The Future of Web Video: HTML 5 Codec ComparisonBy Dan Hemmerly-Brown January 5, 2010
Gone in a flash?
It was going to end with a whimper that much seemed for sure. Long gone were the days when we had first met. Awkwardly fumbling around, not knowing what to say or how to say it. But I could see the writing on the web: HTML 5 was coming and it was coming soon–my long relationship with Flash would end.
I primarily use Flash to get video content on the web and, with the new video specification in HTML 5, I could foresee using Flash less and less—until I finally cleared it off my computer to free up a few extra bytes.
Or so I thought.
First, a quick bit of background
HTML 5 is the latest alteration to the underlying specifications for how the web is all put together. Among other great benefits it includes a video specification so developers can place and control video along with other interactive elements on a web page. This is important because Flash doesn’t work on all platforms (hello, iPhone), and it can crash, taking your browser with it. So, with HTML 5, you won’t need to plug anything into your browser to make it play video; it will just work. It also allows the rest of the page to talk to the video element which opens the door to some mind-blowing interactions.
In slightly oversimplified terms, the way video is played back on your computer is by using a codec. The codec specifies how video files are compressed from the raw video into a smaller package that can be easily viewed from the web. The more efficient the compression, the better the quality of the resulting video. People who work with video on the web are constantly involved in a balancing act between the best looking picture and a lower file size to accommodate people with different connection speeds.
The major issues
There are ongoing disagreements regarding which codec to use; on the one hand, Apple with their Safari browser, wants to use the H.264 codec. This produces the best (as of the status quo) picture quality for the least amount of bandwidth. But it also costs money to use; adopters of the format have to play licensing fees.
On the other side of the debate, Mozilla with their Firefox browser, support the Ogg Theora format—which has slightly worse picture quality and takes more bandwidth to stream; however, it is free to use (“unencumbered” by licensing fees).
Experience the difference for yourself
… at DailyMotion –which is a supporter of the Theora codec and has started converting some of its library to the open standard. (Make sure you use Mozilla 3.5 to view the openvideo site. On all other browsers, bizarre playback artifacts occurred, at least in my experiences.) But the Theora looks just plain worse than the H.264 version. Try out any video on the open site; its corresponding video on the regular site will look better thanks to the H.264 codec.
In my follow-up post, I’ll discuss the industry happenings in more details, with some larger implications for what it all may mean. I’ll also include some predictions of my own for the future of web video.
Header image courtesy of cleevillasor’s flickr, (cc) some rights reserved.