Online Video Platform YouReview – Kaltura

August 15, 2011 by VidCompare Leave a reply »

By special guest blogger, Charlie Davis. This post originally ran on his blog.

In the jungle of OVPs, Kaltura is one of three open source video platforms according to our trusted resource,VidCompare.com.  Among the experts and journalists in the U.S., Kaltura holds rank among the most popular OVP providers, sharing press with Ooyala, KIT Digital, and Brightcove.  And, you’ll find Kaltura sharing industry insight into hot topics like DRM, mobile, and tablet delivery, as well as being a founding member of the ‘Open Video Alliance’ (www.openvideoalliance.org).

So, what makes Kaltura’s OVP stand out?  Well, from my review of their 30-day trial SaaS offering below, Kaltura offers more flexibility than most OVPs that will likely appeal to the technically saavy user or service provider.  With a role-based content management backend that provides batch processing of media files, content moderation, and insight into content origin, activity and usage, this OVP should be on the short list of anyone who wants more granular control over their content, their contributors, and the software that supports it all.

Getting Started

The SaaS trial is as straight forward quick to set up as other OVP vendors I have tried.  The site, supported by IE, Firefox, and Chrome, requires Flash to load the management interface but no additional plugins to get started.  Kaltura follows the simple-is-beautiful philosophy we have come to know from open source: the user is presented with a very clean dashboard that contains the big five: Upload Conent, Embed Content, Customize Features, Analytics, and Account/Billing.  Let it be known that I admire simplicity in this case and quote Linus Tovalds, as he said, “you should absolutely not dismiss simplicity for something easy. It takes design and good taste to be simple.”1

Getting content onto the platform is step numero uno, and uploading from the desktop is full of options.  Before you upload content, you have the option of choose DefaultSource Only, and All Flavors.  Kaltura’s definition of flavor would help before we continue: “A flavor is a single output file with its specific file type, bitrate, GOP size, etc.“  While there is no description of the options I just described, a quick check of the Quickstart Guide reveals that these options are transcoding profiles to use in this upload session.  A separate review of the Kaltura online help guide (click the question mark at the top-right hand corner of any section within Kaltura) told me that the Default Profile, will transcode uploaded files into the flavors selected in the main transcoding Settings page (see manage and publishing below).  Source Only and All Flavors were not described in the online help, but an educated guess and some quick testing in the application confirmed my suspicions: Source Only will only upload the source file, but not transcode it; the All Flavorsoption, as you might guess, would transcode the video into all flavors available, but that wasn’t the case.  Instead of hunting online for an answer, I selected the Default dropdown with the option of converting to other formats and flavors later.

Once you have chosen your transcoding profile option, you can select multiples of video, audio, and photos in one tab; a second tab allows for capturing video via webcam and uploading directly into the content manager; a third tab allows you to search and retrieve multiple videos from Metacafe.  The Metacafe option, while appreciated, is very limited and may address your needs if you are searching for specific content quickly and easily – see Figure 2 below.  I was searching for specific videos in a series and struggled to find the exact ones I was looking for without titles or descriptions available on the page.  The video’s properties (description, running time, brief summary, etc.) can be revealed my mousing over the thumbnail, and can be overwhelming at times depending on how it is set up in Metacafe.  I recommend you narrow down your search in Metacafe first before searching in the OVP.

Kaltura offers bulk import from remote sites as well.  This option is a shout out to users who probably are tasked with consolidating the large amounts of video content in different locations now that his/her organization has invested in Kaltura.  A comma-delimited file made available from the import page can easily be opened in Google Docs or Microsoft Office as a spreadsheet for editing.  I have provided a sample here.  For the purposes of this trial, I just used the URLs listed in the .csv file and uploaded that specific content.  As the sample file specifies this process accepts HTTP, HTTPS, and FTP sources.  The upload status is monitored through a progress window and eventually a log file and copy of the csv file are made available for troubleshooting or for historical records of uploaded content.  The log file came in handy when I was wondering where my copy of, “Companies to Watch” was not listed in the results.  A quick check of the log file showed there was an error, claiming an, “invalid url” though I could copy and paste the same URL into a browser and retrieve the content multiple times without issue.  By the way, I recommend you avoid the “Humor” video included in Kaltura’s sample batch import file if you plan to demo Kaltura to your colleagues or senior management.

