The Not Ready for Prime Time HTML5 Players

CoversHTML5 video is taking over the world! It’s just that the world isn’t ready for it yet. Flash has powered both good and bad websites for years now, but video publishing has been democratized by the ability of anyone to publish their content by embedding a Flash player into a blog post or a web page. Shoot your video, upload it to YouTube, and publish. Simple.

And now, the downsides. Flash is a plugin in a web browser, which needs to be installed – and updated on a regular basis. The other downside? It doesn’t work on iThings – iPods, iPhones, iPads. Flash is having it’s performance problems on other mobile devices, and it doesn’t seem to be that Apple is just making it up.

So how does this all clear the way for HTML5 video? What is HTML5 anyway? The what is it question is answered by a very informative website called Dive Into HTML5 by Mark Pilgrim. HTML5 is (the shortened description) a specification about how components work in a web page, but they include fancy new capabilities like animation and video, and more interaction – you know, like Flash – but without the plugin. It does it natively with whatever browser you have, as long as the browser supports the capabilities. It’s why HTML5 is not quite ready for prime time yet. Not all the browsers fully support it. The Internet Explorer browsers have been particularly slow to adopt it, though IE9 will make up quite a bit of the distance that its predecessors left it.

HTML5 video is being adopted more quickly that the other HTML5 bits because of the Flash deficiencies mentioned previously. However, the browser support issue needs to be dealt with. A common way forward is to program for the HTML5 video and then have a “fallback” plan in case it isn’t supported in the browser. In other words program so that Flash kicks in if there is no HTML5 video support. Do a search for “html5 flash fallback” and you get a bucket load of procedures.

Now this is where you should be shouting, “You’re doing it all wrong!” Why? Because the HTML5 support is immature, and it shows. The built in players just don’t have the functionality of the Flash players. Use the same search terms for falling back to HTML5 and you get much less information. But that’s how it should be done. Look, Flash works great in the modern web browsers because it has been around for so long. It has years of development on its side. So use it. Then if your device doesn’t support Flash (I’m looking at you iPhone and iPad), fall back to HTML5. A great tutorial by Lee Brimelow shows you how it’s done.

A word of caution is that the HTML5 fallback works for standard web pages, but it gets tricky to make it work in a WordPress installation. Luckily there is a nice plugin for that. Rodrigo Violante has created the HTML5 and Flash Video Player plugin which allows that Flash player with HTML5 fallback functionality, and it works like a charm. It should be noted that sites like YouTube and Vimeo are also using a Flash interface, but support for the iDevices is there as well (you need a Vimeo “Plus” account for their mobile, non-iPad, support). However, keep in mind – it’s still early. We’re still in the dress rehearsal phase.


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