Google Video Review: Streaming Video Off The Big G

Submitted by Robert Alstead on Mon, 02/20/2006 - 16:00

Google has come under a lot of fire since it launched its Digital Rights Management (DRM) video service which at the time it said it was rolling out for all to use.

Firstly, not all video uploaders appear to have access yet to DRM and those users who have tried to buy DRM videos outside of the US have probably encountered the message:

"Thanks for your interest in Google Video. Currently, the playback feature of Google Video isn't available in your country. We hope to make this feature available more widely in the future, and we really appreciate your patience."

What's more, Google decided to launch its own proprietary DRM video player when there is already a plethora of workable systems out there from Real Networks, Microsoft, Apple, et al. Critics have pointed out that another proprietary video format is the last thing users need.

Compounding the problem, Google's DRM player is overly restrictive. It doesn't allow users who have purchased a video to make copies, or play back their content without first checking in with Google's servers to check if they have permission to do so. Google seems to be bowing to Hollywood pressure for more stringent copy protection measures, to the detriment of end-users and smaller videomakers. For a strong case on why this sets a bad precedent go here.

DRM issues aside, Google Video has one very attractive feature: it allows you to upload and stream files of any size for free.

So long as you don't try and charge for the video most people appear to have access to it. Users only need the widely available Macromedia Flash Player (7.0+) rather than Google's proprietary DRM player.

Google Video is still in its Beta stage, so there are bumps to be ironed out. Limited information in the FAQs about how to get the best out of Google Video, bad links, and typos are just some of the minor frustrations that await you.

But it works, in its own clunky way, and as these Google Video clips show you can stream footage hosted on Google straight off your own site, thereby avoiding costly bandwidth bills.

Getting started

To upload files to Google Video, you first have to create an uploading account. You also have to download a tiny uploader program to your local computer. When you start this up, a window pops up asking to you to login to your Google account. It then verifies that your login was successful and asks you to add video files - just a straightforward matter of browsing your hard drive, choosing files and then clicking "add". Tick the copyright box certifying that you "have the necessary rights to make this content available on the Internet," click the "upload now" button and away you go. Google's uploader program scans your file, apparently to check its size, and then begins the slow upload process.

Actually, that makes it sound easier than it really is. The main issue for me is in trying to get the optimum image quality. Google Video's FAQs offer scant information on how to optimise your clips for its video compression system and Google Video's press spokesman did not answer requests for further information for this article.

Google video FAQs recommends as its "preferred format" mpeg files:

MPEG4 with MP3 audio
MPEG4 with MP4 audio
MPEG2 with MP3 audio
MPEG2 with MP4 audio"

It adds: "Please keep in mind that we also support other digital formats such as QuickTime, or Windows Media." However, when I uploaded a .WMV file encoded at what I thought was a reasonable bit rate, what initially looked fine when I played locally, was unwatchable after being compressed using Google's mysterious encoding process.

So I broke my 40 minute clip in two, encoded it in MPEG2 (i.e. DVD quality), as Google requests, using Adobe Premiere 2's Media Encoder ("generic" setting), and the audio setting of MPEG1, to create my two files.

Needless to say, the file sizes were much bigger than when compressed in Microsoft's .WMV format - 540MB and 740MB versus 33MB and 45MB - and it took hours to upload. I first left the files to upload for a few hours, only to find a message from the Google uploader awaiting me on return saying, "Transfer Failed."

It took a few more attempts before I realised that the transfer hadn't actually failed, but it had just broken off. When I clicked the upload button again, the transfer carried on where it had left off. This may be casued by a time-limit imposed on uploaded files by my ISP rather than Google, but it's still irritating.

It would obviously be much more preferable to be able to compress the video down to a manageable file size first on my own computer and then upload it. That's the way Google's competitors (Microsoft, Real Networks, and Apple) do it. I've got better things to do than nurse uploading files.

Google authentication

When the file is uploaded to Google's server, you then receive an email reminding you to add META data. This is the keyword information, such as the title, credits, and your website that will help users find your content.

If you think your video is now available for viewing - not so fast. There is a verification process - to ensure the video passes Google's "technical requirements and policies". Google has come under attack again for failing to enforce its own policies with pornographic and racist footage slipping through even onto the video home page. In my case, the first video was verified in a day. The second video clip is still waiting to be verified three days after I uploaded it (I'll post it here when it becomes available). I'm not sure what the delay is for, because they are both formatted using the same settings, were uploaded at the same time, and not nearly exciting enough to threaten Google's policies.

Once the file is verified, it is finally ready for human consumption. Google handily auto-generates thumbnails of your video for browsers of its site. But probably more useful is that Google provides the necessary code for putting the content on your site.

After all that, how does it stack up for quality? Well, you probably don't need my opinion on that, you can just go over to Google and click on video from one of the broadcasters to see how Google handles television footage. It's clearly not the best on the web for image quality, but it's good enough for many clips.

Not for the first time, Google isn't being straightforward when it says in its FAQs in answer to the question "Why does the content I'm viewing have grainy video or inconsistent audio?": "We simply index what content owners upload and don't control the content's quality. Grainy video or inconsistent audio may simply be what was submitted by the content owner."

Mea culpa? Not likely where Google is concerned.

Like many I'm hoping that Google will get its act together. After all, Google Video is still in Beta, and there's plenty of room for improvement.

Pros and cons to uploading video to Google Video

It's free
No limit on file size
You can stream Google videos off your own web site
Creates thumbnails of your footage
It's Google - so people wont forget where your clips are

Uses proprietary CODEC (the software that compresses large video files) for encoding DRM videos
No control over encoding can lead to poor quality results
No support for offline encoding means having to upload huge files
DRM support outside of the US is spotty and users can't make copies of your video clips
Image quality and DRM is not as good as rival formats like Microsoft's Windows Media, QuickTime or RealVideo
Support is poor, FAQs are limited and navigation around Google Video is confusing
File transfers break off midway through uploading (Google's fault?)
It's Google - it's huge and the video search is not accurate by comparison with its text search

Watch the Drupal videos
Why make a video log?
iofilm forum thread on Google Video
Google video upload home page