This post is authored by Jonathan Cobb, chief technical officer of our Mobility and Monetization Solutions group.
Recently there’s been much ado about the much-anticipated tag, part of the upcoming HTML5 specification. People are excited about this new tag because it means that web pages can include video content without requiring any plugin, even Flash. But a big problem is looming — lack of a standard video format.
Ars Technica and StreamingMedia have covered the story in great detail, but here’s the crux: online video is trapped in plugins and wants to get out, but browser-makers can’t agree on what format they’ll all support. Apple wants an H.264, Firefox and Opera want Ogg Theora, and Microsoft isn’t saying anything but one can imagine that some form of Windows Media would be their preference. With no agreement in sight, Ian Hickson, editor of the HMTL5 working group, has removed all mandatory codec requirements from the spec, significantly undermining the usefulness of the video tag.
From a publisher’s perspective, there currently seems to be only one viable option — continue using Flash for web video, even into the HTML5 era. We’re all supposed to wait for the next HTML5.x to come out, one might suppose. And sadly, by Hickson’s own predictions, a web-standard video codec is “several years” into the future. Despite a strong desire to deliver web video functionality in a pure HTML environment, it just can’t be done in a cross-browser way today. Or can it?
In theory, a publisher could make sure that each and every video asset was available in every required format to reach every browser. However, they would have to (1) alter their publishing practices to encode multiple versions of the video for multiple codecs required to reach every browser and (2) on their website in their HTML, or alternatively via server-side scripting, they’d have to implement browser-detection schemes to present the proper link to the right video asset that would play on that browser.
But doesn’t this kind of “cross-browser” solution seem like an ugly hack? To me it seems disturbingly similar to arcane hoops that webmasters had to jump through in the “Wild West” days of the early Web. It doesn’t have to be that way.
This is the problem the Mobility and Monetization Solutions Group at Limelight Networks has been solving for years. We offer a novel solution: Publish your video once. Publish your links and URLs once. Whatever browser requests them, gets the right file in the right format for that browser. We worry about all the technical details and publish a single Universal URL that works with any browser. This way, all visitors to your website can see the same site with the same links to videos, etc. When a user clicks on one of your videos to play it, we kicks into action — we do the browser detection and send back the right content in the right codec automatically. And since we operates inside the CDN “cloud” infrastructure, all this happens transparently to both end users and publishers, making sure the right video goes to the end-user regardless of which browser they’re using.
It is incredibly frustrating to me that web publishers are constantly stuck in the crossfire in these kinds of standardization battles, which is why I started Kiptronic, now part of Limelight. I wanted to remove them from the battlefield. Publishers should have the freedom to spend their time and effort producing great content, great websites, great online services. Instead, they get saddled with the drudge work of hacking their sites and publishing process to handle the idiosyncrasies of an un-standardized world. Our group bridges that gap. We deal with the chaos, so publishers can focus on what they do best. As technologies continue to evolve and publishers want their video on more and more screens, browser-driven or otherwise, we’ll get you there with that same Universal URL. You don’t have to worry about the minutiae of every video player. Just focus on producing great video and we’ll make sure it plays wherever you want it to.