Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Will HTML5 Video Mean for iPad Users?

While we're hoping that the iPad will give a much needed shot in the arm to videojournalism, we're also nervous that, when the much heralded device debuts this week, most online video won't work on it.

That's because Web video has become almost synonymous with Adobe's ubiquitous Flash, which (for technical and political reasons) Apple's Steve Jobs famously refuses to support. He claims that Flash is a bug-ridden Mac crasher that lacks innovative qualities.

Instead the iPad is relying on more Web developers to use the emerging HTML5 coding, which enables non-Flash formats to play in standard Web browsers, without requiring additional software plug-ins.

If video producers want to reach audiences on their mobile platforms, Jobs is essentially bullying them into taking the HTML5 route.

This week, the mighty Brightcove online video platform climbed aboard the HTML5 wagon, delivering another major blow to Flash's dominance. Brightcove's clout extends to more than 1,000 major media customers around the globe -- including 20th Century Fox, Condé Nast, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Pictures Television, Discovery Communications, ITV, Turner Broadcasting, Hearst Magazines and Fox International.

Two prominent Brightcove clients -- the New York Times (a Brightcove investor) and Time -- are already adopting the "Brightcove Experience for HTML5" for producing their iPad-ready Websites.

To make things interesting, Apple competitor Google (which owns Flash-based YouTube) fired back by integrating Flash into its Chrome browser, thus fortifying it (and its Android operating system) for mobile phones, tablets and notebooks.

Though Chrome accounts for only 5 percent of Internet use, there can be no denying Google's money and clout. Hedging its bets, YouTube is experimenting with its own HTML5 video player, for Chrome, Safari and MS Internet Explorer (with Google Chrome Frame installed).

So what does this all mean for consumers?

First, it helps to understand a little bit about HTML5. Currently, the Web operates on HTML4, a version of the standard common coding language that hasn't changed since 1999. HTML5 is a work in progress, which won't be completed and officially ratified for many years, but elements of it are starting to come into use -- such as the "VIDEO" tag that enables video to play inside a browser without the need for additional plug-in software. It even dictates the videoplayer "controls." HTML5 is supported by Chrome, Opera, Firefox and Safari. Its video relies on the H.264 compression standard (i.e. .MP4 files or Ogg Theora  format .OGV files) -- as opposed to .FLV Flash files.

For those who've ever done any type of basic HTML coding, here's an oversimplified explanation. When you want an image to appear on a Web page, you just need to create an "IMG" tag that points to the image file (e.g. a JPG or GIF) on your server, along with certain attributes (such as dimensions and placement), and voila! There's your image! However, for video to appear on your Web page, you currently have to write code that activates separate plug-in software (usually Flash) to launch a video player and start the video. With HTML5, you can just insert a "VIDEO" tag that works like an "IMG" tag, by pointing to your uploaded video and adding its own instructions on how it should look and behave.

Furthermore, with additional HTML5 interactive attributes, end users (that is, viewers) will be able to do even more -- rotate and spin the videos, slide them around the page, resize them, overlap them with other videos, draw on them, mark them up with their own text and visual elements, and more... all by clicking or just touching the screen. Coders can even dictate the launch times of videos -- so that a video can start at a specific amount of time after the page is loaded (or several videos can start sequentially at pre-established times).

Bottom line: Media Websites that currently produce video need to hop aboard the HTML5 train, as it's leaving the gate. Otherwise their Flash videos will appear as broken icons on iPads and other mobile devices. Essentially, they need to make the minimal investment in recoding their pages so that they are capable of playing both Flash (.FLV) and non-Flash (.MP4) videos -- and in recruiting programming teams to develop or license code that can maximize the interactive potential of the next generation of HTML5 video players.

Brad Neuberg's helpful video tutorial (below) explains HTML5 video (starting at 20:55).

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