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Streaming Standards for Worship

Dec 14, 2011 12:07 PM, By Jan Ozer

What you need to know about HTML5, Flash, and DASH.

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However, the DASH standard doesn’t address HTML5’s biggest implementation hurdle, which is that all HTML5 browsers don’t support a single compression technology or codec. Specifically,

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 and Apple Safari include an HTML5 player for the H.264 codec, while Mozilla Firefox and the Opera browser support only Google’s open-source codec, WebM. Today, Google Chrome browser includes both codecs, but Google has stated that they intend to remove the H.264 codec sometime in the future. It’s actually a bit worse than this sounds because Firefox version 3.6, which is still more than 5 percent of the installed base of desktop browsers, only supports a third codec, Ogg Theora.

To fully support the universe of HTML5-compatible browsers, you’d have to encode files in three formats and still fall back to Flash for viewers without HTML5-compatible browsers. Or you could just continue to solely support Flash and wait a year or two (or more) until the penetration rate of HTML5 browsers exceeds 95 percent, and then reevaluate.

If your only concern was desktop players, this might be a good strategy. Include mobile in the equation, however, and creating an HTML5 player with fallback to Flash might be a great strategy for your on-demand streams. Here’s why:

HTML5 on Mobile Devices

In the two key mobile markets, Apple and Android, HTML5 support is ubiquitous, as is support for the H.264 codec. So the simplest way to enable on-demand playback for Apple and Android devices is to add an HTML5 player on your website using only the H.264 codec, with fallback to Flash. Android and Apple devices would use the HTML5 player, as would desktop viewers running HTML5 browsers that support H.264 playback. All other desktop viewers would fall back to Flash.

While on the topic of mobile, let’s talk about Adobe’s recent mobile-related decision, starting with precisely what they decided to do. Here’s a quote from the Adobe blog that discusses this decision (See to read more.). “Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores. We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook.”

Adobe will discontinue development of the Flash Player on mobile devices, pushing their key content producers to produce native apps for the mobile platforms. According to the blog post, Adobe will also continue development of the Flash Player on the computer desktop, focusing on markets where Flash “can have most impact for the industry, including advanced gaming and premium video.”

Why the decision to cease development for mobile? There are a number of reasons. The sheer number of Android device configurations made it very expensive to provide device-specific support. Now Adobe has passed the problem of ensuring device compatibility to its app developers. In addition, Adobe was locked out of the iOS market—which doesn’t support Flash—and Microsoft has also said that they won’t enable plug-ins like Flash in its upcoming Windows 8 tablet OS.

In contrast, Android, iOS and Windows 8 all support HTML5, making it the best multiple-platform solution for deploying browser-based content to the mobile market. Adobe saw the writing on the wall and decided to exit a market that they couldn’t affordably and adequately serve.

What’s the key takeaway? At a higher level, simple video playback of on-demand content is becoming commoditized, and it can be performed just as well in HTML5 as in Flash. In addition, HTML5 also has much greater reach, allowing one player to serve mobile and desktop markets—though Flash fallback is clearly necessary on the desktop.

Adobe is positioning Flash as a premium technology that offers many advantages that HTML5 can’t offer, including all those mentioned above. Other noteworthy features that HTML5 doesn’t offer include multicasting and peer-to-peer delivery, which are particularly important in enterprise markets. However, if these features aren’t important to your organization, it’s time to start implementing HTML5 for your on-demand streams—if only with H.264 support to serve the iOS and Android markets.

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