Vimeo vs. YouTube vs. Facebook vs. Viddler vs. SmugMug: Who reigns supreme in online HD video hosting?

I uploaded several test videos... but that was just the tip of the video sharing iceberg. I had so many questions. Who would come out on top and what would I learn?

vimeo-logoUPDATE: 4.23.2015 – I think YouTube has officially won. Not only for hosting videos, but now also as an emerging broadcast platform (POTUS, John Oliver, live streaming events, original series, etc.). For filmmakers, Vimeo is the clear leader. Facebook is Okay for mostly sharing personal videos. For Stark Insider I publish each video segment onto: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook.

UPDATE 2.22.2011 – We’ve added Blip.tv to the test with some initial thoughts below plus an embedded video for comparison.

Vimeo. YouTube. Facebook. Viddler. SmugMug. Dailymotion. Yahoo. Brightcove. The list is long, with colorful names, and it keeps growing. It seems like everyone is getting into the video hosting business. It’s no surprise really. One statistic I recently read suggests that in 2010 online video will surpass good old-fashioned television in number of viewing hours.

This is a gold rush of sorts. The Web is wide open when it comes to video, distribution and the potential for worldwide viewing audiences.

facebook-logoBut it can be confusing. There is so much choice. Some are free. Others are paid services. And some offer a combination of both.

I’ve spent several months testing these services, for my friends here at Stark Insider and also other web sites. I took notes. Surfed the web. Googled everything I could about “online video”, “video hosting”, “Vimeo vs. this”, “YouTube vs. that”. You name it. I was deep into research mode.

youtube-logo1I also uploaded several test videos. I wanted to know how long it would take to upload 720p video. But that was just the tip of the video sharing iceberg… I had so many questions…

How long would it take for video processing, and then for it to be ready to share with the world? What kind of options did each of these services offer in terms of embedding HD content, choosing thumbnails, tagging and promoting videos?

Who would come out on top, and what would I learn?

Think about your goals for online video

The first thing I learned is a lot of choice like I mentioned. So it’s important to figure out your goals. Are you trying to broadcast your video to as many people as possible in hopes of viral video utopia? Or are you an artist or film director more concerned over quality?

A popular saying is, “If you want to tell the world, use YouTube. If you want to show the world, use Vimeo”. Now that might have been true a year or so ago. But  YouTube has come a long way, and as you’ll see in our tests below, fares well in terms of quality. But it does underscore the importance of knowing what you’re trying to achieve.

You can, and probably should, use more than one service

Another point: it’s not an all or nothing proposition, meaning you can use (like SSC does) multiple video hosting services to achieve multiple goals. For example, sharing videos on Facebook is a great way to update all your family, friends and other contacts you have. At the same time, you may want to load the same video to YouTube to reach a broader, and possibly different audience. Those concerned about reaching overseas markets such as Europe, may look into Dailymotion, a French company that reaches a distinctly European crowd.

While it would be impossible to think that Google (YouTube) or Facebook would go out of business, it is a high probability for a number of the smaller, venture-backed start-ups. So it would be prudent to not put all your eggs in one basket. You may one day discover that your preferred host has run out of money and shut down, leaving you and your viewers in the proverbial dark. Case in point, check out a list of the “leading” online video hosting services even just 18 to 24 months ago, and you’ll discover many of the names are gone.

“HD” on the Web is new and requires oomph (Update 4/23/2015: Make that “4K”!)

Also keep in mind, HD video on the Web is new. In fact, probably only about a year old. Expect hiccups here and there. Overall I found 720p HD video to work very well.

But remember that not everyone has a newer laptop or PC with enough horsepower to support the processor demands the higher resolutions require. In that case, another suggestion: provide both. In the case of YouTube, an HD button allows the viewer to select a stream. But often, as I’ve learned, they don’t know about the option, and end up watching your beautiful work in poor standard YouTube “quality” – a bad experience.

Patience is a virtue, especially when encoding and uploading

The old days were so much fun. You could upload a delightfully 30 second grainy and pixelized video of your little one puking on the neighbor in record time. Today, though, videos are routinely 400MB (for a 10 minute 720p video) or larger. If you’re serious about video production you know all about the trials and tribulations of encoding too. Just to encode a 10 minute video (a common reference point because of YouTube’s limit) in H.264 (using 2-pass) can take 90 minutes – and that’s with a Quad Core PC. Then you need to upload that video which can take an hour or more depending on your connection. Then, the video host must again re-encode that same video for their streaming service. Quick math will tell you that this will take some time, and probably involve one or more overnight PC “chugging” sessions.

