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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 [1], 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.