Video Essentials

HTML5 Video FAQs: Your Questions Answered

You’ve been hearing a lot about HTML5 video, but you’re probably unclear about some of the details. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We spoke to Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of global marketing at Brightcove, to get you started.

If you have an HTML5 video question that isn’t answered here, post it below and we’ll get you an answer.

What is HTML5 video?
HTML5 is the next generation of the HTML standard, and it includes new support for embedded multimedia, including video, audio, and dynamic graphics. With HTML5, these will all display without plug-ins.

If HTML5 doesn’t specify what video formats will work with it, why are there only three that do?
That’s a choice made by the browser vendors. They have a variety of choices available to them of formats to work with the <video> tag, and currently only three do: H.264, WebM, and Ogg Theora. The browser makers could have chosen any formats to work with the video tag. Since none of those three formats is currently supported by all the browsers, this creates fragmentation.

How do H.264 and WebM compare in quality?
They’re roughly equivalent. Hardcore video enthusiasts give the edge to H.264, but consumers won’t be able to tell the difference.

When will the majority of Web browsers support HTML5 video?
The big shift will come when Internet Explorer 9 is released. It will bring HTML5 video to a great number of people. It will take a while for it to get broadly adopted by users, so perhaps 18 to 24 months. The other browsers are already on board.

I hear companies should offer a fallback to Flash. What does that mean?
Flash can play H.264 video, meaning the same streams that are supported in an HTML5-capable browser. You’ll want to configure your player so that the most people can see your video using one or the other platform. Actually, it makes more sense to have Flash be your default player with an HTML5 fallback. This way, you get the benefits of Flash (as discussed later in this FAQ) that HTML5 video can’t yet match.

Does HTML5 video support playlists?
The standard doesn’t. Playlist support would have to be built on top of it with JavaScript and custom HTML. Some OVPs, such as Brightcove, offer this to customers.

Does HTML5 video support adaptive bitrate streaming?
No. HTML5 video can perform one bandwidth check prior to beginning streaming, to test the viewer’s bandwidth and serve the appropriate stream, but can’t monitor the connection once streaming has begun. Plan on having a minimum of four different bitrates for each file. Whatcott recommends having six.

Does HTML5 support pre-roll ads?
The HTML5 specification doesn’t. You can write JavaScript and logic around your video in order to create a pre-roll system. Ad servers and ad networks are now starting to support HTML5 video.

Does HTML5 video support overlay ads?
The HTML5 specification doesn’t. Content owners would have to write custom HTML and JavaScript to create an overlay system.

Can HTML5 videos be clickable?
That’s not part of the HTML5 specification and would need to be written by a developer.

How do HTML5 video analytics compare to Flash video analytics?
The HTML5 video standard doesn’t include any analytics support. OVPs offer limited analytics based on the playback event information they’re able to pull from browsers. The analytics data is limited to what can be extrapolated from that data.

Does HTML5 video offer live streaming?
The only system that does is Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming, which can serve live video to desktop or mobile devices using the Safari browser. It delivers H.264 files that are chunked over HTTP. Content providers combine this with live Flash streaming, using it as a fallback only for iOS devices.

Does HTML5 offer DRM (digital rights management)?
This isn’t supported in the HTML5 standard. The only way to create a DRM system is by using plug-ins, which means that it’s not really HTML5 anymore.

Does HTML5 video support closed captioning?
This isn’t supported in the HTML5 standard. Some proof-of-concept work is currently being done to create a solution.

When will HTML5 video catch-up to the features offered by Flash?
Perhaps as soon as 12 to 24 months we’ll see full parity. Developers are moving quickly.

Why is so much attention being paid to HTML5 video when so many features are still missing?
Because Apple’s mobile devices don’t run Flash. If it wasn’t for that, there wouldn’t yet be much interest in HTML5 video. It becomes important, however, because it’s the only way to reach iOS users who are attractive to content providers and advertisers.

If you have other HTML5 video questions, post them below.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. Thanks Troy. I hope people find this article to be useful. We published a new white paper on the topic that goes into a little more detail. I can be found here:

    Jeff Whatcott

    Posted by Jeff Whatcott | January 31, 2011, 8:07 am
  2. I am sorry, I know there is a ton of hype around HTML5, but given the fragmentation, it is mostly useless. Now given that Chrome won’t support MP4, it is even worse. Given that it doesn’t support adaptive, another strike. I really see no reason for general websites to go to HTML5, even when ie9 comes out. I’ll stick with Silverlight or Flash. The only place I use HTML5 is on mobile sites, and even there it isn’t very useful. An HTML5 Video tag works one way on an iPad, but different on an iPhone. One way in Android 2.2, and another way on Android 2.1, and not at all on Windows Phone 7, and Blackberry.

    Until all this fragmentation is resolved, HTML5 Video tag is just causing even more confusion.

