Video Sites Dip Toes in HTML 5 Waters

Forget about the debate over whether “Avatar” or “The Hurt Locker” will win movie awards this year. The real argument among those who create and share their own Web videos — DIY James Camerons, as it were — centers on whether or not they should dump Adobe Flash and other plug-in players for HTML 5, the latest version of the Web’s markup language.

The picture cleared up a little for HTML 5 supporters late last week as they learned that top video sharing sites Vimeo and YouTube were going to offer their users the option of using the new standard. If users of the two Web sites have compatible browsers — a short list right now including Chrome, ChromeFrame on Internet Explorer and Safari — they will find the ability to watch videos without plug-ins like Flash or Silverlight, as well as quicker in-video navigation without buffering.

However, Vimeo spokesperson Brad Daugherty acknowledged in a blog post that what some consider to be the best way to deliver video on the Web can bring out the worst in people.

“Almost every thread on the Internet about HTML 5 devolves into some kind of flamewar. Please don’t comment here extolling the virtues of open source or unencumbered codecs,” Daugherty wrote. “We know, it’s our job to know and that conversation has been had a million times. The simple fact is right now h.264 [a coding format] allows us the most flexibility to display on many devices and many players with the same file. When that changes, so will we.”

This Is Only a Test

The inclusion of HTML 5 was a beta test, nothing more, emphasized another Vimeo spokesperson, marketing and communications director Deborah Szajngarten. “The reason we chose to support it as an option is because our community asked us for it. We wanted to accommodate the needs of our community,” Szajngarten told TechNewsWorld. “We’re not sure how the test will go. But Vimeo is all about the content creator. For us, it’s about providing the best tools, and sometimes that’s a multitude of tools to meet our creators’ needs. That doesn’t mean we’re abandoning Flash Player.”

There are other reasons why HTML 5 is in beta on both YouTube and Vimeo, chief among them the fact that ads, captions and notations are not supported. Also, Vimeo’s Daugherty notes that browser restrictions mean the videos can’t go full screen, and a limited number of videos uploaded to the site in the past year won’t work in the new player. About 35 percent of all videos will require a Flash player, but Vimeo will make that switch for its customers.

Competitive Threats

User-friendly arguments — no need for plug-in players — is colliding with the commercial aspects of video delivery on the Web, said Pund-IT principal Charles King. “The concept of HTML video-based capabilities makes a great deal of sense, but it’s also safe to say it’s not without some controversy,” King told TechNewsWorld. “Video has become a viable business, and certainly there’s a type of technology feature that many companies are exploiting commercially. There’s that value that standalone video player manufacturers see in keeping their proprietary platform.”

Apple’s iPhone was one example King cited of a company that can run afoul of a player vendor. The iPhone does not support Flash, so Web videos using that standard cannot easily run on the popular smartphone. There’s also the “elephant in the room,” as King calls it: Microsoft, which still has two-thirds of the browser market with Internet Explorer, along with its own ambitions for the Silverlight player.

The big issue looming, said King, is mobile computing, “and the type of video we’re going to see on tablets and smartphones. I have a feeling that by the end of this year there’s going to be a huge spate of next-generation devices and technologies that will require some kind of video player. Having video as a common part of the Web-browsing experience and supporting it in a more seamless way makes a great deal of sense.”

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