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YouTube Developer Blog Gives Flash the Nod Over HTML5

  • June 30, 2010
  • By David Needle
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Google's YouTube division voiced strong support for Flash this week in a blog post aimed at Web developers, arguing that the emerging HTML5 standard isn't yet ready to fully replace Adobe's Flash platform.

"We've been excited about the HTML5 effort and <video> tag for quite a while now, and most YouTube videos can now be played via our HTML5 player," Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) software engineer John Harding said in a post at the company's YouTube blog for developers. "This work has shown us that, while the <video> tag is a big step forward for open standards, the Adobe Flash Platform will continue to play a critical role in video distribution."

While HTML5's <video> tag points the browser to a video file, Harding said Flash offers the precision YouTube requires for displaying video effectively.

Harding gave several other examples of why YouTube still favors Flash over HTML5 for now.

He said Flash Player's ability to combine application code and resources into a secure, efficient package has been key to getting YouTube videos embedded in other Web sites.

"While HTML5 adds sandboxing and message-passing functionality, Flash is the only mechanism most Web sites allow for embedded content from other sites," he said.

Another area Harding said favors Flash is full-screen HD video. "Flash Player provides robust, secure controls for enabling hardware-accelerated, full-screen displays," he said. "While most browsers have a full-screen mode, they do not allow JavaScript to initiate it, nor do they allow a small part of the page (such as a video player) to fill the screen ... While WebKit has recently taken some steps forward on full-screen support, it's not yet sufficient for video usage (particularly the ability to continue displaying content on top of the video)."

There is also the issue of video content creation. The simplest and most common YouTube videos are recorded directly from within a user's browser using a Webcam, a process Harding said wouldn't be possible with Flash.

"Camera access is also needed for features like video chat and live broadcasting -- extremely important on mobile phones, which practically all have a built-in camera," he said. "Flash Player has provided rich camera and microphone access for several years now, while HTML5 is just getting started."

Harding's post continues Google's public stance to distance itself from Apple's hard-line dismissal of Adobe's Flash. While Flash is widely used across the Web to play video and multimedia content, Apple has banned it from the iPhone and iPad because of what the company said is subpar performance and security concerns. Instead, Apple is backing HTML5, which others -- like Google -- argue isn't ready to fully replace Flash.

Google does concur with Apple's view that HTML5 has a bright future, however, and has released its own HTML5 player for YouTube earlier this year.

The Next Wave of Mobile Devices

Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin said content publishers care less about the Flash-versus-HTML5 debate and more about how to get their content distributed as widely and efficiently as possible. He noted that Flash has been dominant on the PC because it provided a better distribution mechanism than earlier alternatives that required plugins and were generally more complicated to use.

"Now we're moving from the PC to mobile platforms, and for Flash to be successful, it has to be on these new platforms or publishers will go elsewhere," Bajarin told InternetNews.com. "There is a chance Adobe won't be quick enough to address all these key platforms that are emerging because it's an expensive and time-consuming process that requires a lot of engineering work."

In addition to the device manufacturers and system software providers, Bajarin said Adobe has to be sure it has the support, at a deep technical level, of silicon providers like ARM, Qualcomm and Nvidia, who are powering a new generation of devices.

With the exception of Apple, Adobe's new Flash Player 10.1 for mobile devices garnered statements of support from major hardware companies and media Web sites earlier this month.  

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: YouTube, Flash, HTML5




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