Further driving the obsolescence of technology like Flash, Google is announcing that YouTube will default to using HTML5 video by default, at least on the most recent versions of major browsers. While it might take some time before the web is truly rid of Flash, it is a brave move forward especially for a service that is absolutely reliant on the smooth and flawless delivery of multimedia content. It also shows how much the web has grown up to replace the benefits once provided only by the likes of Flash.
YouTube has already been delivering videos via HTML5 for years now, but it was only an opt-in program and even then it wasn’t always applicable. YouTube attributes this somewhat half-baked adoption to the lack of features in HTML5 that would put it on par with the service’s Flash video deliveries. Now, however, those features are well in place enough to make YouTube confident in switching to HTML5 video by default.
One of these features is MediaSource Extensions, and Adaptive Bitrate or ABR to be specific. ABR allows YouTube to find the “best” video quality to deliver depending on network quality in order to reduce buffering. I’ve you’ve noticed your video automatically switching between 480p and 720p, that’s ABR at work. That said, some actually bemoan this automatic default, but luckily it can be manually set. HTML5 has also gained support for Encrypted Media Extensions which can be used to separate content protection technologies (DRM) from delivery methods, so that a single YouTube HTML5 player can be used with any content protection solution of choice.
The switch to using HTML5 video brings many benefits. First is that HTML5 video is a formal standard that browsers will want and need to comply with. Second is the independence from third-party plugins that bring their own set of vulnerabilities. The latter also means that video can be delivered on platforms and devices that don’t support those plugins, like Xbox and PlayStation consoles and Chromecast.
For now, the implementation of this default HTML5 behavior is limited to Chrome, Internet Explorer 11, Safari 8, and beta versions of Firefox. We can expect more browsers to follow suit. And more importantly, with the biggest Flash-using platform fully switching away, we can expect that other similar video services will also start migrating their platforms over to HTML5 in the near future.