Around this time last year we put together a comparison of various video sites to determine which ones had the best overall quality and user experience. Since then, high-definition-capable digital cameras and camcorders have taken off, and several major video hosts have rolled out official support for wide-screen, super high-quality Flash video in response. So we think the time has come to take another look at what these sites are offering now and crown a new leader in the realm of HD video.
The six sites we're putting head to head are: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, DailyMotion, SmugMug and Blip.tv.
What's being tested
Quality. For our tests, we looked at detail on two levels--both still and in motion. For the still, we used a shot of our corner Italian restaurant. From our test footage you should be able to read everything on the front awning.
For the motion element, there were plenty of cars and pedestrians outside our offices that would have made good test subjects. In this case, we went with a bicycle since it falls somewhere in between the two.
In last year's tests, we were able to do a neat mouseover trick to show you each site's original quality from the same part of a clip. We've done that again this time, but since the videos are too wide for this page, we're only doing it with a portion of the clip. While the player size on each service was different, we viewed each video at the maximum full-screen resolution (1280 pixels wide), in order to preserve the original quality.
Value. Some of these services aren't free. So what we wanted to find out is: for those that cost money, is the charge worth it?
What's NOT being tested
Unlike the last time we did this, we're not taking upload times into account, since everyone's connection is a little different. Likewise, we're not quantifying processing times, since the clip you're uploading at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday night will probably get processed faster than the same clip at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning. We have, however, noted the respective size limits at each site, which can be incredibly important. HD video files are big, even if you're talking about a relatively short clip.
All the services we used processed our videos within about 10 minutes. The one exception was Vimeo, which took nearly three hours from the time it finished uploading to show up live on the site. This could have just been a bad time to upload, and keep in mind that paying users of Vimeo's Plus service get their videos sent to the front of the queue.
About the test footage
To get a decent test shot, we went with a consumer-friendly, pocket-sized capture device. In this case it's the recently released Flip Mino HD (CNET review). It captures really good-looking video in 1280x720 resolution at 30 frames per second. It doesn't shoot in 1900x1080, also known as "full HD," but we're assuming that most folks are going to be using devices that shoot 720p anyway.
The footage is just a hair over three minutes long, which is about the standard for Web video, and has not been changed from its original camera formatting. It encompasses fast motion (the cars whizzing by), fine detail (local restaurant signage), and plenty of ambient sound.
You can find each version of the video at each site: Blip, DailyMotion, Facebook, SmugMug, Vimeo and YouTube.
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