HTML5 Video FAQ: Answers To The Most Common Questions

Two weeks ago, hosted a live webinar on the topic of HTML5 video and we had more than 900 attendees to the event who asked well over 100 questions. Of course we couldn't get to all of them in the hour, so I followed up with the webinar presenter, Jeff Whatcott, SVP of Global Marketing from Brightcove, to provide answers to some of the of the most commonly asked questions about the current state of HTML5 video.

Webinar materials are available here: Slides and Recording. also recapped the event here. These were some of the most common questions we received:

Question: Do I really need to worry about supporting HTML5 today? What's the rush?
Whatcott: Today, HTML5 is essential to serving video to audiences browsing the mobile Web. HTML5 doesn’t apply to mobile app development, but if you are hoping to reach viewers on iPads and iPhones that are landing on your website, HTML5 and H.264 are the runtime/format combination that you have to support. And while the mobile market is fragmented, those iPhone and iPad users represent an attractive audience demographic of early-adopting, technologically-savvy users that tend to fall into higher income brackets. So yes, if you care about mobile Web video at all today, you’ll need to consider an HTML5 support strategy.

Question: What encoding settings should I be using for HTML5 video?
Whatcott: HTML5 video tags work with the following: H.264 video created with the MPEG4 codec, WebM video made with the VP8 codec, or Ogg Theora video. H.264 and WebM offer better video quality, and WebM is open source. At Brightcove, we recommend encoding in H.264, with 2 pass H.264 encoding with keyframes at least every 6 seconds. For more detail, check out our video source file specifications and recommendations.

Question: What are the current limitations of HTML5? Are there features that work in Flash that won't work in HTML5 playback?
Whatcott: We're still very early on in the adoption cycle, so there are a number of advanced features that are fully integrated in Flash that still need to be built into HTML5 playback environments. Because HTML5 video is still in its infancy, the following holes remain for the time being:

  • Analytics: We have basic viewership reporting today, but drill-down in to engagement and social sharing and geography are still to come.
  • Ad Integration and Ad Rules: Ad servers and ad networks are gradually adding support for HTML5 experiences, but it is taking a while to get everything working.
  • DRM: The HTML5 spec does not cover or contemplate DRM to prevent content theft.
  • Live Streaming:  The HTML5 spec does not cover or contemplate live streaming.  Apple offers a proprietary method, but that only works for iOS devices. 
  • Captions: A workable solution for captions is not covered in the spec, and so it falls on developers and online video platforms to implement this as a feature.

In many ways, HTML5 is today where Flash video was in 2002. Replicating the massive industry ecosystem of ISVs, tools, services, and developer communities that have grown up around Flash will not happen over night. That being said, integration of these features is a top priority on our roadmap at Brightcove. Until then, Flash will remain the preferred default platform for desktop experiences, and HTML5 is really just an immediate solution for reaching mobile audiences on devices that do not support Flash, which is how our Smart Players are designed today.

Question: Will HMTL5 increase the cost of supporting video for publishers?
Whatcott: Generally, building a webpage with video that will playback on the Web and on mobile devices for every OS will require some duplication of efforts. If you wanted to do it by hand, you would need to build something that right now would probably default to Flash and then switch to HTML5. It's doubling the transcoding work, and increasing the complexity of a build for developers.
The good news is that the cost of doing that for Brightcove customers is nothing. Our Smart Players do all that development work for you by reading an end-user environment and sending the appropriate file type, codec and rendition. And Smart Players are available to all levels of our service, even down to the Express product which is targeted at lower budgets for smaller publishers.

Question: How will Google Chrome's announcement that it longer plans to support H.264 codecs for HTML5 playback impact HTML5 adoption?
Whatcott: I read this as an indication that online video is going to continue to get more complicated and fragmented before it gets easier. Because HTML5 in Chrome will require WebM codecs, we believe you'll see a lot more folks defaulting to Flash for the time being (which will still be able to support H.264 video files). The net-net of it is: this WebM announcement will result in further entrenched use of Flash for Chrome desktop and mobile environments because it works today, and will continue to work for the time being.

Question: What effect does this fragmentation of standards and codecs have on the online video ecosystem?
Whatcott: The fact that practically each major browser is supporting a different format (Chrome:WebM; Firefox, Opera:Ogg; Safari,IE:H.264) isn’t making online video delivery any easier for publishers today. However, we at Brightcove are energized and motivated by this news, because our goal has always been to shield publishers from the complexity of delivering video to an diverse ecosystem of devices, codecs, variable bandwidth profiles etc. In the near future, that will mean a publisher can continue to upload one source file to Brightcove, and we'll transcode it to multiple rendition sets in both H.264 and WebM formats to be used wherever appropriate. Our aim is to prevent customers from having to make risky either/or technology bets, and instead allow them to focus on their business strategy for video. So we're ready for the challenge, and we will continue playing that role in online video delivery.