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Kurt Zenisek Kurt Zenisek wrote:June 8th, 2011

Update on HTML5 Video Usage

Boxee.tv Intro

I’m going to kick off this article by sharing what sparked my interest to write this article about HTML5 video useage. I recently went to boxee’s website (a company that offers Internet-based TV products and services), and I was happily surprised by the clever intro they’ve added to their site. It takes advantage of HTML5 video so people using web browsers not yet capable of HTML5 will have to see it second-hand, or you can (as always) choose to download Google Chrome or Safari to take a peek at it yourself. I’ve embedded a screen recording of the HTML5 version below so you can take a look (screen recording makes it look choppier than it really is).

Did you see the intro? You can skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet, because I’m going to proceed to break-down what about this intro made me instantly know it was done with HTML5 video (honestly, the first thing I did after seeing it was look at the site’s code to verify my thought that it was indeed HTML5). The first thing that tipped me off was how fast it loaded. Flash videos take time to load up the Flash plugin instance (commonly causing a splash of color/white to be shown for a split second where the plugin will appear) and load the video player/skin portion of the Flash file (since Flash requires a “helper” file alongside the actual video file in order to display it) in addition to loading the video itself. Instead of requiring that whole process, the only thing that needs to be loaded using HTML5 is the video itself, and that means videos can start to play in less than a second. Another thing I noticed was how responsive my browser was even though it was playing a rather large video. Flash videos of that size typically cause my scrolling to become more choppy and are more CPU intensive than what was seen on this HTML5 version. Another, less obvious, thing I noticed was how well integrated the video was into the website design. The tabs at the bottom have a nice translucent look to them and there’s various pieces of the page such as their logo and login form in which part of the video takes place behind (this is something that is commonly problematic when using the Flash plugin), and the video compensates for the dynamic width of the browser really well.

HTML5 Video Usage as of Oct. 2010

HTML5 Video Usage as of October 2010. Courtesy of Mefeedia.com

With all of that whizzbang out of the way, we can now start to cover how the landscape of the Web has changed now that people are adopting the use of the HTML5 video standard. Part of the recent announcements was that Boxee has embraced HTML5 and switched over to using Webkit for it’s built-in web browser functionality. This definitely seems to the the trend since Boxee isn’t the first or the only company to switch over to the Webkit engine (most commonly known for it being what powers the Google Chrome and Safari web browsers) in an effort to provide the best support possible for the latest Web standards. Mefeedia (a video search engine) said in lastt October that 54% of web video is now available in HTML5 (doubled in 5 months), and they attribute the growing market of “smart” mobile devices as being the primary driving factor. These numbers are a good sign, but I still can’t believe the fact that bands and restaurants continue to use sites built for the Flash plugin even though their websites are most commonly accessed on a mobile device by people looking for a place to go while they’re out and about (costing them potential attendees/business with no real benefit as a trade-off).

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It’s not all perfect though, because one thing that many people are still anxious to see the result of is if copyright-protected video providers decide to switch over to HTML5 or not. Currently, sites like Hulu and Netflix use Flash as it provides an encryption method that prevents people from ripping the video directly from the service. I personally think that’s actually a non-issue considering the people that want the content for free already have multiple avenues for acquiring the content (download via bittorrent, use a screen capture program [such as the one I used for the video embedded above] as a loophole around any protection the site might have, etc) and the protection methods that are available to be used in conjunction with HTML5 are actually enough to thwart off anyone looking to get the content from that particular website. A sticking point that affects web developers is the lack of agreement on which video codec is the official standard for HTML5 video, and this means that they need to offer multiple video files for various browsers (Firefox is looking for an open-source OGG video, Webkit is looking for a higher-quality H.264 video, and some are hoping WebM catches on as the official format). These issues can all be agreed upon eventually, and websites will continue to switch over to using HTML5 video so the future is looking pretty bright for a web video standard.

Kurt Zenisek
Web Developer
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Kurt Zenisek Kurt Zenisek wrote:August 5th, 2010

What Makes Apple's Mobile Ad Platform Different?

Apple iAdThe iPhoneTM 4 has been out for over a month now. At that time, there was also a software update for older iPhones and iPodTM touches that added many features that were new on the iPhone 4. Part of the software update was the ability for app developers to display ads served up by Apple’sTMiAd” platform. With the popularity of free applications that people download on a whim comes the desire for developers to monetize them to pay for their initial development costs and support further development.

