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Six reasons why Flash won't die

Heralding HTML 5 is premature, say analysts

Many are predicting Flash's days are numbered. However, we've rounded up six reasons why this may not be the case.

6. HTML 5 still has video codec patent issues to work out

Like Flash, HTML 5 relies on underlying video encoding-decoding technologies, or codecs, to deliver video, but it doesn't specify which codec must be used; therefore, different web browsers support different codecs for HTML 5 video playback. The most popular video codec in use today is H.264. Apple's Safari browser supports H.264, as will Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9. (Recent versions of Flash also support H.264 in addition to other video and audio codecs.)

H.264 is a patented technology, and companies that use it must pay licencing fees. That isn't a problem for big companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google, but smaller players such as Mozilla have balked at the fees. The use of a patented codec also doesn't sit well with open-source advocates who view HTML 5 as a free and open alternative to proprietary web media platforms like Flash.

Controversy over the use of H.264 for web video existed for several years before HTML 5 came to prominence, notes Rubin, but Apple's championing of HTML 5 as an alternative to Flash has brought the issue to the forefront this year.

Google has proposed an alternative, VP8, which it acquired along with the technology's creator, On2 Technologies, in February. Google's open-source WebM project makes VP8 available alongside the Vorbis audio codec as a universal, royalty-free method of delivering high-quality video on the Web.

Future releases of Google's Chrome browser will natively support the WebM format, as will Mozilla's Firefox and Opera Software's Opera browser. (IE9 will support HTML video playback via VP8 if users have installed it themselves, but VP8 won't be packaged with the browser.)

Rubin has doubts about VP8's viability if it isn't fully supported by Microsoft and especially Apple, which holds the keys to the iPhone/iPad kingdom. This is something he doesn't see changing anytime soon: Apple has already invested a lot into building its devices around supporting the H.264 codec.

VP8 is also subject to concerns about quality and compression efficiency, and some developers, such as the FFmpeg project's Jason Garrett-Glaser, have raised red flags about the unpolished nature of the VP8 spec.

Unless a single standard is agreed on for HTML 5 video delivery, content creators will have to encode their videos multiple times in order for them to play in all HTML 5 browsers.

Cote suggests that maybe what is needed is for Google and Apple to dump "a lot of cash and time" into the effort to create a mutually agreed-upon standard for video delivered through HTML 5: "Then perhaps whatever has prevented an open-source video alternative from flourishing would be solved. It'd be great if video could be commoditised and 'free' in all senses of the word.

"Google has enough cash and will to bankroll patent disentanglements. Ultimately, the piles of cash they have are a good resource for evolving open video," Cote says.

NEXT PAGE: Co-existence

  1. Heralding HTML 5 as the new web media king is premature
  2. Strong tools and support for developers
  3. Popularity with online advertisers
  4. Video codec patent issues
  5. Co-existence

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