YouTube, now owned by Google, may still be the 800-pound gorilla of video sharing sites, but an impressive number of rivals--some merely clones, others offering unique twists--are nipping at its heels.
We whittled down an initial list of 50 contending services to 17 topflight sites we tested to determine the single best place to share your videos online. Blip.tv's video quality and functionality made it our overall Best Bet, but each free service has strengths in areas that others may not.
Video quality matchup
Video quality and embedded player design remain the major points of comparison.
For our rankings, we also took into account policies on shared advertising revenue, potential audience size, the entire upload experience, and the design of each embedded player, including the intrusiveness of any advertising, watermarks, and other nonvideo elements. In addition, we considered social-networking options, the ability to make videos private, and other attributes.
How we tested
Each site that we tested--those in our top 10, plus AOL Uncut Video Beta, Crackle (previously Grouper), Dailymotion, Facebook, Google Video, Metacafe, and Yahoo Video--will let you upload a variety of video types, but the only format supported across the board is QuickTime. Most sites don't limit video length or the number of videos you can upload, but many restrict file sizes to 100MB. Consequently, we used the same 1-minute-long, 95.5MB QuickTime (MPEG-4) test file with Apple Lossless stereo audio to test each site.
To gauge video quality and audio, we incorporated shots from past PC World Videos and Test Center footage from the Panasonic PV-GS500, in our 720-by-480-resolution video.
Top 10 video sharing sites
Video quality: Blip.tv gets the nod here because it permits users to stream and download the original, high-quality file. DivX Stage6's DivX compression also gets high marks.
Most of the services we tested convert video uploads to good- but not great-looking (and often slightly dark) Flash 8 format, which uses the On2 VP6 codec. On the other hand, some sites--notably YouTube--still use the lower-quality Flash 7 format, which relies on the older Sorensen Spark codec.
Blip.tv lets users stream or download your original high-quality video file; it also lets you make available video that's ideal for iPod and cell phone playback.
Eighth-place Vimeo> also allows users to download--but not stream--the original high-quality file; and DivX Stage6, our number two service, lets viewers stream or download original files, with a couple of small catches.
Not surprisingly, since it's run by the folks behind the DivX format, Stage6 requires you to convert video to that format before you upload it. Thankfully, the site links to free and painless conversion software (Dr. DivX), and the resulting video quality ranks as the best we saw outside of an original source file--impressive, given that the software took just under a minute to squish our test file down to only 10.5MB.
The fame game: If you want your video to reach the largest possible audience, then you'll need to follow the eyeballs. In South Korea, that would mean using Cyworld, while in France you'd probably use Dailymotion. The rest of us have YouTube. You could try MySpaceTV or Google Video instead, though Google says it "envisions most user-generated and premium video content being hosted on YouTube."
Making money: Are you an independent producer looking for profit? Blip.tv, Brightcove, Metacafe,Revver, and Veoh will split advertising revenue with you, 50/50.
We particularly appreciated a unique feature of Revver whereby you earn 20 percent of the revenue from videos you've shared (on, say, your Revver page or a personal blog) even if they're not yours; the remaining 80 percent is split evenly between the video's creator and Revver.
Mobile uploads: Blip.tv and Jumpcut let you upload videos captured by your camera phone by attaching the video to an e-mail message while YouTube uses your cell phone's MMS (Multimedia Message Service) capabilities. But in previous tests conducted with a Palm Treo 750 smart phone, we couldn't upload videos of more than 5 seconds' duration at the phone's best resolution because of file limitations by various carriers.
Think before you link: Even if you're posting embedded video on your personal blog, most of the players that we looked at link back to their Web site in some way. This state of affairs raises the possibility of stumbling upon video, comments, or advertising that some people might consider inappropriate. Many sites have "family filters" that are enabled by default, but it's still worth checking what surrounds your video before you dispatch a mass e-mail notification to friends, family, and colleagues.
Protect your copyright: Be sure to read a video sharing site's terms and conditions carefully before you upload. Most sites we looked at have license agreements under the terms of which you grant the service the right to do things like host, transcode, distribute, and make money by selling advertising around your video. Usually, these are basic boilerplate agreements that let you retain copyright control and the ability to remove a video at all times. Most sites inform visitors that your video is a protected work--not in the public domain. Some, like Blip.tv and Revver, even let you use certain Creative Commons licenses that let you decide whether you want to require attribution, restrict commercial use, or allow modifications and reuse under specified terms.
YouTube shares video, not income
Surprisingly, YouTube and Google Video's revenue programs tend not to be accessible to the average Joe. YouTube's Partner Program is limited to big-media or hand-selected individuals, while Google wants producers backed by at least 1000 hours of video for its High Quality or Day-Pass (time-limited) download sales program. (And another heavyweight's video sharing site, Microsoft's Soapbox, doesn't have revenue sharing.) By contrast, Brightcove permits you to create paid downloads and distribute them through AOL's Video store; Veoh has a similar system. Both let you keep a 70 percent share of the profits.
These services also maintain syndication programs wherein either you or the service develops commercial relationships with third-party Web sites interested in using certain video content.
Sites we considered
In alphabetical order, here are all the sites we initially considered for this story. Each name is a link.
Crackle (formerly Grouper)