YouTube Abandons Flash, Adopts HTML5 as New Video Standard
This post may sound late but Google’s decision to make YouTube drop Flash in favor of HTML5 is an important news worth discussing, albeit belatedly. This is a major development in the Internet world, considering how popular YouTube is. Also, there are still many who don’t understand what HTML5 is really all about and why Flash has to go.
HTML5: An Overview
HTML5 is the most recent version of the core technology markup language employed in the structuring and presentation of content on the web. As the name implies, it is the fifth revision of the HTML standard, a successor of HTML 4 standardized some 18 years ago.
HTML5, naturally, brings several improvements as it aims to create a single markup language that can be written in either HTML or XHTML. It comes with detailed processing models that promote more interoperable implementations. It introduces markup and application programming interfaces for complex web applications. Many of the improvements in HTML5 have been particularly developed in response to the increasingly growing use of mobile devices in accessing web pages.
Before the introduction of HTML5, there hasn’t been a native standard for presenting videos on the web. As many may have noticed some years back (when Flash was not pre-installed in web browsers), upon installing a new web browser, a plugin (Flash) is required before videos on YouTube could be viewed. Some browsers
HTML5: Not a Video Format
Some mistakenly think of HTML5 as a video format since it is reported with the phrase “standard supplanting Flash” or “replacing Flash videos.” HTML5 is not a video format. It is more than just video on the web. Unlike Flash, it is not just an element on a website but a whole standard. However, since it has the capability of presenting audios and videos within web pages, it has become popularly described as an alternative to Flash.
Flash, by the way, is also not a video format. It is a multimedia platform used for creating, modifying, viewing, and presenting graphics, animations, games, and rich Internet applications. In the context of this post (HTML5 replacing Flash in YouTube), what HTML5 replaces is the use of the Shockwave Flash plugin to play videos on YouTube.
Videos played with the Flash plugin are usually in the FLV format although they can also be in MP4, MKV, OGG, 3GP, HTML5 videos, on the other hand, are only in 3 formats (currently supported, to expand). These formats are MP4, WebM (the video counterpart of WebP), and Ogg. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera all support MP4 directly embedded on a page with HTML5. However, only Chrome, Firefox, and Opera support WebM and Ogg.
YouTube’s HTML5 Video Player
YouTube has a page dedicated to detailing its HTML5 video player. As the page states, YouTube’s new video player is supported by all of the popular at present including Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox, as well as the Safari on iOS. The YouTube video player supports HTMLVideoElement, H.264, WebM VP8, Media Source Extensions, MSE & H.264, and MSE & WebM VP9.
Reasons for the Change
It had been years since YouTube contemplated on the introduction of changes to move away from Flash. YouTube engineer John Harding, back in 2010, even enumerated the benefits of HTML5. Now, the time to change has come.
There are a number of reasons for this change. YouTube engineer Richard Leider says that the key reason is the Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) feature. This feature supposedly makes for a better YouTube experience by changing video resolutions based on network quality. ABR, according to Leider reduced buffering by more than 50% (on the global average). Additionally, the shift to HTML5 enables the live streaming of play sessions on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, adds support for the VP9 codec, and reduces bandwidth use without reducing video quality. Moreover, HTML5 allows the use of new APIs that can show fullscreen videos with standard HTML UI.
Expediting the Death of Flash
For years, Flash has been criticized for being heavy on resource use and proprietary. Apple’s Steve Jobs himself published an open letter that had unflattering comments on Flash. Android does not have an app on the Google Play Store for playing Flash. Also, not all Android devices support Flash. As Google moves to make YouTube dump Flash in favor of HTML5, Flash is bound to become irrelevant unless Adobe Systems offers something innovative to address the issues hurled against it.
Implications of the Change
With YouTube paving the way for HTML5’s popularity, playing online videos is expected to become easier and less heavy on resource use especially for mobile devices. Also, more mobile devices should be able to readily play online videos. Adobe Systems, for its part, does not seem intent on competing against HTML5 or maintaining the popularity of Flash. Adobe is reportedly focusing the use of Flash in gaming and premium video.