Two years ago, I took a look at Vzaar, an online video hosting & delivery platform, and gave them a fairly good write up. But a lot of things can change in two years, just look at ReelSEO for example, and so, I thought it time I roll back into Vzaar and see what's what.
FYI, Vzaar is an advertiser here at ReelSEO. Since I'm just a contributing freelance writer, that doesn't really affect me one way or another. The opinions I express in this article are based on my objective assessment of their service as compared to others I am familiar with and my own personal thoughts on value, etc. This is not a paid review.
An Overview of Vzaar's Video Platform:
What is Vzaar? More importantly how do you say it? Is it like bazaar or bizarre or is it completely different and more like vizier? I suppose it could be /veeczar/ as well. According to Ian Snead, VP, Sales & Marketing, the company was originally incorporated as Video Bazaar Limited and so it's a combination of video and bazaar so, Vzaar like bazaar.
Basically, it's a video delivery platform, in an industry filthy with them. Luckily, dirt doesn't stick to Vzaar and they manage to outshine many of the others. They offer everything from uploading and encoding all the way through to final delivery of the video content you are putting online. Vzaar has a customizable player, multiple security options for your videos and an extremely ergonomic management solution.
In my first write up, where I used a quick video from Skopje (Macedonia), I mentioned that the one major drawback was that there are no playlists available. So I decided to start there.
Right from the video management area on the dashboard, I noticed a playlist button. Clicking that gives embed code for all the videos you have uploaded. But what if I only want 3 of those? It's manageable. In fact, there are all sorts of settings for playlists like number of videos, sorting order, thumbnail positions and an RSS podcast setting to determine the max videos to show up in the RSS feed. These are automatically downloaded by anyone who subscribes to your podcast RSS. So it looks like they listened, thanks!
Here, check it out.
That's a wrap...
Seriously, Vzaar has a lot more to offer than just playlists, so I thought it would be best to go section by section.
Uploading Videos to Vzaar
There's more than one way to skin a cat they say. Personally, it's not something I've ever done. In fact, I can't see why anyone would. For Vzaar this old adage applies to uploading. They've provided multiple options for you to upload videos to your account. A web uploader, desktop uploader (for Mac), iOS app, and API.
You can do up to 10 videos at a time through the web interface. Since I had a stack of CES 2012 videos (unedited), I thought that might be a good place to start. Since they said I could do ten, I chose ten videos and sent them. While they are uploading, which is unfortunately not asynchronous and so must be done one at a time (as opposed to FTP, etc which can do multiple files simultaneously) you can edit their titles. Most of my videos were short, AVCHD files at a 1440 resolution (I was saving storage space).
Once the videos are uploaded encoding begins (sometimes there's a delay probably based on account level) and they got done extremely quickly. While uploading the second, the first finished, while uploading the third, the second finished, etc. I had them set to encode to Large which is 576x324 because the ReelSEO main window is around 600 or so pixels wide. As soon as the video is done encoding you can view it from the dashboard.
Encoding Videos at Vzaar
As I said, I had them set to a generic encode which was one pass, 576x324px, 1024kbps bitrate and stardard audio at 128kbps. But that can all be changed though the bitrate can only be pushed up to 4096kbps. Vzaar offers six basic encoding profiles:
- Small Standard 4x3 (320x240) | Widescreen (320x180)
- Medium Standard 4x3 (448x336) | Widescreen (448x252)
- Large Standard 4x3 (576x432) | Widescreen (576x324)
- Original Keeps the original frame size (dimensions) of your source video (but not bitrate)
- High Definition (HD) 768x576 size when not viewed in fullscreen mode 1280x720 size when viewed in fullscreen mode
- Custom: Allows you to specify the video width and bit rate quality. (Height is automatically calculated to maintain the correct aspect ratio i.e widescreen or 4:3)
You can also set the encoding to single or double pass encoding (how many times the software combs through the video for encoding quality) and you can set the audio to the standard or to high quality which is 256kbps encoding. This, Ian says, is done to provide a video platform that puts the user in control. It seems like that is what they're doing.
