YouTube and Vimeo support HTML5 Video

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Unless you’ve been hiding under an XHTML2 shaped rock for the past week or so, you’ll know that both YouTube and Vimeo have announced plans to support the HTML5 video element. Two blog posts published last week announced that the two major players in online video are experimenting with the HTML5 <video> element.

YouTube and Vimeo Logos

Will it work cross browser?

The videos will work natively in Safari and Chrome (well, YouTube would certainly have to, wouldn’t it?). They’ll also work in IE if you have ChromeFrame installed (which we all know is cheating). If you’re using a browser that doesn’t support HTML5 video it will default back to the Flash method they currently employ.

Both YouTube and Vimeo use the H.264 codec to encode the videos — and that’s where things start to get complicated.

Since no official codec is defined in the spec because browser manufacturers have chosen to use different codecs to render HTML5 video. Opera and Mozilla use the Ogg Theora codec (more on that later), while Apple and Google use H.264. Who knows which side of the fence Microsoft will come down on, but I feel duty bound to mention that the licensors of the H.264 codec include both .

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The elephant in the room

There’s one major problem here: Ogg Theora, the open source video codec supported by both Firefox and Opera, is not supported on either site. It’s a shame these browsers aren’t supported, especially since Firefox 3.6 was released last week and announced support for full-screen video in its native video player.

Why use Ogg?

As previously stated, Ogg is an open source codec, meaning it’s free to use and implement. By contrast, support for native H.264 decoding in a browser costs approximately $5 million per year. (See summary of AVC/H.264 license terms [PDF].) It also seems that people creating H.264 content will be liable for royalties starting in 2011.

Far be it from me to get into the ins and outs of the debate over which codec to use, but it seems that open source would be the better way to go. Silivia Pfeiffer (a contractor for Mozilla) claims that serving as Ogg Theora will reach more people than serving as H264.

Google, on the other hand, which owns YouTube has said that Theora is not a good enough codec, claiming “If [youtube] were to switch to theora and maintain even a semblance of the current youtube quality it would take up most available bandwidth across the Internet”, a claim hotly (and convincingly) contested in Greg Maxwell’s YouTube / Ogg/Theora comparison.

YouTube and Vimeo seem to have discounted Ogg. I’d love to find out if there are other plans to add support for Firefox and Opera.

Where does that leave us?

Ignoring the whole video codec debate, it leaves us in some ways back where we started — dealing with proprietary software or complicated licensing to create online content rather than using technologies that will allow us to have a truly open web.

With Apple, Google, Mozilla, and Opera not likely to budge on their respective codec choices for HTML5 video, we can only hope that the developers at market-leading sites like YouTube and Vimeo can implement cross-browser interoperable video just like Kroc Camen’s Video for Everybody. Judging by the aforementioned blog posts, both sites have more plans in the pipeline, which is encouraging.

The codec battles are only beginning, and we’re waiting to see which direction one big gun will point. Last year, Google (which owns YouTube) announced that is paying $104million for a company called On2 Technologies, “a leading creator of high-quality video compression technology” and which made the original VP3 codec which is the basis for Ogg Theora.

What are their plans? To release a “better” Theora-like codec into the community? We can only speculate.

Back to today. Although not perfect, these sites’ support for the <video> element is still a massive leap forward for HTML5. Who knows — if more large sites continue to adopt HTML5, maybe it’ll be ready in 2010 rather than 2022!

26 Responses on the article “YouTube and Vimeo support HTML5 Video”

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by brucel: New html5doctor post looks at Vimeo, YouTubes’ new #html5 #video support and the various codecs

  • Leigh Baker Ronco says:

    Simultaneously exciting and depressing news. Yet again, proprietary software adding hurdles and barriers to new technologies and the healthy evolution of this medium. Yet, evolving it is. !

  • Lionel Martin says:

    It’s worth noting that dailymotion has a HTML5 version of its website with Ogg Theora here

  • Miles Carmany says:

    The problem, as far as I have been able to gather, is that the licensing for h.264 includes a large number of companies beyond even just Apple. Apple has historically tended toward affordable and reasonable licensing terms for technology it wants out there to prevent alternative, more restricitive technologies from becoming the defacto standard. Which is why Apple today uses a broad portfolio of “closed” and “open” tech in their products. Whatever gets the job done.

