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HTML 5 Video vs. Flash Video

Recently Google owned YouTube and Vimeo both announced beta sites that use HTML 5 coding for inserting videos onto pages, rather than the current default method of using Flash based players to deliver video content (as their non-beta sites do).

Is HTML 5 the wave of the future for delivering video? That question is harder to answer than it might initially appear.

Web developers have long wished there was a simple universal code tag for inserting video on a page -- similar to that used to insert an image onto a page. HTML 5's <video> tag is supposed to do just that.

For years website designers struggled with choosing from competing video applets and plugins -- solutions ranged from Real Media to QuickTime. But browser and OS support always hampered designers' best efforts to provide a seamless video viewing experience on websites. Web users were often confused and easily driven away, when they were required to download 3rd party software to view video content.

Fortunately in recent years, Adobe's Flash player technology became so universally used and installed on the world's computers that you could almost guarantee that users would be able to view your videos without having to install additional software. It was and is currently used by all the major video sites. Problem solved, or so it would seem.

That is, until Apple's iPhone chose not to support Flash. This popular device forced YouTube to implement a special player application just for the iPhone. Without Flash support, popular video sites like Hulu.com cannot be viewed on the iPhone. Apple argues that Flash is buggy and HTML 5 is the wave of the future...

But the problem is that HTML 5 is still the FUTURE, not the present. As "The Flash Blog" writes in an informative article:

“The video tag works in Safari and Google Chrome. You can get it to work in IE if users install Chrome Frame. This is fine for developers, but the masses more than likely won’t be willing to do that just yet. So in reality, Firefox and IE both do not support HTML 5 video. Firefox seems to be doing its own thing, requiring you to use the Ogg video format, while Safari and Chrome support H.264. Go over and read this great write-up on HTML 5 video to see the splintering of the various video formats and browser support. If you want to deliver video to every browser without having to encode multiple video formats and creating alternative markup, then Flash is the way to go.”

Once again, browser support and competing video formats are complicating matters in the move to HTML 5. As most web developers know, in 2010 we are still struggling to move users away from Internet Explorer 6 -- which was first released in 2001. Knowing that, we can surmise that the web probably won't be able to transition away from Flash video for a very, very long time.