Why Hulu’s New Player is the One To Beat

Hulu‘s player, IMO, has always been one of the best models of simplicity, functionality, and aesthetic harmony (defined in my book as “not getting in the way of the video”). This remains the case with the new 3.0 player which recently went live.

In it’s default “play” state it’s 100% clean, with the exception of the very unobtrusive copyright notice and “more options” tab.

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On the rollover state (i.e. when your curser moves over the video), a standard set of player controls and timeline appear overlaid on the video, and a row of options appears flagged off the upper-right-hand corner. I really like the arrangement of these particular player controls, as they tend to get visually detached from the player on other sites.

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In the above screengrab, I had clicked the “Video Settings” icon, which brought up a dialog allowing me to save a default preference for any of the 3 available bitrates, or for dynamic bitrate switching (which they define as “Auto-select the best quality for my bandwidth”). You need to be logged in to save as a default, but since certain Hulu content is behind login anyway (for “mature” themed content, e.g.) this won’t be a barrier for most users as we tend to be logged in anyway.

This new capability to save a default resolution does fix one of the more annoying aspects of the previous player, which defaulted to delivering the 360p stream, and required that you manually click on the 480p button at the beginning of the video, and you could only do this after all pre-rolls were completed. When you watch as much content on Hulu as I do, this is a very, very nice improvement to the UX.

Another welcome improvement is dynamic thumbnails on the timeline, which they’re calling “Seek Preview”:

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It is really, really fluid, As you move your curser left and right over the timeline, it updates the timecode as well as the thumbnail. I’m fond of Netflix On Demand‘s timeline scrub feature, as it shows you 5 frames as you scrub through, which can definitely help you locate the scene you’re looking for much quicker, and I think Netflix may still have Hulu beat on this one (although Hulu’s implementation is really darn responsive).

Finally, the all-important Fullscreen state has 2 new features I really like. The first is the clock showing the time-of-day, positioned in the upper-right corner which is exactly where the OS clock appears on my Mac’s desktop. This means I don’t need to leave Fullscreen to check the time. Nice.

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Second, in the upper-center you can see the state of the buffer. Unless I’m semi-passively watching a video (e.g. I’ve got a ballgame on as I’m getting some work done) I like to control the bitrate I’m getting, and make the necessary pauses to buffer if necessary to sustain the quality I want.

There are some other great features in the new player, but these are the ones that stand out to me, in the way I use Hulu.

The New Adobe TV is On The Air

It’s everything you asked for and more. But don’t take my word for it, have a look at the brand new Adobe TV website here.

Or watch this for a rather dubious explanation:

T-Minus 2 Months and Counting

If you’re involved in creating any type of product or service, listening to your customers is the most important thing you can do. They will tell you what they need. Oh man, did that ever sound cliché . . . but let me tell you something — we’ve gotten tons of feedback over the past year from users of Adobe TV, via research where we bring users in and talk to them, and via the daily flow of messages we get from people who click on the “Send Feedback” link which appears on the bottom of the Adobe TV website (I personally read every single one of those e-mails, even those that arrive laden with expletives).

So what have we learned from all this listening? Well, what clearly works are the videos themselves – people love them. We’ve now got over 3,000 videos on Adobe TV (with new ones added daily) offering tutorials, tips & tricks, demos, and inspiration on an ever-increasing variety of Adobe tools & technologies. There’s no doubt that we delivered on the promise of “expert instruction and insight direct from the source” which is the most important component of the Adobe TV charter.

What isn’t working as well as we’d like is the Adobe TV website itself. When we launched in April ’08 with 210 videos, the site architecture we had in place did the job. But as the volume of videos grew, as we increased the number of shows & channels, and as we added new navigation options the site began to come apart at the seams.

Those of you who’ve used the Adobe TV website know what the pain points are. Believe me, they drive me nuts as well. I’ll be elaborating on this in upcoming posts.

