Why Can’t YouTube’s Player Auto-Detect When A User Should Get HD Quality?

For all the praise that the industry and the media continues to give YouTube, I don't understand why those same people never hold YouTube up to the standards that other media companies are held to. While everyone wants to discuss the business model behind YouTube, no one ever seems to question why the videos look so bad and why some of the most basic features that other sites have had for years are completely lacking with YouTube.

While the media was quick to cover how YouTube was moving to HD quality video last year, I didn't see a single person commenting that the YouTube player does not currently have the ability to auto-detect when a user should get the HD copy instead of the SD copy. This technology has been around for years and most sites have been using it for quite a long time. Why isn't YouTube? Why do I have to manually click on an HD icon to actually get the HD stream? Why can't YouTube auto-detect that I am on a fast enough connection to get HQ the quality video to begin with? It is so annoying that when you visit a page where the video is set to auto-start, you have to click on the HD icon to get the one you want and then wait again for it to re-buffer.

Today on YouTube's blog, they are asking people to send them ideas on how they can improve the service and to vote on what they think are the most important features that are missing, or not needed at all. First suggestion, FIX ALL THE BUFFERING ISSUES! A quick look at the comments section on YouTube's own blog shows I am not the only one who continues to have buffering problems – for the last THREE years! (2007, 2007, 2008, 2009)

YouTube needs to get with the times and have a user interface that actually takes advantage of some of the technology that has been in the industry forever. YouTube does not use any streaming protocols, only downloads via HTTP, has no player auto-detection feature and lately, 50% of the time myself and many others upload a file to YouTube we get an error message of "try again later." In addition, while YouTube has very limited functionality for variable bit rate (VBR) encoding for HD quality videos, they don't have the option at all for SD quality videos and default to a constant bit rate (CBR). The whole point of VBR is to improve the user experience by providing higher quality video without the need for the video to re-buffer. It's a standard on the web today, but apparently YouTube has not realized that.

If this was the search business and Google was missing some of the most basic features that every other search engine had, the media would hold Google accountable for it and there would be a lot of discussions taking place on the subject. Of course, we know Google does not have any of these problems in their search business but if they did, they would address them and correct them very quickly. But with YouTube, they don't seem to follow the same strategy. The service has been bad for years, the user experience is still very poor, the quality of the videos is not up to par with others on the web and the the YouTube platform has a long list of really major problems that still aren't being addressed or corrected. Users of YouTube are complaining about these problems in public forums, yet the media and many in the industry continue to heap praise on the company even though they are not doing anything to address the poor user experience.


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