All 18 entries tagged Video
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September 09, 2008
Microsoft has announced that Silverlight will be supporting AAC audio and H.264 video. With regard to my previous entry about the video tag, this will make it even harder for Theora and can only consolidate H.264 as the current codec of choice. The announcement comes as no surprise to industry experts, but this move proves that MS is aggressively going after online video in a big way, but I’m not sure anyone really wins – based on browser/OS install base Silverlight may become more of a threat than the video tag would have been.
I’ve also been thinking a little more about Chrome – given that YouTube is part of Google it’s likely that when Chrome supports the video tag, the embedded codec(s) Google chooses could have a huge impact. Considering that H.264 is already being used on YouTube, perhaps that would be the default choice?
September 08, 2008
The availability of a Firefox 3.1 alpha (and Safari 3.1) with video tag support has prompted a few people to proclaim that Flash will soon be replaced as the primary medium for playing video on the web. I think predictions of Flash’s demise are both premature and inaccurate, and also think there’s a possibility that the introduction of the new tag could cause more problems than it was intended to solve. Why? – codecs…
Firefox (and Opera) will support one embedded codec in the first instance, Theora. Theora is completely open-source but based on an older-generation codec, On2 VP3. Flash currently uses VP6 and H.264, Quicktime Player supports H.264 and Silverlight adds support for VC-1, one of the newest kids on the video block. All are newer, higher-quality formats than Theora (typical comparison here). That’s not to say Theora is a bad codec, far from it, but in the world of video codecs it is at least a generation old, maybe more, and as such doesn’t represent the current best of breed in terms of video quality/performance.
Secondly, in order to take over from Flash, Theora needs to be on all or enough browsers to work as a standard. The HTML5 specification doesn’t advocate or recommend any codecs, and as the specification notes, this is problematic:
It would be helpful for interoperability if all browsers could support the same codecs. However, there are no known codecs that satisfy all the current players: we need a codec that is known to not require per-unit or per-distributor licensing, that is compatible with the open source development model, that is of sufficient quality as to be usable, and that is not an additional submarine patent risk for large companies. This is an ongoing issue and this section will be updated once more information is available.
So, if one browser advocates Theora, will every other browser follow? After all it’s a fairly trivial (and zero-licencing cost) thing to include support for it. Firefox and Opera combined currently have around 25-30% share of the browser market; while 30% (and growing) is an excellent starting point to build from, IE’s and Flash’s dominance in terms of installed base will make it difficult forTheora to overtake the current popular formats unless they support it too.
We’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper here either; many video services and sites that use video have spent a considerable amount of time and investment in encoding to a specific platform, one that is currently supported by enough browsers/platforms to make it worthwhile. At best a move to Theora would have to be transitional, and likely to take several years, as people migrate content over to the new format. IE is the most common browser by a considerable margin, and Microsoft has its own favoured formats; WMV via Windows Media Player and/or VC-1 via Silverlight, plus the formats supported by Flash Player. It’s hard to see these not being with us for a while yet, unless IE starts supporting Theora at the expense of Windows Media formats (unlikely); if Theora isn’t included in IE, it simply isn’t going to get traction as quickly as it needs to to become the standard. Similarly unless Webkit (as the core engine of Chrome and Safari) or YouTube also add native support for it (AFAIU latest Safari builds that support the video tag currently support Quicktime’s supported formats, which doesn’t include Theora as standard), it’s hard to see it taking over. While users will be able to add new codecs manually, assuming they will do so in order to view a new video format could be risky. Then there’s streaming support via RTSP/RTMP, etc.
My point is we are going to have to live with multiple formats whether we like it or not, and that Theora is a technically a backward step; it will only take one browser vendor to ignore Theora and it will become void as a standard, yet HTML5 isn’t forcing or even recommending a standard to follow. At this point video on the web will be in danger of becoming a mess as people find they don’t have the required codec and have to install support for it. I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest the video tag is going to create chaos where relative calm currently exists, but it might. I can’t see a good technical reason why the current model of using Flash as a wrapper for video and codec support is broken, or why it needs to be replaced with what may become a mess of format support where we move from two or three dominant formats to five, six or maybe more competing ones, plus multiple downloads for users. In my experience proprietary formats tend to be better, that’s why they cost, and neither do I buy into the ‘everything has to be open-source’ argument, especially considering that the dominant audio format is MP3, which isn’t an open-source format at all (even AAC codecs require patent licence).
Most importantly though, while all this takes place a solution already exists; Flash Player. It supports H.264, VP6 and Sorenson, most people already have it and it works on all the browsers mentioned above, across Windows, Linux and Mac. “But Flash is a terrible resource hog!” I hear you say, but when you consider that Flash is decoding and rendering video, in software, it’s worth noting that this takes CPU cycles and is a processor/memory intensive task. Even if you could run fully-hardware accelerated video (which Flash is moving towards), video is still relatively intensive work for the average desktop/laptop. In the first instance, Theora decoding in Firefox is going to run in software, just like Flash, and presumably consume CPU cycles in a similar way.
