Cloudinary Blog
What to consider when developing media rich websites and apps
Websites have evolved greatly over the past few years. Once text-heavy websites have become more eye-catching with prominent images and video. But the addition of richer media isn’t the only change impacting websites. Consumer behavior also factors into this evolution, as web access has moved from the desktop realm to a variety of different devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches and TVs – with different dimensions and resolutions. And consumers want to be able to access web content anytime and from any location.
 
To ensure that website performance is optimized, bandwidth usage is minimized and users have a top-notch experience, we will need to address many challenges.

High resolution images and videos

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, it’s no surprise that website owners are using images and videos as powerful tools on their websites to engage visitors. High-resolution images look best, but these files are so big that they cause websites to load slowly and use excessive bandwidth. These problems frustrate visitors, and potentially decrease their incentive to  engage further on the website.
 
Loading image
 
Whether your users are visiting your site from a phone or a computer, it’s imperative that it loads quickly. Gabriel A. Mays, founder of Just Add Content, a website platform for businesses, told CIO magazine that developers should “Aim to keep website load time to [a few] seconds or less. Your biggest threat isn't a competitor, it's the back button. If your website loads too slowly, customers won't wait around. They'll go elsewhere.”
 
When addressing these issues:
  • Resize images/videos to match device resolution – One size doesn’t fit all, particularly with the increasing number of devices of different sizes being adopted by consumers.
  • Leverage modern image formats or video codecs – For images, consider using WebP, with automatic fallback to JPEG or other formats for browsers that don’t support newer formats. With video, consider the codecs, frame rate and bit-rate to save file size and bandwidth.
  • Adjust the quality level – There is a tradeoff between compression levels and visual quality to ensure a satisfactory user experience without excessive bandwidth use.
New types of images are introduced almost daily, requiring we stay on trend and learn how to best display them on our websites. For example, Apple introduced Live Photo, kind of a hybrid between a static image and video, combining a photo with other moments before and after it was taken, and displays them with movement and sound. What is the best way to support uploading, transforming and displaying these new forms of content? How might one ensure that these images are bandwidth and storage efficient and visually appealing, regardless of the device where it’s viewed? 

Greater use of video - upstream and downstream

It’s undeniable that video is becoming a primary component on the web – from the videos uploaded by website owners to attract visitors, to the videos being uploaded by users to share with the public. By 2019,  nearly a million minutes of video content will cross the network every second , according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index
 
User uploaded videos
 
As users upload greater quantities of videos, so will grow the task of making videos of various qualities, dimensions and aspect ratios fit into the graphic design of a website or mobile app.
 
But it’s not just the number of minutes of video being uploaded, it’s the resolution. Today’s devices are made to handle high resolution video, and as a result, 4K video is increasing in popularity. But the huge resolution translates into long upload and download times; need for increased storage space; and intensive client-side processing that is required to convert, resize and manipulate these videos.
 
This requires us to normalize and optimize 4K and high-res video specifically for web and mobile devices, and leverage responsive technology that will enable us to deliver the smallest file size while still maintaining the highest visual quality to match the user’s device, browser and network speed.

Responsive design

Probably the most debated issue these days is responsive design. Responsive design enables the same website to adapt to different resolutions, with various techniques, ensuring images and videos look and operate properly on the plethora of devices in use today, at various resolutions. 
 
Google, as well as standards organization W3C, Microsoft and Apple, are all trying to simplify responsive design with solutions built into web browsers. But these aren’t sufficient. For example, the Client Hints solution that’s being promoted by Google is only supported in Chrome, so additional work is required to ensure your images are displayed properly on other browsers.
 
Many devices require responsive design
 
Another option includes relying on the new HTML5 features - specifically the <picture> element and the 'srcset' attribute of the <img> element - to define the various image resolutions and art-directed cropped and manipulated image versions within the HTML code. 
 
There are two problems with this approach: 
  1. Not all browsers support the modern HTML5 features, so workarounds must be developed as a fallback mechanism for browsers that don’t. However Google has been supporting modern HTML5 elements in Chrome for awhile, and Microsoft and Safari are adding support for responsive design to the latest versions of their browsers.
  2. While the browsers automatically select the best matching images for each device and resolution, the browser doesn’t automatically create the images. This requires double (or triple or quadruple…) the work, pre-creating multiple different image versions, or alternatively using a dynamic image manipulation service.
Additionally, these solutions do not focus on finding the appropriate Responsive Breakpoints. When creating a responsive website, choosing the correct image resolutions and how many different image versions to include in your responsive website is called Responsive Breakpoints. 
While breakpoints can technically be any size, ideally they should be set at the optimal resolutions and sizes of images needed to best fit the various devices and screen sizes on which your website will be viewed.
For determining breakpoints, developers need a solution that helps them decide which image resolutions are needed, create multiple images, and integrate with their HTML code or leverage Javascript solutions. 
 
To solve this issue, Cloudinary last year launched a Responsive Image Breakpoints Generator tool, which efficiently and intelligently calculates the image breakpoints.
 
Recently, we also launched our "Auto-everything" solution, taking Cloudinary's cloud-based image management solution to the next level using automatic content-aware and context-aware image adaptation. Within this, we introduced two new transformation parameters, which pair the 'DPR' and 'Width' Client Hints with our existing image resizing and delivery infrastructure, in order to serve up simple, automatic responsive images.

Moving forward

The evolution of video and image formats, coupled with constant innovation in devices and displays, will continue to raise challenges, as developers seek to create a superb user experience while minimizing the impact on bandwidth, storage and website performance.
 
Effectively managing high resolution files, adeptly handling the growing amount of video both incorporated in designs and uploaded by users, and incorporating responsive design techniques as described above can help address some of today’s challenges, and establish a good foundation for future best practices.

Recent Blog Posts

Techniques for Image Enhancement With Cloudinary

Indisputably, visual presentations of events, places, people, and even intangible things make deeper impressions and linger in our minds for longer than words or any other communication medium, hence the meteoric rise through the ages of transmitting ideas and promoting brands in the business sector through images. The recent discovery of the first image of a black hole has generated calls for techniques for enhancing digital images. Specifically, the clamor is for quality-oriented tweaks that would result in optimal display and increased visibility of slightly hidden yet important content.

Read more
Video Manipulations and Delivery for Angular Video Apps

On social media, videos posted by users constitute a significant amount of the content appeal on those platforms. From upload to manipulation to delivery, a smooth, efficient, and effective pipeline for the posting process is mandatory to ensure consistent user sessions and their steadily increasing volume. However, building such an infrastructure is a complex, labor-intensive, and problem-prone undertaking.

Read more
Green Screen Queen: Dynamic Video Transparency Fit For Royalty

If you were reading your social media or news feeds on or around June 11 this year, no doubt you came across your fair share of posts about Queen Elizabeth and her outfit-color faux pas. For her 90th birthday, she chose a solid neon green suit, and it didn't take long for Photoshop fanatics to suggest alternative designs for the Queen's green-screen threads.

Read more
Content-Aware Automatic Cropping for Video

Delivering videos according to the aspect ratios defined by social media for multiple devices and platforms is a growing challenge. The continuously rising volume of vertical videos and the corresponding increase in video traffic on mobile devices (now up to 57% of online videos watched) have only exacerbated the situation, with no letup in sight.

Read more
Use a custom function in the image delivery pipeline

Cloudinary offers a wide array of image manipulations and effects to apply to images as part of our image-processing pipeline, helping to ensure that your images fit the graphic design of your website or mobile application. Cloudinary is an open platform, and you can use our APIs, Widgets and UI to build the media management flow that matches your needs.

Read more