System Settings And Administration

Normally with our SaaS driven OVPs I dive into content straightaway, however I would like to spend a small amount of time reviewing the Settings tab on the far right of the to navigation, where your account, transcoding, and user settings are maintained.  Reviewing these settings first will help you better grasp some of the features and properties associated with managing and publishing your content.

  • Account Settings provides info on accounts available in the Account Owner drop-down.  If you’re an Admin, you can review contact information (full name, email, phone), assign content categories, and additional info to fill-out one’s profile like a description of the account/person, whether that account will display adult content, etc.
  • Integration Settings provides unique IDs to Kaltura, including your partner ID, which is “your site’s identification and ticket to the Kaltura platform and API, and will enable you to connect to Kaltura, display media, upload media and experience all of Kaltura’s functionality.” 2
  • Access Control, mentioned further down under Managing Your Content, allows you to set Access Control Profiles that limit where and how an account can publish content.
  • Transcoding Settings, also mentioned below, helps define your Default transcoding types, or “Flavors” in Kaltura, that will help streamline your encoding quality requirements as you upload more and more content.
  • Custom Data “allows you to map your metadata schema into Kaltura.  You can create metadata fields of various types (such as test, date, text select list, and entry ID reference).  For each entry, you can add the relevant values to your metadata fields.” 3
  • My User Settings is the info page for your specific account, including your contact info and your role on the system.  For the purposes of the 30-day trial, my role was set to Publisher Administrator with full control over the account and user management functions.

Under Administration, you can edit existing users or add users and assign roles to the account.

Managing Your Content

On the Content tab, under manage, your library is presented in a thumbnail list and clicking on the video will drill into the video name to reveal of the different flavors. On the left-hand navigation are filters to help whittle down your choices based on tags and categories assigned to specific content in your library.  A word of warning though – be careful with filters.  A clear-filters option would be great to restore all content into view, but sadly it does not exist.  Scrolling through the options and unchecking them is the only option I could find.

Click into a specific video and you have options to change the metadata, thumbnails, access controls, scheduling, etc. – see Figure 3 below. Thumbnails has a very intuitive set of options and is actually a thumbnail library.  You can add a thumbnail from an uploaded image which is typical, grab from the chosen video or crop the existing one shown in the content list already.  Kaltura take a simple approach here – the thumbnail can be chosen from the video merely by playing and pausing to the location. For those looking for a perfect frame in the video you will probably need to compromise with the video player’s inability to scrub frame for frame. Once you have chosen your optimal frame, click the little camera icon in the bottom right-hand corner. The thumbnail is saved in the list of other thumbnail images.

Within the Access Control property, you have the option of assigning permissions to entitle certain users to view your content. By default any domain and any country are allowed. Adding a new profile gives you the ability to restrict where the content can appear by setting up blacklists (none of these sites can show my content, but all others can) or whitelists (only these sites can show my content but only the ones I list). For instance, I have set up a whitelist policy where the video content can only appear on chazdavis.com and vidcompare.com. Furthermore, you can restrict by country the same way with over 230 countries to choose from. So though my videos can appear on the two domains I allow, I will only let them be viewed by the United States, Canada, Iceland and Antartica – because I can.  Further down, Advanced Security & Pay-per-view is an option, offering a “higher level of security” for PPV models called, “server side secret (KS)”. Needs looking into. When enabled, you can provide viewers with a free preview of x number of minutes, seconds followed by a prompt to pay for continued viewing.

Flavors provides you with a list of transcoded versions of the source video file.  Its important to upload different breeds of video to test how the encoding of different “flavors” works.  For instance, I recorded a webcam video earlier however the resolution was limited to 640 x 480, so I uploaded an iPhone video at full 1280 x 720 resolution as was able to test encoding for more flavors.  You can input video to Kaltura as FLV, MP4, MOV, 3GP, MKV, AVC, OGG, WMV, ISM/ISMV, and AVI files.  After uploading, you can then serve your content as H.264 and VP6.  I was under the impression VP8 and OGG were also available but not in the trial from what I could see.  For a full list of supported media formats according to Kaltura, you can review their list here.

Other content properties include mixes and custom data, which unfortunately have no brief explanation in the GUI and are blank to start, so its tough to understand what purpose these features serve.  Thankfully, the online help will tell you that the Mixes screen will include a table that displays any and all video mixes of a particular file, whether it be video, audio, or an image.  Custom Data allows you to map your metadata schema into Kaltura, create metadata fields, and add the relevant values to your metadata fields.  Finally, Distribution allows you to create video packages for syndication among Kaltura partners.  By default, YouTube is already shown, and according to the online help, you can include other partners such as Hulu, Comcast, MySpace, and MSN.  Hopefully more partners are readily available as Hulu shops for a buyer and Myspace dies a slow, painful death (even though it just found a buyer).

