services under review are (in order of complexity):
- YouTube Streams, a beta project from the YouTube people that offers a no-frills way of chatting about online videos with friends or strangers.
- ClipSync, which ostensibly aims for the same social networking audience, but has the capabilities to be used for professional video review, up to a point.
- syncVUE, which offers a professional, paid solution for video professionals looking for timecode perfect syncing of video footage at a distance.
At the time of writing all of these projects are in the relatively early stages of their development and each is improving at a rapid rate. Doubtless there will be other services emerging in the coming months, as online collaboration and Internet video continue to dominate the evolving web.
YouTube Streams is by far the simplest of the bunch, and is currently in beta, so has some rough edges. But if you are looking for a way to easily discuss videos with a group of your contacts, your online audience, or a group of strangers it may provide just what you're looking for.
Streams will not be any use to you if you want to synchronize your videos, though, as it doesn't currently have this capability. The concept is simple - any YouTube member can create a stream - which is effectively a chat room, add videos to it, and choose from a limited list of options before their stream goes live.
These streams cannot be set to private, although as the person that created the stream you can remove attendees from the proceedings. The choices you will be faced with in setting up your stream are:
- Selecting a name and background image
- Choosing a maximum number of attendees (up to 300 are allowed by YouTube
- Creating a welcome message for those that join your stream
- Deciding who can add video content to the stream (only you, or anyone that joins the stream)
- Whether you want to allow ''racy videos'' in your stream
- How many inappropriate 'flags' a video must receive before it will be automatically removed
Given that the streams are open to anyone that cares to attend them, the primary function of YouTube Streams seems to be social, and in practice it seems to be used in much the same way as any other chat room, with the addition of video providing a talking point for those attending.
With the ability for attendees to select videos activated, this makes for a great way for people to share their video finds with one another, and freely discuss them in real time. However, as videos cannot be synchronized in any way, chatting is limited to discussing the videos in general, rather than commenting on specific moments in real time.
As such, this will be of limited use to video professionals who may need to discuss specific moments in a video as it plays. On the other hand, for semi-synchronous review, discussion or even online classes, this could prove to be a valuable tool.
The other major drawback is the inability to create 'closed' rooms, which will be a major hurdle for those wishing to use the service uninterrupted by uninvited guests. If you add to this the need to upload your videos to YouTube, and thus to the general public, this automatically discounts its use for copyright or confidential works in progress.
YouTube Streams' interface is simple and works pretty well, though. Along the top of the screen is the line up of videos on offer, which can watched by clicking on the thumbnail of your choice. Center-left is the YouTube video player, and hanging to the right a chat box, with a list of current attendees.
Videos can be easily added from within the interface, either by adding a URL, or else by choosing them from your user profile's Quicklist or Recently Watched videos, which makes sharing your latest finds a very easy prospect.
In summary, this is a service that will appeal to those looking to share and add a social dimension to their Internet video viewing experience, and will only prove lacking to those who require privacy and video synchronization features.
With a far more impressive feature set, the ability to sync videos with other users, and a choice of Internet video networks, ClipSync provides an attractive solution that will appeal to social networkers and semi-pro videographers in equal measure.
Certainly ClipSync would seem to be aimed at the same target audience as YouTube Streams, and this is evident in their overall interface design and basic pitch. In actual fact, I think that some of the design choices the company have made radically undersell the power of the technology behind them.
Take for example the hideously tacky cartoon characters that adorn both the service's front page and video interface. Apologies to the person responsible, but I can't help but feel that these poorly conceived gargoyles are likely to appeal to anyone over the age of ten. While the social networking scene certainly appeals to a young audience, it is my personal belief that these characters are likely to alienate more potential users than they will please.
If that sounds a little harsh, it is only because I have a lot of respect for what is otherwise a very powerful, useful tool that goes beyond the social chat function of YouTube Streams and offers quite a lot more besides.
So what are these features? In a nutshell, ClipSync offers the ability to:
- Watch video sourced from any of the major Internet Video sharing sites, including YouTube, Google Video and MetaCafe
- Synchronize your video, so that all users are viewing the same video clip at exactly the same point in time
- Create private or public sessions, with varying degrees of moderation in terms of who is allowed to add videos to the playlist
- Search from the main (flash-based) interface for suitable videos to add to your playlist
- Make use of the aforementioned horrible-looking faces, which have assigned sound effects including laughter and snoring, in addition to being able to use text chat
- The impressive ability to integrate the software with Skype, including the ability to add your Skype contacts to your video sharing sessions
This is a very impressive list of features that while still leaning heavily on the worlds of chat and instant messaging, with their use of emoticons, the creation of rooms, and the ability to boot out the undesirable, nevertheless takes things a step further than YouTube Streams.
What sets this apart from YouTube Streams, besides much better interface (cartoon characters aside) is the aforementioned ability to synchronize clips with other viewers. For anyone hoping to actually analyze or talk through specific moments in a video, this is priceless and already takes ClipSync to the next level.
