Part 2: HTML5 Video

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HTML5 provides its video capability through the new

However, a few stumbling blocks stand in the way of HTML5 video. One is a lack of agreement over which video format to support. Apple and Microsoft have thrown their weight behind H.264. Google, Mozilla and Opera are supporting an alternative known as WebM, though their browsers can also handle a third format, Theora, that was recommended in an early draft of the HTML5 spec.

Unless these companies can agree on a single format, web developers will have to encode multiple versions of each video—most likely H.264 and WebM—to ensure broad browser compatibility.

The DRM Quandary
Another sticking point is digital rights management (DRM), which HTML5 doesn’t natively support. Gubbay notes that the Flash player has built-in DRM, which is a big selling point for websites that want to limit users’ ability to freely download and re-distribute video or other content. Microsoft’s Silverlight, a Flash alternative used by Netflix and other websites to stream video, also provides built-in DRM.

In HTML5, “I don’t think there’s as much of a way to do that today at all,” Gubbay says, adding that developers would have to use JavaScript or other scripting languages to implement their own DRM, which could be more susceptible to hackers.

YouTube, which uses Flash for its main site, recently launched an alternative site that makes most of its videos available in HTML5 formats. In a post on YouTube’s developer blog, software engineer John Harding praised HTML5’s video capabilities but also listed several reasons why the company plans to stay with Flash, at least in the short term. In addition to the issues above, he noted some other limitations in the

Ian Hickson, the editor of HTML5, acknowledges that it doesn’t support DRM, but also notes that even DRM doesn’t necessarily prevent users from downloading and re-distributing protected content. Asked how companies like Netflix or Hulu could prevent unauthorized use of HTML5 video on their sites, he has a simple answer: “The legal system.”

Apple declined to comment for this article, instead pointing to Jobs’ previous comments about Flash and an HTML5 page on its website.

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Stephen Beale has been writing about computer technology since 1983. He’s the author of seven books on computer applications in the graphic arts and a former news and reviews editor for Macworld.  He’s currently editor of a website for public relations professionals in health and medicine.



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