    I would hope that Apple can and will lean on the other interests holding back h.264 to ease up.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by bruce lawson, Mike Paciello, Phred, Eiras, Sylvia Egger and others. Sylvia Egger said: YouTube and Vimeo support HTML5 Video @html5doctor #html5 #video #youtube #vimeo […]

  • Carey says:

    It seems to me that it’s more accurate to say that no official codec is defined in the spec because browser manufacturers have chosen to use different codecs.

  • […] codec and implementing a H.264 decoder would cost the browser manufacturers approximately $5 million per year. On top of that, even content creators would be liable for loyalties starting. The problem is not […]

  • zcorpan says:

    Carey: indeed.

  • Since no official codec is defined in the spec, browser manufacturers have chosen to use different codecs to render HTML5 video.

    You have the causality backwards. The reason why the spec doesn’t specify a codec is that browser companies didn’t agree on any one codec.

  • Bod says:

    Has anyone actually proposed H.264 (or any other codec with patent fees) for inclusion in the HTML standard? Note how this is different from just providing content in that format, or creating a browser that decodes it.

    If so, then you could say that

    “Since only 3 out of the big 5 browser vendors were prepared to ship the only feasible royalty free video codec (and 1 of the 5 is noticeably silent on the entire matter of video), the spec refrained from specifying a codec”

  • Régis says:

    It’s funny to notice that everybody royally ignores Dailymotion, which supports HTML5 video tag and Ogg Theora for months now. And almost all its catalog is already compatible. And Dailymotion is like 10 times bigger than Vimeo…

  • Rich Clark says:

    Thanks to Carey, Zcorpan and Henri for pointing that out. You’re right I didn’t explain myself very well there.

    Thanks also to those guys who pointed out that Dailymotion has been using HTML5 video for a while now.


  • As I understood things, the real issue with Ogg is that little if any hardware supports it. H.264, by contrast, is rather ubiquitous. Supporting it rather than Ogg allows to increase the battery life on mobile devices.

  • William Lacy says:

    With the OGG-audio/video format in the “drivers-seat” now, it is the choice if news outlets to deny which one is the most supported., has the highest HTML5 support and reach (with Chrome Frame compatibility), and not one mention in the news.

    What is obvious, is the media is not going to declare the winner to OGG, right in front of everyone’s face.

  • […] video en interactieve, ‘multimediale’ toepassingen. Steeds meer videosites zijn aan het experimenten met HTML5 video. Dit is nog niet ideaal en er is nog een lange weg te gaan voordat HTML5 video Flash helemaal kan […]

  • Shiv Kumar says:

    I have a different take on this as regards Html 5 video. First, I don’t believe it’s the business of any standards body or browser maker to specify or limit what video codec should be used. Granted the Html 5 video recommendations don’t mention a codec and that’s great. But Firefox is taking an unusual stand in all this.

    Html 5 is more than just video and I think people are getting the wrong impression about Html 5 because all they see/hear is video, which is too bad, because it’s the least important part of Html 5.

    Html 5 video – what’ so great about it? As a publisher I can tell you what I see looming over our heads. Since the video player is not the same in every browser you can expect different performance by different browsers/players on different operating systems. For example videos that play fine on MAC Safari (in their Html 5 video player) don’t work the same on PC Safari. The same video played in Chrome behaves differently and of course Firefox not at all. So we’re making a lot of progress?

    What Flash gives us (and the viewer mind you) is an abstraction from all this. We are assured that if a video played in a certain browser and OS, it would play perfectly on any browser and OS (at least the platforms we care about).

    The inconsistency in performance between browser players and the lack of support of H.264 by Firefox is a huge nightmare for us. Already we have 4 versions for every video uploaded (to suit different bandwidths and devices) and are planning a total of 6-7. Now, not only will we require double that number (because of Ogg-Theora) for each video uploaded but we’ll have to deal with the inconsistencies across browser players to boot.

    Given a choice between all the extra encoding, disk space and inconsistencies in video quality (between H.264 and Theora) and the inconsistencies across browser players and the support nightmare that that will cause…

    Flash versus Html 5 Video versus Windows Media/Quick Time

  • TomkOx says:

    Embeding HD videos (and watching them) on websites is as stupid as saying to people that OGG is OK becouse it is “open”… (for about 95% it means nothing that OGG is open: it is hard to produce and use for typical computer users, just like many other good digital-formats are unavailable – by default – for all windows users). Standards sux! It is all about marketoids business.

  • Conor Wade says:

    Just a quick comment according to this article MPEG LA isn’t going to charge royalties for free internet video at least until 2015 now. My guess is that once the large corporations are paying them money things will remain the same.

