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Checking in on HTML5 video

Though HTML5 video can't fully challenge Flash video's dominance just yet, Greg Schechter, web warrior at YouTube and a speaker at Velocity 2011, says HTML5 is headed in a good direction.

In the following interview, Schechter talks about HTML5 video's architectural issues, how mobile provides a great platform but is something of a crap shoot when it comes to bugs, and how at this point video speed is a toss-up between HTML5 and Flash.


What kinds of architectural issues emerge as you incorporate HTML5 video distribution?

GregSchechter.jpgGreg Schechter: The biggest architectural issue we've had to deal with is providing support for the new WebM encoding format. For Flash we only need to have one encoding, H.264 (at least for the most part). For HTML5 we need to support both H.264 and WebM to support all modern browsers. We've had to make changes to streaming and upload architecture to support the different situations the video might be played in. We haven't converted all our videos to WebM yet, but we are actively working on it.

How do you address HTML5 video across platforms, devices and browsers?

Greg Schechter: For the desktop, the issues are not that bad. Once you make sure you have encoding that the browser can support, the video tag works without too many differences. At the moment, the critical features are supported by all the HTML5 video-capable browsers. We're starting to see feature support diverge, with things like a full-screen API and support for the track tag, which will make it a bit more difficult to handle in the changing development environment.

Mobile sometimes feels like a crap shoot. Sometimes we run into problems caused by hardware constraints, such as a device not being able to capture frames of a video to show in a paused state outside of the native player. Other times, it's bugs with the layout engine that don't render as expected. Every now and then we run into a crazy bug that affects phones but not tablets, or it affects tablets but not phones. Fortunately, these bugs don't happen all that often, but they can certainly cause some bad headaches.

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How has HTML5 affected mobile video distribution?


Greg Schechter: Mobile support is one of the best benefits to HTML5 video. Our two biggest markets for mobile video are iOS and Android. iOS doesn't support Flash, and many users haven't installed it on Android. Thus, with HTML5 we're able to easily provide both these platforms with a video viewing experience.

Your Velocity presentation is titled "HTML5, Flash and the Battle for Faster Cat Videos." Is there a clear winner yet?

Greg Schechter: There are a lot of different elements to measure to compare the performance between the two players. Because HTML5 doesn't require a plug-in, it will start up faster. This is great for our embeds because the time until the user sees the video thumbnail is a lot faster. Unfortunately, we haven't seen the same results in how long it takes to play the video — Flash is a lot faster. Some of this has to do with our architecture, but we've also seen inefficiencies in the browsers, which we are hoping will be fixed soon.



A video embedded with YouTube's old embed code



A video embedded with YouTube's HTML5-friendly iframe code

Are you surprised at the adoption pattern for HTML5 video?

Greg Schechter: We're still experimenting with our HTML5 player. It's mostly an opt-in program, so the numbers are pretty low for now. But I have been surprised with people looking for HTML5 support for our embedded player. People have been really excited and eager to use our JavaScript API with our iframe embed on mobile devices, where HTML5 is key. Our Flash player has been doing an excellent job at video distribution for years. Both YouTube and the browser vendors have some work to do in order to get the HTML5 player up to snuff, but once we're there, I'm confident we'll have a great user experience to compete with Flash.

This interview was edited and condensed.



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