Moderating Content is pretty self-explanatory in name.  As a curator of your content, you will want to make sure your contributors are providing media that fits your mission and is deemed appropriate.  Content that has been deemed inappropriate by a user or admin will be “flagged for review” and/or “pending moderation” will appear in the filtered pane.   A valuable feature for those who care about their users’ feedback.

Publishing Your Content

Content Playlists allow you to create a manual playlist or a rule-based one. A rule based playlist has so few steps involved it literally confused me for a minute. The filters navigation offers all of the content categories, and you can either add filter names separated by a comma in the field or cntrl+left-click individual categories, and then…thats it – just save and you have built your list. Too simple, and yet so efficient – love it.  The manual playlist is what you would expect – all your videos listed in the entries table (or your can use the filters) and just click the right arrow to pull them over to the playlist, left-arrow to put them back in the entries table – easy.  And finally, the playlist properties page provides not only the total number of entries but also adds up the entries total duration.

The Syndicate content page is fully explained at the top of the page:“Here you can maximize your content’s reach and generate traffic back to your site via external syndication. Through Kaltura’s integration with multiple distribition partners, you can distribute and track your videos on a wide range of search engines, video sharing sites and social networks.” To get started, you will need to create a new feed and choose from the following four entries, Google, Yahoo!, iTunes, and TubeMogul.  You can choose your content flavor, provide a description, web site name, player design from theStudio option (description is further down), and multiple categories for your entry.

A word of warning though - creating a newsfeed for Google, Yahoo!, and iTunes requires some technical knowledge to leverage the landing page. Leveraging the landing page is a powerful SEO option, however I highly recommend you read Kaltura’s Help article on syndication to learn the necessary code changes on the customer end for the HTTP redirect.  TubeMogul is the only feed type that does not require a landing page and has the fewest number of options to get your content pushed.  By publishing your feed, you are prompted with a detailed explanation that basically says your content feed, and any future additions to the feed, will automatically be distributed to over 20 different portals, however you must have a Kaltura-TubeMogul account to add it to the TubeMogul MRSS Feed Manager.

The Studio tab is where you can design the look and feel of your player.  On the right-hand navigation you have the option of a new player:

  • Single video
  • Horizontal playlist
  • Vertical playlist
  • Multiple playlist
  • Hovering controllers

See here for more detail on player templates.

I chose a player with a vertical playlist. There are about two dozen main options to customize the player, each with sub-options that really drill into the features and customize the player properties in detail. For instance, I set up a player that offers the viewer the ability to share, rate, and I also created a custom button (with the use of some custom JavaScript) that will send the viewer back to my web site when the custom button is clicked.   I do want to mention that I am disappointed with the sharing options of the trial and hope this is a result of a feature limit.  Jumping ahead to a preview, you can see there are over a dozen social sharing options, which is nice, but not only missing a microblog option for Twitter, but the number of options does not appear to be customizable.  Am I doomed to have Friendster and MySpace displayed on my sharing options permanently?  It appears so, but at least its colorful.

Unlike many OVPs I have tried, Kaltura slides its Ad options into the customization of the player. Enabling this option allows you to choose from the following ad sources: AdapTV, Tremor, Eye Wonder, and Vast. You can also set up custom flash and bumper ads. Each option provides you with an Ad Timeline to show you what content will be integrated with your video. I have to admit here I was lost on the configuration. Consulting the help section for advertising did not turn up answers either. I think here Kaltura expects you to you have prior knowledge to embedding ads or consult their professional services team.

Previewing and embedding your content is very straight forward – you can either choose to embed single videos or playlists. For this review, I have embedded a playlist using my custom player, which I made earlier. The preview screen shows a functional player of your choice from the dropdown (I chose my custom player created in the studio moments ago) and it provides options for content delivery and the final embed code. Regarding the content delivery, I will quote the Kaltura online help which explains this section nicely:

————————————-
To preview and get the embed code for any of the entries on the entries list click the “Preview & Embed” link under the Publish column on the main list of entries. In the new window that opens, you can preview the entry and select the player skin that you would like to use. To add the entry to your site, copy the embed code from the text box under the entry and paste it in your site.
In addition to selecting the player, you can select the delivery method in the flash player:

Progressive Download – Allows the user to pause the video playback and wait for the content to download. Typically used where viewers have very limited bandwidth.