    Posted by Mark Richards | February 1, 2011, 9:25 am
  3. Thanks, Troy and Jeff, for a good concise FAQ on this hot topic! One comment/follow-up question on this one:

    When will HTML5 video catch-up to the features offered by Flash? A:Perhaps as soon as 12 to 24 months we’ll see full parity…

    When you say parity, it should be qualified a bit: parity in basic video playback perhaps, but what is the likelihood of support for Flash features such as:
    – DRM content protection
    – Dynamic bandwidth detection (detect during playback, not just before)
    – Live webcam streaming from within the browser
    – Real-time interactivity integrated with the video (e.g. live, shared commenting/annotation of video)
    – VOIP integration (e.g. presentations, conference calls with video)
    – Dynamic buffering, trick modes (slow motion, fast motion, etc)
    – P2P video delivery
    – Hardware acceleration (e.g. Flash’s Stage Video)

    Insight/opinions on the above would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again for the article (and the many great articles on this site!)

    // Lisa

    Posted by Lisa Larson-Kelley | February 1, 2011, 1:20 pm
  4. Hi Lisa. I agree with what you have written. I should have qualified what I meant by parity.

    What I should have said was 80/20 parity for basic video playback, advertising, analytics, and subtitles. And even this base level of parity will be accomplished using a lot of custom HTML, Javascript, and CSS development. Very little of this will actually be codified in the HTML5 specification and implemented in browsers. That will take years.

    A lot of Flash haters like to gloss over these issues. But customers would do well to pay close attention to the tradeoffs.

    Flash has succeeded because it solves real problems in innovative ways. HTML5 is exciting and absolutely necessary in environments where Flash is not available. But Flash will continue to be an important part of the pragmatists toolkit for many years to come.

    In my opinion, Flash doesn’t have to fail in order for HTML5 to succeed.


    Jeff Whatcott

    Full Disclosure: I ran marketing and product management for the Flash Platform in a prior life.

    Posted by Jeff Whatcott | February 1, 2011, 4:30 pm
  5. To the question “Does HTML5 video offer live streaming?” you answer that the only system which supports it is Apple HTTP Live Streaming. That’s a misleading answer. It should be noted that live streaming is NOT a part of the HTML5 specification at all. Apple’s HLS implementation is completely proprietary to their Safari browser implementation of HTML5.

    The answer should really be the same as to the DRM question: neither live streaming nor DRM are currently a part of the HTML5 Video spec. Any browser which claims to support those features is going outside of the scope of the HTML5 spec and its Video implementation should be considered non-standard.

    Efforts are currently underway in MPEG to standardize HTTP-based adaptive streaming, but it might be years before that makes its way into the HTML5 spec.

    Posted by Alex Zambelli | February 25, 2011, 8:44 pm
  6. I know about the HTML5 video tags, you have H.264, Theora and WebM. I know there are also tags for mobile devices, for cellular and for different devices. But what are those tags? I can’t find them anywhere!

    Posted by Ian Bauters | April 16, 2011, 2:03 am
    • Hey Ian — You seem to be confusing tags with formats and codecs. There’s just one HTML5 video tag: <video>. The things you mentioned — H.264, Theora, and WebM — are video formats and codecs supported by browsers for that tag. Mobile browsers support the same video streams as desktop browsers. An MP4/H.264/AAC stream is the usual choice for mobile, since it will play on Apple iOS devices.

      Posted by Troy Dreier | April 16, 2011, 1:16 pm
  7. bugfix:

    Why is so much attention being paid to HTML5 video when so many features are still missing?

    Because Flash is closed, proprietary, a resource hog, is infested by security flaws, does not guarantee continuity and has no future; while HTML5 is a standard, is open, is free, is cross platform and has very efficient implementations.

    Posted by Pinco | May 12, 2011, 12:06 pm
  8. Hi

    html5 video is good thing.


    Posted by icecube | August 16, 2011, 8:07 am
  9. Hi,

    I understand that streaming video is a bit harder to “capture” than progressive download video. Is this also true of HLS? I know that there are ways around most anything, so my question is: is HLS “as difficult” to capture as streaming flash, for example?

    Thank you for a great article.

    Posted by Byron | December 1, 2011, 1:54 am
  10. (by capture I meant screen scrappers, those folks that like to grab a copy of the stream to store locally on their hard drive)

    Posted by Byron | December 4, 2011, 10:46 pm
  11. HTML5 is the bastard offspring of the iOS Browser deficencies. Not only is it useless but it’s a step 10 years backwards in terms of product features and usability.

    Posted by Christopher Levy | January 1, 2012, 7:48 pm
  12. Does this mean that I want to use HLS then I can only view it on non safari browsers with a flash video player?

    Posted by numan | February 20, 2012, 10:27 am
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