Google has been coping a fair amount of flak ever since it announced the withdrawal of H.264 support from its Chrome browser. Apparently, the internet giant was having nightmares about a closed, royalty-fettered future of web video before it decided to drop H.264 support in favor of the open source WebM format. However, the company couldn’t quite explain why it continues to support other closed-source technologies like Flash and Silverlight.
The internet giant posted a lengthy explanation on the Chromium Blog this past Friday, but did little to address the principal gripe about its decision to drop H.264 support. In fact, instead of explaining why it has different yardsticks for different closed technologies, it actually made it a point to emphasize support for Flash and Silverlight. It now sees a symbiosis between H.264 and the two plug-ins.
“H.264 plays an important role in video and the vast majority of the H.264 videos on the web today are viewed in plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. These plug-ins are and will continue to be supported in Chrome,” wrote Mike Jazayeri, a product manager at Google, in a blog post.
“Our announcement was only related to the <video> tag, which is part of the emerging HTML platform. While the HTML video platform offers great promise, few sites use it today and therefore few users will be immediately impacted by this change.”
It is now concentrating its efforts on popularizing the use of the open-source WebM format for HTML5 video. An uphill task to say the least. Nonetheless, the WebM Project team will soon release plugins to enable WebM support in Internet Explorer and Safari through the HTML standard <video> tag. This not only defies logic but belies the raison d'être of HTML5 video, which was conceived as a means of disencumbering web video from the clutches of special plugins. That said, all major stakeholders are equally culpable for the current state of fragmentation.
Another major hurdle in WebM’s path is the widespread hardware support that H.264 currently enjoys. The open-source format is unlikely to take off in an era of hardware-accelerated video without support from GPU vendors.
Many feel that codec standardization is necessary if the HTML5 video tag is to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of online video. But right now it seems fairly optimistic to even imagine the introduction of a standard format to the HTML5 spec. The battle lines are, in fact, now more pronounced than ever, with Google today announcing that the H.264 codec will no longer be supported in its Chrome web browser. Instead, Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support will be restricted to only open source codecs. However, its own WebM (V8) and OGG Theora are currently the only ones on its list of supported codecs.
“Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies,” announced Mike Jazayeri, a Google product manager, on the Chromium blog. “These changes will occur in the next couple months but we are announcing them now to give content publishers and developers using HTML <video> an opportunity to make any necessary changes to their sites.”
With this announcement, Google joins the ranks of Mozilla and Opera as a browser vendor who has completely shunned the rival, royalty-saddled H.264 codec. But H.264 is not short of backers either, with the eminent likes of Microsoft and Apple owning patents in the H.264/AVC patent pool. Moreover, H.264 is not only the default video codec in IE9 – the next major release of the world’s most popular browser, but most modern GPUs now feature H.264 decoding.
The confusion created by these competing standards is surely great news for Adobe, whose Flash Player plug-in is the most popular way of delivering video on the internet. The plug-in already supports H.264 encoded video and VP8 support is on its way. If the deadlock persists, as is most likely, support for both these rival codecs will guarantee Flash’s popularity long into the future.
What to do you make of Google’s move? Do you think the internet giant has done the right thing by withdrawing H.264 support from Chrome on the pretext of promoting open web technologies, especially when the very same browser comes with Adobe’s not-so-open Flash Player built into it?
One of the most important aspects of any mobile device in this day and age is the quality of the browsing experience. While the iPad is understood to have a great browser, it might have met its match in the upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook. RIM is going all out to promote their tablet, and this new video is turning some heads.
The side-by-side comparison shows the iPad browser being schooled by the PlayBook in a number of ways. The PlayBook manages to load web pages at almost desktop speeds. The iPad, while fast, cannot compete. Rendering on both devices is similar, but the PlayBook also loads Adobe Flash content. HTML5 performance was also demonstrated, giving the PlayBook the clear win there as well.
The iPad might still have the edge in that you can actually buy it, but the PlayBook is looking more compelling than it might have at first. Do you find this demo convincing, or will you only believe it when the product is real?
Don't expect Adobe to give up on its Flash platform any time soon. Adobe is as enthused about Flash as it ever was, but that doesn't mean the company is going to ignore the whole HTML5 thing, either. On the contrary, Adobe just went and released an add-on pack for its Illustrator software that converts it into an HTML5 authoring tool. Here are some of the highlights:
Export named character styles as CSS
Export artwork appearances as CSS
Included selected Graphic Styles as CSS in SVG
Created parametrized SVG (vector graphics tagged with variables)
Create multiple-screen SVG (leveraging media queries to serve up design variations)
According to Adobe, most of the creations designed with the add-on pack will work in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and will probably be compatible with Internet Explorer 9.