The contenders

This is not a scientific report here folks, so keep that in mind as I just share my thoughts, experiences and opinions on my particular results. Everyone has there favorite. And you can dice and slide this many ways.

To be sure, this market is changing quickly (Facebook just introduced HD uploads in late 2008), so I expect to revisit this from time to time, and would not be surprised to see a significant change in results (although I’d predict that both Google/YouTube and Facebook will continue to be major players).

YouTube (Google)

The gorilla, if even ugly. Well at least until they introduced HD. YouTube is your route to the largest audience pronto. No one else comes close, although Facebook is coming on.

I like YouTube’s channel feature that allows you to design a page that features all your videos, organized by playlist (example).

Uploading was straight forward, although I usually did not see any progress bar, which is frustrating. You would think this to be an easy feature. Inexplicably on a few occasions over the past month I did see progress information, then days later would not. I had the same results over multiple browser types.

Quality wise, standard definition on YouTube is for the, well, dogs. It places last and everyone knows it. But Google doesn’t seem to care since it’s been that way for years. HD though is a different, and markedly improved story. In fact on my tests, I think YouTube came out on top or close to it with 720p HD content. One issue though was it did not seem to stream as well as others, notable Facebook and Vimeo.

The player itself on YouTube is old school and lags the slicker appearances offered by Vimeo, Facebook and Smugmug. The controls sit along the bottom and look decidedly very early 21st century, say 2001. Floating controls are a much better option, at least for us, as they maximize the viewing experience by minimizing distractions.

YouTube is completely free. Uploads are limited to 10 minutes and 1GB which should give you plenty of elbow room. I could not detect any daily or weekly maximums.

Then there’s perception. To me, the YouTube logo itself is synonymous with seeing someone get kicked in the balls. You know, American’s Funniest Home Videos. On the other hand, even CNN references them and uses their clips. So maybe I’m jumping to conclusions when I say that YouTube feels decidedly downmarket.

Vimeo

Vimeo is a class act. The only problem is their free service is limited to 500MB and 1 HD upload per week. For SSC we would hit that limit in a day or so. Further, you can only embed at standard definition unless you again upgrade to the Plus service.

I like the interfaces, both on the player itself and the Vimeo web site. They are clean, modern and attractive. I have not yet tried the upgraded service (which costs $59.95/year) which apparently enables some amount of player customization.

Vimeo also offers a community and you can connect with others, share videos, discover, etc. But to me, the main attractions are the aesthetics of the player, the quality of the stream, and the performance of their Web site for uploads. One irksome bit: each embedded HD “play” will also cost you, above and beyond the yearly fee. You receive 5,000 plays with your subscription and then need to pay for more once those are exhausted. Vimeo should offer an all-you-can-eat plan. The last thing people want to worry about is how many HD plays they are giving out. From what I can tell, Vimeo is the only vendor with this pricing model. Note that when someone watches your video on the Vimeo web site it’s free; this is strictly referring to embedded HD video.

Dailymotion

Est-ce que tu parle francais? No matter, Dailymotion also has a broad english speaking audience, predominantly in Europe. I haven’t worked with this one as long as the others so I have more to learn. Becoming a “Motion Maker” (which is free) enables you to upload more content and at HD. For now, this is strictly a way to see if we can reach European audiences – although I would suspect that YouTube already does a pretty good job of this.

Note: all of the so-called “friend” requests coming in through Dailymotion have been spam.

Viddler

This one seems pretty decent, and I notice a lot of gaming sites use them. I also have limited experience with their service. But so far it does seem to work effectively. The batch uploader is nice and I wish Facebook would offer something similar (in time I suspect).

Facebook

This the only other game in town when it comes to combining video sharing with social networking. In the end, it will be Google’s YouTube vs. Facebook.  Of course, if you’re a heavy FB user then this will probably be your best option, especially since they now offer HD.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. The player itself is compact and classy too. Nice. Upload limits are generous: 1GB and 20 minutes. Sharing videos is simple and uses all the standard FB conventions, including the ability to tag people in the video.

