Flash used to be the driving engine behind bringing videos to the web, powering YouTube and most other big video sites, but now it’s falling out of favor due to new web standards and lack of support on iPads, iPhones, and other mobile devices. With the change in how many browsers and devices display video, two new video codecs, H.264 and VP8, are coming to the fore and gaining popularity — promising higher quality and more portability. Here’s a quick view of what they are, what you need to know about them and what sorts of changes you may want to make to your technology.
What Are H.264 and VP8?
H.264 and VP8 are video codecs — or ways of encoding video. H.264 is a standard created by MPEG-LA, and VP8, also known as WebM, is currently owned by Google and offered as open source.
Why Are We Talking About H.264 and VP8?
These codecs are competing to be the default video standard for HTML5. Since there’s no set standard right now, browsers have been picking favorites, with Internet Explorer and Safari expressing support for H.264 and Mozilla, Chrome, and Opera expressing support for VP8. Some, like Chrome and Internet Explorer, are planning on being able to handle either codec, though they may need an extension to do so.
There’s also a third codec in discussion, Ogg Theora, which was the original open-source codec competing with H.264. However, VP8 is more advanced then Ogg Theora and since it’s now open source, Ogg Theora is pretty well out of the picture.
Why Isn’t There One Standard for HTML5 Browsers?
The World Wide Web Consortium, the group in charge of the HTML5 specs, hasn’t chosen a standard codec for video yet, so right now the decision is falling to the web browsers. Why there isn’t agreement between the browsers is based on a few issues. First, there’s a concern that H.264 won’t remain royalty-free, and it currently isn’t royalty free when being used for commercial purposes. Mozilla refuses to support the codec because of potential future licensing issues and has come down in favor of open-source VP8. However, Apple is refusing to support VP8, saying it’s an inferior codec that won’t work as well on mobile devices as H.264.
What Does This Mean for Flash Video?
Currently, about 75 percent of online video is in Flash, but almost all of that is also available in H.264, and the number of videos encoded in H.264 is rising. Conversely, the number of Flash videos encoded with proprietary Flash codecs is dropping. Flash videos can also be encoded in H.264 as F4V files instead of the older FLV files, but MP4 files are preferred.
What Does This Mean for Flash Video Players?
Flash video players, which can play FLVs, MP4s and some other file types that use the H.264 codec, will eventually become obsolete due to HTML5’s built-in video players, but until there’s a standard set across browsers, IE makes its move to HTML5, and people stop using older browsers, video players will need to pick up the slack.
What Should You Do About Your Online Videos?
If you’re using YouTube, Vimeo, or any other major video site, your video is likely already available in H.264. If you’re hosting your videos yourself, it’s not really practical to offer multiple file types and player/non-player options. Thankfully, a number of companies are working on code that can make the switch for you. To ensure that the largest number of people possible are able to watch your videos, look into encoding your videos with H.264, consider encoding videos in VP8 as a lower priority, and make sure you have a player for non-HTML5 browsers. Some HTML5-friendly video code and fallback players to look into include JW Player for HTML5, SublimeVideo and Video for Everybody.