HTML5 Video – It’s a long way ’til JQuery

By Larry B, September 14, 2010
The hype around HTML5 video is finally getting pierced with a dose of reality.  That reality, as far as I can see, is that HTML5 is a nascent idea of something that will undoubtedly be useful some day. But at the moment, for many of us publishing video to the 'Net, it's more of a problem than a solution. Some great thoughts on the issue have come from Jan Ozer at the Streaming Learning Center, and technical analyst extraordinare at streamingmedia.com. In his article, The Five Key Myths About HTML5, Jan points out that in practice, supporting HTML5 means encoding multiple formats of everything, an inability to do live streaming or on-demand stremaing using a true streaming protocol, working around numerous browser incompatibilities, and no adaptive/dynamic streaming. He summarizes:
  • No major media sitepresents HTML5 as their primary viewing optionHTML5-compatible browser penetration is low, and will continue to be well into the future
  • Though HTML5 is great for low volume video playback, it lacks many critical features currently available in plug-in based technologies
  • Full HTML5 support will require 2 or 3 times the encoding chores of Flash support
Longtail Video's Jeroen Wijering, maker of the popular JW FLV Player and JW Silverlight Player wrote in HTML5 Video: Not Quite There Yet:
The video tag is still in its infancy and misses certain core functionalities. As developers demand these features, browser vendors are tempted to implement incompatible solutions instead of agreeing upon standards. These hasty developments, already underway, are setting HTML video up for the same chaos  as HTML styling in the pre-CSS era.
We remember those days...multiple coding and testing for every possible brower combination, and any web application with an interesting, innovative, or especially responsive UI (using CSS and DOM-manipulation) was fragile and expensive to maintain. Eventually, standards got better and better-supported, and libraries like ExtJS and JQuery provided abstraction that made authoring powerful and reliable applications easier.  Things in a web app that used to be done with a Flash or Java applet UI are now routinely done using these Javascript/CSS libraries.

So there's hope for HTML5 video, but it's not there yet and it won't be there for years. The hype around HTML5 isn't matched by the reality - which is that it's a pain that complicates our work in streaming; and that Flash or Silverlight are going to be better choices for most purposes for some time to come.

In the direction of standard libraries to make life easier for the streaming publisher, Longtail Video has just released a Beta of their JW Player 5.3, which seamlessly integrates Flash and HTML5 support.  It's got a whole new API for embedding and Javascript event handling; and it lets you set the HTML5 failover in either or two options:

  1. Use HTML5 wherever it's supported, otherwise failover to Flash
  2. Use Flash unless it's not supported, then failover to HTLM5.
I'll be testing the 5.3 Beta player over the next few days and will post my impressions.