The future of web video: Flash, HTML5, open standards and video codecs with strange names

You may have noticed an influx of articles about web video lately. This is largely due to Apple’s recent snubbing of Adobe Flash content on their iPad, iPhone and iPod devices and Steve Jobs’ unequivocal smackdown of Adobe.

While Apple’s criticism of Flash as a ‘closed system’ might warrant responses involving words like pot and kettle, it has opened up an interested debate on web standards and the delivery of video and other interactive content online.

If you aren’t involved in web development this probably doesn’t seem of great concern. But if you have ever battled with installing or updating browser plugins on a closed network than the benefits become clear.

HTML5 is an update to the Hypertext Markup Language used to code websites and, although it may not seem like it at first, it has pretty big ramifications for browser-based content delivery. A great thing about HTML5 is that it will be able to play video and audio without that annoying installation of a ‘plugin’ or specific codec that we’ve all become accustomed to. Video and audio content can just be embedded into the webpage. The HTML draft specification doesn’t actually specify which video format should be embedded. And here’s where the fun really starts. Apple and Microsoft have both stated preference for H.264 while others, such as Mozilla, are firmly in the Ogg Theora camp.

This may all seem theoretical while HTML5 is still in draft but Microsoft have confirmed their support of HTML5 for Internet Explorer 9, expected to be released next year. Other browsers already support the embedding of video and YouTube is in the process of moving its content to HTML5 .  And if you’re interested in how this will work, it’s not too late (or too early) to get your hands dirty.

For those interested in making sense of all this, Techi has a great  article on the issues surrounding this debate and the differences between the two standards. The following quote, however, really sums up the battle ahead:

It’s a stark reminder that format wars aren’t decided on quality or appeal – it’s actually the power plays of large organizations.


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