Saturday, April 29, 2006

Online videos (April 2006)

With libraries, rental stores, cable on demand and online movie ordering services, it’s not hard at all to get ahold of videos. But there are still times when having instant access to a clip of the Apollo 11 moon landing or Martin Luther King’s famous speech at the March on Washington is worth a thousand DVDs. That’s when you’ll be glad you’ve got a high-speed Internet connection – and help finding online videos. With the Internet, you can choose when to watch selected episodes of educational TV shows, interviews with favorite authors, or webcasts of talks by important newsmakers. You and the kids can browse through old movie classics, goofy commercials, or creative home-made films starring everything from muffins to Legos. There’s a whole world of video for the searching, and it costs little or nothing to watch.

Quality-wise, online videos aren’t a threat to DVDs or cable – yet. Clarity and reliability can range from acceptable to awful, and most videos play in a tiny window on your computer screen only a few inches wide. But along with watching videos streaming on your computer, many sites let you download and save them to your computer, a CD or DVD, or your iPod. Educators Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, creators of the website Eduscapes and Eduscapes Seeds, and high school librarian Joyce Kasman Valenza, have useful introductions to online video on their websites, with tips and links.

One resource my family turns to again and again is United Streaming. All New York residents can sign up to use UnitedStreaming’s video archive for free by going to their local public television station’s website. (Elsewhere, many schools provide access to their families, and individual subscriptions are available for about $150 a year). You can search UnitedStreaming’s library by grade level as well as by subject, view individual segments as well as entire videos, and save titles in your own playlist. While many are a little dry, there are exceptions, like the Standard Deviants series (math, foreign language and many other topics) and children’s book adaptations by WestonWoods. Discovery Education recently bought United Streaming, so many of its videos now come from this offshoot of the Discovery Channel.

Other good places to look for educational material include the Library of Congress (click on Webcasts; that page has links to motion pictures), which has an archive of lectures by authors such as Magic Treehouse creator Mary Pope Osborne and the late feminist Betty Friedan, as well as scholars, politicians, and historians. The LOC’s American Memory Motion Picture Collection has examples of early motion pictures and the first animated shorts, as well as historical compilations of Coca-Cola commercials through the years and footage of the 9/11 attacks. LOC also hosts the Moving Images Collection website, with links to science digital videos on the web, among other movie-related sites.

The cable network C-SPAN offers online videos about history along with archives of its coverage of current events. Some 500 episodes of the author-interview show Booknotes, which ran from 1989 to 2004, are also available. Older students and adults may find the Research Channel interesting, with over a thousand videos of lectures on scientific and medical research from universities and research corporations. Topics range from “children who remember past lives” to the Civil War, and there are also interviews with artists, writers, film and computer people. The streaming quality is excellent.

You’ll find a little of everything at the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization founded to preserve all kinds of information in digital format, including moving images. The site houses collections such as the Siggraph Electronic Theatre’s computer animation winners; theatrical features that have entered the public domain, including Little Rascals comedies, Popeye cartoons, and Flash Gordon serials, and the TV shows NetCafe and Democracy Now. There are also more than 16,000 “open source” clips contributed by individuals; these are basically home movies, some historical (footage of the tsunami and Hurricane Wilma), some useful (I actually found this site because of a video demonstration of a craft technique) and some adolescent spoofs which are probably not suitable for younger audiences.

To find videos on websites in general, Yahoo! is the search engine to use. Just click on the “Video” button on the top of its home page (it automatically filters out obvious mature content.) Yahooligans!, the kids’ site, also works well. My usual favorite, on the other hand, has decided to go in a different direction. Google Video (click “More” from its home page to find the link) is “the world's first open online video marketplace.” Along with some free content such as Superbowl commercials and a few PBS episodes of shows like NOVA, there’s an “ever-growing collection” of TV shows, movies, music videos, documentaries, and personal productions that cost a dollar or two and require you to set up a Google account. The selection includes episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, I Love Lucy, Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.

But you don’t have to pay to find great entertainment. Many small studios, budding filmmakers and just plain amateurs have online videos the whole family can enjoy. The Web-based fan series STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES, recently featured in the local media, is just one example. There’s also Muffin Films, a very cute site by UCLA film student Amy Winfrey, with a dozen short animations about a delicious baked good, and Spite Your Face (don’t mind the name), the award-winning studio that produces animated videos for the Lego website. (I have to mention Brickfilms, the headquarters for fan-made Lego movies, even though, again, some are not suitable for younger kids.) With so much to choose from, online videos are a family resource that’s worth the trouble.

(c) 2006 Kathy Ceceri
May not be published in any form without permission


Anonymous said...

Hi! Thanks for sharing all these great resources. (We are big fans of Steve Spangler here, too.) I couldn't find anything about UnitedStreaming from WMHT's page though. Any hints?

Kathy Ceceri said...

I fixed the UnitedStreaming link. The URL is If WMHT is your local PBS station, you can go to and scroll down to the bottom. The link says Ed Videos Online.