HTML5 Video Juggernaut Continues

Stephen Yagielowicz

LOS ANGELES — While perhaps not yet ready for prime time, HTML5 video is making clear inroads into the online video arena — and adult producers are watching.

According to Wikipedia, the most current versions of popular browsers including Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Google Chrome and Apple Safari all implement HTML5 to a large degree. However, the online encyclopedia is quick to point out that a large percentage of Internet users continue to use older browser software versions, including Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 (the newest version available to the countless users of the legacy Windows XP operating system), preventing HTML5 from properly working on a significant percentage of web browsers currently in use today.

So far, that is…

HTML5 has been under development since 2003, with final ratification not expected until 2022 — so keeping this extended timeline in consideration when developing web video deployment plans will provide a pertinent perspective. You may not want to update your website today, but (hopefully) you’ll want to within the next decade, so coping with the issue of deploying an “incomplete” technology will be inevitable; thus understanding the available options for smoothing this transition will put you a step ahead of the game.

Although the uses of Flash and HTML5 both transcend video playback, its important to realize that at least on the video front, the race to the finish line is apparently over — as Adobe has conceded the win by announcing the effective cessation of its mobile Flash development track. The rest of the writing is one the wall — and on the web:

“Adobe’s withdrawal from the mobile browser space means that HTML5 is now the path forward for developers who want to reach everyone and deliver an experience that works across all screens,” Ryan Paul wrote for Ars Technica. “The strengths and limitations of existing standards will now have significant implications for content creators who want to deliver video content on the post-Flash web.”

Paul says that HTML5 offers much for video delivery, including the video element’s ability to seamlessly mesh with the page’s document object model (DOM), allowing easy manipulation via JavaScript.

“This means that HTML5 video offers significantly better native integration with page content than it has ever been possible to achieve with Flash,” Paul continues, noting that video clips will no longer be confined to a rectangle embedded in a page and adding that “HTML5 breaks down the barriers between video content and the rest of the web, opening the door for more innovation in content presentation.”

A number of challenges remain on the road to finding a high-volume live streaming solution that employs open codecs and standards, however, with Paul noting that two of the major issues facing HTML5 video adoption are a lack of native support for adaptive streaming; and no solid consensus surrounding the most appropriate codec — a choice that was once considered a hands-down win for H.264.

“There is currently an impasse between backers of the popular H.264 codec and Google’s royalty-free VP8 codec,” Paul explains. “There’s no question that a royalty-free video format is ideal for the web, but the matter of whether VP8 is truly unencumbered by patents — and also meets the rest of the industry’s technical requirements — is still in dispute.”

But the message is simple: Flash might be nice, but proprietary licensing strategies hamper web growth so a new alternative standard must be found — even if it isn’t pretty.

Both of those statements may be somewhat unfair, as proprietary software played a big role in the growth of the Internet, while the Open Source nature of HTML5 ensures that legions of developers will address any “product maturation” issues in a democratic way that brings the benefits of codesourcing to the evolving standard.

Still, the trend is clear.

“Flash still has a significant presence on the Internet, but it’s arguably a legacy technology that will decline in relevance as mobile experiences become increasingly important,” Paul continued. “The faster pace of development and shorter release cycles in the browser market will allow open standards to mature faster and gain critical mass more quickly than before.”

“In an environment where standards-based technologies are competitive for providing rich experiences,” Paul adds, “proprietary vendor-specific plugins [such as Adobe Flash] will be relegated to playing a niche role.”

But this doesn’t mean there is no foreseeable widespread future for Flash, as issues over content copyright protection and digital rights management (DRM) complicate the scene and will ensure Flash video a home for the immediate future and beyond, despite effective DRM for HTML5 being on the way.

Netflix, which already uses HTML5 for certain applications, supports the new DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) delivery initiative, being promulgated by the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG), as a method of addressing several shortcomings inherent in HTML5 when streaming Internet video — including enabling better DRM.

With large players such as Google, Netflix and YouTube pushing for HTML5 video, you can be certain that the Open Source technology’s future is assured — regardless of the various incarnations it assumes along the way.

It’s just a matter of making a graceful transition.

As adult operators seek to understand how HTML5 video will impact their business’ supply and distribution chains, it seems clear that today, and for the near term future, the question should not be, “Which should I use, HTML5 or Flash?” the question should be, “How can I best use HTML5 and Flash together?”

Stay tuned to XBIZ as the story unfolds.