Adaptive Streaming (RTMP) – Allows adaptive bitrate. The player can adjust the video quality on the fly based on network and CPU conditions. Based on RTMP protocol.

Akamai HD Network – Allows adaptive bitrate. The player can adjust the video quality on the fly based on network and CPU conditions. Based on Akamai CDN technology.

For mobile support:

A device that has flash enabled (such as Android) is supported through the flash player.
A device without flash enabled (such as iPhone, iPad) is supported through a native player.

This requires a specific encoding flavor (iPhone, iPad). To transcode a file to this flavor, go to the Edit Entry window’s Flavors tab.
To enable mobile flavors for transcoding, please contact your account manager.
————————————-

To help you choose the best delivery option, I recommend checking out Jan Ozer’s article on Onlinevideo.net for a sample of what he covers in his new bookVideo Compression for Flash, App Devices and HTML5.  If you’re still unsure of the delivery type to use, then speak with your video encoding specialist as you will want to choose the best option for your viewers.  Personally, I am a fan of adaptive streaming and feel my readers will benefit from it, so I chose that option for the result below:

Analytics

Kaltura has three categories of analytics:  Bandwidth Usage, Content, and Community.  The Bandwidth Usage Report is the first chart displayed when clicking on the Analytics tab; a simple bar chart that displays total bandwidth used during a specific timeframe.

Content Reports displays four charts:

  1. Top Content, a line chart that shows player loads percentage as well as plays, minutes viewed, and number of impressions per video.
  2. Content Drop Off is a bar chart shows breakdown of all videos for a category including the number of plays that reached 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of the total video’s time.  You can drill into each video and review the specific info.
  3. Content Interactions is a line chart that tracks number of plays, edits, shares (social), and reports of abuse (flagged for moderation).
  4. Content Contribution reports the origin of content uploaded into the system.  The default view provides a general overview of the contents’ sources and a line chart over the last 30 days.

User and Community Reports displays three charts:

  1. Top Contributors provides data on who contributed the most content to the account, with a breakdown by media category (images, video, audio, etc) by username.
  2. Geographic breakdown shows a table of regions from where the content was viewed and the drop-off data to show the number of plays that reached 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of the total video’s time.
  3. Top Syndication – break down from where the content was displayed (indicated as the, “Syndicator”) that includes player loads percentage as well as plays, minutes viewed, and number of impressions per video.

In all Content and Community charts, you can narrow down the timeline and results using dates or date range and category or filter.  For the Content Reports and User & Community Reports you also have the option of exporting the data to a .csv file.

Conclusion

Kaltura’s SaaS offering is indeed one of the most complex OVPs I have reviewed so far.  The complexity was mostly due to the number of questions I raised throughout the review that had me checking and rechecking the online help.  To provide a fair and objective review, I wore two different hats – the techie administrator (the sys admin who knows online video techno jargon) and the non-technical content publisher (the marketer or communications officer who is less interested in technical detail and more concerned about ease of use).  Error files for reporting status of imported content may seem raw and unpolished when it could be incorporated into the interface, but for administrators it may prove to be useful if you plan to do something with the log.  Content with prominently displayed entry IDs, codecs, and Asset IDs will confuse the usual content contributor but an administrator will need that information to manage the content library.  And, there were a couple of times where I did encounter an inexplicable .xml error, instead of a friendly error message, while loading the Content or Analytics tab - the unfriendly error message means something to someone I suppose.  In all cases, while wearing my techie admin hat I was quick to recover from these blips, challenges, or anomalies because I have experience in product support, technical knowledge, and probably spent a good 1.5 hours reading the online help and Quickstart Guide from end to end.

As for cost, I cannot comment on Kaltura’s prices since it is not displayed on their site.  I recommend you ask their Sales reps about Kaltura’s pricing for hosting, support packages, and professional services if you are interested.

Charlie is an experienced technologist in the multimedia space for over ten years, and currently works for one of the top financial information companies in New York City as Director of Support for its Corporate Communications business.  His passion for online video and social applications prompted Charlie to narrow his career focus specifically to Online Video Platforms.  To dig deep into the business of OVPs and understand the market landscape, Charlie began writing detailed user reviews publicly on his web site to bring unbiased feedback and help readers find the right platform to fit their needs.

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