If you don't want them to encode your video, there's a checkbox in settings to turn it off and then you just upload videos to the service and they remain exactly the same. You can also turn on iOS optimizations which make HTTP Live Streams for your videos so they can be seen on iOS devices without problem.
Along with some other settings there is a final poster frame and thumbnail picker option where you can put a specific number of seconds in the video where it will pull these images from. Too bad you can do that per video though it seems.
You can also still do the most kick-assest of features which is to simply replace a video with a new video and keep all the information intact. That is pretty much the coolest feature ever.
Vzaar Player Appearance & Customization
As with many video players and delivery services you can do some customization of the player at Vzaar. This not only includes skinning it with a particular color scheme but also putting in a brand overlay.
The brand overlay can be a bit of text that shows during the whole video, like a company name, that you can stick on a corner of the player. It can also be a logo, which wasn't readily apparent to me at first. You can also toggle the border, determine if and when the controls are shown, whether the video autoplays and if it loops. Finally, there's also an end screen text that lets you put in a small call to action or message to the viewer and that is also clickable. You'll notice in the player at the top that there's a ReelSEO logo and that's clickable to our homepage.
Video Security at Vzaar
There are several security features as well that you can apply to keep control over your content. First and foremost is the domain control which allows you to input a list of domains where your video can play. That keeps leeches from ganking yo zhit (my street slang) and playing it on their site without you making any money on it. You can also burn a watermark into each and every frame of the video so that it's permanently there so again, no ganking of the zhit. From a more technical standpoint they offer both HTTPS embed codes and RTMPe streaming which breaks up the file into continuous fragments but doesn't actually point to a single file. It's encrypted, uses SWF verification and only allows the content in the authorized player. LOCK DOWN!
Video Management at Vzaar
I have to say, they have one of the fastest, sleekest designs I've seen on a backside dashboard. That helps make video management a piece of cake really. Everything feels like it's just a click away and easy to find.
Anything else you can think of management-wise is there, right from the video page like labels, description, URL, sharing and embeding and other advanced links for thumbnails, posters, etc. They all follow a very logical URL convention view.vzaar.com/(video #)/[thumb, image, video, download). Clicking Settings in the upper right area gets you access to just about everything. You can customize the branding on a single video as well as the player behavior and skinning, video security, subtitles and poster and thumb images.
With one click you can get the embed code, replace the video file or even just delete it all (well that's 2 clicks actually).
If you're looking for HTML5 compatibility you have to use the iFrame embed code. There's no help documentation to let you know that the iFrame is HTML5, so I found it a bit confusing. Also, when you click "embed" at the top of the page, you get the standard embed code instead of the iFrame so be sure to use the iFrame option.
HTML5 embed (called iFrame on Vzaar):
<iframe allowFullScreen allowTransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="324" id="vzvd-906470" name="vzvd-906470" src="http://view.vzaar.com/906470/player" title="vzaar video player" type="text/html" width="576"></iframe>
Flash embed (called HTML):
<div><object data="http://view.vzaar.com/906470/flashplayer" height="324" id="video" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="576"> <param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /> <param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always" /> <param name="wmode" value="transparent" /> <param name="movie" value="http://view.vzaar.com/906470/flashplayer" /> <param name="flashvars" value="showplaybutton=false&brandText=ChrisRick+%40+ReelSEO&colourSet=blue&brandLink=reelseo.staging.wpengine.com&endText=This+is+just+a+demo+video+at+ReelSEO&border=none&endLink=reelseo.staging.wpengine.com" /> <video controls height="324" id="vzvid" onclick="this.play();" poster="http://view.vzaar.com/906470/image" preload="none" src="http://view.vzaar.com/906470/video" width="576"></video> </object></div>
Here's an example of the HTML5 player so that if you're reading this on your iPad, you can see what that looks like.
