Recent improvements to popular Internet browsers have increased their HTML5 capabilities. Whilst just a handful of them contained features from the upcoming HTML revision two or three years ago, the top 6 browsers (Maxton, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer) now support HTML5 technology up to 64% or more, according to the HTML5 Test. And that’s good news: not only are they up-to-date with new standards, but they also bring new perspectives to video playback.
Why would video playback be of such importance? Some are already content and fully satisfied with Adobe Flash Player, which has been around for a long time. A vast majority of video streaming services still use it as their default player, even though some are taking a step ahead and releasing experimental versions of their own HTML5 video players.
If you’d like to learn about HTML5 video, the Dive Into HTML5 excerpt on video playback might interest you (although it is slightly outdated). On a personal point of view, I see three main advantages in choosing HTML5 over Flash:
- You do not have to install a third-party plugin – nor free software (Gnash), nor a proprietary version (Flash). This abides by the KISS philosophy – Keep it Simple, Silly! – and it drastically reduces the usage of resources.
- Flash leaves Local Shared Objects (LSOs) behind, those being cookies that are specific to Flash. Unless you’ve ever heard about them, chances are that you probably do not know those hidden traces. They contain your Flash settings and preferences, but they’re also used to silently track users and retrieve information from them.
- Some HTML5 video players provide further playback options and already work smoothly.
How can you pick HTML5 over Flash? As of now, HTML5 players are still optional on the main streaming sites (YouTube and Vimeo, to quote a few). Consequently, users willing to use them have to force its activation.
We will be seeing how to enable HTML5 players by default on both YouTube and Vimeo, on two browsers: Chrome (also works for Chromium and Chromium-derived browsers) and Firefox.
YouTube has an opt-in option to their HTML5 player test, accessible here. All it does is to add a cookie and keep it stored. Nearly all videos should play with HTML5 with this cookie, but this option will stop working if you have disabled or often clear cookies (I happened to be in this case).
Vimeo created a simple button to switch to their HTML5 player, at the bottom-right corner of a video description. It is disabled by default.
Extensions are the solution to enabling HTML5 players by default, especially if you modify your cookies.
Chrome: install the HTML5ify extension. It will automatically enable the HTML5 player on YouTube and Vimeo. On other sites, it attempts to get rid of Flash media if it can be replaced by a HTML5 substitute.
For further options on YouTube, you may also install YouTube Options, an extension that lets you tweak numerous settings for the YouTube player.
Firefox: Enabling HTML5 playback on Firefox is somewhat trickier than on Chrome at first sight, due to the lack of extensions. However, ViewTube, an userscript that can be run through Greasemonkey, activates HTML5 video on 12 websites (including YouTube and Vimeo)
N.B: Greasemonkey must be installed in order to use ViewTube.
All around, we have different ways to equip our browsers with HTML5 video playback on YouTube and Vimeo. Other streaming sites may or may not propose HTML5 players; as an example, Dailymotion and Soundcloud use HTML5. I believe it will take some time for video/audio sites to use HTML5 players, as HTML5 hasn’t even been officially published yet and remains a draft. Hopefully, new ones will come in the near future and we might get rid of Flash once in for all.