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Jason Beres: HTML5 Hype

VP at Microsoft.NET MVP Infragistics Jason Beres poses the question 'Do the media features in HTML5 live up to the hype?

Do the media features in HTML5 live up to their hype? Like many things new and shiny, the hype-cycle for HTML5 is pretty strong. The reason is, the big three heavyweights in technology – Microsoft, Apple and Google, have all put their support for HTML5 front and centre in their product strategy. Any new product seems to have an HTML5 twist, especially browsers. For instance, who has the most HTML5 compliant browser? You can find articles all over the web with a blow-by-blow feature comparison of IE vs Chrome vs Safari – all with varying results.

The answer is not so simple. Asking whether browser support for HTML5 media has lived up to the hype is not a simple yes or no answer. One might argue that the only hype is coming from the media, or Microsoft, Apple and Google. Does the consumer actually care whether they are watching a video that is HTML5 or not? Based on global Internet traffic trends, about ten per cent of connections to the Internet are happening from a mobile device. In some counties, like India, that number is almost 50 per cent and growing. As most mobile devices require a plug-in-free media experience, HTML5 is the simplest and most consistent delivery mechanism. Even though one could argue that globally ten per cent isn’t a huge number, which means having HTML5 media delivery isn’t critical, though regionally it does matter. So if I am in a country like India where I do half or more of my Internet browsing via a mobile device, I expect it to work seamlessly with my lifestyle.

Eventually, we will all enjoy HTML5 media. Unlike a decision on a phone or tablet OS, where the consumer is in charge, the fate of HTML5 media is really dependent on how many browsers actually support it and how quickly vendors drive you to these modern browsers. Around 65 per cent of browsers that hit the Internet today support HTML5 media. In a year or perhaps three years, this should be in the 90 per cent range. It’s just a matter of time. So the questions become: How many new devices will ship with modern browsers? How many legacy browsers will be updated to a modern version, and how many legacy browsers will go out of support, thus forcing users to upgrade? The ubiquity of HTML5 media depends on the answers to these questions.
Mobile devices need HTML5. Due to lack of plug-in support on mobile devices, all roads for media on devices lead to an HTML5 or device-native solution. The HTML5 solution is important when browsing the Web on a mobile device, if you go to, or you want to see the videos. Since the iPad does not support plug-ins, you’ll expect these sites to play media in an HTML5 player. For video that requires DRM (Digital Rights Management), perhaps a native solution is better, as most devices have a native video player, which can validate DRM.

There is risk in using HTML5 media today. Even though it’s good that around 65 per cent of browsers today are HTML5 capable, it may not be good enough. Consider these points:

• Plug-ins are almost everywhere – Flash is pretty much everywhere in every browser and Silverlight is installed on about 75 per cent of browsers
• Not all browsers agree on how to play HTML5 media – different browsers support different codecs, so you need to support multiple encodings of your media
• HTML5 video can’t do fullscreen mode, which is desirable for content providers like NetFlix & Hulu.

It does seem risky to dump plug-in media delivery for HTML5. Perhaps it’s too early, since the current solutions work pretty well.

Final thoughts: considering all of the issues and considerations around HTML5 media, it is fair to say that HTML5 media has lived up to its hype in some aspects, whereas in others it has not. Plug-ins still deliver a consistent, secure, DRM-protected experience on most browsers. HTML5 can deliver a good experience on 65 per cent of browsers today, and is supported on almost all mobile devices, but the consistency isn’t quite there yet as a single solution. For now, a hybrid approach is still needed if you want to get into the HTML5 media game. As time goes on, and the percentage of modern browsers that are compatible with HTML5 gets higher, you can expect to see HTML5 as the only solution on sites that don’t have a DRM requirement.