If you add to this the ability to be much more selective about how enters your video sharing session, it already becomes apparent that ClipSync has a much broader range of applications than its YouTube counterpart. This could easily be used by those giving presentations, teaching or working in a learning group, quickly discussing video content for production purposes, or - as was intended - simply socializing and shooting the breeze about the latest viral video.
There are effectively four options in terms of moderation and privacy, as listed here:
Just by adding these basic settings, the ClipSync team have acknowledged the fact that different users will have different needs for the service, and that these will involve greater or lesser degrees of control.
VJs, presenters or teachers will enjoy the ability to set the session to hosted, so that other participants can contribute to the session without taking total control of it. Educators might also make great use of the moderated setting, as could corporate trainers who want to extend the sharing to those taking part, but effectively reserve the power of veto for themselves. And then, if a group of friends or colleagues are using the service, the 'free for all' setting removes all formality from the clip selection process.
By being given the option to remove a session from the site's directory, users also have the choice of creating invitation only sharing sessions, which will be vital in a number of environments and settings.
In summary,then, ClipSync is a very versatile tool that will appeal to a great many audiences, in spite of its narrow, slightly mawkish marketing as a social networking digital youth destination.
As a totally free service, it offers a halfway house between the simpler YouTube Streams and the professional-level, paid service syncVUE. ClipSync may very well satisfy the needs of independent video and media producers looking to quickly look over their work, although again the issue of having to upload video footage to a public, hosted site may still prove an issue for some. This is where syncVUE comes in.
syncVUE sits at the other end of the scale. While upon first impressions it bears some resemblances to the other services under review, it is clearly aimed at video professionals looking to collaborate remotely.
While the first two services rely on streaming video that has been uploaded to the web, syncVUE's job isn't so much one of sourcing media files as it is synchronizing time code accurate data between video files. These video files are resident on the hard drives of the team members collaborating via the service, and as such remain entirely private.
With the ability to sync and annotate video files in real time it is possible for whoever is leading the session to scrub and scan through the video and have all of the other user's footage mirror theirs instantaneously. Furthermore, syncVUE allows you to add annotation to videos at exact time codes, which can be imported to professional editing software such as Final Cut Pro, which will prove priceless to the pros.
syncVUE's time code precision puts it in the pro-league
This is much less a video sharing application as it is a very well conceived video review product clearly geared up to enabling online collaboration between video and film professionals. The service seems priced to allow for independent producers to get in on the act however, as payment takes the basis of a one of license, depending on the amount of users. While the prices aren't in pocket money terms, they are unlikely to pose too great a threat to anyone that can afford a copy of Final Cut Pro.
In short, the features that set syncVUE apart are:
- Integration with Skype to provide a total teleconferencing/video editing environment
- Time code specific editing in real time, allowing for millisecond by millisecond precision in discussing and reviewing video content and editing decisions
- The ability to scrub through video footage in real time and have that footage do exactly the same on every computer connected to the service in real time
- The ability to work with incredibly high resolution / high definition video without the restrictions that web streaming places on video quality, as all files are hosted on individual computers
- The possibility of going in and out of sync with the group, should you want to prepare footage without everyone seeing you do so
- The incredibly useful feature of being able to collaborate regardless of whether participants are on Windows or Mac machines, which has been until now a major issue in the world of video editing
- Will work in pretty much any format or aspect ratio that QuickTime can handle
syncVUE makes smart use of Skype's open API to synchronize video
This is top-drawer online collaboration for those engaged in intensive video review sessions, and may be well beyond the needs of most users. For those who don't need this level of precision and video quality, ClipSync's impressive range of features may well be enough. However, if quality, precision and privacy are of paramount importance, syncVUE provides an affordable solution for getting video review jobs done efficiently without having to be in the same location. That is a major breakthrough in and of itself.
Like ClipSync, syncVUE makes use of Skype, who wisely opened up their API in 2004 to allow third party developers to make use of their technology. syncVUE is a great example of one such development team making use of this ubiquitous, free technology to provide a new and much-needed service.
Internet video and online collaboration are converging in a number of interesting ways, and in these three synchronized remote video viewing services it is possible to see a hint of what's to come.
As Internet video grows to dominate the web as we know it, and social networking continues to define the Web 2.0 paradigm we are inevitably going to be seeing a lot more of social and collaborative video technologies emerge in the coming year.
The diversity of the three products touched on in this overview is likely to expand even further into niche categories, fulfilling specific needs as it does so. As it is, though, we have in these three services three levels of complexity that are likely to fulfill a range of users needs making online collaboration and sharing all the richer for it.
Synchronized remote video viewing and sharing is certainly here to stay.
If you found this overview of the video sharing scene interesting, you may want to dig into the subject in more depth via the following websites:
- YouTube Streams - the beta website for YouTube's social video experiment
- ClipSync's website - where you can sign up for their totally free sharing solution
- syncVUE's website - which has a host of extra information on the service
- syncVUE's own video demo of their service
- A list of video tutorials from the syncVUE people on how to use their service
- Coverage of ClipSync at NewTeeVee.com
- DV.com review of syncVUE
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