Monday, December 20, 2010

Jeroen "JW" Wijering: HTML5 Video Is Not Quite There Yet

Earlier this year, Mark Robertson and I met with Jeroen "JW" Wijering, Chief Digital Architect of LongTail Video at his office in New York City, to talk about the growing interest and hype around HTML5 video, and the most pressing issues facing its adoption. Jeroen is an online video pioneer and the creator of the ubiquitous JW Media Players, which have generated several million downloads since their launch in 2005.

In a post on the LongTail Community Support Blog (and also a guest post on Reel SEO), Jeroen noted that Apple's launch of the iPad along with Steve Jobs' arguements with Adobe over Flash accelerated HTML5 video development. He wrote that there's a lot of video tag euphoria within today's tech industry and the practical side of HTML5 video development has been overlooked and faces a major threat.
"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."

Jeroen says, the most pressing issues facing HTML video development are:
  • Codecs - H.264 versus OGG debate is ongoing, but all browsers have placed their bets - Firefox and Opera favor OGG, Internet Explorer and Safari choose H264. Chrome plays it safe and does both. Today's HTML5 video format is H264.
  • Streaming - HTML5 does not specify a streaming mechanism yet. While this is being worked on (W3C: Fragments, Media Multitrack API), it means that live, DVR and long-form video content cannot be played using a video tag.
  • Fullscreen - While a small feature at first sight, fullscreen playback is essential to the success of HTML5 video. Without fullscreen, HTML5 video is mostly useful for presenting short clips.

Jeroen suggests that the addition of both captions and fullscreen support would be big steps forward for HTML5 video. He says that cross-browser support should be practical and compatible, or we risk web development regression.
"Browser vendors should be stringent when building solutions that are both practical and compatible. If not, crossbrowser HTML5 video will be too difficult, not to mention expensive, to implement. This presents the risk of web development regression.

In favor of its advancement, we cannot allow this to happen. Online video will go mobile and big screen. It also needs to become accessible and searchable. HTML5 video will advance the progress in these areas, if developed carefully and intelligently. However, without compatible solutions, online video is in definite jeopardy of a setback."
While Jeroen says that HTML5 video is not quite there yet, as the year comes to a close, there are signs of the maturing market:
These are but a few of the many innovations and growth of HTML5 video within the online and mobile video industry. As we move into 2011, we'll continue to see the technology evolve at a rapid pace, as well as the debate.

What is HTML5? (reprinted from HTML5 - Advertising FAQ)
  • HTML is the mark-up language used for the World Wide Web. Almost all web pages you visit on the internet are based around HTML code. HTML5 is simply the fifth and latest iteration of this mark-up language that allows for more dynamic, animated and interactive web pages. Up until now web pages have had to embed content or plugins like Flash for items like video players or interactive animation. HTML5 allows for lots of this functionality to be done without an embedded file. This doesn’t mean the end of Flash however because Flash too continues to evolve - it is an alternative. See more on the W3 website
Updated 12/22/2010: Added my buddy Mark to post