When working with multimedia in design projects, it’s natural to want to include video content in your PDFs. However, it’s important to understand that the use of video in PDFs can be problematic in a number of ways and may not provide the consistent support and playback that you desire.

Issue One: Video Format Compatibility

One of the main issues with using video in PDFs is that the format of the video file can be inconsistent across different browsers and operating systems. While certain video formats may play correctly on one system (e.g., an mov on a Mac), they may not be compatible with another system. To avoid this issue, it’s recommended to use an MP4 file format for your video, as it is the most consistent format across different browsers and operating systems.

Issue Two: Playback Control & Permissions

Another issue with using video in PDFs is that the playback controls and overall user experience can be inconsistent. When exporting to PDF from Adobe InDesign, selecting the Adobe PDF (Interactive) option instead of the Print option is crucial. However, even with this selection, you may receive a warning that the PDF contains media content without playback controls.

InDesign warning that PDF video will lack controls

Worse that the lack of controls, though, is that the end user may have to enable permissions to view video in the official Adobe Reader.

PDF forces the user to click the video first

First by clicking on the video, which isn’t entirely obvious since there’s not a play button…end then by opening the multimedia settings.

PDf multimedia warning

This can be a frustrating experience for clients, as it creates a lot of friction in the playback experience and the user may have trouble following instructions to enable the video.

But wait…there’s yet another fun hurdle!

Issue Three: The PDF Reader App

Additionally, the problem with PDFs is that you don’t know what application a user will open the PDF in. You can’t assume it will be the Adobe Reader or Acrobat. For example, if a user opens a PDF in a browser or in Preview on a Mac, the video may not be visible or accessible at all. This can lead to confusion and disappointment for the user, and can reflect poorly on the designer or organization creating the PDF.

Video is not playable

The video appears as a still image in Chrome, without the ability to play the video.

Video absent in Preview app

The video and the poster image are completely missing in Apple Preview.

If you send this PDF to your clients, you risk them seeing the broken page depicted above. So what should you use instead of PDF for video?

HTML Solutions to the Rescue

A simple (and free) solution to this problem is to use the File > Publish Online option in InDesign. This allows you to export your document as a web-based version, where the video will be visible and accessible to the user in their browser. By publishing your document online, you can ensure that the video playback is consistent across different systems and that the user experience is seamless. Additionally, by publishing online, you can also gain some simple analytics on how many people are visiting your document (though not on video playback).

Publish Online export dialog

Publish Online exports from InDesign.

Publish Online video controls

The video is viewable online, but you can’t customize the controls within Publish Online.

Another fancier (but paid) alternative to using video in PDFs is to use a tool like in5 (InDesign to HTML5), which allows you to export your InDesign document to an interactive HTML5 format. This format allows you to create a webpage that can be accessed by anyone with a web browser and internet connection, making it much more accessible than a PDF. With in5, you can export your InDesign document including interactive elements like video, audio, animations, and more.

Unlike Publish Adobe, which is hosted on an Adobe web server, in5 lets you export the files directly to your computer and you have full control to post your content to any web server of your choosing.

in5 video controls

The in5 Video widget lets you customize the playback & skin of the video.

in5 video with custom skin

Here’s the custom video skin shown in the browser.

The other advantage of using in5 is that the video playback is more consistent across different devices, since the video is embedded in the HTML5 format, which is widely supported. Additionally, in5 provides the ability to add custom controls for video playback, such as play, pause, and volume controls, that are not available in PDFs. And you can embed external videos, such as those hosted on YouTube.

Additionally, in5 allows you to customize the look and feel of your entire page and add custom interactions and animations that are not possible with a PDF. It also provides the ability to create a responsive design, which means the layout of the webpage will adapt to the size of the device it’s viewed on, making it more accessible for mobile users.

in5 can also track video views (in addition to button clicks and other specifics) using Google Analytics.

In conclusion, either using the Publish Online option within InDesign, or a tool like in5 is a great alternative to using video in PDFs. It allows you to create interactive, web-based documents that provide more consistent video playback and customizable controls, as well as the ability to track the performance with analytics. in5 also provides the ability to add custom interactions and animations and create a responsive design, making it a great option for creating interactive web-based documents.

You can see all of the details from this article in the video below.

Read more about why Interactive PDFs will get you in trouble or check out what you can create with in5.

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