Given that the volume shown in an in-line video player (e.g. Flash or Silverlight) is relative to the system volume (i.e. 100% volume in the player is 100% of the current system volume level), what should the default volume of the player be set to?

YouTube and Vimeo default to 100%, and remember your setting across sessions if you change it. JWPlayer defaults to 80%, and some other players that I've seen default to 50%. I can't seem to find any authoritative sources on this, but my inclination is that it should be 100% (with the option to reduce, obviously), as the user has their system volume set to the level they want, already. Any best practices in this arena?

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    Don't forget VLC, which defaults to 100% but can go up to 400%. – JoJo Jul 18 '11 at 21:17

I think it depends upon the kind of website, and whether your video automatically plays when the page has loaded.

People who visit YouTube are expecting to find videos and they're there to watch them. People who visit other sites may not be expecting video. If you're building a corporate site that happens to have a video interview of the CEO on one page, or their patented widget technology in action, and the videos autoplay, your default volume should be mute.

If your target audience is going to expect autoplaying video on every page, you should set the starting volume to 80%. That way the user can easily adjust the volume up or down to compensate for inconsistencies in the sound level.

If you produced all the video yourself and the sound levels are consistent, you could think about saving the user-defined volume as a cookie and reading it on other pages. Otherwise, you don't know what the user was listening to previously so 100% volume could be intrusive.

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    Absolutely agreed that auto-playing video (on sites that are not "video sharing sites") should be muted. If 80% is the recommendation, how do you explain that most video sharing sites default to 100%?(I should note that in our case, we already produce videos to be normalized to 80% amplitude) – Daniel Newman Jul 19 '11 at 18:21
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    @Daniel: If you produce videos with specific sound levels, I would happily exempt you from my 80% rule ;) However, not all content creators are as savvy as you and this can lead to a varied user experience: google.com/support/forum/p/youtube/… – Kalessin Jul 19 '11 at 18:43
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    I've yet to stumble on a video sharing site where the audio was too loud, user-generated content always lack gain from my experience unless they're professionally mastered. This is not an explanation, but this makes me personally prefer 100% as the default or I'll almost always have to adjust it compared to other audio generating sources and applications - which is annoying. – Oskar Duveborn Jul 19 '11 at 21:37

Set it to 50%.

If you set it to 100% it could be startling. Say for example someone is using headphones and they were just listening to iTunes. Let's say they had the system volume at 100%, but iTunes volume at 30%, which was a nice comfortable volume for their music. They pause their music and start up your inline player and it blasts them at 100%, startling them, maybe causing them to jump or toss off their headphones. I am sure most of us have been there before.

Worst case of having the volume too low? Nothing really, just turn it up. Worst case of having it too high - startling the user, causing them to jump - not good. Will some people avoid this scenario? Sure. But when there are negative effects potentially involved, err on the side of caution and go with something like 50% or 35%.

  • Worst case of having the volume too low is the user turns it up at the system level (as @JoJo pointed out in response to another question). Then later they get blasted by the iTunes music. – Patrick McElhaney Jul 19 '11 at 19:02

If you have it at 100% and then try to increase the volume, you can't. You have to go to the system volume. If you have it at 50%, then the user will wonder, why is this so low. The only reason to have a volume control is because you might want ONE window to be louder than another window.

My suggestion would be to include a MUTE button (Crap, this is loud, shut it off) and no other volume control at all. They have a system setting for that.

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    Isn't there something to be said for matching the convention that "web video players have volume controls"? See a related StackOverflow question – Daniel Newman Jul 18 '11 at 21:22
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    @Glen - it's not so black and white as that. You do need a volume control. Many times I get a recording that has been recorded very loudly - so I want to reduce the volume of that particular item. It hardly ever happens the other way round. Or - maybe I want to reduce the volume of this item, but I don't want to affect the volume of Spotify when I get back to my own (possibly louder) music. – Roger Attrill Jul 18 '11 at 22:24
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    I agree with Glen, but I'm not sure general users will agree. I already have a physical speaker knob, volume keys on my keyboard, and volume controls on my Windows tray. Why would I need a fourth way to control volume? How in the world will I keep track of how all 4 volume controls multiply for the final loudness? – JoJo Jul 19 '11 at 5:19
  • @Roger Isn't it easier to just adjust the volume again when you go back to Spotify? I think Glen and JoJo are on to something. Ideally, there should be one volume setting for the whole computer, even if there are multiple UIs to change it. – Patrick McElhaney Jul 19 '11 at 19:24
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    This is how I see it: I have my favourite music player which I use every day. I have it set up just right for headphones or for speakers if they're on. Skype works great with no vol adjustment needed when someone calls me out of the blue. Everything has it's local volume just right. When I hear audio on a website, I want localised volume control on that too, so I don't have to fiddle with the main volume. Otherwise I'll have to set it back later for Spotify, or when I get called on Skype. Vol control in local context to each playing medium: close the webpage & nothing more to do. Perfect. – Roger Attrill Jul 19 '11 at 19:49

Autoplay (on a page with other content OR a page the user does not expect audio): start mute. Any unwanted sound gives a bad UX

User Initiated: (including pages that a user navigates to for the sole purpose of watching a video) start at 100% and (perhaps remember settings like YouTube). Nested volume can be confusing for users. Many already have their OS volume settings and their speakers settings set ideally. Users are familiar with their system controls and not your custom UI. They will reach for their own controls first because they don't even know if your player has any. Why should a user have to work out where you put the volume slider AND how to use it just to be able to put the audio of your video (that they chose to watch) above the volume of system sounds?

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    +1. This answer properly incorporates the decision around whether the content is expected or not. – tohster Jun 9 '15 at 5:07

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