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The state of video on the we

The backstory

In case you didn't know, if you want to add video to a website you can do it in one of two ways: using a plugin such as Adobe's Flash or natively playing it in the browser by using a new feature of the HTML web language, aptly called

But video does have its problems. Just as with images (where you see JPEG, GIF and PNG) there's several different file formats for video. You see, videos generally need to be compressed (both the pictures and the sound), and there's different ways of compressing them. That's what these file formats are. The big three formats are Ogg, h.264 and the latest kid on the block, WebM

Native video support (that is, not needing to use a plugin) is relatively new � it's not official standard yet ��so the different browsers have yet to agree on which format to use:

  • Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9 and Apple's Safari only understand h.264
  • Firefox understands Ogg and WebM
  • And until recently Google's Chrome supported all three

So, why the disagreement? Simple ��h.264 uses patented technology (interestingly Apple and Microsoft are holders of one or more of these patents), while Ogg and (possibly) WebM are patent-free. Firefox have always refused to use h.264 for this very reason, whereas Apple has always said that Ogg and WebM are of lesser quality

Things were ticking along nicely, with the majority of browsers supporting h.264 and yours truly hoping that Firefox will see sense and include it too. But in the last week Chrome have decided to drop support for said format

I mentioned that it was important you remembered that images work in a vaguely similar way, and this is why: until recently, GIF was also patented ��and the big difference is unlike GIF, nobody will have to pay to use h.264 on the web. People still used GIF files (the only reason we don't nowadays is because there are better formats)

The problem

This all means that video on the web is at a worse state than it's ever been. Sure, we can use a plugin such as Adobe Flash, but Flash just isn't very good

I have to wonder why Google made this decision. The official line is similar to that of Firefox's: that h.264 isn't open, whereas Ogg and WebM is. That's true enough, but remember that Chrome supports Flash, which also isn't an open format. And Google Street View and YouTube (owned by Google) use Flash, as I've just mentioned isn't an open format. Why the contradiction?

Is it a coincidence that Google created WebM? Is it coincidence that the most vocal proponent of h.264 also vocally attack Google and Adobe?

Of course, Adobe are happy about this, they will be. But it doesn't add up. Neither h.264 or Flash are open, but at least h.264 is good. If we're going to be dropping support for something because it's closed, it really ought to be the one that's full of problems

The state of video on the web

As a web development community we need to go one of two ways: we need to either decide on a single format once and for all (my vote, of course, goes to h.264) or we need to go the way of images: it doesn't matter what format you use, it should just work

Last year when it was announced that nobody would be charged to use h.264 on the web, we went a step forwards. We all hoped that Firefox would use it ��but so far they haven't. Instead we took a step back, with browsers being split in half between those who support h.264 and those who support Ogg and WebM

The web shouldn't matter what browser you use, what computer you use. You should be able to visit it on your PC, your Mac, your iPhone or your 5 year old Nokia. We should be past the stage of "Best viewed using" messages. There isn't a desktop web and a mobile web. And there shouldn't be a h.264 web and an Ogg/WebM web. I shouldn't need to have to include one video for Internet Explorer and another video for Firefox when making a website

The web is for everybody to see, not just those with Flash plugins installed or the correct browser. This isn't 1997 when the two major browsers conflicted, fought, and generally didn't work together. It's 2011, we should be learning from our past mistakes maturing as an industry, we should be working together to make the web the best it can be, not bickering over patents and openness and not using a certain technology because your rival helped make it

As a web developer and active(ish) member of the web community, I'm angry and upset that we're not using our energy on more important things. The losers here are the people who have to make the sites and create two different versions of every video, and the visitor who will only get to see half a web if they don't