YouTube introduced HTML5 support all the way back in 2010. After five years, the search giant’s popular video site now defaults to HMTL5 on the web instead of Flash and also defaults on Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8 and Firefox browsers. In fact, It was only a matter of time before this has to happen, as the decline for the widely-used Flash platform was doomed even before 2010’s YouTube’s introduction.
It has to be that all started with the Apple’s decisive drop on supporting Flash platform way back in 2007 on first introduction of the iPhone. At the time, Flash was considered the standard for web-based video, although, it had many technical difficulties. It wasn’t a native component of most browsers and had to be enabled with a built-in plugin or a downloadable one from Adobe. It was also resource intensive and had a long history with security vulnerabilities that put users at risk.
Now, very few can remember the time when you couldn’t play most of the videos on iPad and iPhones because iOS simply didn’t support Flash. It seemed at the time that, Apple’s decision hurt only iPhone and iPad users and that Flash is gonna survive the hit, but things soon enough started to shift in the favour of better promising platforms like HTML5.
The benefits of HTML5 vs. Adobe Flash
But why is HTML5 so much better than Flash? For starters, it’s an open standard platform and is not owned by any company. It certainly helps that during the last couple of years, HTML5 standard and its video implementation greatly matured, adding more and more features missing in the early versions of the platform. YouTube’s HTML5 player now supports almost all the features of the Flash player, including ads, DRM protection and encrypted streams.
One of the main reasons why Google didn’t use it for YouTube videos in the beginning is that HTML5 lacked support for Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) which optimizes the user experience for the viewer. When this has been finally solved there was little reason to stay on Flash any longer. ABR is usually critical for providing an undisrupted experience for viewers allowing for quick and seamless adjustment of resolution and bitrate depending on user CPU and bandwidth. “ABR has reduced buffering by more than 50 percent globally and as much as 80 percent on heavily congested networks,” said Google. Even more, YouTube on HTML5 can now also make wider use of Google’s VP9 video codec, which gives similar quality video resolution with an average bandwidth reduction of 35 percent (you can imagine what that number means for a video giant when it serves billions of hours of videos a day with much less bandwidth but the same volume of ads). This means that smaller files allow more people to access higher video quality and faster than before.
4K smart TV’s are something that soon enough most of us will have the pleasure of enjoying in our homes and with this improvement we will be able to watch even the highest resolution videos without much hassle. Most of the online video streaming services like Netflix, AppleTV, Google’s Chromecast and even consoles like XBOX and PS4 have fully embraced HTML5 now, which confirms that “advancements made in HTML5 platform have benefitted not just YouTube’s community, but the entire industry”, as Google pointed out. This is in fact in line with the Google strategy of sticking to the HTML5 platform for video that they’ve announced this year at the Google I/O event, at their YouTube and HTML5 workshop.
“The benefits of HTML5 extend beyond web browsers, and it’s now also used in smart TVs and other streaming devices.” Richard Leider, YouTube engineering manager.
There’s one tiny downside of leaving Flash technology, though, that YouTube is still quiet about. With switching to HTML5, YouTube had to drop 3D viewing options of videos since HTML5 doesn’t support it, at least for now. We still don’t know for sure if this is gonna cause any big ripples in the sea of online videos but considering that 3D technology is still widely seen as a gimmick feature, we think that 3D option is not gonna be greatly missed by anyone really (how many of you didn’t even know that the option is there to begin with?).
Flash is still widely used for many different things and to disappear altogether would be a shame. Its main use right now is the ardent support it has in the online video marketing. Interactive pre-roll still mostly relies on VPAID ads that are displayed as Flash ads, and although HTML5 support is available for interactive pre-rolls via VPAID 2, it’s not widely accepted yet with the publishers. What this, in fact, means is that, in order to fully monetize your content (on the desktop at least), you will have to stick with a Flash solution. This is something we offer at Brid.tv of course, but it’s also a tech we dearly like to get away from.
As mentioned above, Apple may have started this war but Google is now the one to finish it. For us, in the online video business, we are happy that the war is over and now everybody can focus on making the online space a better place for all of us to thrive.