BBC trying out HTML 5, video element

The BBC has an HTML 5 demonstration using the video element. The video itself is encoded in both Ogg and H.264. In the screenshot below I have just clicked on a navigation image to jump to a specific place in the video. The demonstration is meant to work in Firefox, Safari and Chrome, though for me it only ran in Firefox (3.5).

There is a detailed comment from the BBC’s Sam Dutton on why the proof of concept was put together here. There is an interesting remark on why the BBC is interested in this approach, which does not require a plugin like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight:

Flash and other Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) provide something like this already via timeline scripting, but RIAs are ‘black boxes’, using compilers and obfuscators to hide code and data: great if you want to protect intellectual property, whereas we needed to provide a mechanism whereby data and the code acting on it were open and accessible. HTML 5 and the jQuery JavaScript framework gave us the tools we needed without requiring extra plugins or proprietary software.

From a technical perspective, Dutton remarks that the HTML 5 solution is more efficient if you want to synchronize other elements with the playing video:

The HTML 5 audio and video elements remove the need for player plugins, work like any other HTML element in terms of styling and positioning, and standardise the programming interface for playback control. Less well known is that these elements emit a timeupdate event (at a frequency adjusted to fit available processing and memory) which removes the need to poll a player for the current time position. This makes media scripting far more efficient, since there is no need to run a loop or use setTimeout. In tests run on several machines we found that timeupdate events are emitted regularly and frequently (particularly in Firefox), whereas polling a media player for current video time is unreliable.

Dutton adds:

… it’s early days for us on this and there are a number of serious challenges before this becomes anything near mainstream – if ever.

The BBC is an influential site and its experiments will attract keen interest from those watching the evolution of web video.

4 thoughts on “BBC trying out HTML 5, video element”

  1. Does it really matter that Flash requires a plugin to run when everyone has that plugin already?
    Flex has had a view source option for years – don’t blame the technology when developers choose not to use a particular feature. Is or PHP bad because I can’t use view source on it? I’m struggling with that argument.

    Time syncing: there’s no need for polling, and Dutton knows it. Flash can call upon a JS function when certain events occur, and developers use this a lot and have done for years. I’ve never seen a SWF being polled via JS – ever.

    I can see HTML5 gaining some ground over many years, but let’s not forget that Flash != web video, it’s only one aspect of the platform.

    In fact most Flash devs I know (and I know many) spend most of their time building apps that don’t contain any video, and if it does it’s usually used in a way that HTML5 will never be able to accomplish.
    Basic player on a page: yes, maybe. Anything more advanced that would pass the definition of a RIA: I highly doubt it.

  2. Chrome worked for me but the quality was much worse than Firefox, especially the text part.

    @Stefan: Not everyone has a flash plug-in, iPhone users and 64-bit IE for example.

    I like the idea of not being tied to Adobe Flash and a more open standard for video. Should’ve been done a long time ago.

    I hope the browsers will use hardware acceleration for HD video too, a drawback of Flash video is that it doesn’t and so doesn’t work well on cheap machines like the Acer Revo.

  3. “@Stefan: Not everyone has a flash plug-in, iPhone users and 64-bit IE for example.”

    … and the flip side is that not everyone has “a modern browser” (which are actually used by a very small minority of people using browsers). Some consistency in thought would help…. 😉

    Thanks for the pointer, Tim… it was interesting to hear the “black box” line turned around to extend to compilation… the rationale for not using established W3C Recommendations like SMIL was something we don’t hear often either.

    One hidden benefit of all this work is that we’re all converging now on the idea of video being a useful media type, and that interactive presentations offer advantages to complement static presentations. Even five years ago there was dissent here, so things are improving.


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