All posts tagged ‘video’

File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Multimedia

Metro-style Internet Explorer 10 Ditches Flash, Plugins

Windows 8 will have two versions of Internet Explorer 10: a conventional browser that lives on the legacy desktop, and a new Metro-style, touch-friendly browser that lives in the Metro world. The second of these, the Metro browser, will not support any plugins. Whether Flash, Silverlight, or some custom business app, sites that need plugins will only be accessible in the non-touch, desktop-based browser.

Should one ever come across a page that needs a plugin, the Metro browser has a button to go to that page within the desktop browser. This yanks you out of the Metro experience and places you on the traditional desktop.

The rationale is a familiar one: plugin-based content shortens battery life, and comes with security, reliability, and privacy problems. Sites that currently depend on the capabilities provided by Flash or Silverlight should switch to HTML5.

Microsoft has been vigorously promoting HTML5 for the last year and a half as the best way of providing rich interactivity on the Web. HTML5 potentially has reach far beyond that of Flash, since it can target both conventional browsers and closed ecosystems (such as iOS) alike. However, until now, Microsoft’s messaging has been tempered somewhat: use HTML5 when you can, but if you can’t—if you need support for DRM-protected media streaming, for example—then it’s reasonable to switch to an alternative, plugin-based technology.

With Windows 8, however, those reasonable decisions to use Flash or Silverlight will now be heavily penalized. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with the desktop browser, of course; the rendering engine and performance will be identical between both Metro and desktop. But the experience will be substantially inferior. The desktop browser isn’t designed for touch inputs, meaning that users will either have to switch to a mouse and keyboard, or fumble around with an interface that wasn’t built for fingers. The switch to the desktop browser also appears to discard things like back button history and current page state.

This puts the Metro browser in a peculiar position. Microsoft has positioned tablets as merely a different kind of PC. That, the company argues, affords capabilities and features not possible on iPad-style devices. But PCs have browser plugins—more generally, they have the ability to use the right technology for the job. If Metro doesn’t include that flexibility, that could be seen as diminishing the “PCness” of the platform.

HTML5 still isn’t a total replacement for plugin technologies, either. The gap is certainly narrowing: Web Sockets, Web Workers, built-in support for webcams and microphones, and more, are all coming to HTML5 browsers (or are available already), and these features will obviate the need for plugins for many applications. But certain corners are likely to remain; DRM-protected video, for example, might forever be impossible in HTML5, and while many people find DRM distasteful, many broadcasters feel they have little choice but to use it.

The solution to this conundrum on the iOS platform has been the app: companies like Netflix and the BBC have applications to watch video on these devices. The result is that in the desire to push an open, plugin-free Web, companies are being forced to migrate away from the Web entirely. Silverlight developers, at least, will have an easy migration path available to them: the new Metro development environment, used for producing native Metro applications, borrows heavily from Silverlight, and making the switch from an in-browser plugin-based application to a standalone Metro application should be relatively easier. Flash developers will have to wait to see what tools Adobe delivers.

HTML5 design and developer tools also remain weak, though this situation is improving with the creation of products like Adobe Edge.

With Microsoft’s promotion of HTML5, and the precedent set by iOS, the decision to get rid of plugins in the Metro browser is perhaps unsurprising. But it’s not clear that this will truly help Windows 8; the awkward user experience penalizes users who, for no fault of their own, need to use plugins, and detracts from Windows 8′s PC claims. A switch to a more HTML5-powered Web will happen regardless—does Microsoft really need to force the issue like this?

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

Microsoft Adds H.264 Video Support to Firefox

Thanks to licensing issues and exorbitant fees, Mozilla doesn’t support the H.264 video codec in Firefox, but Microsoft (yes, Microsoft) is aiming to change that.

Microsoft has created a Firefox plug-in that will tap into Windows 7′s native H.264 support, allowing Firefox 3.6 and the 4.0 betas to play H.264 encoded video.

If you’d like to give it a try, you can download a copy of the HTML5 Extension for Windows Media Player Firefox Plug-in from Microsoft’s Interoperability Labs.

