Time Lords of YouTube

Streaming video has gone from VHS- to DVD to 1080p- to 4K quality over the decade. Yet, left behind were some extremely useful navigational controls that we took for granted on our “ancient” VCRs or DVD players. They included slow motion, smooth fast-forward, and the ability to bookend any segment for looping to our heart’s content.

So, when 12-year-old YouTube finally admitted this past summer that one speed doesn’t necessarily fit all and introduced variable play speeds to its mobile apps, I was thrilled that something old was new again. And it wasn’t just one slow-mo speed but three (0.25x, 0.5x, and 0.75x). And there were now three fast-mo speeds (1.25x, 1.5x, and 2x) — all full screen and none of them choppy. The serial thumbnail stills seen as we dragged a finger along the scrub bar hoping to spot an approximate landing point for normal play was no longer compulsory. And good riddance!

So, why the fuss over variable speed? If the point is to watch a movie effortlessly from beginning to end, then all you need to touch is Play/Pause. But there are plenty of viewers who use their players more interactively. They want to study a scene or savor a moment. It could be a highly choreographed fight that in normal play moves too fast to be fully appreciated. It could be an explosion in which objects are flying across the screen at such high velocity that you can’t really see what’s happening. Or they enjoy spotting the goofs: the microphone in frame for a split second or an out-of-place smile on an actor that should have been cut.

There’s a ton of instructional videos on YouTube where slow-mo can help you learn a dance move, study a gymnastics routine, or improve your golf swing. If you’re re-creating a recipe being demonstrated on an iPad in your kitchen, slow-mo allows you to keep up.

YouTube admits that one speed doesn’t necessarily fit all.

At the opposite end of the speed dial, smooth fast-forward lets you scan past the boring parts or non-essential content without inadvertently skipping over portions you do want to watch. Whether it’s a lecture in which you only need to review the portion on a subject you’ve been assigned to write about or a B-movie in which you only care about a certain actress when she comes on screen, you can’t beat the time-saving efficiency of fast-mo.

So, how do you invoke a speed other than normal on an iOS or Android device? The controls are not in plain sight when you load YouTube. You must tap the video once, then tap the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of the screen. Tap the playback speed option, then select the speed at which you’d like the video to play. Subsequent videos will play at that speed until you change it.

All the variable play speeds are accompanied by audio, though 0.75x and 1.25x are more decipherable than the extreme speeds. Listening to an action sequence in slow-mo is eerie but adds another dimension to grasping the choreography of punches, kicks, grunts, and crashing objects. Captioning is visible at any speed. During slow-mo, the text lingers, helping you understand what’s being slurred at low octave. Fast-mo calls upon your skill as a speed-reader.

I’m disappointed that YouTube didn’t add A-B looping. For that you’ll have to use a browser to go to a site unrelated to YouTube called YouTubeSlow.com where you can paste the address of a specific YouTube video to play. You’ll be able to mark any part of the action to replay endlessly — even in slow motion, if so desired. Now, that’s entertainment!

hk2000's picture

Or you can download your video of interest and use GOM player for playback, one of the most comprehensive SW players that includes just about every playback tool you can think of- including A-B and extremely variable slow/fast playback speed with pitch-correct sound.