Unfortunately the embed codes for their playlists (like the one we embedded at the top) are still not HTML5 compatible yet but that's, believe it or not, a difficult problem to solve in HTML5. That being said, the good news is that I'm told they're working on it and it should be live along with a more advanced HTML 5 video player for videos in 2 weeks.
The Vzaar statistics currently include: bandwidth, 30 day trend on bandwidth and play count. That's not much in the way of deep metrics, but you can tie into your Google Analytics account. It would be nice if you could easily tie it into some other video metrics packages right in the backend, maybe that's a partnership area they could work on. I'd like to see more stats for interaction, engagement, play/pause/rewind/FF, etc...
Video Delivery at Vzaar
If it's got a video screen, you can pretty much get your video there. Smart phones, tablets, PCs no problem. iPhone and iPad? Sure. You can even, as I mentioned before, make a playlist, offer and RSS Podcast and use either streaming or progressive download. Thanks to the Vzaar CDN backbone, it all gets to where it needs to go very quickly.
The RSS Podcast feature, Ian says, is great for users who want their subscribers to be able to pull down videos to their iTunes library for offline watching.
Vzaar Platform Pricing
Vzaar has a wide range of pricing from personal plans - 2GB plans which are free, 10GB for $10/mnth - to plans suited for small business with 100-750GB for $29-199 and then the enterprise plan of 5TB for $499 a month. With each you get a rising number of videos that you can have active, a decreasing overage plan (the higher your plan is), increasing iOS streams, larger file sizes (topping out at 3GB/file). The bummer is that the lowest plan with the feature bundle (playlists, podcast, subtitles, API upload, player languages and HTTPS embed) is the 200GB, $79/month plan.
I can understand their reasoning, those are all features that took some amount of R&D so they want to recoup that cost but I don't quite understand why the Express plan does not get the features bundle. The personal plans not getting that, I understand why they're even more restrictive. However, when compared to some other services you can see the savings. For example, just storing 126GB of data in Amazon S3 is $17.50 and that doesn't include bandwidth which, for 100GB comes to about another $6-7 for a total of around $25. For $29 a month you get all that, plus a really great set of features and total management solution for your videos. With Amazon S3 you simply get cloud storage and access.
Adding it all Up
To steal a line from my local area Violent Femmes, I'm gonna "add it up." Basically I went through their list of six major features and did my poking and prodding to determine how well it all works. I have to say that Vzaar has one of the most mature interfaces (update rolled out in December 2011) and offerings around, after almost five years, they should. But that's not all. I spoke with Ian about what kind of stuff people are using Vzaar for, what they've got in the works and tying it all into some other services. I think it's important to see how the technology is being used as well as what they offer.
Currently, Ian tells me, Vzaar is working with Getty Images on their Mishmash contest - make 1-3min videos out of stock footage - which uses the Vzaar API to upload content. Budweiser used the API last year for a similar user-generated content competition.
Speaking on the future of Vzaar and what they have in store this year Ian said:
What can users expect this year. Typically we don't make such announcements but our focus is on enhanced security, improved analytics, monetization tools and features designed for Agencies. We have loads of Agencies that use our service and they like to simplicity of the UI and the well documented API that supports all major programming languages. http://vzaar.com/purchase/personal We also have Java Script API for the player which gives more control to developers allowing them to trigger events based on the players behaviour.
We rolled out the new "slick" UI in December. This week we rolled out our CNAMES allowing users to brand their embed codes with their domain.
No resting on their laurels over at Vzaar. It seems they're still looking to push forward with things.
One final thing I think they need to do is partner up with some video advertising networks so that it is far easier to monetize the video content. They seem to have completely missed this part of the equation. While I agree that they have a fantastic service, if it's difficult to monetize the content that's going to be a big obstacle for some. I, for one, need to monetize my video better at my own site, , and am looking for the easiest solution possible to get the best ad rates I can and the most coverage on our videos.
All in all, as the title suggests, with the exception of a few improvements, I really feel that Vzaar is an good, affordable and customizable video platform. I know it's also their brand message as well, but it works :)