Customization is the weak spot for Facebook now, although again I expect it to rapidly improve as they ramp their battle against YouTube. You can chose thumbnails, add a title and description, but beyond that there’s not much else. For example, there are no playlists or channels (aside from creating a FB “page” or viewing the Wall). Facebook is all about social networking. And the video feature is (although a very good one) an add on, not a dedicated business.

SmugMug

Originally a photo sharing site for high end work, they’ve added video capability recently. This is a pay service, and a hefty one at that ($149.95 for HD). Unlike the Vimeo pricing, this includes unlimited HD embeds. If you do the math, you may discover that SmugMug works out better in the long-run for you if you offer a lot of embedded HD video plays.

SmugMug evokes a premium, high end experience… like being a Mercedes dealership. Everything is glossy, dramatic. Their player is terrific with nice pop-up effects.

Their market position is all about quality. In fact, they even offer 1080p video. To me, this doesn’t matter, but it will over time. It will probably take 2 more years before computers, bandwidth and even patience for that matter, will bring streaming 1080p to the masses. I could be wrong!

Interestingly when I tried some embedded video I was not all that impressed with the quality. It could be my setting. But I used the same video and it seemed sharper and colors were more vibrant on YouTube HD.

This service probably won’t make the cut for us as it is geared towards photographers first. If you’re strictly a videographer then you end up paying for a lot of photo-related services you’ll never use.

If there was a video option and lower cost payment plan, we may consider this one. I love the player, and their logo!

Yahoo

Yahoo, Yahoo… Yahoo??! Weak, weak, weak. Where are you? Limited to 150MB of video. There is just nothing here to consider as a worthy competitive offering. Disappointing.

Flickr (Yahoo)

Many may be surprised to learn that Flickr allows video uploads. Mind you, they can only be up to 90 seconds in length. They consider them more as artistic extensions of photos. So full-blown video service it is not. But for short stuff it may work, especially if you already use them for photos. For us, though, it doesn’t make the list.

Blip.tv (Added 2.22.2011)

We’ve just added Blip.tv to this comparison test as it has a strong feature set and warrants consideration by those looking for something to handle episodic video. Also, Blip.tv appears to be well suited for advertising with preroll, overlay, postroll and midroll options and a fairly strong suite of tools to measure revenue. The service will automatically create an iTunes RSS feed (so long as you encode in proper H.264 format) which can take a lot of headache out of getting your content onto iTunes.

But wait… there’s more!

I realize I haven’t covered everything here. I think that’s an impossible task. For example, I did not test blip.tv or Brightcove (the market leading white label player). I’d be interested to hear others I may have missed and what you think.

Live HD comparisons

Okay, enough preamble. Here are the videos, in no particular order. You be the judge. Keep in mind this is a mix of apples and oranges. Some of these are embedded HD, others like Vimeo are not, since they are paid services and we’re still benchmarking before making a final decision. I like using the frame at about 0:23 with the Napa sign in the background, which is a good test of legibility.

You may want to bookmark this page as I will update it with more videos as I upload to more services over the coming weeks and share thoughts about our decision and continued tests. Thanks for visiting, and, as they say, stay tuned!

Vimeo

Priory – Live in the Vineyard [Stark Insider] from Stark Insider on Vimeo.

Facebook

Watch PRIORY Break Live in the VineyardWatch amazing Portland band Priory break Live in the Vineyard. Wild concert! And one of them wears a Fitbit…?!

Posted by Stark Insider on Monday, April 13, 2015

YouTube

Dailymotion

Update 4.23.2015: European-centric. I no longer use the service.

Viddler

Update 4.23.2015: Viddler changed strategy. Not focused on corporate training!

A quick word about encoding

We use Premiere Pro and the Adobe Media Encoder.

Encoding is: H.264, 1280×720, AAC, 29.97 fps.

Update 4.23.2015: I encode in 1080p now, 23.978 fps. Soon 4K?

What do you think?

Alright, let me hear it. Help me and each other by sharing your feedback and expertise… please rank which you think are the best in the comments below. Are there any services that I’ve missed, and what’s your experience been like using YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and others to host your videos?

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