    One other quick item to note is that with the recent growth in the mobile internet market, hardware acceleration for video playback is very important. Hardware acceleration for OGG doesn’t exist, to my knowledge. This is why Apple, and Google are pushing h.264.

  • @Shiv – I agree Flash gives you a cross platform, cross browser way of showing video. However this all relies on the user having the Flash plugin installed – which may seem ubiqutious but when you start to take mobile into account it certainly isn’t. This brings native video in the browser into it’s own and where the real plus point is.

    Bruce wrote recently about the What are the Business Benefits of HTML5 video so I suggest you have a read as he mentions some of your concerns.

    @TomOx – There are several easy to use convertors for the average user to create OGG videos. Also the average user wouldn’t really be encoding a video at all but more likely uploading to YouTube or Vimeo, who as we see from the article are now starting to cater for HTML5 video.

    @Conor – Thanks for the link. The 2015 issue still looms large though. If I was a browser maker would I want to have to find an extra $5m a year to have a certain codec work in my browser or would I use an open source version?

    We have to remember that this version of HTML is an opportunity to change things and do it better, so it’s important we get it right rather than being stung in 5 years time.

  • Shiv Kumar says:


    Flash will be on all mobile devices except for Apple devices. Besides, I think people are quite used to installing plug-ins and it shows because of the number of machines that have Flash installed. Personally I don’t think video is Html “business”. Yes, standardizing on the tag is Html business and if they (and browser makers) can get that straight it will be great but even today different browsers support different object tags.

    Vimeo does not do Ogg (as of yet) and for websites like YouTube, Vimeo and ExposureRoom it means double the number of encodes and double the disk space – to what benefit? I have yet to hear any real benefit about Html 5 video and believe me, not installing a plug-in is not one of them. If that were the case then YouTube wouldn’t be so popular or online video for that matter wouldn’t be so popular.

    There are many areas that Html needs fixing and many ways in which Html can be enhanced. Video is just not that big a pain. In fact it’s not a pain at all but many other (missing) things are a pain and I’d rather see those things fixed/addressed.

    And we know that each browser maker will try and out do or deviate from the others so in the end the user/consumer is always going to get the short end of the stick no matter what.

  • Joe says:

    I’m debating whether or not video codecs should be standardized.

    This seems to be a good example of standards vs freedom. Why set a codec standard in stone, when some independent party might create the next great thing? I think setting a standard of codec would limit innovation in that field.

  • Jason says:

    I tend to agree with Joe, why put video in a box. Isn’t it the one thing that is probably progressing the fastest with HD, 3D, LED, so many different platforms, things are changing, evolving too fast to say this is the only thing we’ll use. Should HTML5 and it’s new tag be flexible making it easy for basic users to add video to their sites without having to know about video codec’s or have software like Adobe Encoder to render it out in the proper format?

    I LOVE the idea of without Flash and a lot of the HTML5 stuff coming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Adobe fan and love Flash but it’s gotten bulky with video. Plus Mobile smartphones are taking over and I use my Blackberry for everything and HATE that I can’t watch video and stuff just because Flash isn’t supported. Video has become to much of a basic thing and needs to be supported across all platforms especially mobile devices. With the new Sprint HTC Evo coming with an HD Screen, HDMI port and a lot of other media intense options we need to be able as web designers and web developers to easily incorporate video into the layout

    just my two cents…

  • I LOVE the idea of without Flash and a lot of the HTML5 stuff coming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Adobe fan and love Flash but it’s gotten bulky with video.There are many areas that Html needs fixing and many ways in which Html can be enhanced. Just a quick comment according to this article MPEG LA isn’t going to charge royalties for free internet video at least until 2015 now.

  • Lyubomir says:

    What Flash gives us (and the viewer mind you) is an abstraction from all this. We are assured that if a video played in a certain browser and OS, it would play perfectly on any browser and OS (at least the platforms we care about).

    Flash performs horribly on Linux.

  • […] Multiple UGC sites, including YouTube and Vimeo, have HTML5 compatible players, though both require users to opt in to view the HTML5 pages. At the time of this writing, YouTube (a Google subsidiary) is still producing HTML5 compatible files in both H.264 and WebM formats, with no word if H.264 will be dropped. Neither site encoded video into Ogg format, so the only way for Firefox users, which comprise about 50% of the HTML5 compatible market, to view content from these sites is via the Flash Player. […]

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