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So we know what HTML5 video and audio are, but are they ready for us to actually use on our web sites today? The answer is yes, but with a big asterisk. Latest versions of all popular browsers support HTML5 video and audio including Internet Explorer 9. Because of this, a little over half of the users probably have a browser that can support HTML5 Video and Audio. This chart is based on global Internet user stats from statcounter.com and you can see that from March of 2010 to March of 2011 user support for HTML5 video and audio has grown from 38% to about 53%.
In this chart you can see that 53% broken down by browser. Over half of your HTML5-supported users will be using Firefox and Chrome, Safari, Opera, and finally Internet Explorer 9. Now with the official release of IE 9 in 2011, I expect we'll see IE start to climb the ranks in this chart and the overall support of HTML5 will grow with it. Your own web site's stats may be different than these depending on your audience, but even if your audience support is much lower, I think you will see significant growth through 2011.
Now 53% of users probably doesn't sound like a lot, especially compared to Flash which will be supported by between 95 and 99% of your users. So why would you want to start using HTML5 now? Well, there are a couple of basic reasons and then one big reason. First basic reason is HTML5 video is the future of web video, so we'll all be there eventually even if we don't start now. That's not the best reason and if you wait, you will probably find it easier to work with HTML video later when all kinks are worked out. That's still something to consider.
Second is that theoretically the code should be cleaner, a simple video tag instead of a bulky embed code for a third-party plug-in like Flash. However until all our users support HTML5 video, we need to provide a plug-in fallback for other users, which means our code is actually more bulky. The third basic reason is the fact that the player is built directly into the browser, meaning it doesn't require a whole other application like Flash to be running. So with HTML5, your video might play back more smoothly and seem more responsive and should definitely take up less of your system's resources.
Now that's not a hard and fast rule. It depends on how a specific browser's players built, but it should be true in most cases. Now on the other side of that, not all HTML5 browsers support the same video formats and some, including Firefox versions between 3.5 and 4, only support the Ogg Theora format which is a lower quality format than the H.264 format you should probably be using with Flash today. So you would be delivering a lower quality video to those users. Thankfully Firefox version 4 supports the WebM format which is a comparable quality to H.264.
Now I've realized I'm not making the best case for HTML5 video here and honestly it's still a very new technology and you should probably approach it as if it were an application in beta. You expect it to work, but know that you might hit some bumps in the process, but as I mentioned there is still one big reason to use HTML5 video and that is the fact that it's the only way to play back a video on Apple's iOS devices including iPhone, iPod and iPad. Flash is not supported on these devices. iDevice users probably aren't going to be a large portion of your audience.
In fact according to statcounter.com, it could be under 2% of your overall traffic. Still these are very popular devices. There is a good chance you have at least one of those three. Most people know these are popular devices and more and more expect you to support them. I have an iPhone myself I know it's frustrating for me when I find a broken Flash plug-in in the place of the content I want. Knowing what I know, I can't really fault developer for not supporting HTML5 yet, but if you have any significant amount of video or audio on your site and don't support HTML5 yet, you can probably expect to receive requests from the users to just start supporting their iOS devices and that's the big reason why you'd want to start using HTML5 video and audio now.
Apple has single handedly lit a fire under HTML5 video adoption. This chart from mefeedia.com estimates that as a February 2011 about 63% of video on the web is viewable on an iOS device. So if your video isn't, it's in a minority. At the same time Apple is pushing HTML5 forward when it comes to video formats, it's also in some views holding HTML5 video back. So next, I'll talk about the format war.
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