Should YouTube win an Eddy?

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Amid the winners of this year’s Editors’s Choice Awards, you’ll find desktops, laptops, and software from Apple, venerable products from software giants, great peripherals from long-time manufacturers, and hidden gems from smaller developers. You’ll also find a winner that’s not even specific to the Mac platform—the video-sharing Web site YouTube.

No other Eddy contender generated such spirited debate among our editors—so much so that we’re taking our deliberations public. Senior Editor Rob Griffiths argues against bestowing our top honor upon the Google-owned Web site while Managing Editor Curt Poff speaks up in favor of YouTube. Which editor is right? Let us know in the forum thread below.

Rob Griffiths: A vote against YouTube

My personal thoughts on YouTube can probably best be described this way: “YouSless.”

Yes, I know it’s a revolution in video. I know it’s made it possible for nearly everyone to upload videos, share them, tag them, see what others are sharing and tagging—and to do so for no cost at all. Free bandwidth! Free video conversion! What’s not to like? Well, there’s the questionable content of many of the video themselves, but I won’t get into a matter of taste in this rebuttal.

Instead, my complaints center around the user experience of YouTube. When I receive a YouTube link, I know with certainty a few things: first, the video will look blocky when it loads. That’s because, for reasons known only to YouTube, videos default to playing at a size larger than their native resolution. I really dislike this blocky “made on 320-by-240 Palm PDA but shown at 640-by-480” look, so the first thing I have to do is click the second button from the right in the YouTube controller bar. Ah, that’s better. Smaller, but better—at least now the video is at its native resolution.

The second thing I know is that the movie’s image quality and pixel dimensions will be poorer and smaller than I would prefer. If the video clip is short, quality can actually be fairly high—some of the YouTube clips that run a minute or two in length look perfectly good. But if you stretch things out towards the 10-minute limit, the quality will drop as YouTube’s converters work to keep the file sizes reasonable. And regardless of the pixel size of your source video, the final product will always be 320-by-240. While this works reasonably well for action shots of kids on bikes, it’s not so great if you want to share a video that has some screenshots, or anything else that needs fine detail and a larger picture size. The lack of quality and/or size settings makes it really simple to use YouTube’s services—just upload the video, and everything else just happens. But there are times where a given video would clearly benefit from more resolution, higher quality, or both.

Call me a video snob if you must, but I’m just not that into watching 320-by-240 video clips just because I can. My idea of “Web-based video” is actually best expressed by Apple’s HD Gallery. You want Web video? Grab yourself a high-speed connection, a big monitor, and then sit back and enjoy The Macaulay Library: Arctic to Hawaii in its full 1,920-by-1,072 1080p resolution. Now that’s what video on the Web should look like!

The third thing I know is that I won’t be able to have fine-tooth control over skipping forward and backward during video playback. With embedded QuickTime video, the scroll wheel on the mouse can be used to move frame-by-frame through the movie clip. On YouTube, you have to drag the playback slider left or right, and it tends to jump around in multi-frame chunks. If you’re trying to see a particular snippet of a YouTube video, it can be a frustrating experience.

Finally, YouTube video cannot be saved locally—at least not without using a third-party tool that may break with YouTube’s next update. Many QuickTime videos, on the other hand can be saved using the File -> Save As menu item (as long as you’ve purchased QuickTime Pro). With YouTube, if I see something I like, I have to bookmark it (either in my browser, or using my account on YouTube), then be online somewhere and in my browser in order to watch the video again. With QuickTime, I can create a local folder of my favorite commercials, movie trailers, and whatever else strikes me as worth keeping—and I don’t have to have an Internet connection to watch them in the future.

Given the choice, I will always choose to watch a QuickTime-encoded video over anything on YouTube. Sure, that means I’ve probably missed out on some hilarious clips of dogs skateboarding, motorcycles crashing, strange people talking to the camera for a few minutes at a time, lots of Comedy Central clips, and probably some truly valuable content. Oh well; it seems that the revolution will have to proceed without me.

YouTube clearly has some amazing technology, and they have started a revolution in Web-base video. For that, they deserve recognition—they already received $1.65 billion worth of such recognition from Google.

Curt Poff: YouTube deserves its Eddy

In contrast to some of the more hard-core video fanatics at Macworld —I’m looking at you, Mr. Griffiths—I don’t even know the difference between component and composite inputs. But I do know that video is starting to seep its way into every-day life on the Web. So it seems only natural that YouTube walked off with an Editors’ Choice Awards this year.

I know YouTube embodies some all-to-familiar clichés thrown around in the Web 2.0 world: viral marketing, social media, tagging and participation. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the sheer impact of Google’s recent purchase. It streamlined the delivery and classification of very large video files and capitalized on the social phenomenon virtually required by the young Web-user demographic that currently rules the roost. The embedded player and free video hosting (Rob’s right—bandwidth isn’t cheap) make it a slam dunk.

Another common slight of YouTube is its content—as in, “It’s just stupid!” Quite honestly, I have a hard time disagreeing with that from a pure user perspective. Users who wander onto the YouTube homepage without knowing exactly what they’re looking for might have a hard time finding something that’s either useful or interesting. But if you have some kind of idea where to find the clip you’re looking for, know roughly how to set up an account to manage favorites, and ultimately submit your own video, you’re well on your way.

I personally don’t crawl around YouTube looking for goofy clips. That’s not my thing. But I can’t deny that YouTube changed the way I view video on the Web. And if you peruse our site long enough, you’ve probably come across one of Macworld ’s own videos hosted by YouTube. It has its limitations, but you can’t beat the price.

YouTube’s Eddy win may also signal a trend, given that no pure video services or hardware made last year’s list —besides the video iPod. This year’s winners, in addition to YouTube, included VisualHub and EyeTV Hybrid.

DVR and handheld video are also pushing the envelope, and I would be surprised if this category didn’t have at least a couple representatives regularly in the years to come. Slingbox, for example, could force its way into next year’s Eddy conversation, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree given the fine performance it put forth during this year’s baseball playoffs.

Live TV broadcast directly to my laptop? How is that not a winner.

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