Video killed the radio star

If you’ve seen the homepage of the Edge Hill website since the new design went live you’ll see something we’ve not done before – embedded video featured predominantly on the site. Of course we’ve had video on the site for ages – we’ve been linking to a Windows Media streaming server for a several years and more recently we’ve been converting video to Flash so it can be embedded in pages (on the Careers website for example). The user experience has been mixed – availability of broadband wasn’t universal, plugin support was often sketchy and the process of getting video from tape to web complex.

That’s all changing though. The BBC iPlayer has brought online video to the masses. No longer is video a novelty, it’s expected as part of the whole website package and our job is to meet those requirements. So we’ve invested in new systems to create and manage video throughout the process from capture to encoding and streaming. The media development team have acquired a Tricaster box, currently located in the control room in the Faculty of Health, which allows them to do live mixing and a whole load of other things. IT Services (or should that be Steve Daniels) have installed an eStream system to encode and store video.

The first time you might have seen these used in anger is for the Graduation ceremonies last month. There we (Media Development and Web Services) successfully mixed the ceremony and streamed live video across the campus and onto the internet. We peaked at around 70 simultaneous connections and many more in total over the three ceremonies.

The eStream box allowed us to broadcast live video in Windows Media and Flash Video formats to ensure maximum compatibility with different systems. Since then the archive video has been available for viewing, again in both WMV and FLV formats.

As part of the new website design we wanted to allow video to be more widely available throughout the site. Corporate Marketing have been generating video specifically for the website and we needed a way of embedding this. There are a couple of aspects of the eStream system that I wasn’t particularly happy with and these were addressed specifically for the website.

Firstly we maintain our own database of videos that are used on the corporate site. Here we can store extra, website-specific information, tag videos correctly, and abstract the complexities of the eStream system – we don’t care whether video is hosted on the eStream box or elsewhere.

Secondly we use a different Flash video player. The one provided by the estream box isn’t very flexible and frankly looks a bit ugly. We’re instead using the open source FLV-Player which gives us more flexibility in how it looks and what features to offer.

The video functionality for the website isn’t just on the backend – we’re adding features on the website too. Each video has its own page which is linked to across the site, and we encourage others to link to through social bookmarking systems. For an example check out one of the TV Advert pages. On this page you’ll also see that we provide code to allow you to embed the video in your own page. Here’s what the same video looks like embedded right here:

We’re particularly happy with how this looks, especially compared to some other video sites. Here’s the same video embedded from YouTube:

It’s worth noting however that YouTube have started providing higher quality versions of some videos to view within their own site, but (currently?) only low quality versions are available for embedding.

This is just the beginning of video on our websites. Over the coming months we’ll be creating much more content – everything from students talking about courses through to the next round of inaugural lectures – and making them available even more deeply within the site.

If you think all this video really does mean the death of the radio star, fear not – we’re looking at podcasts too.