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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 10 Issue 7
July 2016
Watch YouTube Videos in Less Time and with Better Comprehension

The problem
Have you ever watched a YouTube video that seemed to take forever to get to the point, or that made you watch as the author slowly typed their message on the screen, or that would probably be interesting to watch but it was just longer than you felt you had the time or patience to sit through?

Or, have you been unable to understand some (or most) of what the speaker is saying? You could follow them so much better if you could read a transcript of their talk, or slow them down a little.

Good news! YouTube has some features that let you make more productive use of your time when watching videos on your computer, regardless of whether it's a laptop or a desktop, or a Windows machine or a Macintosh.

Increasing or decreasing the playback speed
One way to save time watching (or listening to) a YouTube video is to speed up the playback. You can change the speed while a video is playing, you don't have to pause it first. Here's how:
  • Place your mouse over the video playback area. The row of controller buttons should appear across the bottom, including the "gear" icon on the right.
  • Click once on the gear icon. A first-level menu will pop up, showing various settings and their current values.
  • Click the "Speed" row in that menu to view the second-level menu of speed choices. (If you don't see a "Speed" choice in the menu, see "No 'Speed' choice?" below.)
  • The default Speed is "Normal," understood to be the factor "1" (as in 100%). Click the new speed of your choice, it will take effect immediately. The speeds are expressed as a decimal relative to Normal: 0.25 (one-quarter Normal speed), 0.5 (half Normal speed), 1.25 (25% faster than Normal), 1.5 (50% faster than Normal), or 2 (twice Normal speed). If you've never tried this before, I recommend choosing 1.25 to start.
  • You will then return to the first-level menu of settings while the video immediately changes to the new speed. If you'd like to try another speed, click "Speed" again, and click a different choice.
  • When you're done changing the speed, click on the gear icon again (or anywhere else outside the menu) to put it away.
You may also notice that unlike the fast-forward function on an old-fashioned tape recorder, the pitch of the speaker's voice does not get higher when you speed up a YouTube video (nor does it get lower when you slow it down), due to some sophisticated audio processing behind the scenes.

Subtitles/closed captions (CC)
Some videos can display subtitles, also known as closed captions. This feature superimposes words on the video so you can read what the person is saying (or singing), in the same language as they are speaking. This can be very useful when you can't make out all of the words, perhaps because the sound isn't loud enough, you're in a noisy environment, the person is speaking with an accent or poor diction, or you're using a high playback speed. You can turn closed captions on or off while a video is playing, you don't have to pause it first. Here's how:
  • Place your mouse over the video playback area. The row of controller buttons should appear across the bottom.
  • Look for the "CC" icon.
  • If you don't see that icon, then closed captions are not available for this video.
  • If you do see it, click it once. The closed captions will display immediately using default settings.
  • To turn the closed captions off, just click the CC icon once more and they will disappear.
If you want more control over the closed captions, click the gear icon, then click "Subtitles/CC." Depending on the video, you may see choices that include:
  • English, French, Spanish, etc.: This means that the author of the video included a transcript in that language when they posted the video.
  • English (auto-generated): YouTube will mechanically generate English captions from the speaker's voice. In my experience they're very good, but they won't be perfect, e.g., you may see "for our" instead of "four hour," "why fight" instead of "Wifi," "blood gets" instead of "floodgates," etc. You also probably won't see any capital letters or sentence-level punctuation.
  • Auto-translate (or Translate captions): YouTube will mechanically translate the captions supplied by the author (e.g., in English) to the language of your choice (e.g., French), much like subtitles in a move, i.e., hearing a voice in one language while reading its translation in another.
No "Speed" choice in the gear (settings) menu?
Depending on your web browser, YouTube.com may employ one of two different video players:
  • The HTML5 player: Most modern web browsers support the fifth generation of the Hypertext Markup Language used by the World Wide Web, which added (among other things) built-in support for certain types of video formats. If you're using this version of the YouTube player, YouTube will give you that Speed control choice. You can spot this player by its 6-tooth gear icon, and if you right-click anywhere on the video playback area (control-click on Macintosh), the last item in the menu that pops up is "About the HTML5 player."
  • The Default player: This version of the player uses Adobe Flash to play YouTube videos, which does not give you control over the playback speed. You can spot this player by its 8-tooth gear icon, and if you right-click on it (control-click on Macintosh), the last item in the menu that pops up is "About Adobe Flash Player."
If YouTube has chosen the default (Adobe Flash) player in your web browser, here's how you can try to switch to the newer HTML5 player:
  • In your web browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.), note the address of your YouTube video so you can return to it.
  • Go to http://www.youtube.com/html5 [that's a lowercase "L" before the "5"]
  • Scroll down past the "What does this browser support?" section and look for the sentence "The default player is currently used." (If you see "The HTML5 player is currently used when possible" then you're all set. Do not click "Use the default player.")
  • Click once on the button "Request the HTML5 player."
  • That sentence should change to "The HTML5 player is currently used when possible."
  • Return to your YouTube video.
  • Be sure to Reload any YouTube video pages you have open.
Note that this sets a cookie to note your preference for the HTML5 player, so if you later delete cookies, your web browser will probably revert to the default (Adobe Flash) player again.

