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John Deubert’s AcrobatiX: Movies in PDF Documents

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Have you ever wished your love letter could show a movie right there on the PDF page? Think of it: You on one knee, declaring your love, swearing eternal fealty (or, too often in my case, begging forgiveness). No? Well, fire up your imagination, because author John Deubert shows you how PDF files are really good at video and how it’s so easy to do.
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A friend of mine recently took up the didgeridoo, of all things. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a native Australian wind instrument that is what you’d get if you overfed a kazoo for several years. He’s enjoying it, to all appearances, and it would be a harmless eccentricity if not for his tendency to over-evangelize his enthusiasms. He’s been pestering me to design a PDF-based brochure promoting his didgeridoo lessons. He thought it’d be nice if it had an embedded video, because many people may not know what a didgeridoo is (a reasonable worry).

Fine, he’s a friend; I’ll spend the time, pretending I wasn’t in the middle of alphabetizing my collection of ceramic Star Wars characters.

However, it does occur to me that embedding movies on a PDF page is an underused feature of Acrobat; most people just don’t think of PDF files as multimedia documents.

Well, nothing makes an impression (good, bad, but never indifferent) like a PDF-format Valentine card with a movie of you crooning a love song. (Test the Valentine out on your dog first; if it starts to sing along, you probably should send something else.)

Let’s see how to do this.

Where We’re Going with This

Let’s start at the end; let’s look at what will be the result of our upcoming labors. Figure 1 shows our Up Didgeridoo document; what we have is an ad with a small amount of text and a fairly large-format video demonstrating the glories of the didgeridoo. Note that there are also a couple of controls for starting and pausing the video.

Figure 1 Here’s our finished product: a PDF page with an embedded movie and two buttons for starting and pausing that movie.

The placed video started its life as a movie file taken with an iPhone; I converted it to an MP4 file to reduce its size, and then embedded it on the PDF page. What you see in Figure 1 is actually the movie’s “poster,” a still-image placeholder that gives the user something to look at when the movie isn’t playing.

Acrobat will play the placed video whenever the user clicks on it with the Hand tool. However, it isn’t obvious to a casual viewer that the picture they see on the page is, in fact, a video. There is a small “play” icon in the lower-left corner of the poster, visible in Figure 1, but it’s pretty easy to miss.

That’s why I always put my own, highly visible Play button on the page; I often include a Pause button, as well, I did in this article’s example. We’ll see how to do these, too.

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