• Academic Technology

Pushing the Limits of HTML5 Video with Panopto Smart Sync

Pushing the Limits of HTML5 Video Streaming - Panopto Video PlatformNot long ago, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) declared the HTML5 specification complete. The latest version of the HTML standard has introduced a range of new functionality that is now supported natively in popular web browsers, including the <canvas> tag for graphic drawing using Javascript, structure tags for organizing the content on a web page, and improvements to web-based forms.

Of all the new features in HTML5, though, the one that has arguably attracted the most attention and generated the most excitement is the <video> tag. This sentiment was echoed by Paul Cotton, the W3C HTML working group co-chair, when the standard was recently declared complete:

“The single most important feature of HTML5 is probably the <video> tag since today’s web is rapidly moving to being more about video.”

The beauty of the <video> tag is that it enables the playback of on-demand video in web browsers without the need for 3rd-party add-ons like Flash and Silverlight. Over the past few years as HTML5 was being developed, browser vendors, device manufacturers, and media companies like Netflix and YouTube threw their weight behind HTML5 video, and an ecosystem of HTML5 video players subsequently emerged.

A Box on a Page: The Traditional Online Video Viewing Experience

What’s interesting, though, is that amid all the HTML5 video momentum in the past few years, the user experience of watching video online hasn’t really changed. For the most part, online video still means “a smallish box embedded in a web page.”

This isn’t to say that existing HTML5 video players aren’t polished and highly functional.  VideoJS is slick-looking and is known for its small size and speed. JWPlayer is known for its extensibility via plugins. But these video players and the video platforms that use them are all built around the same basic design that powered YouTube in 2005  — a single stream of video set in a web page surrounded by a bunch of other content.

YouTube Single Stream Video Player Through The Years

The “box on a page” video playback experience on YouTube in 2007 (left), 2014 (center), and 2019 (right).


It’s Time to Rethink the Online Video Playback Experience

When YouTube launched in 2005, high-speed internet had just taken the majority market share from dial-up connections in the US, and the median actual download speed of broadband connections in the US was between 1.5 and 2 Mbps. In a world of scarce bandwidth, a smallish box on a web page made sense as an efficient way to stream video content.

Fast forward fourteen years. Median broadband speed in the US is now above 90 Mbps, broadband providers now offer 50, 150, and all the way up to 1000 Mbps connectivity as standard offerings to consumers, and it’s increasingly common to find coffee shops offering free connectivity at speeds of up to 50 Mbps (mainly, Starbucks). In a world in which the cost of bandwidth is trending toward zero, it’s possible to rethink the way that online video is watched.

What would a more immersive, engaging video viewing experience look like?  For entertainment videos, a “bigger box” with 1080p or higher resolution is a great starting point. But for the types of videos used in businesses and universities — instructional recordings, video presentations, training videos, lectures, product demonstrations, and town hall meetings — there are different requirements for an immersive video experience.

Specifically, it’s important to consider that there are two parts of nearly every video presentation — the presenter and their content. Ideally, you should be able to watch both at the same time, just like you can when you’re in the live audience. But with the traditional “box on a page” experience, you’re forced to watch one or the other, and you’re not in control of which one you watch at any given time. That’s controlled by the videographer who recorded the presentation.

You Shouldnt Have To Choose

The New Approach: A Multi-Stream HTML5 Video Player with Smart Sync

To meet the needs of business and academic video presentations, screencasts, live webcasts, and other video content, Panopto built a unique video player that allows you to see a synchronized view of both the presenter and their content, just as you would if you were sitting in the conference room, lecture hall, or boardroom watching the presentation live.

Panopto HTML5 video player with Smart Sync technology

With Smart Sync, you see the presenter and their presentation simultaneously. Either video feed can be maximized at any time during playback.

We call the ability to synchronize multiple streams of video Smart Sync. And we’ve designed our video player and Smart Sync functionality so that they work entirely in HTML5.

It’s Everything YouTube Isn’t: Watch an Overview & Demo of Panopto’s Video Platform >>


Smart Sync functionality isn’t something that’s easily bolted onto a video platform. To achieve sub-second synchronization between multiple feeds of video, the capabilities need to be built into every facet of the software. Here are three of the elements that make Smart Sync possible in Panopto:

  • Our client software used for recording and live webcasting video recognizes and efficiently captures multiple feeds of video. These video feeds can either originate on a single PC, or across a distributed network of PCs, Macs, and mobile devices. Multiple feeds of 720p or 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second are supported.
  • Our web services and data model automatically synchronize these video feeds, taking into account differences in quality between the feeds, different video formats and frame rates, different start and stop times for each video feed, and a range of latency variables from the point of capture (the camera, computer monitor, or other video device) to the point of processing (the Panopto server).
  • Our HTML5-based video player addresses buffering issues that are substantially more complex when playing back multiple feeds of video simultaneously across a potentially high-latency network.

We believe that, for instructional videos and video presentations of all forms, multi-stream video playback will become the new benchmark in the years ahead, and by delivering this capability through HTML5 video and Smart Sync, Panopto is able to provide a premium video viewing experience to the widest range of browsers and devices.

Panopto's multi-camer HTML5 video player experience

Any video feeds can be played back in sync. In this example, a video camera is automatically synchronized with a microscope video captured on an iPhone.


Find Out More About Panopto’s HTML5 Video Players
If your business or university is investing in using video more for internal communication and knowledge sharing, and you’re looking for a cutting-edge video platform built on the latest internet standards, contact us to request a free trial of Panopto today.