Flash, the ubiquitous format that has dominated web video for the past 8 years is now facing up to future obsolescence. First Apple turned its back on the format by excluding support on the iPhone and iPad. Then in June 2012 Adobe announced that they would be ceasing development of Flash for all mobile platforms and that there would be no version of Flash provided for the next Android release, codenamed Jelly Bean.
While Flash as a format isn’t dead, video producers must now look beyond it if they want their productions to be visible on the widest variety of platforms available.
“HTML 5” is the term thrown around for the new video format that will replace Flash as the dominant force. Although this is misleading as HTML5 is not a video format in itself. It’s actually just a small piece of html code that is aimed at getting around the problems of having to use plugins to play video within webbrowsers. The piece of HTML code simply contains a link to 1 or more video files. This is what a basic piece of code looks like:
<video width="640" height="360" controls> <source src="video.mp4" type="video/mp4"> <source src="video.ogg" type="video/ogg"> </video>
So all the video tag actually contains is a link to the video files. HTML5 supports H264/mp4, Ogg Theora and Googles new codec WebM.
The idea is that if your system cannot play the first choice format, it will fall back to the second or third option. Although you aren’t actually obligated to include more than 1 format if you wish.
But which format to select? The problem is Theora and WebM aren’t particularly widespread as yet so your best choice is mp4/h264 perhaps with one or both of the other formats as a fallback. Ironically anyone who has a recent version of Flash installed should also have mp4 support in their browser so even browsers that don’t directly support mp4 standalone will work if Flash has been installed.
For example, Firefox doesn’t play h264/mp4 out of the box, however I’m happily viewing an mp4 video on a webpage using it at the moment because I have Flash installed. Therefore actually mp4 is still a fairly safe bet for the time being.
The mp4 can be encoded using your standard video encoder application so that part is simple enough. Theora and WebM are harder as many popular applications are yet to add support. If you feel you want to include these formats you have a limited amount of options. If you just want to try the codecs out, two free options are:
VLC – can encode single pass Theora for PC and Mac.
Miro Video Converter – can encode both single pass Theora and WebM for PC and Mac.
A comprehensive list of Theora encoders can be found here.
Likewise a full list of WebM encoders can be found here.
But what player to use on your site? Well Flowplayer is free as long as you can put up with some minor Flowplayer branding on your video. You can pay to remove this if you want. Personally I don’t consider it an issue.
Whatever you choose, if you are currently reliant on Flash you need to take action. I still see some producers putting their heads in the sand and saying they aren’t worried about excluding iOS devices. That may be fine, but soon it will be all mobile devices that cannot play Flash. Take action now, don’t lose potential viewers!