It’s incredible how much the internet has evolved since the first time I heard the clicks and squeals of an internet modem almost 20 years ago. I still remember my patient anticipation as I waited for a single page of text to load on a Mosaic or Netscape browser. At that time, the speed of my 28.8Kbps modem was just about fit enough to deliver a couple of images on a page without overly testing my patience. In the mid 90s it was acceptable for it to take up to a couple of hours to download one 3MB MP3 file. However, I would draw the line at downloading a video. According to some status bars I would have had to wait 16 years, 5 months, 12 days, 4 hours, 18 minutes and 40 seconds to download one music video. Nah thanks.
Real Networks were one of the pioneers of video streaming technology with the launch of RealPlayer in 1997. It changed the way we looked at the internet. All of a sudden we could stream video content online without having to download it. Even live events were being streamed from distant places and you could watch it… ON YOUR COMPUTER!! There was one pretty major problem though. S.P.E.E.D. We got familiar with the word “Buffering” pretty quickly in the late 90s and patience became a crucial part of the experience. Slow CPU’s and limited bandwidth were the two main culprits. Any solution was either non existent or very costly, depending on where you lived. The dreaded word “Buffering”, accompanied by a rage-inducing rotating circle, appeared so frequently that it eventually extinguished the appetite for online video content and the boom became stagnant. So we went back to sharing the TV remote with a couch full of other people and waited for something good to come on.
As luck would have it, a couple of years passed and another word beginning with “B” became our savior – Broadband. What a lovely word it was too. 2mbps?! Game on.
In 2005, three former employees of PayPal launched a video-sharing website called Youtube. The first video, entitled “Me at the zoo” was uploaded by co-founder Jawed Karim on the 23rd April 2005 (watch it here) and with the combination of faster internet speeds, faster CPU’s and this new video-sharing service, online video took off again. This time without buffering.
It’s now seven years since the launch of Youtube and it’s almost impossible to satisfy our ever increasing appetite for online video content. Everyday, Facebook users alone watch over 500 years of Youtube video. By 2014, video will account for over 90% of all internet traffic. If we see a video on a website, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to click the play button. Just because we can.
On 17th October 2007, Vimeo became the world’s first video-sharing site to support the streaming of high definition video (720p). This was of significant importance to producers of creative HD content as it meant their work could be viewed in glorious HD with high bit rates, rather than pixelated SD which had been the internet video standard. As of 4th January 2011, Vimeo enabled videos of 5GB in size to be uploaded meaning feature length films can now be streamed in full HD. It is still unknown if this will ever be a distribution channel taken on by high budget productions, but it has certainly created a platform for low budget filmmakers. That aside, the fact is that we are now in a time where common technology allows us to stream HD video content on demand (which let us not forget is better quality than DVD). Hell, we can even stream high quality internet videos on our phones as we get the bus to work.
So what about the future? As we all know, technology is constantly evolving. The internet will get faster, our processors will become more powerful, and with 4K video just around the corner, the future holds a lot to look forward to. But as always, good content is key (which I will talk about in a future post).
I’m just glad the days of the dreaded “Buffering” are behind us.
Have you any memories to share or thoughts on the future of online video?