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While I can understand that when a video is fullscreen the media controls are hidden to offer the entire viewport to the video and create an immersive experience, I've been curious about when the video is not fullscreen.

When a YouTube video is embedded in a webpage, the media controls are only shown when the video is paused or currently being hovered over. I don't believe this is purely to create an immersive experience, as there is other (potentially distracting) content around, such as related videos, comments and chat, etc.

Surely this is contributes towards a bad experience, as it hides the most commonly used controls on the interface.

YouTube Video

Other video streaming services also seem to do the same thing, although a lot of desktop video software (such as VLC) seem to keep the controls on-screen by default.

The only possible reason for this I can see is to hide the progress bar so the viewer can't see how far along in the video they are, meaning that they can be more immersed in it regardless of other elements on the screen. Is there anything else this behaviour contributes to?

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Clearly hiding them is better than always overlaying them, so the question is then on the downsides of having them instead below the video.

The first disadvantage with them being below the video is that it's distracting. Unlike the other elements around the video, the controls move. Not only that, but they're close to the video itself, and high in complexity. Hiding them thus makes the video more prominent.

Consider that, right now, just below the video is rather spaced out, with only a little text and some very muted grays.

Below a cat video.

The second disadvantage is consistency. When you're fullscreen, the overlay you see doesn't change. The video just gets bigger. This makes it a more seamless to transition between the two.

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I can still remember when YouTube videos had transport controls visible all the time.

As YouTube videos are usually embedded in other webpages the transport controls need to be included within the embedded object.

However, this takes up room on the page. In order to minimize the area on the page, the controls are tucked into the playback area and hidden when not required.

I think this change went through around 2006-2007 although I could be wrong on that (there were lots of complaints from users at the time).

As for exposing commonly used controls; yes, they are the most commonly used controls but, a) they're not used as often as you think and b) as soon as you reach for them they appear.

As far as I am aware this has nothing to do with an "immersive experience".

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The playback controls on YouTube are overlayed on top of the video. If the controls would not disappear, the bottom part of the video would stay obscured.

Other software, such as VLC, place their controls outside of the video area, and as such do not need to be hidden.

  • However it would be trivial for the video controls to be placed outside the video area and as a separate element nearby (even if it's attached to the bottom instead of overlayed). If this were the problem then why wouldn't the designers have worked around that? – Liam Hammett May 19 '16 at 14:41
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One reason would be to allow video content on the bottom of the screen to remain visible. My first thought would be not to obscure any subtitles. Secondly, they need the real estate to show their own ads and content on the bottom of the screen :-).

Perhaps there are also technical considerations which have to do with embedding video. After all, VLC is software whereas YouTube is a web service. (but I think Andrew already has that covered)

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