Instagram upgrades us all up to 1 minute streaming video from 15 second video clips

Last week, Instagram extended the 15-second limit of its videos to 60 seconds, a pretty big increase in allowable playback time and video length. Instagram had extended the video viewing time for ‘marketers’, but last week was when the feature was initially rolled out to anyone. It’s a pretty big leap, and according to Instagram, it was for one reason: people are watching a lot more video. In fact, the time users spent watching video on Instagram increased more than 40 percent in the last six months.


The Instagram developers wanted to improve video quality in general, even before the increase in video length. They discovered as you accelerate 15 seconds up to 60s and quality and speed of transcoding becomes a challenge. “One of the things we realized early on in the process is that the specs we were using for video was a one-size-fits-all kind of thing,” said Udeepta Bordoloi, a video engineer for Instagram. This is because when Instagram first launched video — back in 2013 — the networks were different, and the devices that people used were different. “They were not as up-to-date as we have today,” he said.


It makes perfect sense now that Instagram is owned wholly by Facebook. All the videos longer than 15 seconds are now transcoded on Facebook’s infrastructure rather than on Instagram’s own back-end. “It’s more flexible, it can do more things, and it makes the whole process so much faster.”


“Devices became better and we supported a better video profile,” said Bordoloi. “The file size decreased by 15 to 20 percent,” he added, but quality thankfully remained the same.


The team also worked hard to improve playback on Android. “We have all the iOS devices [in our labs] to test,” said Bordoloi. “But on Android, there’s such a variation, it’s very difficult to predict. We have to keep in mind the lowest common denominator.” This, he said, is why he’s proud that Instagram works particularly well in lower end devices. From 320-pixel screens to 1440-pixel behemoths, the team has been able to provide the same quality to different sized displays, he said.


In its 60-second video announcement post, Instagram said: “This is one step of many you’ll see this year.” So maybe interesting things to come. Like 5 minute video …


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