YouTube and Gordon Becoming Big Factors in Web Video Standards

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YouTube and Gordon Becoming Big Factors in Web Video Standards

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A new experiment came down the TestTube this week on YouTube.  Google's video hub just introduced a new HTML5-powered video player option that utilizes the <video>  and <audio> tags, and broadcasts in H.264.  Browsers that don't support H.264 will not be able to render the content.  Firefox and Opera use the OGG codec, which is also a part of the HTML5 spec, but not used on YouTube.  Another technology that uses HTML5 to help standardize video on the web is the Gordon project, which revealed itself last weekend.  It's basically a Flash runtime written in
JavaScript that could one day challenge Flash Player's ubiquitous hold on web video.

HTML5 and YouTube

If a user opts into the HTML5 Beta on YouTube, all of the videos they view will be played via HTML5 if possible.  The load time is about the same as a regular video on YouTube and there is no noticeable difference in quality.  Currently, the HTML5 option does not support Fullscreen and ad videos (they still run in the Flash Player).  YouTube intends to make these options available as soon as possible.

HTML5 video on YouTube is supported by Chrome, Internet Explorer (only if it's using the Chrome Frame plugin), and Safari 4 or higher.  The iPhone's Safari browser can also run the HTML5 videos since they are broadcasted in H.264, which the iPhone supports natively.  Firefox and Opera were not invited to the party because they only support the OGG open source format.  OGG and H.264 have been at the center of the HTML5 debate for some time now.  

Large companies like Google and Apple support H.264 because they believe the quality-per-bit is better, and they can afford licensing costs on the patent-covered MPEG standard.  Mozilla and Opera support OGG because it's most likely unpatented.  Google has stated its belief that OGG is not yet suitable for the volume handled by YouTube, therefore Firefox and Opera browsers probably won't be included in this TestTube project anytime soon.  The H.264-based HTML5 project at YouTube is significant because it could help tip the balance in favor of H.264 if the WHATWG decides to choose one format for HTML-standard video.  Right now, the HTML5 spec supports both OGG and H.264 since no one can agree on a single, standard codec.

Over the weekend a German developer named Tobey Schneider unveiled a little program that could be a game-changer in the RIA space.  The "Gordon" project is a Flash runtime written in JavaScript.  Named after the old comic strip hero, Flash Gordon, the project is in its very early stages, but that could change very quickly now that the developer community knows about it.  There's probably some very interested web builders out there that would like to help Schneider advance his project.  iPhone owners would also love to see a Flash runtime that they could actually use.

Gordon uses HTML5 and the SVG standard.  There's a SWF tag support table and a browser support table on GitHub along with the project.  Unlike YouTube's HTML5 videos, Gordon does work with Firefox 3.6.  It also works with Epiphany and mostly works with Safari 4 and WebKit Nightly Builds.  Only the Gordon demos work on Chrome 3.0, and Chrome 4.0 tends to crash.  It hasn't been tested on IE 7-8 and doesn't seem to work with IE6 (no surprise there).  Gordon doesn't seem to work on Opera either.  Although Gordon might one day break Flash's hold on web video, don't expect it to replace Flash anytime soon.

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