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Winning strategy for publishing video on the Web

Video on the Web has been, for the longest time, Flash Video. We owe a lot to Flash as it has created the opportunity and the vehicle for the widespread use of video on the Web. YouTube is just the most blatant example of that success, and there are thousands and thousands of sites that use Flash Video of some kind.

Nevertheless, nobody, not even Adobe, can stop change from happening and HTML5 has brought many of the elements that were once the sole domain of Flash inside the default pool of features provided by the browser. Partially it's sad to see this happening as Macromedia first and Adobe later have been pioneering these kinds of technologies and have invested millions in their development. I was one of the early adopters of Java (not to be confused with JavaScript), and the reason why I was so excited at that time, around when Netscape 4.7 was current, was that Java was promising a future of dynamic pages. Before that time HTML was static. We didn't even have JavaScript. In fact LiveScript, the original name, was renamed "JavaScript" as a misguided decision to bank on the whole Java fever.
Java failed miserably in that area and Flash took that section of the market and dominated it for a long time.
This is about to change. There are about 85 million iPhones and iPod Touches around the world and Apple has sold 1 million iPads in 28 days. All these units don't support Flash, as we all know, and all those users face disappointment when visiting a page with embedded Flash.

Granted, there are many more millions who don't have any problem with Flash and we cannot change every website overnight just because of the incredible success of one company, Apple, with one device, the iPad. But the wave of change is upon us and it's brought to us by these portable devices that provide such a pleasant experience that people literally don't want to stop using them. They are fun and they are portable. Content is going to become portable very quickly and this is in part because of HTML5, a standard that has been already adopted by the majority of browsers.

Transition times are always tough and the secret of riding the wave of change is to chose good strategies so that we obtain the maximum amount of impact with the least amount of work. Encoding video takes time and disk space.

While video on the iPhone was scoffed at by many because of the small size of the display and because of the high cost of the 3G network, video on the iPad makes perfect sense, and I find myself spending about 1/3 of my time using that device instead of my main computer.
A million units sold, and this is before the launch into the international market happening on May 28th. It's one iPad for every 300 Americans. 28 days! It's fairly safe to say that this compares to such events like the launch of the VCR or the DVD player.
So, we better do something to make our content work on those "gizmos."
If you want your content to play on the iPad and iPhone and iPod Touch, you simply have to encode it in h.264 and enclose the video in the new HTML5 tag, like this:

<video src="" width="800" height="450" autobuffer controls>You need HTML5</video>

This will also work on any Macintosh using Safari 3.0 so your page will play both on mobile and desktop devices.
Google Chrome, which is based on the same WebKit engine of Safari, supports HTML5 with h.264 as well. Today.
With the announcement by Microsoft to support h.264 as the only official codec in Internet Explorer 9 the fate of all video on the web has been sealed. The announcement of the Mozilla Foundation to not support h.264 in favor of Theora is nothing short of a suicide plan. Firefox will have to adapt or perish, simple as that.
In fact they will have to do more than that, they will have to produce a mobile version that is accessible from the App Store.
On the desktop Firefox is my browser of choice, and it has been for years. As a video producer with dozens of videos on the web, I can't find any incentive in using Theora. On the other hand I had excellent results in delivering h.264 files at high quality that play well on the Web. The Blender Survival Guide is one of them.

Yes, even though the COW is serving the BSG on the desktop using Flash, since episode #1 I delivered the files as QuickTime h.264 videos. In just one hour Abraham Chaffin, the COW's webmaster, was able to add code to automatically serve exactly the same video files on the iPad, proof that you can use one format and two delivery systems (Flash or HTML5).
So, if you want to deliver video on the Web today that will stand the test of the time, your best strategy is simple:

  • Do some testing and find a good encoder that generates h.264 files compatible with Flash. If you produce video tutorials using a Macintosh, ScreenFlow works perfectly.

  • Update your website to recognize any one of those 86 million iPad, iPhones, or iPod Touch devices.

  • Deliver the content based on the type of Browser. If it's iPhone OS with Safari, use HTML5.

Content is moving to mobile devices fast, faster than expected. With the delivery of the iPad in the international market this trend is going to accelerate, especially because many nations in Europe have been more mobile then the US for quite some time. The same is true for Japan where the iPhone has 46% of the market and will act as a "gateway" for the iPad.

The time for action is now!

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on May 9, 2010 at 8:15:29 pmComments (2) ipad, h.264, web video

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