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Video Primer

On this Site and in General --
What Internet Video is About, and Troubleshooting


Those who have suffered in the past with internet video which looked more like an erratic slide show than smooth flowing video are in for a pleasant surprise. Some internet video, including that on DanceTutor.com and other sites as well, is television smooth playing at 30 frames per second. The picture quality is not a match for television yet, but it's getting there. The problem is that whereas all televisions play televised video, not all computers play internet video and furthermore things can go wrong along the way. Here's the story broken down into

What Internet Video is About

Hardware

Software

Downloaded Video vs. Streamed Video

Quicktime & the Active X Saga

Quicktime: Free vs. Pro Version

Troubleshooting: Things That Could Go Wrong, a List
Movie will not download or Page does not download ("refresh, refresh")
Video won't play full speed (or breaks up)
Jamming or Freezing
Active X Security Error Message
Some Netscape browsers on Apple Computers will not play videos
Enlarged Videos Won't Play (& freeze the browser)
Double Image, Looks Like Scribbage, or Half of Screen is Blank or Green
Plug-in Error Message. Tips on Downloading Quicktime
Video Sputters & Skips
Shortness; Replay features (an explanation)
Crowded Hard Drive
Video Sputtering at the End of the Clip
No Sound
A broken image icon appears while enlarged videos are downloading
Jerky Video
Miscellaneous

Hardware: In general terms and loosely speaking...

Virtually all post-2000 personal computers are powerful enough to play video distributed over the internet.

PCs manufactured between 1997 and before 2001 are a mixed bag. Those with 400+ CPUs should play most internet video, and most certainly the movies on DanceTutor.com. Those with 233 to 400 CPUs are in the "maybe" category, depending on the particular video.

Under 233 CPUs, forget it (Well, try it, but most probably it won't be a very satisfying experience).

Pre-1997 personal computers (PCs) are not powerful enough and will not play internet video.

Of course, speakers are required to hear the audio portion of a video (music, voice, whatever) and on some pre-2000 models, speakers were not standard equipment and would have to be added.

The above are generalizations. Other factors are involved with the ability of a computer to play video. And not all videos require the same amount of computer power. Check the samples on Dancetutor to see if your computer is up to it. DanceTutor video requires roughly the same computer power as the movie trailers at Apple Computer's website.

Software: The Video Players

There are three primary internet video players which allow users to see video on webpages. Like browsers, all of the major video players have versions that will play on both Windows and Apple machines. The big three players are 1) Quicktime (used on DanceTutor), 2) Windows Media Player, and 3) Real Player. All three will play various kinds of audio files, slide shows, or video, and all three will NOT play various other kinds of audio files, slide shows or video. Since there are many kinds of files (.mov, .aiff, .mpeg, etc. etc.) one almost needs a scorecard unless all three players are installed on one's computer.

If all three players are installed, the browser will call up an appropriate player depending on the file type and the user does not have to be concerned. If the appropriate player is not installed to play a particular file, the user will get one of a bunch of responses which could include 1) an uninformative error message (for example, "the plug-in was not found"),or, 2) a prompt to download ("You need Quicktime to view this content. Would you like to download it?"), or, 3) a broken icon in the video rectangle, or, 4) nothing happens. So, for the best overall internet experience, our recommendation is to install all three of the major players, though for DanceTutor only Quicktime is required.

By any measurement, in our opinion, Quicktime is the most advanced and useful player for video, and for purposes of online dance instruction it is the only choice because of its smooth slow motion feature which the others do not offer. Real Player was the pioneer, the first, but we won't discuss Real much here. Windows Media Player is Microsoft's entry into the video arena.

Almost everyone has Windows Media Player already installed on his/her computer because almost everyone uses Microsoft's Windows operating system, be it Windows 95, 98, 2000, NT or ME. Windows Media Player comes bundled as a part of Windows. The same is not true for Quicktime, it must be downloaded from Apple Computer's site, but once downloaded will allow compatible video and other content to play on webpages. Ditto for Real.

If you download a player, you will get two things, the standalone player program and the player's plug-in functionality. The term "Plug-in" refers to a player's ability to play the video right on the webpage without opening a separate standalone program window. A rectangular area appears on the webpage designated for the video and that video plays in that area. The player is said to be "plugged in" to the browser, it is not part of the browser itself.

An alternative to plugging in the video would be to have the video link on the webpage open the player outside the webpage and play the video in the player stand-alone program. Dancetutor plays the video right on the webpage. It is not terribly important for the user to understand the player/plug-in distinction except to know that it is possible to view videos in the stand-alone program window.

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Downloaded Video & Streamed Video:

The idea that many people have about internet video is forged by their experience with streamed video which can be a painful experience. Streamed video is used more than downloaded video because with streamed video the video file is never on the user's computer. It appears once and poof, it's gone. To view it again, one has to download it a second time. What is important to developers and the reason it is used more than downloaded video is that streamed video cannot be easily copied. (Many sources refer to all internet video, both downloaded video and non-downloaded video, as "streamed". We are calling one streamed and not the other.)

