Crash course: HTML 5 video

So you want to add HTML 5 video to your site? Here's how.

If you want to watch Internet-delivered video on your PC, the vast majority of Web sites have settled on a single, consistent way to do that. That's the good news. The bad news is that this single, consistent delivery system is Adobe Flash, with all its security and stability issues.

But now a new way to deliver video through a browser is coming to the fore, one intended to be native to the browser itself: HTML 5's <VIDEO> tag. In this article I'll look at how the <VIDEO> tag can be used with the new generation of browsers. I'll also examine how parts of this equation -- the browsers and, to some degree, the video formats themselves -- are also still very much in flux.

Online video before HTML 5

One could fill a decent-size book talking about all the formats that have been used to deliver Web video at one time or another: Microsoft's .avi and .wmv container formats and the gang of codecs delivered with them, Apple's QuickTime, RealNetworks' RealVideo and RealAudio formats, and so on. Microsoft's Silverlight also deserves mention, since it allows providers such as Netflix to distribute content with embedded copy protection -- a feature not likely to fall out of demand as long as money changes hands for video content.

However, the video delivery system that's most widely deployed right now is Adobe's Flash.

The Flash Player was, and still is, one of the few browser add-ons that almost everyone is likely to have. Browsers on Macs and PCs alike typically support Flash by default, since a growing amount of Web content in general depends on it. It could be argued that Flash has become a video-delivery system as a byproduct of its original intention, which was to bring vector-based animation to the Web.

But Flash has problems as a video delivery system. It's proprietary. It requires the use of third-party code rather than something native to the browser. It has been lambasted for its lack of security and instability. The list goes on. It's a solution, when people have been hungering for the solution.

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