I’m currently in the middle of a website project for a client who wants a high quality video player to demonstrate their post production work online.
Working with my business partner, Siam Communications, we reviewed a considerable number of players and eventually opted for the JW Player, created by LongTail Video.
The JW Player has a wide range of built in options and an extremely extensive range of both skins and plugins, which implied that it could be extensively customized in both look and functionality.
This was important because my client has some demanding requirements.
One of those requirements is that the website should be easily updatable by their non-technical staff and, for this reason, using WordPress as the basis for the site was a no-brainer.
And when I discovered that the JW Player could be installed via a WordPress plugin that seemed to seal the deal.
JW Player for WordPress: Installation, Settings and Embedding
Installation and Settings
Installing and activating the plugin is straightforward and no different from any other plugin.
Once installed, you’re offered 4 pages of customisation options.
These cover basic settings, advanced settings, the ability to configure and add advertisements and a range of add-ons (called plugins) which are activated by checking a check box and hitting ‘Save’.
Given my client’s need for video playback to start as quickly as possible, I set up their site on a dedicated server and installed an RTMP application (which the JW Player supports) to facilitate secure, high quality streaming.
Finally, you’re able to create a number of differently customized players. This allows you to assign a differently configured player to each video on the site – for example one video using the 4:3 aspect ratio, another using 16:9.
You add videos to pages (or posts) via the add media buttons above the post/page editing window in WordPress and you can add them from external URLs or the WordPress Media library – all standard WordPress stuff.
During the process of adding a video to a page you can select which of your customized players you want to use with each video. This is done from a drop down menu that’s added when the JW Player plugin is active.
It is literally a question of point and click, and the plugin then generates a shortcode which is inserted into the page.
Experience of Using the JW Player Plugin for WordPress
Unfortunately, Eric’s and my experience of using the JW Player Plugin was ‘less than stellar’ (LongTail’s admission) or, more accurately, a nightmare.
It started with an error message that claimed the first video I set up could not be found (despite it being in place, and the player being set up according to their documentation).
Searching the support forums revealed that the solution to this was to add the text ‘video’ to the provider field on the Advanced Settings page. That worked.
The next step was to get the playlist working.
Once again, I got an error message, this time claiming that the playlist could not be found (and, once again, having followed the documented playlist set up steps to the letter).
The solution to this was to remove the streamer URL from the streamer field and the text ‘video’ from the provider field (yes – both of which I had added to correct the previous problem!).
Unfortunately neither of these settings could be removed by deleting the relevant entries and hitting ‘Save’. The changes simply wouldn’t stick.
I eventually had to download the core XML file and delete the settings manually, then upload it back to the server.
The next thing I needed to do was configure the playlist settings. So I copied and pasted the relevant code from the LongTail site into the flashvars box at the bottom of the ‘Advanced Settings’ page.
Hitting ‘save’ generated an entire page of PHP warnings, which were also displaid on the front page of the site.
After scanning through the warnings I rapidly came to the conclusion it would be quicker and easier to uninstall the plugin and start again.
I was encouraged by a notice next to the uninstall button that said (in red letters) that uninstalling the plugin would remove all settings. Excellent – that was exactly what I wanted.
Needless to say, it was impossible to uninstall the plugin cleanly. I tried it 3 different ways:
- Clicking the plugin’s ‘uninstall’ button, conveniently located at the bottom of the settings page
- Deactivating and deleting the plugin via the WordPress plugins page
- Deleting the entire JWPlayer folder from the server via the FileZilla FTP client
Each time, on re-installing the plugin from scratch, the full page of warnings and all previous settings re-appeared.
Eric (my cohort at Siam Communications) later discovered that it was necessary to first delete the custom player I had previously created. With this deleted, it was then possible to achieve a clean uninstall of the plugin itself.
An instruction to do this before uninstalling the plugin (along with all those warnings that all settings would be lost) would have been nice, and it would have saved my blood pressure.
In a subsequent email from LongTail I was told that the Additional Flashvars box (Advanced Settings page) was not currently designed to use the JW Embedder config block format, which was why those warnings were generated when I pasted the flashvar code into it.
Apart from the illogicality of placing the Additional Flashvars box in the Advanced Settings page when it’s not designed to work with their own ‘Embedder config’, it would have been handy to have had a warning to that effect on the screen.
Again, a lot of time and blood pressure would have been saved.
Having got past these hurdles I still needed to come up with a slicker playlist configuration, and one of the add-ons that is listed in the last of the settings pages is the ‘Flow’ add-on (plugin).
This creates a 3D playlist that disappears during video playback – exactly what my client wants.
Again, following the instructions to the letter, I checked the check box and hit save.
And, as I’m sure you can guess by now, it didn’t work.
The playlist is there, but when you click on one of the items to play the video the entire screen freezes. I do get sound, though – so that’s a bonus.
I raised a trouble ticket for this 3 days ago (at the time of writing) and still haven’t had a reply.
Whether or not I get a reply now is purely academic as we will not be using this plugin (or player) on my client’s site.
The biggest disappointment of this entire exercise is that, potentially, the JW Player WordPress plugin would have been the perfect solution.
Based on its claims, and from reviewing the extensive range of plugins and skins that are available, we should have been able to configure this to meet all my client’s requirements and then some.
And, because it would all have been done through WordPress, my client’s staff would have been able to do their updates easily and safely. Everyone would have been happy.
However, the plugin is so unstable (a ‘work in progress’ according to LongTail in an email to me) it would be impossible to hand the site over to my client.
Even if we had got it working with the current version of WordPress, I would have no confidence that it would have been updated in a timely fashion to keep pace with future versions of WordPress.
We’re now busily reviewing alternative solutions to my client’s requirements. I’ll either update this article or write a new one when we have a solution that works properly and reliably.