Media Player Accessibility
Translations of this article are available in:
- German - External Link - courtesy of Anatoli Bauer.
When delivering multimedia content for the three major media players (Windows Media Player, Quicktime and RealMedia Player), the developer must choose whether to have the viewer access the content through a player embedded in a web page or through a standalone player. Both methods have their advantages. Embedding the player in a web page allows the user to access the content without another application opening. The standalone players usually have more control options.
We tested the accessibility of each of the media players as an embedded object in a web page and as a standalone application. The players were tested for keyboard accessibility (i.e. the ability to control the media only using the keyboard) and screen reader compatibility (could the JAWS screen reader access the menus and buttons). These tests were performed on a Pentium II 433 Mhz PC with 128 MB or RAM running Windows 98 SE.
The accessibility rating is on a scale of 1 to 7. A score of 1 means the application is completely inaccessible. A score of 7 means all of the application's features are available using a keyboard.
|RealMedia Player 8 Basic||Embedded||1|
|RealMedia Player 8 Basic||Standalone||4|
|RealOne Player Basic||Embedded||1|
|RealOne Player Basic||Standalone||6|
|Quicktime Player 5||Embedded||4|
|Quicktime Player 5||Standalone||4|
|Quicktime Player 6||Embedded||4|
|Quicktime Player 6||Standalone||4|
|Windows Media Player 7||Embedded||1|
|Windows Media Player 7||Standalone||6|
|Window Media Player Series 9||Embedded||1|
|Window Media Player Series 9||Standalone||6|
RealMedia Player 8 Basic
The embedded RealMedia Player was completely inaccessible. The screen reader completely skipped the content and there was no way to control the media using the keyboard. The media did begin playing automatically when the page was loaded, but the only way to restart the media was to reload the page.
The standalone version of RealMedia Player 8 is more accessible than the embedded version. The user can stop and start the media using menus. However, the menus are the only accessible objects on the player and are insufficient to give the user complete control. For example, there is no way to adjust the volume from the menus.
RealOne Player Basic
Like its predecessor, embedded media content was totally inaccessible to the keyboard and JAWS. In Internet Explorer, any other content on the page became inaccessible to the keyboard as soon as focus was placed on the RealOne player, thus making the entire page inaccessible. This was not experienced in Netscape Navigator.
RealOne's standalone player is much more accessible than RealPlayer 8. Shortcut keys allow control over almost all aspects of media playback. Menu items were available and read in JAWS, though there was some extraneous, confusing information presented when navigating the menus. The built-in web browser was accessible, but switching from browser to media player is difficult without use of the menus, which are not read in JAWS. Once in the browser view, navigating with the tab key toggled back and forth between the media player and the browser.
Quicktime Player 5 & 6
Note: There were no noticeable differences in accessibility between Quicktime version 5 and 6
The embedded Quicktime player allows the user to start and stop the content using the space bar or Enter/Return key. The left and right arrow keys allow the user to move the media forward and backward frame by frame for non-streaming video and the up and down arrow keys control volume. Context menus are not available.
Quicktime's standalone player allows the user to control the media using the keyboard. The media can be paused/played using the spacebar, moved forward and backward frame by frame using the left and right arrow keys, and volume adjusted with the up and down arrow keys. Though the menus are keyboard accessible, they were not read by JAWS at all.
Windows Media Player 7
Windows Media Player 7 is not accessible when embedded in a web page. JAWS skips over the player as if it were not present. There is also no way to control the media using the keyboard.
All the functionality of the interface can also be controlled using the accessible menu system. There are also keyboard shortcuts for the most used functions such as controlling the volume, playing the media, etc.
Windows Media Player Series 9
Windows Media Player Series 9 is not accessible when embedded in a web page. JAWS skips over the player as if it were not present. Also, there is no way to control the media using the keyboard.
The standalone player is fully accessible. User's have access to functions with the keyboard, though item descriptions could be slightly more descriptive for JAWS and the reading order was not logical. Many items were read by Jaws that did not make sense and items seem to be read, even though they are not visible in the interface. The integrated web browser is also somewhat accessible. Keyboard shortcuts provide full media control. A shortcut is available to toggle captions on and off and to select caption languages, though the shortcut key seemed to conflict with a JAWS shortcut key and did not work in JAWS (though notably, a screen reader user would probably find little use in captions). Surprisingly, when the Series 9 player was played in skin mode, most of the extraneous information was not presented and the keyboard and screen reader accessibility increased, though reading and tab order of items seemed to be based upon distance from the upper left hand corner of the player.
The standalone versions of the three media players are far more accessible than the embedded versions. Of the three standalone players, Windows Media Player and RealOne Player presented a high level of accessibility. In all cases, newer versions of media players were at least as accessible as their predecessors, if not exponentially so. When possible, it is probably a good idea to provide the user with multiple options for accessing your media content.