For anyone who thinks HTML5 will simplify things

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.

Want to see how? Check out LimelightREACH and LimelightADS, or visit to try our demo on your own device.

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3 thoughts on “For anyone who thinks HTML5 will simplify things

  1. Jonathan,

    There is one more problem with the <video> tag: it currently does not specify how to include captions. With the recent introduction of H3101 on Capitol Hill, this might very quickly deliver yet another crippling blow to what should be a good idea. I’ve written more about this on my site: and I invite readers to find out more.

    Thanks for the great article.

  2. Jeff on

    I would like to point out that there is not one agreed upon image format for the web but the fact that .jpg, .png, .bmp, etc are all supported with the image tag doesn’t take away from the usefulness of not having to have a separate plug-in for each kind of image format.

    All that needs to happen is web browsers will need to support H.264 video as well as .oog playback without a plug-in. I’m sure there will still be room for Flash video as well as Silverlight, but if using the video tag is more convenient it will slowly replace the use of plug-ins over time.

    It is annoying there is not one standard, but not the end of the world (or the usefulness of HTML5). It would be VERY unique if companies with such different goals could agree on one standard of ANYTHING.

  3. I suspect that Google has the motivation and resources required to resolve the video format issue. They recently acquired On2 Technologies for their encoding and compression technologies. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if they donated these for use with HTML5 with no strings attached. I find it hard to believe that they would offer up a free mobile OS and browser-based desktop OS without resolving the video tag issue. Integrating the video tag with the latest JavaScript VMs, SVG-based animations & interactivity, and the emerging WebGL 3D standard will finally provide a platform for new types of video applications that a purely presentation-based technology like Flash will find hard to compete with. Adobe’s AIR is a resource hog. It’s failure will clearly demonstrate why the video tag is the right solution for the needs of publishers.

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