The HTML5 video tag promises to eliminate the need for third-party plugins like Flash or QuickTime. Sadly, it’s a long way from “promises” to “delivers.” While HTML5 offers a video tag for authors to easily add videos to their webpages, it’s up to the browser to actually play that video. And that’s where the problem arises — what video codec should the browser use?

Apple is standing firm behind the H.264 video codec. But H.264 has licensing requirements, fees and is not free in any sense of the word. Mozilla Firefox supports Ogg Theora and WebM, both of which are open and free. Google’s Chrome supports all three codecs. Opera supports Ogg Theora and WebM. Microsoft has decided to support H.264 and WebM in IE9.

In short, varying codec support across browsers has made native HTML5 video a mess.

Microsoft’s new add-on brings support for H.264 to Firefox whether Mozilla wants it or not. The add-on parses HTML5 pages and replaces video tags with a call to the Windows Media Player plug-in. Unfortunately it’s not perfect. To deal with the different codec support in each browser, many sites use JavaScript to determine the browser’s codec support before presenting a video. If that’s the case, the new add-on won’t work because the detection code won’t see the H.264 support (the H.264 support is an add-on, not a native part of Firefox).

Ironically, native web video isn’t supported at all in Microsoft’s own browsers, regardless of the codec used (IE9 will introduce support for HTML5 video when it is released next year). Third-party developers have already created an experimental IE add-on to help current versions of IE get in on the native web video fun.

Microsoft’s add-on is far from ideal, but if you’ve been frustrated by Firefox’s lack of H.264 support, it does offer a partial solution. Hopefully, in the long run, browsers will standardize around WebM, which seems to enjoy the most widespread support (Apple’s Safari is current only browser that hasn’t pledged WebM support), but if that doesn’t happen solutions like this one may become even more common.

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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia

Adobe Releases Its Own HTML5 Video Player

Adobe has released an embeddable video player that plays HTML5 native video in browsers that support it, and falls back to Flash in browsers that don’t.

It’s cross-browser and cross-platform, so it works on iPhones, iPads and other devices that don’t support Flash. Using Adobe’s new player, these devices can show videos in web pages without the Flash plug-in.

There are already several players out there that use the HTML5-with-Flash-fallback method, such as Vimeo’s new player and the slick one from Brightcove that can handle video ads. All of these players, like Adobe’s, are based on open web technologies and can be customized with CSS and JavaScript. But this newest one, being from Adobe, is sure to be a bigger deal.

The company has come under fire in the past year over concerns about the stability and performance issues related to its Flash Player browser plug-in, and Flash technology itself. Apple’s iPad ships without support for Flash, and Apple initially disallowed apps created in Flash from being sold in its app store. Apple rescinded after a few months, but the damage was already done — Google began pushing HTML5 video over Flash by releasing WebM, a new open video format, and developers got busy looking at HTML5 as a replacement for Flash, at least when it came to embedding videos.

With its new player, Adobe is responding to their developers’ wishes for solutions that play well on the open web. It comes on the heels of last week’s release from Adobe, which lets artists using Illustrator export their drawings as HTML5 Canvas, and its earlier pack of HTML5 tools for Dreamweaver.

HTML5 video adoption among browsers has gone tremendously so far — Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera all support native video, and baked-in support is coming to Internet Explorer 9 next year. But it’s still a bit of a mess, with different browsers supporting different formats. So developers posting HTML5 video still need to encode their files in at least two of the three major formats — the widely-used H.264, the newer WebM, or the older Ogg Theora — to guarantee all HTML5 capable browsers will be able to see their videos.

With the proper file formats in place, Adobe’s new player will play native web video in all the newest browsers, and will switch to Flash playback mode for all your poor visitors stuck with IE6 or something equally stone-aged.

The new HTML5 video player is incorporated into the workflow of Dreamweaver Creative Suite 5, so if you’re already using Adobe’s tools to build your site, you can drop in a player using Dreamweaver’s “Customize Widget” function.