The advertising model has now been brought into free apps, and it’s like a traditional Website that is mostly, if not entirely, supported by advertising. Apple’s iAd platform isn’t the first to offer developers the opportunity to include ads in their apps, but they do it a little differently.

The traditional electronic ad is either text, an image or a brief animation that, when clicked, will take you directly to the advertiser’s Website. iAd recognizes that most mobile devices either don’t support Flash or have a limited mobile edition of Flash so the common animated Flash ad isn’t possible. People often quote the statistic provided by Adobe that 96% of Web browsers have Flash installed, but that figure is actually representative of the percentage of Web browsers that are capable of running Flash and have it installed. That means it’s excluding millions of devices that have a Web browser that can’t run Flash, even if the device owner wanted to (this includes Apple’s mobile devices among many others).

iAd instead focuses on the fact that 100% of all Web browsers have HTML support. Plus, all of the devices that iAd will be shown on also have CSS and JavaScript support for animation and interactivity. This method allows advertisers to show the full ad experience via CSS and JavaScript on all devices by default and shows the static version of the ad if they set JavaScript to be disabled. Using Flash will instead be shown as a blank block and will require the Flash plugin to show anything at all or requires the developer to also build the HTML version. This begs the question of, “Why not build the HTML version in the first place?” Ads haven’t been using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript until now due to the fact that CSS and JavaScript-based animations were introduced recently so Flash was the only option available to advertising / Website designers.

Apple iAd Toy Story

Click to view full size. Created by blog.monty.de

iAd’s extended ad view does include some new functionality that other ad services don’t offer. The ads expand within the current application when they’re tapped on instead of opening a Website in your Web browser. The ads are self-contained so that everything the advertiser wants to be shown can be included within the interactive ad, and can be closed at any time using a close button that is located in the same place for every ad. The expanded ad also has the ability to:

  • Allow the user to submit a form (register for a giveaway / sign up to a newsletter)
  • Download or purchase something from the App Store (purchase the full product / download a companion app)
  • Save media to the device (wallpapers / videos)
  • Access the camera (scan a barcode in a store / take a picture of yourself using the product)
  • Integrate into other web services (social media / the product’s website)
  • and more…

There’s the potential for a malicious advertiser to exploit some of these features or be a security risk but Apple is requiring each ad to be inspected and approved before being displayed. When iAd was announced, Apple brought up that finding a way to keep the advertising interactive while maintaining an emotional tone was very important to making this form of advertising engaging and effective. This is just another option that’s available to advertisers and developers alike and seems like a promising idea if used properly.

Kurt Zenisek
Web Developer
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Kurt Zenisek Kurt Zenisek wrote:July 13th, 2010

Firefox Version 4 Beta Touts WebM Media Format and WebGL Support

Mozilla Firefox, the second most widely-used Web browser, has released version 4 for the public to beta test. The notable changes include a revamped user-interface and an easier to use preference and add-on manager. It also supports the newer  HTML5 and CSS3 features that Website designers love. One standout HTML5 feature that Firefox has been touting is their unrivaled support for the WebM media format, which will allow Internet users to employ one (open-source) video and audio file format over the Internet. This will replace the need for users to install different programs (which require them to accept licensing agreements and/or fees) to play .wmv, .mov, .mp4 and .m4v files.

There’s also WebGL support included in the beta, but it isn’t enabled by default due to the fact that it’s still the development stage. WebGL provides Web designers access to utilize users’ graphics cards, which show an advanced graphic presentation (3d, intricate animations, displaying and managing a large number of images at once, etc). It is also a sister-project to OpenGL, one of the most widely used technologies for game graphics.

What’s more, a group of people at Google came together and actually ported Quake 2 to WebGL so that it can be run within your Web browser. This is a nice touch, considering the multi-player focus of the game. Users can now go to a Website (even if it’s their first time there), click play and start competing with other players over the Internet.

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Mozilla’s biggest concern is whether the public will appreciate its new user interface, which is comparable to the current interface of its competitor, Google Chrome. Realizing that some users may favor Firefox’s traditional interface, they’ve included preferences that allow people to change the layout back to the way it was before the update. This is a smart decision because it shows they’ve done their research ahead of time and value the needs of both their present and future users.

Mock-ups for the new user interface were shown back in September of last year. So how could something that seems so simple take over half a year to tweak? They’ve spent some serious time preparing answers to such questions, as the following video will show:

The Firefox 4 beta is publicly available for download at their Website. Remember that it’s a beta version when you try it out, because the new user interface is the most fully-realized for Windows users. For all you Mac and Linux users, you’ll have to wait a little longer until the team gets feedback from the Windows beta testers.