Where does this leave us today? Well, there are times when a house can benefit from a remodel (such as the site redesign we launched back in September ’08). And then there are times when you just need to bite the bullet and knock the house down to build a new one.

This August we will be launching a completely re-architected, re-designed Adobe TV website, which is being built to address everything you & other Adobe TV users have told us you need to make Adobe TV a world-class online video experience for you. The current Adobe TV site will remain online until then, and we’ll continue to add new videos to it every day as we always have. We’ll also continue to refine and improve it where we can (in fact we released an update today which vastly improves the search functionality within the site).

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In the coming days I’ll be giving you more insight on what has & hasn’t worked and why, and how the new version fixes what hasn’t worked and improves on what has. I’ll also be sharing some sneak previews and showing you how we’re putting it all together. You’ll be interested to read about this if you’re either A) an Adobe TV user and/or B) are in the business of online video yourself.

So, as the old TV cliché goes, “stay tuned . . . we’ll be right back.”

Developers Go Camping

The recent Foo Camp held at O’Reilly‘s HQ in Sebastopol CA was your basic developer’s get-together with one exception — the attendees actually slept in tents. Talk about a “busman’s holiday” . . .

It was a perfect event for Adobe Platform Evangelist Duane Nickull to cover in today’s episode of Duane’s World on Adobe TV — the show that covers the developer scene from a decidedly heavy-metal angle.

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One thing that Duane (pictured above) and I have in common is that we’re both rock musicians turned technology geeks. I really dig his style of presenting — and don’t let all the credits at the end of the show fool you, Duane puts together 99% of the show completely by himself.

The Creatives

Jake Wiens is the all-around-video-go-to-guy on the Adobe TV team. He shoots, he edits, he designs motion graphics, and he even creates the thumbnail images for all the videos on Adobe TV. Needless to say, we’ve been keeping him pretty darn busy.

Today, Jake takes a step into the spotlight in the debut of his new series The Creatives on Adobe TV.

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That’s Jake in the middle, holding the clapboard.

Because Jake is uniquely tapped in to the creative community here in San Francisco, he’s able to bring you a behind-the-scenes look at a variety of talented people who use Adobe tools to help express their creative vision. Today’s episode features Jon Julio, the creative force behind the Velo Skate brand.

I get to see the results of the use of such skates every now and again as Jake is himself an avid skater and has been known to show up at the office on Monday morning with a variety of bruises and bumps.

Flash in a Frenzy

When John Schuman presented the idea for his Adobe TV series Flash in a Flash, I thought to myself “if only this show existed 5 years ago when I was trying to learn Flash authoring.” It’s a show for newcomers to Flash, and if you’ve ever wanted to learn the basics of this powerful authoring tool you’ve come to the right place.

John thought it would be great to have an animated character as the “virtual mascot” of the series, so we asked Kush to design one. For those of you that don’t know who Kush is, he’s (amongst many other things) the host of Ask The Adobe Ones, the production genius behind the Johnny Encore videos on Short and Suite, the designer of many of our program Icons — basically the “renaissance man” of Adobe TV. He came up with the character Victor Vector, who you can see in every episode of Flash in a Flash.

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Victor Vector on the Flash “Stage”

Like any great creative mind, Kush is loaded with ideas. So he initially presented 13 different character designs — here are a few that didn’t make the cut:

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They are (clockwise, starting in the upper-left corner):

Flashy the Dramatic Prairie Dog
Flash the Flashgun
Blobby the Slime
Nikita the Flacheetah
F-Man
Bungie the Neurotic Rabbit

If it was my show I probably would’ve gone with “Blobby the Slime”, but that’s just me.

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Caffe Fibowha?

When a presenter has a clear vision for what they want their show to be, I try and stay out of the way and let them run with it. But I was just a tad apprehensive when Rufus Deuchler and Tim Cole pitched the concept for their Adobe TV series Caffe Fibonacci — a show about graphic design that takes place in an Italian kitchen.

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Check the Adobe Creative Suite boxes hanging on the wall alongside the garlic and salami.

