Watch Videos Online

19 January 2007

Web video is hugely popular thanks to broadband and sites like YouTube. This guide explains how to find and watch videos online.

Introduction

The recent boost in popularity of video sharing web sites like YouTube is due to the fact that more web users now have fast broadband connections, allowing them to download and share video files more easily.

Among the most popular uses for web video are music videos, movie and game trailers, and short films. Videos can be either streamed through your browser or downloaded for use with media player software.

Streaming Or Downloading

You can watch online video from a web site through your browser. On a broadband connection, the video starts playing almost immediately. This is because of a process known as Streaming, which allows you to start watching the video while the rest of the data is being transferred to your PC in the background.

When you close your browser, any video that has been streamed is not saved on your computer. If you want to watch the video again later you will have to revisit the web site.

When Downloading a video, you must wait until the whole video file is downloaded to your PC before you can start watching, and you will need your media player software to watch it. Usually, downloaded video can be watched offline and as many times as you like.

Many web sites only offer streaming video that cannot be saved to your PC. On other sites, if you want to download a full video you will usually have to pay, and sometimes there are restrictions on how often or for how long you can watch the video file.

Where To Find Videos

The current success story in online video is YouTube, which allows you to watch videos other people have made and give your opinions on them, or even broadcast your own videos. You can search using keywords or by browsing categories such as Comedy, Entertainment and Music.

Videos on YouTube are played through your browser using a Flash player. Adobe Flash Player is an essential tool for web browsing because it is used by many web sites to provide animation, video and interactive content. You can download the latest version from www.adobe.com/software/flashplayer

When you find a video on YouTube that sounds interesting, click the link and you will be taken to a page where the video will start playing automatically and you can also rate it and give comments.

YouTube is very popular but there are many other good web sites for watching videos online.

If you are interested in watching movie trailers, take a visit to www.apple.com/trailers. Movie trailers commonly use the QuickTime movie (or .mov) format, and to play these videos you will need to install the QuickTime Player. When you visit a site to watch a video that requires QuickTime, you will usually be given the option to download and install the QuickTime player.

Also from Apple is the famous iTunes software which allows you to watch TV shows, movies and trailers and 'sync' them to your iPod to watch videos on the move.

You can search for videos across the Web using Yahoo! Video or AOL Video. On AOL Video you can also pay to download episodes of popular shows like 24 and Prison Break. You can also watch the latest news stories on sites like BBC News.

Playing Streaming Videos

When watching streaming video through a web site, you may notice that the quality is far from what you might expect if you were watching a DVD or downloaded video. This is because in order to deliver video to your PC as quickly as possible so you can watch it straight away, the file size needs to be kept small. For this reason, online video files often appear low quality and in a small-sized window within the page.

However on some sites you will get a choice of video size such as Small, Medium, Large or High Definition. Large and HD videos give you a bigger picture and better quality, but will take more time to stream to your computer.

Sometimes you will find when watching streaming video that the video pauses for a short time before continuing. This is because it needs to download more of the video file before it can continue playing. You may encounter regular pauses when streaming larger videos if you have a slow Internet connection or the web site's server is very busy.


With most online video players you will see a progress bar below the video. Here you can see your current position, and if enough of the video has been downloaded you can skip ahead by clicking a position further along the bar. There are also usually buttons to control the volume or change the screen size.

Often sites provide streaming video rather than downloads to prevent users from storing and distributing these videos. However, you can find software on the Web that can allow you to capture streaming video and save it onto your PC.

If you use the Firefox browser, you can download certain video clips embedded in a web page by right-clicking the page and selecting View Page Info, then clicking the Media tab. Select the video file you want and click Save As.

See Browse The Web With Firefox for more about Firefox.

Playing Downloaded Videos

To play a video file you have downloaded you will need media player software such as the free Windows Media Player, WinAmp or Media Player Classic.

To play a video in Windows Media Player, start the program by clicking on the Start menu then All Programs, and click on Windows Media Player.

Right-click on the menu bar at the top of the Windows Media Player window and select File then Open. Locate the video file you want to play, click to select it then click Open and Windows Media Player will try to play the video.

If you do not see your video listed when you search for it, it may be that the video is in a format that Windows Media Player does not support and you will need another program such as WinAmp or Media Player Classic to play it.

Another way to open a video file is by right-clicking on the file and then click Open with and select your media player software.

Video Filetypes

There are many different video filetypes. Some of the most common filename extensions are .avi, .mov, .wmv, .mpg and .mpeg.

If you have downloaded a video file and want to find out its filetype, go to the folder where you have placed the file and click on Tools then Folder Options. Click on the View tab and uncheck the box next to Hide extension for known filetypes. Click Apply and you should now be able to see what the filename extension is. You may want to put the check back in the box later if you do not want to keep seeing the extensions for all your files.

Some video files may require you to download particular video codecs for your media player from the Web. These are files that tell your software how to play particular video formats.

If none of your media players can play a particular file you should try searching on the Web to find out which program is required to open that type of video file.

Sharing Videos

The YouTube web site became very popular because people could easily share their own videos. Many users shared videos they had created using webcams, camcorders or mobile phones.

Some users tried to share videos they did not own the copyright to, such as TV episodes and movies, and sites like YouTube have worked hard to prevent illegal file sharing.

There is however a range of file sharing software available to download from the Web, such as BitTorrent, which makes it possible for people to share and download legal (and illegal) video files.

Although the major movie companies and TV networks have previously only been focused on trying to stop people sharing videos online, many have now started to make positive steps to take advantage of the demand for online video, and begun making their content available for users to purchase and download.

This means Internet users will have easy access to a wide range of video content, from commercial movies and TV shows to home-made clips, which can be streamed or downloaded online.

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