The Ticket to Google's Multimedia Megaplex

By Adam Stone | Posted September 26, 2006

To understand Google Video Player, you first need to understand the Google Video Web site.

An effort by the dominant search engine to go beyond mere searching, Google Video takes us into the realm of multimedia content, gathering up a rich archive of moving pictures to be accessed either for free or for pay.

Think of Google Video Player as the key to the palace. Available for Mac or Windows, the player is the only way to access Google Video's for-a-fee content. You can still use other browsers to view the free stuff.

As a video playback mechanism, Video Player has some laudable features. You can browse through scenes using thumbnails, making it relatively easy to catch just the moment you're looking for.

Google's video player also makes it possible to skip to anywhere in the video, watch videos in full-screen mode and resume downloads automatically. This last function is especially helpful when there is network congestion or when it becomes necessary to disconnect and reconnect later on.

While the video player is a perfectly adequate piece of technology, we are inclined to dislike it on principle, on the grounds that it is too proprietary. With so many video apps going around, why do we need one whose primary function is to play for-pay content out of the Google video library?

Which brings us to the video library itself. In many ways the library is the true test of the Player. If the former is weak, the latter is irrelevant.

Google has considerable competition in its efforts to build a video archive, with popular and well-entrenched players such as YouTube, MetaCafe and iFilm, among others. In its favor, the search engine already has innumerable visitors passing through its main page every day. That's a big marketing opportunity.

Much of the content is amateur produced, thanks to the ease with which authors can post their works to the site. You can upload videos either through the Google Video Web site or else through the Google Video Uploader, available for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Producers with 1,000 or more hours of video can streamline the process through Google's Premium Program.

While amateurs may find the site a welcome home for their works, others on the opposite end of the spectrum participate as well. Television networks are making whole shows available, while Hollywood studios are uploading slick movie trailers.

As a result, video quality is wildly uneven, and some people have complained about the general lack of quality overall. Several factors seem to drive the problem, including poor initial quality as well as issues related to video format.

While some may call it inconsistency, others call it freedom. The ad hoc nature of the Google video store seems very much in keeping with the company's overall philosophy of anything-and-everything. So it's caveat emptor here as one peruses a catalog of videos that may or may not be copy-protected, videos that may or may not have advertising, clips that offer a lengthy preview and clips that offer none at all.

Then there is the money. Home movies might be free, while episodes of CSI or Survivor will cost $1.99 each — the content producer in this case gets to set the price tag.

Do you want to invest your time, energy and hard-earned shekels on this cheerful chaos? Consider the most-requested videos on a typical day in August:

  • Sex in the Kitchen
  • World's Clumsiest Pole Dancer
  • Shakira — Hips Don't Lie spoof
  • Girl Caught Cheat (sic) on Webcam
  • Topless Car Wash

Before you make your decision based on the above list (or get too excited about the possibilities), note that the dirty ones all are parody. The "Topless Car Wash," for example, is performed by several very fat men. Google screens out the naughty stuff.

So it comes down to the for-pay content, the seemingly endless episodes of Charlie Rose, interspersed with the odd MacGyver and Have Gun Will Travel. If you download the Player that's what you will get, at $1.99 a pop.

It's hard to be too enthusiastic just now, but things may change over time. As the Google video collection builds, and surely it will, we may see pricing and quality stabilize. At that point the idea of a proprietary player may tempt us — but we're definitely not there yet.

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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