Kurt Zenisek
Web Developer
800-728-2656 ext. 123

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Kurt Zenisek Kurt Zenisek wrote:June 10th, 2010

Apple Showcases HTML5

Apple has added a new section to their Website that showcases various demos of things that can be implemented in new Website design projects using HTML5. The examples they’ve created are located here, but they can only be viewed in the latest version of Safari and Chrome (if you don’t have either of these, you can check out what this company has on display, complete with keyboard controls & more).

The limited browser compatibility is due to the fact that they programmed the demos to be run only in WebKit-powered Web browsers, and they programmed a pop-up to invite users to download Safari and view the demos using Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc. There are other methods for checking compatibility that would allow any browser that’s capable rather than the old method of simply choosing what browsers are let in.

The snafu concerning the “Safari-only” pop-up aside, the demos that they have on display are showing off some great implementations of what’s possible using HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript in combination. They are displaying the use of video with custom controls (fast forward & rewind included) in addition to various real-time effects such as live resizing, image masking and 3D perspective. There’s also a nice demo for Web typography that shows off what’s capable now that websites can include custom fonts so that any text on a page looks & acts like a user would expect. There’s an assortment of photo demos that range from interactive panoramas, galleries, slideshow transitions, layering using dynamic content and post-processing effects with the ability to save the resulting image to your computer. Interactivity is being showcased by their checkers demo that includes the AI that’s required for the computer player, offline-accessible sticky notes and an offline-accessible calendar akin to a simplified iCal (Apple’s calendar application).

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Before the iPhone 4 announcement at WWDC, this showcase had a prime spot on Apple’s homepage that linked to apple.com/html5. It replaced the “Thoughts on Flash” open letter from Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs. It wasn’t removed from the site and the open letter got bumped to the bottom of the HTML5 & Web standards page. But it’s nice to see Apple’s commitment to Web standards and that they will be fully supporting them in the future. It’s a little bit of a bummer to find out that the Website they made used arbitrary checks to determine if they should display a warning that offers a download for Safari, but the overall outcome of them working to improve the adoption of Web standards is much more important.

Kurt Zenisek
Web Developer
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Kurt Zenisek Kurt Zenisek wrote:January 31st, 2010

Building a New Web: HTML 5 Video

Flash is widely accepted as the method that video is distributed over the Internet. It quickly became the standard as sites like YouTube, Metacafe, Break, Vimeo, and other content providers started to use it as their means of online media distribution. Before Flash, people would embed Windows Media Player or Quicktime to play back video on a website. This method was slow and not everyone with PCs had Quicktime installed and people using Macs weren’t capable of playing a Windows Media Video. Almost all of those people had Flash installed, so the widespread adoption of Flash for playing video was well justified.

HTML 5 Video

In any technology industry, the drive to improve the accepted standard is unavoidable. Flash is far from perfect. People encounter crashing and performance hogging websites due to their use of Flash. Another issue that’s come into play is that Flash is solely owned and developed by Adobe, and people can’t help but feel like they don’t want a single company to determine what the future of online media will be. For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer is one piece of software where one company single-handedly slowed the development of Internet technologies from making years of progress. There are various enhancements that Adobe has been capable of adding over the years, but has chosen to only include them now such as search engine optimization, graphics acceleration, and more. Apple has added another reason to prefer open-standards over Flash by not supporting Flash on their devices. They claim it’s due to battery usage and poor stability, but others say it’s due to Apple wanting to force people to use their App Store to provide services that were once available via Flash. Either way you look at it, the solution needs to be something that is faster, more reliable, and isn’t owned by a single company. Now there’s a new video distribution method that aims to fix everything that Flash video has gotten wrong, and it’s HTML 5 video.

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Both YouTube & Vimeo have recently launched their web players that are 100% HTML 5 and don’t use any Flash. Not many web browsers are capable of HTML 5 video at the moment as it is still a developing Internet standard. It’s a good sign to get two big name video sites showing their support early on. Once the standard is finalized, the available web browsers will be capable of supporting it. There are even ways to enable HTML 5 in older versions of Internet Explorer for those that prefer to use IE. HTML 5 video will be able to provide all of the custom designs and functionality of modern Flash players, but will be fully optimized for speed and reliability in addition to promoting the use of the latest version of web browsers (while not forcing you to use any one in particular). This is the first article in a series covering the new website design and development technologies.

Kurt Zenisek
Web Developer
800-728-2656 ext. 123

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