Gutenblog: video

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January 2011
Chrome Logo

Oh Joy, let the licensing wars begin.

You may be wondering how Google Chrome's recent decision to abandon MP4 affects us? No one knows.

Chrome is still a small percent of the browser market, but we would still like to support Chrome if we can. However, there is not a good alternative to MP4 that has universal support, so web developers' options are limited. Their WebM format will not play on mobile devices yet, so unless a site offers both MP4 and WebM formats, mobile browsers won't be able to play the videos! Unfortunately it is not cost effective for small content providers to double encodes every video for WebM and MP4.

It's a bad move on Google's part because the internet cannot upgrade all it's video to WebM in the amount of time Google has allowed, so Chrome users are going to start complaining that they can't watch videos and they may abandon that browser. Yes, Google should encourage a move toward open source codecs, but in an industry that has so few "standards" they shouldn't just abandon de facto standards cold turkey. It presents an onerous burden on small content providers that don't have the resources that Google has to just re-encode all their videos or encode multiple versions (just imagine how much storage space and processing power will be required for Google to re-encode all their YouTube videos into another alternative format, they already have FLV and MP4 versions in multiple resolutions sizes up to 1080p HD video).

The history of the problem is that MP4 requires a license and some open source browsers don't want to or can't pay that fee (Opera, Firefox and Chrome), so they don't support MP4 in their <video> tag. Unfortunately the license holders won't make the codec free to decode. The ridiculous part is that content providers already pay licensing fees to encode the video in the first place, so you shouldn't have to pay a second fee to decode it. It's like an airport storage locker, you put in a quarter and take the key. You shouldn't have to put another quarter in to get your stuff out.

MP3 had similar problems, but some of the patents have expired and the same license holders have basically just stopped pursuing use violations. So effectively it's become a de facto standard for audio. We can hope that the same thing happens to MP4 eventually. The owners of the license are being very short sighted and they are going to lose the game if they don't become more flexible, because MP4 will be abandoned in favor of more open source options if a solution is not found. Unfortunately MP4 is superior to WebM in quality and size, so it would be a loss for everyone.

In the end, we'll see how it plays out.

January 2011
New HTML5 Video Player

We just completed a total overhaul to our Audio and Video players so that they now take advantage of built in HTML5 support for audio and video. This makes our player compatible with all modern web browsers, including mobile devices like iPhone, iPad, Android, etc. For older browsers like Internet Explorer 8 (which does not support HTML5 video), and Firefox (which supports HTML5 video but is not licensed to play the MP4 format yet), we will still provide the old Flash audio/video player (but with a new skin), so your visitors will not lose any functionality.

The old Flash player will play both the old FLV and MP3 formats (like it used to), as well as the new MP4 format (for progressive compatibility). So for greatest compatibility we recommend using MP4 format for all videos and MP3 format for all audio files. We also recommend converting all your old videos that were uploaded as FLV to the new MP4 format, so that they will be viewable on mobile devices that don't support Flash. But if you keep old FLV files on the site, they will continue to be viewed by any browser that supports Flash (virtually all desktop browsers, but not most mobile browsers).

See our FAQ for more information about Multimedia Formats.

June 2009


Multimedia Library Design

As mentioned in the previous post, we made some significant design upgrades to our default content pages. The multimedia library (as well as the regular file library) now sport a sleek new skin that let you show off your video and audio files in style. Small icons indicate whether the file is Video or Audio, a sample thumbnail attracts your visitors' attention, and you can provide a witty title and short description about the video. Then whatever stats you enter about the video will show up on the right, e.g. date, size, time length, category, etc. We've also improved the category filters and search options at the top. We hope you like it.

January 2009


If you are on a budget, but you want to have a lot of multimedia on your site, consider piggybacking off popular video sites like YouTube and Vimeo. You can upload your files to their site, then use the embed code on your site. Our Multimedia Resource Library allows you to upload your own files directly, or to link to an external file (on another server), or simply paste in the embed code provided by the third party sites. Then in the Multimedia section of your site, we'll display the video according to the method you've chosen.

And if your site is using an embedded file from another site, your site isn't burdened by the storage space or the bandwidth. The downside is that you have to maintain  your library at two different locations, and you have no control over the player look/feel, and often times the YouTube player doesn't look professional or highly integrated into your own site. But it may be good enough for now.