If you’re not a Dreamweaver person, you can still generate all the code you need using Adobe’s free Widget Browser app. One caveat — the Widget Browser is an AIR app, so you’ll need to have Adobe’s Flash-based runtime to use it, though AIR apps will install AIR for you if you’re lacking.

To develop its video player widget, Adobe used open source code from Kaltura, repurposing a popular library that’s found at the heart of several HTML5 video players.

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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia

Google and Arcade Fire Get All HTML5y

The good folks at Google have published a very cool multimedia showcase for what’s possible in HTML5. Using music by Arcade Fire (the 21st century hipster equivalent of ELO), filmmaker Chris Milk has made an interactive video of sorts that spans multiple browser windows.

Eliot Van Buskirk has a full write-up, including an interview with Milk, over on Wired’s Epicenter blog.

The Wilderness Downtown,” features HTML5 native video and audio, canvas-animated birds that fly away from your mouse clicks, interactive SVG fonts, and photo panoramas from Google Maps Street View. You enter in the address of where you grew up and it pulls the images for that neighborhood. The neighborhood of my childhood home wasn’t available, so I opted for the section of Burlington, Vermont I lived in throughout college. It was creepy to see my old house in an Arcade Fire video.

Being Google-produced, the experiment works best in Google Chrome, of course. It had problems playing back properly in Firefox 4 beta.

If you have Chrome and can watch it, it really strikes a chord. It goes beyond all the HTML5 vs Flash dogma and presents what’s possible with these new technologies in a way which resonates on a level that’s more emotional and immediate than nerdy and intellectual.

So who do I talk to at Google about getting them to do one of these things for my band?

This post was updated at 2:45 PDT. The original incorrectly said it was a YouTube experiment. The site was created by the Google Chrome team, not YouTube.

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File Under: Multimedia

MPEG LA Extends Web Video Licensing Moratorium Until the End of Time

The group that oversees patents on the H.264 video format has announced it will not charge royalties for H.264 videos that are freely broadcast on the internet.

The MPEG Licensing Association (MPEG LA) holds patents on AVC/H.264, the most widely-used video format on the web.

The group announced earlier this year that it would extend a moratorium on royalty fees for H.264 videos on the web from 2011 until the end of 2015. Thursday’s announcement extends this royalty-free period for “the entire life of [the AVC Patent Portfolio] license.”

This means that as long as H.264/AVC videos are around, publishers can post them on web pages and people can watch them in their browsers without having to pay any licensing fees.

The moratorium is only for the Internet Broadcast AVC video patent, which covers videos that are freely available via a web browser. Thursday’s announcement basically extends the status quo until the end of time — you don’t have to pay MPEG LA royalties to watch H.264 video on the web from free services now, and you won’t have to in the future.

The MPEG LA says it will continue to collect fees on AVC/H.264 video that consumers pay for. The video format is used on Blu-Ray discs and on most on-demand and paid video delivery services, such as iTunes. It will also continue to collect fees from software that ships with the coders and decoders required to play H.264 video — even software that’s distributed for free, such as web browsers.

Clearly, the MPEG LA is feeling pressure from the WebM Project, a new initiative launched in May that seeks to build a patent-free web video format. The project has created the WebM format as an alternative for H.264 and other patent-encumbered formats. WebM has already gained the support of Mozilla, Google and Opera, all of which are shipping new versions of their browsers with support built in. It has also gained the support of developers passionate about free and open web standards, especially as the web increasingly moves towards HTML5-based video experiences that work without the aid of plug-ins like Flash.

As promising as WebM’s advancements are, H.264 remains the dominant format for video on the web by a very wide margin — about two thirds of web video is H.264. By extending the royalty moratorium, the MPEG LA is likely trying to maintain that dominance on the web and encourage content providers to continue to use its format for publishing videos. By doing so, it also guarantees the group a revenue stream of licensing fees from the tools used to create, encode and watch those videos — cameras, editing software, authoring suites and web browsers.

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