Interactive streaming video is this year’s professional Furby. Everyone wants it, but when you get it, you realize it can’t do nearly as much as you wanted it to. Also, the creative tools released so far have had two major problems: the end formats just don’t offer much interactivity for the end-user and are a pain to create because of re-rendering.
Hypnotizer’s Interactive Streaming Suite attempts to get round this by incorporating its own interactive technology into streaming formats through a browser plug-in, Hypnotizer.player. Content is created in Hypnotizer.editor and then served to end users through Hypnotizer.server, which sits with your ISP next to your streaming server.
Hypnotizer works alongside any of the three main streaming formats: Windows Media, RealVideo or QuickTime. It uses XML to overlay interactive elements such as buttons, pulldown menus and text. Applications for this include everything from buy-now buttons in commercials, to subtitles. The company features some impressive examples on its Web site, including interactive rollover maps of a racecourse on top of rally footage, and draggable control menus.
The editor is easy to use, reminiscent of creating rollovers and the like in Dreamweaver and Fireworks. Import your already-encoded video as the background and then slap on your graphics (or place them as invisibles). Select the graphic, drag it into place, open up its event dialog and tell it what to do when using a standard events tree.
The immediate advantage of the Hypnotizer system over current systems is that it’s at once removed from the video. Unlike with other tools, you don’t need to re-render if you want to change something, which is a huge bonus. You’re also not tied to a particular encoding system; you can use whatever encoding tool you prefer. The price for this is that your end user has to download another plug-in (and a Windows-only, 2.2MB one at that), which may turn you off the system as a whole. Hypnotizer may be trying to get round the problems of the first-generation technologies found in the usual streaming formats, but it often falls into the first gen problem of relying on external software.
There’s no timeline, so content-driven events have to be created during encoding in other tools. There’s no way to play the video while you position buttons and the like – you have to preview to an external browser. You have an XML preview window, but this is read-only, so if you want to get deep into Hypnotizer programming, you have to use an external editor.
The price of freedom
There is also a problem inherent in the very nature of the Hypnotizer system. Streaming enriched video content using the server is an extra cost and, at up to 50 Euros (around £30) per 1,000 streams, it’s not cheap. And that’s on top of what you pay, directly or indirectly, for streaming the video. Houses without their own servers are likely to pay even more than this through their service providers, if they support Hypnotizer at all (or are willing to install it).
Whether the extra elements justify the extra cost depends upon how much you need what the technology gives you over the interactivity found natively in the common formats. And it can’t be too long before these features are integrated into these formats as standard – and proper tools to work with this appear.