Is there any good reason when creating an online video player to use the space bar as a pause control only when the user is fullscreen?

I notice quite a few big video sites follow the space used as pause only when on fullscreen mode (ie: hulu, netflix, youtube). I am currently making an online media app and am not sure if I should follow this convention.

3 Answers 3


I don't know for certain, but I would say that pausing a playback is the most common interaction a user does to a running video. Therefore mapping the most accessible keyboard button, space, to access that feature seems quite straightforward. I believe this was the line of thought when the first instance of this occurred in either a video or audio playback program. And from there it has pretty much become an unwritten rule.

And FYI, the 'space-to-pause' feature in youtube and other embedded video players is still available outside full screen mode. Thing is though that this requires that the player has to be focused, if the user has interacted with anything outside the video player in the browser the mapping between the video player and the keyboard is lost, and therefore the 'space-to-pause' feature could appear as being unavailable outside full screen mode.


                           is a nice large key that people can press easily from a distance. (Fitts's Law)

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    Additionally: In a non-fullscreen context, the space bar is often used to page down.
    – duskwuff
    Dec 20, 2011 at 3:17
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    @NullUserException - Perhaps, though it means it's reachable from all parts of the keyboard with both hands (even for fairly small hands). This is a bit off-topic though. :-)
    – Anonymous
    Dec 20, 2011 at 9:04
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    Until windows media player came and set "Ctr+P" as the play/pause command :D
    – Manu
    Dec 20, 2011 at 14:04
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    @Manu: Yes; I can't stand that.
    – SLaks
    Dec 20, 2011 at 14:16
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    @Manu who uses WMP?! X) Dec 20, 2011 at 15:58

'Current Focus': If the application is not running in full screen, it may not be in focus at times. I would therefore think the idea is to avoid unintentionally picking up a spacebar (or any) key stroke actually meant for another window.

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    I think you have the cause & effect backwards. It's not the video site/player developers who are designing the UI like this to avoid picking up unintentional spacebar presses. It's the browser and OS developers who've implemented the concept of object focus as the way to determin which UI object to send keystrokes to. Therefore, when the video player plugin isn't in focus (which is less frequently the case in fullscreen mode), it won't respond to the spacebar. But you can still pause YT videos and such using space outside of fullscreen mode if the plugin is in focus. Dec 20, 2011 at 12:12

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