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HTML5 Video Tag Codec Support


Recently there was a question asked over on regarding best practices around H.264 and the Video Tag.
The answer with the most votes has IMO provided an inadequate solution and I thought I would take the time to clear this up with a new post.

Unfortunately and to the frustration of developers that deal with Video content, HTML 5 has dropped the Codec as part of the specification leaving the Browser vendors to implement whatever they want.
However the consensus is to use H.264 with even Microsoft adopting this for the forthcoming Internet Explorer 9.

Here’s how it stacks in terms of browser support as of writing.

Browser H.264 Ogg Theora
Google Chrome Yes Yes
Firefox No Yes
Safari Yes No
IE9 Yes No
Opera No Yes

H.264 Only – Chrome, Safari & IE9

If you see this your browser does not support H.264

<video width="480" height="360" preload autobuffer controls>
    <source src="" type="video/mp4" />
    <p>If you see this your browser does not support H.264</p>

If you view this on Firefox you will see that their implementation does not ignore the Video tag and display the paragraph tag, instead it shows show the big X.

Ogg Theora Only – Firefox, Opera, Chrome

If you see this your browser does not support Ogg Theora

<video width="480" height="360" preload autobuffer controls>
    <source src="" type="video/ogg" />
    <p>If you see this your browser does not support Ogg Theora</p>

H.264 & Ogg Theroa – Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera & IE9

If you see this your browser does not support H.264 or Ogg Theora

<video width="480" height="360" preload autobuffer controls>
    <source src="" type="video/mp4" />
    <source src="" type="video/ogg" />
    <p>If you see this your browser does not support H.264 or Ogg Theora</p>

If you view this page on all of the aforementioned browsers you will notice that the current Video tag implementations are not very helpful to developers. The ideal would be that the Browser detects the Codec that they don’t support and then fallback to whatever is in the Video tag.

Now if you are just displaying video content then this doesn’t pose too much of a problem as you can just support a single codec and then fallback to a plug-in based media player of your choice. However if you want to start implementing features using Canvas then this becomes a major roadblock.

The only solution right now is to have an H.264 version and an Ogg Theora version of the same video which is a real PITA especially if you have thousands if not millions of videos to deal with.

If you do go the route of converting all your videos from H.264 to Ogg Theora then I’d recommended using the FFMpeg2Theora convertor as it’s very easy to use.

Hope this clarifies some of the challenges presented when dealing with Video content using HTML5.

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