If YouTube isn't the best place to watch the Olympic games, it should be

If you are living in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Bhutan, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, or Vietnam and want to watch the London Olympics today I’m told your only choice is YouTube.  Ten events are available at any time through the International Olympic Committee (IOC) YouTube channel.

Of course 60 live channels are available in the USA through youtube.com/nbcolympics, but I think the international story is more compelling by far because it brings live competition to places where it was never available before.

YouTube seems to have really thrown itself into this Olympics thing, raising its live video game in the process and many of the advances they are rolling-out will be available broadly on the service going forward, not just for the Olympics.

On Friday, I visited YouTube in San Bruno to learn all this. My son Channing, who is 10 and addicted to YouTube fishing videos, was astounded to learn YouTube had a physical existence at all. How quickly our kids have embraced the cloud.

It will be interesting to see what breaks. Jason Gaedtke, YouTube’s director of software engineering, says they do not expect a flawless performance.

According to Gaedtke all video processing is being done in the Google Cloud and no custom hardware (or even additional hardware) is required.

With NBC, YouTube offers 60 simultaneous live events and hundreds of recorded ones, all transcoded into seven different video streams for various devices starting at 1080p and going all the way down to feature phones. There’s a new DVR interface, too, that allows viewers to pause live action or even start at the beginning of an event already in progress.  On completion all live events go into the library and remain accessible.

NBC editors are even adding metadata hints to the video thumbnails so lazy viewers can go straight to the most exciting moments -- scores, finishes, etc.

It’s free (there are commercials), happening in real time (not tape delayed for primetime), and covers even the most obscure events. What’s not to like? Well, I had to identify myself as a Comcast subscriber, so I wonder what off-the-air TV viewers will get? Please let us all know.

To me this feels like Internet video really coming into its own, providing a live service that simply couldn’t be done any other way. I can imagine an Olympics or two from now when the Internet may be the dominant (possible only) way to watch the games.

My Real World Experience

July 29, 3:30 pm: We’re trying to watch the Olympics on YouTube and it, in a word, sucks. Maybe this is Comcast, though Netflix and Hulu are running just fine. More likely it is YouTube having capacity problems. Of course the commercials seem to load okay. I’ve sent a message to YouTube and will update this post as I learn more. Hopefully they’ll be able to grab a bigger chunk of cloud and fix the problems.

July 29, 7 pm: It’s the speed of the PC. A dual-core 2-GHz iMac is jerky while a 2 GHz four-core I7 Mac Mini runs fine. A 2.4 GHz AMD four-core PC running Windows 7 Professional runs fine, too.  But I can’t watch the Olympics on a 2 GHz iMac, a 2 GHz Mac Mini, or my mid-2010 MacBook Pro (also 2-GHz). All three computers have two cores and are at their max RAM. Yes, I can slow down the connection, but anything above 360p clearly has problems (240p is best) and this on a 25 Mbps Internet connection. Understand that in each case I’m starting with the resolution setting on “auto”, so YouTube clearly expects my machines to run faster than they actually do.

Did YouTube test with any real world computers regularly used by small boys?

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