Firsthand Video: Whitetail 6
A brief video from Whitetail Resort, March 11, 2005, shot and edited by M. Scott Smith. You must have QuickTime to view this movie. This video is about 3 megabytes in size; as a result, it is not of the highest quality.
Do you feel short videos like this add value to Firsthand Reports? Or is the quality too poor to be useful? Let us know by posting your comments below.
(Movie shot with Canon XL2 camera; edited with Apple Final Cut Pro.)
Hugely valuable. Video conveys a sense of conditions at the resort are like far better than even photos. This is great addition.
Can you comment on how much server resources these videos require?
My friend Roman produces short videos for ski centers in Slovakia and he spends a lot of time editing them and buying rights to various songs for an acompanying soundtracks. These videos, in short, demand a lot of work. Is it worth the effort and server resources? :(
Unfortunately, video requires an enormous amount of bandwidth resources. I had to scale down and compress the video above to get it to about 3 megabytes. Small improvements in video quality yield huge size gains -- a 9 megabyte version I made was only marginally better. An average page on DCSki probably is around 100-200 kilobytes in size, including images and ads. So one tiny video equals about 15-30 separate pages. If I went to higher quality video, it could easily rise to hundreds of times the size of an average page.
DCSki's server is capable of streaming video concurrently to hundreds of users (which is probably more folks than DCSki would have viewing a video at the same time). But, the real cost is in bandwidth. DCSki's server is co-located in a state-of-the-art hosting facility in Virginia, and facilities like that charge per the bit. So while $200 a month might provide enough bandwidth for a medium-volume site like DCSki hosting static pages, hosting video would multiply the price in line with the increased size of video. My current hosting package provides a maximum upper limit in terms of the bandwidth -- meaning that the number of bits that can flow out of the server at any given time is constrained to an artificial upper limit. That might limit serving high-quality video to a lot of people, because that upper limit would quickly be reached. An alternative pricing model basically removes that upper limit, but measures the average bandwidth utilitization every minute. Then, it drops off the top 5%, and charges a price based on the 95th percentile bandwidth utilization per month. The benefit of that is that if DCSki suddenly became very popular (e.g., Washington Post linked to it), it could easily handle a sudden onslaught of page views without a decrease in performance. The downside is that my monthly hosting bill could rise from $200 to $20,000 with absolutely no warning to me. You can see why I chose not to go with that pricing model!
So, in short, the bandwidth costs for hosting video are quite high. If I continue to post video, I might gradually ramp up the video quality, and keep an eye on how close I get to my upper bandwidth limit during busy periods. Another thing I might consider is producing a DVD with full-quality, widescreen movies on it -- it's possible that could be a benefit for "DCSki Donations" in future years. I have to tell you, it really hurt taking full-quality, widescreen video from Whitetail and compressing it down to low frame-rate, postage-stamp size.
One thing that strikes me about the video is the ambient sound. While I would have thought seeing the motion at a ski resort would add value that a photograph can't deliver, now I'm starting to think it's really the sound that adds value. A good photographer can capture motion in a still photograph. But it's hard to capture sound. The video reminds me of how "alive" the base area at Whitetail is -- with sounds ranging from giggling kids, to the swoosh of skis gliding across snow, to the waterfall by the stream, to the clanking of boots walking up the metal staircase, to the beeping of the lift terminal as the lift is about to resume. It's very hard to capture all of that in a still photo!
I suggest that you add higher res pics of key sections to show a more close up stills. This will add a more detailed aspect to the video with out excessive bandwith requirements.
I enjoyed the video. It adds another dimension to the report and photos. It is not essential, but certainly helps the viewer better understand conditions and whets the appetite to join in the fun!
Hmm. I think what people are looking for is more real-time (or at least very current) information on ski resort conditions. To me, the way to get more of that type of info is to allow users to upload digital pictures to the site and link those images to the short reviews often posted on the forum.
A lot of mobil phones now have built-in digital cameras, and if DCSki also had a section where people could instant message pictures to, that would enhance the real-time information coming to the site.
At this point in the history of the net, the costs of streaming video seem to outweigh the benefits, but the site, in my opinion, could be doing a lot more with still pictures, especially those shot by users.