The State of HTML5 Video

It looks like the promise of standardizing video delivery with the advent of HTML5 will take a little longer to fulfill. As usual, no one among the companies that already dominate the web wants to agree on how to best serve users.

HTML5 added the <VIDEO> tag, theoretically freeing us from using the de facto standard for video playback, the notoriously crash-prone Adobe Flash. The reality, sadly, is much different. Of all the major browsers, not one of them fully supports the tag. Firefox and Chrome can only play HTML5 video if it uses the WebM codec, while IE and Safari will only play H264-encoded video. When you throw mobile browsers into the mix, things get even more confusing. Most mobile browsers use Webkit, the open-source browser platform that Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome are based on. This would be great, but different mobile devices support different profiles and aspects of the highly complex H264 codec, which means potentially more encoding for those devices.

In the view of these companies, upon whom we rely to make the web useful for everyone, it’s apparently more important for each to promote their own standards so they can dominate some facet of the web for themselves. And, of course, it’s users who suffer. Don’t they understand that no one should own the Internet? Be prepared for more laborious workarounds for both users and producers of video to deliver video to people.

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