With downloaded video, the file goes onto (is downloaded to) the user's computer. It can be played again and again and it can be copied by the user, assuming the user knows how to find it (see DanceTutor's FAQ). Downloaded video is reliable and plays well every time. It is clearly superior to streamed video for the purposes of serious dance instruction, and, apart from the copyright violation concerns, perhaps it is superior for the purposes of everything. DanceTutor operates with downloaded video and for now allows users to copy the videos with the proviso that the video is licensed to subscribers only.

With Quicktime downloaded video, the video will play once Quicktime calculates that the video will not finish before the download is complete. For example, if when the video is 90% downloaded, Quicktime may start playing upon its calculation that the download will complete before the playing of the video catches up to it. Since DanceTutor video plays slower than high speed download rates (cable modem, DSL, etc.), those with high speed connections to the internet will be able to get immediate video with no download wait. Just click and watch, no wait.

The majority of us with dial-up modems (28k, 56k, etc.) will have a minute or two wait before being able to play the video. There are currently a few longer demos which will take proportionately longer. However, once downloaded, video is the same no matter at which speed a computer receives it. Once download, Quicktime videos may be immediately replayed again and again, played in slow motion, played frame by frame, played backwards and, our favorite, played by mouse-drag. Slow motion is great, but mouse-dragging the movie forward (or backward) at precisely the speed one's brain can process the information -- that is something!

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The advance in internet video from the commencement of DanceTutor.com in 1999 until now, 2004, is phenomenal. The same video which played on a postage-stamp-sized area in 1999 at 15 frames per second can now play at 30 fps on an area 8 times as large. If you project the same rate of progress for the next 3 years, you have something almost the size and quality of television on the computer. But before that time there are still bumps in the road and we attempt to address some of them below.

Things That Could Go Wrong -- Troubleshooting:

Movie will not download or Page does not download ("refresh, refresh")

Sometimes movies will not download and the webpage background will show in the "movie screen" rectangle. The fix is to click the browser's REFRESH feature. This fix works every time one of our test computers which exhibits this problem . Also, periodically webpages will not download and "The page cannot be displayed" message appears. Again, the fix is the REFRESH button on the browser. In fact, any time something does not seem to work, it is worth the effort to refresh the page.

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Video won't play full speed (or breaks up)

Video is very demanding on a computer and as mentioned only a certain level of computer can play it. If your computer cannot play the sample video, it won't be able to play the videos on the DanceTutor site. If the sample does play on your machine, you should probably be able to play all the videos.

We think for most machines the borderline may be somewhere in the neightborhood of 233 CPU 32 RAM. We should add that though the one 233/32 computer played the video successfully at full speed, the browser "froze" with some frequency. The lesser the computer power, the more frequent the freezes. The next section discusses "freezes" in more detail.

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Jamming or Freezing

For a number of reasons, playing video on desktop computers, especially slower and older computers, can result in the computer jamming or freezing, which means that the keyboard and mouse become powerless. Sometimes, a computer will unfreeze in a few seconds but oftentimes it requires corrective action (next paragraph). This at the moment is a problem for internet video. Even with, say, a 500 CPU, 64M RAM machine, playing videos for awhile (or perhaps right away) may result in jamming. As far as we know, jamming does not damage a computer but causes inconvenience because of the need to close the program or restart the computer. We should add that we are not computer engineers.

If jamming occurs on windows machines, press and hold down the Control-Alt and Delete keys -- all 3 keys pressed at the same time. A dialog will appear after a few seconds probably showing the browser application (usually Internet Explorer or Netscape) highlighted in the dialogue box. Click "end task", and the program may close thereby unfreezing the machine. Otherwise, it would be necessary to turn off the computer and then start it up again. If the computer is "frozen" and not just the browser application, the dialogue may not appear with control/alt/delete, in which case the computer must be restarted (start button, restart), or else shut down (on-off switch) and turned back on. In this instance and always, the on-off switch should be the last option.

We have less experience with Apple machines, but our limited experience (G4 and G3 iBook) is that if the video freezes, the entire machine freezes and it is necessary to turn off the machine using the on-off button, and restart.

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Active X Security Error Message

When clicking on a page an error message is displayed that a security setting prohibits ActiveX control, which means that Quicktime will not play. Quicktime will not play with very high security settings. We only ran into this ourselves in the Internet Cafe in New York where the security settings in the browser were set very high. The solution at that time was to go to the browser menu and select

Tools/Internet Options.../Security/Internet-custom level...

and enable or disable various choices there to lessen security (the questions themselves suggest what is lesser security). However, we received our first customer report of the problem in December 2002. The customer was using Internet Explorer 6.02. We instructed him on the above fix but he wrote back to us stating, "The solution is to enter the site address into the list of "trusted sites" [a browser setting]. A popup still asks for approval of source but at least the videos can be viewed." We have not confirmed to this time but would believe this is another fix. To enter www.dancetutor.com in "trusted sites", go to the Internet Explorer browser menu
Tools/Internet Options.../Security/trusted sites


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Some Netscape browsers on Apple Computers will not play the videos

We do not know why, and we have not seen it mentioned where we would expect it to be discussed, but some Netscape browsers on Apple computers will not play the videos. Internet Explorer works fine on Apple computers. Both Netscape and Internet Explorer work fine on computers using Windows.


