What do we want? Information.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
HTML5 has been heralded as a life changing upgrade to the current HTML standard. Perhaps the greatest hype surrounds the way video is handled in the standard. Claims abound but the reality is much simpler. Potentially, there may be some efficiencies to be gained but these will rely on the browser makers. So what makes HTML5 video special?
Currently, video is served in a web page via a plug-in or ActiveX control. Web browsers do not have the ability to render the content directly. It's not built in. Enter HTML5. One goal of HTML5 is to eliminate the need for third-party plug-ins and create a rendering experience akin to the way text and images (jpeg, gif, png) are handled- completely inline. Let the browser do the video rendering. The problem is that video comes in many flavors - QuickTime, Windows Media, WebM, Ogg and many more. Browser makers will need to decide which of these standards to support. Given the history of cross-browser interoperability - the challenges will fall on the web developer to solve - detecting and serving the proper content that a user's browser supports. What will go away are the prompts and pop-ups to upgrade your media player plug-in or to install an ActiveX control, in theory.
Video will still buffer, still rely on 'the network' and still be unavailable on some devices. HTML5 is not a miracle drug but it does streamline the inclusion of video and audio in future browsers. Many browsers support the HTML5 standard today but to take advantage of that fact you'll need to upgrade to the latest version. As history has demonstrated, there continues to be inconsistent support between IE, FireFox and Safari- different video standards and different levels of support for the HTML5 standard as a whole. That means that a web site owner must either detect and serve the appropriate video format or leave their viewers with the all-to-familiar message "this site is optimized for fill in the blank".
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