YouTube mouse and keyboard shortcuts
You can also use your mouse and keyboard to control YouTube videos.

Shortcuts that work in either player:
  • Click once on the video playback area: Pauses the video; click again to resume Playing
  • Space key: Toggles between Pause and Play, just like clicking on the video
  • 0 (zero) key: Jump to the start of the video
  • 1 (one) key: Jump to the 10% mark
  • 2 key: Jump to the 20% mark
  • 3 through 9 keys: Jump to the corresponding mark, from 30% to 90%
  • Home key (on an extended keyboard): Jump to the start of the video
  • End key (on an extended keyboard): Jump to the end of the video
  • Down-arrow key: Decrease volume, 20 levels from loudest to mute
  • Up-arrow key: Increase volume
Shortcuts for the newer HTML5 player:
  • Left-arrow key: Jump back by 5 seconds, useful for "What did they just say?"
  • Right-arrow key: Jump ahead by 5 seconds, useful for skipping ahead
  • J key: Jump back by 10 seconds
  • K key: Toggles between Pause and Play, just like clicking on the video
  • L key: Jump ahead by 10 seconds
  • > (greater-than sign, shift-period): Increase playback speed one increment, e.g., from Normal to 1.25, or from 1.25 to 1.5
  • < (less-than sign, shift-comma): Decrease playback speed one increment, e.g., from 1.25 to Normal , or from 1.5 to 1.25
Shortcuts for the default (Adobe Flash) player:
  • Left-arrow key: Jump back by 3 seconds; useful for "What did they just say?"
  • Right-arrow key: Jump ahead by 3 seconds, useful for skipping ahead
  • J key: Jump back by 3 seconds
  • K key: Toggles between Pause and Play, just like clicking on the video
  • L key: Jump ahead by 3 seconds
When using these keyboard shortcuts, I recommend that you tap and release the given key. If you press and hold a key instead, after a moment that key will repeat very quickly until you release it, which may do much more than you intended.

A shortcut key don't work, or causes something else to happen
Sometimes YouTube's player ignores shortcut keys. If that happens, try these potential remedies:
  • You may be viewing an advertisement, which only lets you Pause and Play. You'll either have to wait for it to finish, or click "Skip" if possible.
  • Click to pause the video, then click again to resume playback. This helps move the "focus" to the video player.
  • Reload the page.
  • Number keys: If you're using the numeric keypad on an extended keyboard, try using the number keys on the main keyboard instead.
"Blocked plugin"
If you can't get YouTube videos to work at all because of an onscreen error like "Blocked plugin," then you'll need to update your Adobe Flash Player, or you could try switching to the HTML5 player.

Solid black rectangle
If YouTube displays a solid black rectangle where the video playback should appear, your web browser probably has JavaScript turned off. See http://www.enable-javascript.com for more information on how to enable it in most browsers.

Where to go from here
  • For more on this topic, google: youtube playback speed
  • To find apps that let you control YouTube playback on a smartphone or tablet, google: youtube playback speed iphone [or ipad, android, etc.]
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Html5
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2016 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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