I’ve now got all of my home videos across all of my devices, accessible via iCloud Photo Library. I’ve done a little bit of testing over the last few weeks and can now report on how iCloud Photo Library performs for on-demand video viewing.
First off, videos don’t ever appear to download as optimized versions. iCloud Photo Library has two storage options: downloading everything to your device, or downloading only “optimized” versions of your media. I chose the latter in order to save space. As such, in order to play anything that isn’t already downloaded, I’ve got to tap on a video thumbnail, tap on the Play button, and then wait a good 5–10s until the video begins to play. Even over Wi-Fi, playback at this point can still be a little spotty, and there have been multiple occasions where my videos have stopped in order to buffer more.
In practice, this delay in playback has actually killed a few opportunities to show a cool video I had on my iPad. I wanted to show a few workmates a choreographed dance I had filmed a year ago, but the buffering took embarrassingly long to happen, and we just ended up spending a good 30 seconds staring at a static screenshot of the video. Tagging a video as a “Favourite” doesn’t help pre-load it either. For iCloud Photo Library to be useful for video, an option to queue a video for download is needed (badly).
Photos also really needs to show which files have actually be downloaded — and to what extent. I want to see a simple icon or colour indicator over videos that have been downloaded to my device, instead of having to tap on thumbnails and just guess.
I like iCloud Photo Library well enough for photos, but it’s not really performing as expected for video. Given that I have it set to “optimize” my photos and videos, I would want my iPad to automatically download lower-res versions of all of my videos for quick playback, and then an option to download the full-res version for high quality playback. I understand that videos — especially at their current 1080p resolution — take up a lot of space and are tricky to stream, but this current system of tapping and guessing is not the right solution. iCloud Photo Library’s current setup doesn’t feel like the magic solution it’s marketed to be — and it’s ruining the illusion of the cloud as a reliable and immediate file system.