3 min read

HTML5 Video - The alternative to Flash

Flash, a great delight for rich web content like streaming video on site as YouTube and Vimeo but a major annoyance as blinking ad banners. And irritation doesn't end there with this browser plugin. Just do a search on Flash and security and you'll see what I mean. This plugin is leakier than...uhmmm...something rather leaky but there might be some good news on the way.

The good news is that browsers are going to support native (high definition) video soon by adding support for the embedding '<video>-tag' in a  HTML page with the arrival of HTML5 (HTML is the basis of  every website) and there for Flash might soon be a thing of the past.

However there is still a bit of an issue on the codec that will be used. To quote a piece of Can I Play HTML5 YouTube Videos in Firefox Right Now? by Lifehacker:

The Problem

In order to move to HTML5 from Flash, video sites like YouTube need to host their videos in formats friendly to Flash-free HTML5 embedding. Unfortunately there's no default standard for the format HTML5 videos should use.

As a dedicated open-source, open-standards browser, Firefox chose to support the Ogg Theora video format for HTML5 video. Like Firefox, Ogg Theora is free and open; it's not covered by any patents, so it requires no licensing and is completely free to use for everyone involved.

Other browser makers, like Chrome and Safari, support H.264 for HTML5 video. Unlike Ogg Theora, H.264 is patented, and would theoretically require browser makers to pay licensing fees to use it (though the company that owns licensing rights to H.264 have said that they'll offer it royalty free until 2016). Additionally, the issue isn't just about licensing.

Some tests have shown H.264 to perform better than Ogg Theora in side-by-side comparisons. Apple's stance on the matter, via Wikipedia, is that "H.264 performs better and is already more widely supported." For video sites like YouTube, the main concern is likely which format can deliver the highest quality video with the greatest compression rates. Unfortunately for Team Firefox (and supporters of free and open web standards), it's looking like H.264 might deliver the best results.

It's worth nothing that browsers can support multiple video formats for HTML5 support, but currently Chrome is the only browser that supports both H.264 and Ogg Theora (though through the Frankenstein efforts of Google Chrome Frame, Internet Explorer also gets support for both). The chart below (from Wikipedia) lays it all out:

As you can see, unless either Firefox changes its stance or sites like YouTube decide to support a free alternative like Ogg Theora, Firefox fanatics don't have a clear way to watch HTML5 YouTube videos.
As you can see HTML5  is quite new and not every browser supports it yet or even in the same way. It seems that it's always a hassle to get everybody on the same page of a standard. However Google Chrome supports both video formats so that's a safe bet if you want a HTML5 (Video) compliant browser for now.

If you would like to try out HTML5 video experiment on YouTube you can opt-in for it on this page. You either need Google Chrome, Safari, Google Chrome Frame with Internet Explorer or even with Firefox by using a workaround posted about by Lifehacker here . I can also see where Apple might be very intressed in HTML5 in the long run as they don't support Flash on any of their mobile devices like iPhone and the recently released iPad.

HTML5 goodness doesn't end with video though. Another example of HTML5 usage is Sketchpad.

17 March 2010 - Update:
Vimeo has a similair beta test running for HTML5 video. You can read more about it here.

20 March 2010 - Update:
Totally forgot to mention that as for now HTML5 video will not be available in fullscreen size.

12 May 2010 - Update:
A friend pointed me towards this incredible find, a great way to access your VNC server with just a HTML5 compliant browser.