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Nick Plante

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

HTML5 Video Arrives

January 23, 2010

Earlier this week YouTube rolled out experimental support for HTML5 video (replacing the standard Flash vide player interface). Does this signal the beginning of serious HTML5 adoption in mainstream web applications? And maybe the beginning of the end of proprietary browser plugins for video playback? Read on to discuss.

If you're using a browser that supports HTML5 video you can visit this page (TestTube) and toggle it on. After that, visiting other YouTube pages will display the embedded videos using the browsers' built-in video player rather than rendering it in Flash.

The benefits of supporting video through HTML5 are basically that users will no longer have to depend on proprietary vendor solutions from Adobe (Flash) and Microsoft (Silverlight) to render video. And the video markup is (gasp!) standards-compliant and validates properly. 

To use HTML5 Video on YouTube you need to be using one of the supported browsers, which include Google's Chrome and Safari. Although FireFox 3.6 was released this week as well, including HTML5 Video support, the new version only supports videos encoded with the open-source Ogg format. YouTube, on the other hand, is broadcasting videos in H.264, a commercial codec embraced by many commercial Internet giants like Google and Apple.

Unfortunately his particular codec debate has been raging on for quite some time now, ultimately leading HTML5 spec editor Ian Hickson to strip the codec specification from the official document. Although the lack of a compromise from vendors on this issue is a bit disappointing,  hopefully it won't derail adoption. YouTube's choice to roll out support for HTML5 H.264 may be telling, but for now it remains to be seen.

Of course, HTML5 going mainstream means a lot more than just a nicer, less complicated way to play video and audio on the web. It also means improved interfaces for web forms, new text level semantic elements, the much-talked-about canvas element (used to render bitmap canvases for game graphics and other purposes), and microdata annotations, among other features.

If you'd like to see more examples of HTML5 in action, ReadWriteWeb recently highlighted a number of compelling demonstrations that illustrate its potential as a "Flash Killer". A number of other Canvas demos are available too. If some of these don't wet your appetite, I'm not sure what will. It's impressive stuff, and guaranteed to result in compelling new web services.

Hungry for more? The definitive source of information is the official specification, which is (still) a work in progress at this stage. But even though it hasn't yet been finalized, it's nice to see support for some of these much-needed features finally working its way into commercial web properties and mainstream browsers.

Now we just have to finish moving corporate IT users off of IE6 and we'll be all set :).

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