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This article was published on January 21, 2010

Youtube’s Service Pack 1?

Youtube’s Service Pack 1?
Jacob Friedman
Story by

Jacob Friedman

Jacob is a tech blogger and IT professional living in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter here, like him on facebook here, or email him here. Jacob is a tech blogger and IT professional living in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter here, like him on facebook here, or email him here.

YoutubeYoutube has rolled out a series of upgrades to their video player, including HTML5 support, improved video resolution controls, an opt-in feature for a new streamlined “Watch” page, a music discovery service and a movie rental service.

The upgrades, which further expand the utility of the site, come on the back of the announcement that Youtube would begin streaming live sports, starting with the Indian Premier League Cricket season.

The improved video resolution controls have been integrated into the player, replacing the old HQ or HD button. Depending on the video, resolutions up to 1080p are selectable options, although much of the HD content has a maximum resolution of 720p. Most content, however, is still only available at a maximum resolution of 480p; if you’re looking for an HD Pants on the Ground fix, you’ll still have a hard time finding it.

Youtube is also rolling out a beta version of their site that uses HTML5.

The advantage of having Youtube use HTML5 is, as Youtube put it, “HTML5 includes support for video and audio playback. This means that users with an HTML5 compatible browser, and support for the proper audio and video codecs can watch a video without needing to download a browser plugin.”

It’s painfully obvious, however, that the HTML5 site is a beta, and an early one at that. Video playback is slow and stutters every few seconds. Hopefully, though, the site will continue to develop and quality will improve.

More intriguing to most users (and to studios) is the new video rental feature. At the moment, only a few titles are available, but the company is expected to slowly increase their available offerings. Given the reports last year that Youtube was in talks with major studios, this isn’t a huge shock. Now that video rentals have been introduced, it will be interesting to see if Youtube becomes the “Netflix-killer” that some analysts thought it could be.

The music discovery service takes advantage of Youtube’s extensive music label connections to deliver music videos of artists similar to the searched artist. It also allows you to create, save and share video playlists with your friends (via email).

The biggest part of this update, however, is the sleek new theme. It cuts out all of the very un-Google clutter present in the current Youtube “Watch” page, trimming out the rating system, consolidating the clumsy sharing tools into sleeker buttons and removing lots of extraneous text. It’s definitely a step forward, and although it feels slightly different, everything seems to fall immediately to hand. It’s new, and yet somehow feels familiar.

Taken individually, these site upgrades are all useful tweaks. However, when you look at them in conjunction with each other, these upgrades constitute a major refocusing and broadening of the site.

By introducing live sports, improving the availability of HD content, adding music playlist generators and introducing movie rentals, Youtube’s clearly trying to move into markets traditionally dominated by cable and satellite-based content. In short, Youtube’s trying to make the case that you don’t need cable anymore. In conjunction with the new theme and the use of HTML5, both supposed to make the site lighter and easier to use, these developments are aimed at making Youtube more big-screen friendly. It’s almost as if Youtube sees this upgrade as a sort of Service Pack for the site, upgrading functionality without becoming unfamiliar.