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Streaming Media East Wrap - HTML5

The Streaming Media East conference has wrapped in New York. The buzzwords at the exhibition and presentations were similar to last year -- content management, mobile, playback on any device, live streaming -- but with even more emphasis on integrated offerings, going beyond generic storage and delivery to offer value added services, customization of offerings, integration with outside services (as in educational applications), and better reporting of what the users are doing.

As a microcosm of this extension of streaming media beyond just playing video, a new theme at the show was the revitalization of digital signage. Companies from AT&T (network services) to VBrick (media appliances) demonstrated how these ideas of media management and wireless distribution can deliver much more compelling and useful digital signage. In applications from business to schools, offices to lobbies, these displays now can present dynamic information in multiple windows, including real-time updates, news feeds, and, of course, streaming video.

And in the streaming world, the conference hosted several sessions on the promise of HTML5. In particular, Jan Ozer gave a nice update on the promise and reality of encoding and presenting video using HTML5 (the presentation is posted at his Streaming Learning Center site).

HTML5 certainly has great promise -- allowing video to play directly in the browser without needing additional plug-ins, with playback across desktop to mobile, and better interactive control -- as well as simplifying the work for video producers and web developers.

However, as Ozer explained, the promise is not quite realized:

- First, the platforms are not quite ready, as only some 60% of the browsers by market share currently support HTML5.

- Second, the browsers do not support a common video format -- The most recent versions of Apple Safari and Microsoft Internet Explorer support the H.264 standard, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera support WebM (the former On2 VP8 acquired and open sourced by Google), and earlier Firefiox and Opera support Ogg Vorbis (also open source).

(It appears that the desire among end users for open source media formats has been blunted by the commitment by the MPEG consortium to not charge royalties for non-commercial use. However, the royalty structure still is inhibiting its adoption by the smaller browser developers.)

As a result, Web developers who want to reach a broad audience still need to support Flash video in addition to HTML5, and also support multiple video codecs within HTML5. At least for the moment, the code is getting messier, rather than cleaner.

There was goods news, however, from Ozer's annual update on his advice for doing H.264 encoding. It's now not so much which encoder you use, since the leading products are all quite good. And it's not so much about tweaking the encoding parameters, since you can generally get good-looking video by following general guidelines for resolution, data rate, and key encoding parameters.

For example, Ozer's surveys of how leading companies do encoding for their online sites show bits per pixel at around 0.1 to 0.2 for standard-res video (640 x 360), and down to 0.05 for HD (1280 x 720) as the codecs work even more efficiently at higher res.

Even better, Ozer sees Baseline profile H.264 (as required for mobile devices) now often delivering similar quality as High profile (as supported for desktop devices), which means you may be able to do most of your encoding with the single Baseline profile, and only need to encode a second version at High profile for particularly difficult video.

Then for the WebM format, Ozer sees it delivering quite good quality, similar to H.264, although with more variable support among encoding tools.

Ozer concluded by discussing DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP), a new standard being developed by MPEG that offers the promise of a common way to package video for true streaming directly over HTTP, from desktop to mobile, without requiring special streaming servers or clients.

However, DASH is designed as an open format, not only supporting multiple codecs, but also multiple formats for dividing the video into fragments, so video that works with the approach used by Adobe and Microsoft would not work on Apple devices (including the iPhone and iPad). DASH is still being worked out, and the level of support from key companies is not yet clear, so while it also holds promise, we well may well still have another case of multiplying formats.

See Jan Ozer's book, Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5, for much more on understanding these formats and how to good video compression (see earlier post).

And see his StreamingLearingCenter.com site for much more on streaming, including video tutorials, sample comparison images and videos, and information on his webinars, seminars, and consulting.

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