What the heck is a Fibonacci? “You don’t want a title that needs to be explained” I said to Rufus. Then he told me who Fibonacci was and spoke a bit about the Fibonacci Series and how it relates to design (click here to watch a neat Flash animation on the subject). Both he and Tim were adamant about the idea, and after all Rufus is from Italy. So I let them run with it and lo-and-behold it is now one of our most popular shows.

Today on Adobe TV, you can watch Episode 6 of Caffe Fibonacci, in which Rufus and Tim use a layer cake as a metaphor for layers in different types of design documents. I haven’t yet watched the entire episode, but I did catch the ending which involves this little scene:

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And people ask me why I don’t attend all the shoots . . .

I’m Your Puppet

When I began recruiting Adobe presenters to appear on Adobe TV, one of the first to put their hand up and say “yes, please” was Karl Miller, a.k.a. Johnny Encore. Karl had been an Evangelist over at Serious Magic and amongst his many talents he is the lead singer and songwriter of a Star Trek band. Yes, you heard that right — Karl’s band Warp 11 play songs about Star Trek, wear the uniforms, and appear in music videos on a set of the star ship Enterprise.

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They’re very well known in the Trekkie universe, so much so that during each NAB they hold a get-together at the Star Trek Experience in the Las Vegas Hilton which is well-attended by Warp 11 fans. I joined them at this year’s event to partake in neon-colored drinks served in fishbowls with dry ice on top. I did not feel so swell the next morning.

What could Karl possibly to do top this? Well, he started an Adobe band — not a band of Adobe employees, but a band that performs songs about Adobe. Johnny Encore and The Acrobats was born, and thus the premise of the Adobe TV series Short and Suite. Each episode features a new Acrobats video, which Adobe Evangelists Jason Levine and Karl Soulé then dissect to show how the song was recorded and the video created.

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“Apparently it’s a blues video, not a blue video.”

This month’s episode of Short and Suite
features the music video for “I’m Your Puppet, I’m Your Tool” in which stills of the Acrobats were animated using the very popular Puppet Tool in After Effects CS3. Karl Soulé does a great job of explaining some of the advanced features of this tool, so if you’re interested in character animation do check this video out.

Behind The “Behind The Scenes”

A great resource if you’re just getting started with Adobe’s digital video & audio tools is the Adobe TV show Adobe Beginner Classes (hey, I managed to use “Adobe” three times in the one sentence — wait, that’s four times!).

Dennis Radeke, the host of the series (and one of Adobe’s top experts in the field) presents a new episode every 2 weeks. But if that’s not often enough for you, check out his “Bootleg Versions” which are shorter episodes created in a more “run and gun” style. Today on Adobe TV you can watch his first Bootleg Version, in which he shows how he places himself on a virtual set using Adobe Ultra CS3.

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Ultra is an often-overlooked tool in CS3 Production Premium that came to Adobe by way of our acquisition of Serious Magic. It includes a virtual set library along with one of the most easy-to-use chroma keyers on the planet. It’s specifically designed to pull chroma keys on “less than optimal” footage.

Take a few minutes to watch the video and you’ll see how it all works.

Future Gold

What do you get when you put some of the world’s best young creative minds into a hotel room in Miami Beach and give them 24 hours to create an advertising campaign for Adobe?

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Well, you do wind up with some rather interesting ideas, that’s for sure. Today on Adobe TV, you can watch Episode 2 of the Clios Future Gold Challenge which documents a competition in which we invited 12 of the best young creatives from around the globe to compete in an exciting (and exhausting) 24-hour advertising challenge. In this episode the teams pitch their ideas to a panel of ad-industry veterans and face instant elimination. Kind of an “American Idol” scenario for the creative set.

And based on some of the ideas presented I can make a pretty good guess as to what went on behind the doors of some of those hotel rooms.

This series is part of the Designing Minds program on Adobe TV, which profiles some of the top designers working in the field today. If you’re a designer, or have an interest in design, it’s a definite must-see.