With all this in mind it would seem to me that the only reason for wanting to take Flash off its video pedestal is that it is owned by a commercial entity, ignoring the fact that Flash Player has been a key enabler and driver of the dramatic increase in use of video on the web, without any of the ‘payback’ people seem to fear. Without advocacy from W3C, the reality is that browsers are going to be free to implement their own choice of favoured codecs, but those choices are likely to be driven by different criteria, not necessarily whether they are open-source. It could be about to get messy.
Alternatively, we could all start using Mike Chambers’ workaround for getting Flash to display video wherever the video tag is used, and everyone could just carry on. ;-)
May 14, 2008
I just had to encode a couple of videos from AVI to H.264 format for playing via a Flash-based video player and noticed that the player was having to download the whole file before playing it. I checked out this Adobe Tech article on H.264 encoding and here’s why:
One important thing about playing an H.264 video file as progressive download is that the moov atom needs to be located at the beginning of the file, or else the entire file will have to be downloaded before it begins playing. The moov atom is a part of the file that holds index information for the whole file.
I was using SUPER to encode to H.264, and by default the moov atom gets placed at the file end. Fortunately, Renaun Erickson at Adobe has kindly created a small AIR application (a port of a C++ application) that will take a standard H.264 file and relocate the moov atom to the front of the file, and then progressive download works properly.
Edit- thanks to Marshall’s comment, if you’re using SUPER there’s an option to select ‘Streamable H.264’ – do that and the moov atom will be put at the beginning of the file. :-)
April 02, 2008
Writing about web page http://www.cornflex.org/?p=1
Wish I could embed the full example here, but I’ve just been looking at these awesome examples by Quentin Lengelé of combining footage shot with a 360degree camera, a 3DSMax ASE sphere model and Papervision 3D to create a fully 3-dimensional video experience (the original footage is by Immersive Media, who now also offer the same kind of thing commercially in a Flash-based player, lots of other demos on the link). Wish I could come up with this kind of stuff…
February 04, 2008
Writing about web page http://www.arnnet.com.au/index.php/id;898723528;fp;16;fpid;1
The offer by Microsoft to buy Yahoo for $44.6billion has created something of a stir, mainly because it’s the biggest offer of its kind (one that even MS would have to borrow money for with reserves of ‘only’ $22billion or so).
Should the deal go through, it may also have serious implications for Adobe and Flash; The MS rival technology Silverlight is currently being adopted slowly but steadily, but it’s easy to see how Microsoft taking over the second biggest internet company on the planet would present a prime opportunity to push its own platforms more aggressively.
Yahoo recently created its Yahoo Messenger application using Silverlight but
currently up until recently made more use of Flash/Flex for other major features, like Yahoo Maps. Last week Yahoo released ASTRA, a set of Yahoo-developed components and libraries and in December gave a new Yahoo Flex skin to the development community, so Flex and Flash development is clearly still alive and kicking at Yahoo. It’s easy to imagine a Microsoft-owned Yahoo adopting Silverlight more extensively in future, increasing the penetration of the platform to the point where it gathers enough momentum to become as important and ubiquitous as Flash Player.
With this in mind, I was interested just now to read this interview with David Stubenvoll, the CEO of Wowza Media Systems. Warwick University recently adopted the Java-based Wowza Media Server as its solution for video and audio streaming, as an alternative to Adobe’s own Flash Media Server. As a provider of a third-party solution to an existing Adobe platform, it would be reasonable to assume Wowza is to a certain extent tied to the Adobe roadmap, but it was interesting to see David’s predictions (made in December) for Silverlight, before the bid was even announced:
Adobe has to assume that Silverlight is going to become ubiquitous…What’s the time frame for that? I’d say nine to eighteen months
That’s much sooner than I would’ve predicted, but a successful bid for Yahoo could be a significant catalyst for Silverlight. With this in mind, it’s reassuring to see that Wowza intends to support the video delivery mechanism required by Silverlight in the future, plus mobile formats;
Wowza plans to add support for Microsoft’s media delivery format to Media Pro Server sometime next year. The upstart company also will build in support for Java Platform Micro Edition, which is the most popular video format on mobile phones.
Which is reassuring, but back to my original question – would the deal accelerate Silverlight’s penetration? Almost definitely I think, although I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, mainly because I haven’t seen Silverlight-based applications do anything significantly better than Flash – it seems to be more about allowing the vast number of .NET developers to create Rich Internet Applications without having to move to the Adobe platform. I don’t think this really affects Flash Player very much anyway; at 83-98% penetration it’s unlikely that people would adopt Silverlight OR Flash; it will simply help drive adoption of Silverlight, at which point the decision on what to use will come down to development preference and features (where different).