Video Catching Up to Photos When It Comes to Sharing
6/29/2006

For Robert Levitan, the revelation came after a summer hiking trip on Mount Washington in New Hampshire with his twin brother. During the five-day trip in 2004, he used his digital Canon Elph camera to snap 80 pictures and 6 video clips. After the trip, his brother asked him to e-mail copies of the video.

"I said no, I'll have to make a DVD," Mr. Levitan said. "The file sizes are too big to easily send via e-mail."

That got him thinking: Why couldn't someone just send video from a desktop or laptop computer to other people's computers?

It is a question that an increasing number of digital camera users may ask as they start using the increasingly sophisticated video abilities of digital cameras.

Luckily, consumers have an alternative to burning DVD's or uploading personal video to sharing sites like www.youtube.com or www.metacafe.com. A range of new services and companies are making it easier than ever to share digital video from cameras or camcorders.

Sharing by E-Mail
Many popular video-sharing Web sites do not allow you to share full-quality video, because of bandwidth limitations. Instead, they provide a compressed resolution and reduced-quality version of your video, optimized for online viewing.

Pando, which Mr. Levitan helped found, takes a different approach. It transmits video files (or any files) from one computer to another, using easily downloadable peer-to-peer software that manages the file transfers and communication between the computers (the peers) in the background.

The whole process is wrapped into a simple, e-mail-friendly format so users can send links and initiate video transfers as easily as attaching and sending a digital picture.

"On a personal level, I needed this product after that camping trip," said Mr. Levitan, who was earlier a founder of iVillage, a collection of Web sites bought by NBC Universal this year for $600 million. "Normally you'd attach pictures or videos to an e-mail, but e-mail wasn't designed to handle sending very large files."

Pando's process is simple. Users register at www.pando.com, and download and install a small software program (available in a test version for both Mac and PC). After that, users simply open up Pando, hit the "send new" button, and select the files or folders they want to send, along with a short description of the package.

An e-mail message is sent to the recipients, who, once she has installed the Pando software, can click on a small attachment and start downloading the files. A strength of Pando is the ability to send large files — the service allows users to send up to a gigabyte at a time, which is enough for hours of video.

Pando does not compress or transcode video files, so there is no change in video quality. In addition, Pando can be used with any type of attachment — video files, digital pictures, documents, PowerPoint files. Pando seems to have answered a need, reporting more than 600,000 downloads of its software in six months. 

Becoming a Broadcaster
Alternatively, you can become your own broadcaster with Pixpo. Pixpo allows consumers to maintain their videos on their own computer and broadcast them to selected friends or relatives.

"We allow users to create broadcasting channels that can be made public or kept private," said Robert Cooper, Pixpo's director of business. "Public ones are visible to anyone via your broadcast home page, while private ones can be viewed only by people you've e-mailed a link to."

Pixpo, available in beta testing, turns your PC (and in the future, your Mac) into a broadcasting center able to stream video. The service is free and has no limitations on the number of video clips or users involved in sharing. Resolution is optimized for Internet transmission, at 240 by 320 pixels, a compromise between speed and quality.

The advantage for viewing is that Pixpo streams the video over the Internet instead of sending the actual video files, which would require the receiver to have the right video software (known as a codec).

But since the files you are sharing remain on your PC, you need to have an always-on connection and leave your PC and Pixpo software running to provide round-the-clock access to your video.

Setup is easy: go to www.pixpo.com, download the software (currently a svelte 4.5 megabytes) and then create your broadcast channel by selecting the files you want to share, giving your channel a name and telling friends about it.

Of course, if 100 people show up at the same time to view your video, your computer connection probably will not support the load. Pixpo can help by storing highly requested video from your system in a cache, so multiple copies can be served simultaneously.

Outsourcing It
If you do not want people viewing video directly from your computer, you might consider a fee-based video hosting service like HomeMovie or Snapfish.

"We're positioning our services as video sharing for grown-ups, not 'ego-casting,' where people upload a two- to three-minute clip of themselves lip-synching," said Lars Krumme, a co-founder of HomeMovie.

HomeMovie's latest service, Afiniti 3.0, allows consumers to send in tapes for digitizing, upload saved files for sharing or connect their digital camera or camcorder directly to their computer and transfer new video or pictures. The service can also be used to download the video to iPods.

Users can have up to five hours of video content in their online account free. Up to 10 hours is $3.99 a month with no time limit for the clips you can have one-minute clips or two-hour clips.

When you share video using HomeMovie (www.homemovie.com), the clips are uploaded from your computer to HomeMovie's servers. Invited friends and family members, who are given a password, can download the clips to their iPods, order DVD's or view the video online - all free.

You can tag movies or scenes with keywords, so that you can search for "vacation" video or "birthday" scenes. HomeMovie also offers a service that will encode a two-hour tape into digital files for $5.

An advantage of HomeMovie is that it provides basic video editing abilities, including combining clips into a longer movie, or the ability to remove unwanted scenes — particularly helpful when working with shorter clips from digital cameras.

However, there are no special transition tools, like dissolves or fades; the scenes simply cut from one to another. For other kinds of movie magic, you will need a video editing software package.

Mixing It Together
Of course, if you are recording video with a digital camera, you are probably also taking pictures, and may want to be able to upload both to one place for printing and sharing — at least that is the bet that Snapfish is making with its new video-sharing service.

Snapfish (www.snapfish.com) offers a 30-day free trial of its video-sharing abilities. Afterward, it's $2.99 a month or $24.99 a year for unlimited video sharing. The service was introduced in January, and Snapfish says thousands have already used it, and it is trying to integrate video and photo sharing as much as possible. Snapfish albums can have still pictures and video mixed together.

Any "family friendly" video up to 10 minutes can be uploaded to the site. A crucial part of the service is converting (known as transcoding) the video file — which can come in 13 different formats — into MPEG2, which can be easily uploaded and shared.

Snapfish lets visitors actually save the file they are viewing by right-clicking their mouse, but Ben Nelson, Snapfish's general manager, said viewing, not keeping, was the point of the service.

Unlike a snapshot, "printing a video isn't that easy," he said, "so the ability to share videos is a really important feature."




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