"I'm curious to see whether this news makes it onto the Mac sites that've beaten Adobe up for a perceived lack of enthusiasm about HTML5 (tough, as it just doesn't fit that sterile, stupid narrative)," John Nack, Principal Product Manger, Adobe Photoshop, wrote in a blog post. "The funny thing is that these changes build on the SVG support that Illustrator has been shipping for ten years. Sometimes it just takes a while for the world to catch up."
We guess that Apple-induced chip on Adobe's shoulder is still there.
As we barrel headlong into a future of HTML5 video online, many have wondered aloud if the closed H.264 video codec is the way to go. The company that manages the patent pool for the video compression standard, MPEG LA, has made an announcement today aimed at quelling those fears. According to MPEG LA, they will never charge for the use of the codec in free video streams.
The open source Firefox browser has refused to include the closed H.264 codec this far. Google itself has been developing an open alternative called WebM. HTML5 is not tied to H.264, and could theoretically use any codec, but H.264 has the early lead. More than likely, any HTML5 video you've ever seen has been H.264.
The announcement from MPEG LA is certainly good, but it leaves a lot of wiggle-room. Paid streams might still need to pay licensing fees down the road. Companies using H.264 encoders/decoders would also have to pay up. MPEG LA has also made noise about assembling a patent pool to go after anyone using WebM. So even that standard may not end up royalty free. What do you think should be the format of the future?
That Internet stalwart AOL has moved its mobile strategy ahead today with the release of two new apps, and a mobile HTML5 website. The HTML5 site will be able to deliver richer content to devices with HTML5 compatible browsers. The apps are AOL Portal, and AOL Daily Finance. The finance app has been available on Blackberry and iPhone, but newly developed AOL Portal is an Android exclusive right now.
The Portal app has content similar to what is found on the mobile website, but in a better formatted package. When asked about the rationale for going with Android as the first platform for the app, AOL's David Temkin said, "Momentum is the key reason." A good call considering Android is on track to beat iOS in total activations this year.
The idea that a site would have a mobile formatted site, as well as an app that packages that same content is not a new one. A well written dedicated app can provide a better user experience, but as HTML5 sites move ahead, mobile apps may be less necessary.
You can expect greater speed, a much improved UI and a mobile site that closely mimics the main site in terms of the overall experience. The new site might make native YouTube applications on various smartphones seem outdated.
“As the world continues to go mobile, we think this is a great improvement for users who want a more consistent YouTube across many devices, no matter where they are. We're launching in English only today, but will be rolling it out in other languages in the coming months,” YouTube said on its blog.
You can watch the demo video below. Or better yet, direct your phone's browser to m.youtube.com and experience the changes first hand.
“It's important to understand what a site like YouTube needs from the browser in order to provide a good experience for viewers as well as content creators. We need to do more than just point the browser at a video file like the image tag does - there’s a lot more to it than just retrieving and displaying a video,” YouTube programmer John Harding wrote on the YouTube API blog.
Harding cited a number of reason for YouTube's current lack of confidence in HTML5 as far as online video distribution is concerned. He stressed the need for a standard video format, which is obviously not the case right now as the propriety H.264 codec and the open WebM format are locked in a battle to determine the most popular HTML5 video format – the HTML5 spec does not require support for a standard format.
“The <video> tag certainly addresses the basic requirements and is making good progress on meeting others, but the <video> tag does not currently meet all the needs of a site like YouTube:”
Steve Jobs, the proprietary pimp who refuses to back Adobe's Flash platform, isn't alone in his decision to get wholeheartedly behind HTML5. Joining him is Digital Playground, one of the major players in the adult film industry, which announced plans to kick Flash to the curb and get into bed with HTML5 as soon as desktop browsers fully sport the spec.
"We are waiting for browsers to catch up. As soon as they are ready, we will move everything to HTML5," said Ali Joone, founder and director of Digital Playground. While grateful for what Flash has delivered up to this point, Joone added that it was "just a matter of time" until Flash got pushed aside. "It's the next passing of the torch."
This latest development isn't without significant ironic undertones. Just over two months ago, Steve Jobs said that Apple has a "moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone." The way it's shaping up, however, it looks like folks who want porn will be able to get it on their iPad, too.
Should Adobe acknowledge the announcement, we fully suspect the software vendor to downplay the situation, but this could turn out to be a huge development. Let's not forget that despite HD-DVD winning over consumer support with lower-priced hardware, Blu-ray ended up winning the high-definition format war, a victory that in large part was won because of the backing of the adult film industry.