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Enlarged Videos Won't Play (& freeze the browser)

Each page has a link to another page which will play the video at 4x's the size of the original. It takes a lot of computer power to play a video this large on a desktop computer. For example, we successfully played the regular videos on a 233 CPU, 32 RAM computer (Micron) with only infrequent freezes. However, the enlarged videos would not play at all on the same computer AND would freeze the browser every time. Again, in the event of a freeze, press control/alt/delete all at the same time, and click "end task". If that doesn't work, you'll have to turn off and restart the computer.

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Double Image, Looks Like Scribbage, or Half of Screen is Blank or Green

"Scribbage"? It's not a technical term, it rhymes/, but here refers to colored lines/ or other distortions on Quicktime/. A common playback distortion is where half of the screen is green/. Another distortion is a double image with lines in-between/. One user got both a half green screen with a double image playing on the other half on every download/. The remedy for this and other distortions is to change to "Safe Mode"/. Here's how to pick it/:
Click the Start button,
then Settings
then Control Panel,
then Quicktime.
On the drop down menu, find Video Settings.
There you will see the "Safe Mode" option. Click it!/
This switch of the video setting in the QuickTime control panel has proved successful in solving an assortment of playback woe/. Some users will notice when changing to Safe Mode a slight decrease in the quality of their video /.


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Plug-in Error Message; Tips on Downloading Quicktime

Dance Tutor videos require that users have the free Quicktime 4.0 (or later) plug-in (download here) installed on their machine. Earlier versions of Quicktime will not play the videos. Quicktime plays on both Windows and Apple computers.

To avoid confusion upon going to Apple's page to download, note that

Shortness; Replay features

Except for the demos, most DanceTutor videos depict only one dance move and range from 4 seconds to 16 seconds in length. The videos are short both to avoid long download waits and to give the student the most efficient use of the replay features. The replays are instantaneous so it is possible to see a 6-second dance sequence 10 or 12 times in a minute. The student can cut to any point in the video (again instanteously) by clicking the video's progress bar, so a 2-second part of a video could be viewed 30 times in a minute without the delays of other media such as VHS tape. For learning purposes, we believe such instantaneousness is very effective.

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Video Sputters & Skips

Some computers will not be fast enough to play the Dance Tutor videos even though in the universe of internet video, Dance Tutor videos are not particularly demanding. Be certain to try the sample video on the home page which is representative of the other videos on this site. If you are able to play the movie trailers videos (coming attractions) on the Apple Computer site, you SHOULD (probably!) have no problem with Dance Tutor video.

Our trials show that some 233 KH CPU computers were adequate to play the video at full speed, others were not. A pentium 100 played hit and miss, mostly miss. If the computer will not play the video full speed, the movies may still be downloaded and played either slow motion (pressing the forward arrow key on the keyboard) or frame-by-frame (tapping the forward arrow key on the keyboard). However, slow motion and frame-by-frame play is without music and may not be a very informative or satisfying experience.

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Crowded Hard Drive

The video files vary in size but average approximately 300K to 400K. Depending on the size of your hard disk, saving a lot of these files may "crowd" your computer and cause performance to suffer. Please remember that your subscription license extends only to yourself and one dance partner.

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Video Sputtering at the End of the Clip

The videos are set to play when most of the video is downloaded. If the movie does not completely download before the player catches up with it, the video will sputter at the end. Just wait and play to the end and then replay. The problem should not repeat on the replay. In fact, several problems occur on the first playing which do not recur on the second playing.

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No Sound

If you cannot hear the music, you probably do not have a sound card and/or speakers, or your speakers are not turned on or are not properly connected.

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Side-by-side double image

Discussed above (under "Double Image, Looks Like Scribbage, or half of screen is blank or green") is the remedy of switching to QuickTime safe mode, a remedy which cures a lot of ills. On one computer, a side-by-side double image appeared on video playback and we accidently found another cure. In the Display section of the control panel (Start/Settings/Display) the color was set at 256. When we increased the color setting to High Color (16 bit), the problem went away. Don't 'cha hate this stuff!

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A broken image icon appears while enlarged videos are downloading

For reasons unknown to us, a broken image icon -- the kind that usually signifies that the video file is either nonexistant or is corrupted -- often appears at the beginning of the enlarged video downloads. Be patient, the video is probably on its way.

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Jerky Video

On the first play through, there may be jerky video which would not appear on the replay of the same download. Click the start button for a replay.

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Miscellaneous: It has happened that ...

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