Online video viewing is limited by the fact that browsers don't natively support it, which forces would-be viewers to download proprietary plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. But it's not like we users are twiddling our thumbs waiting for video support; at this point, nearly all of the world's online computers have one or more such plug-ins installed.
Sooner than later, however, we won't have to download a thing, as browsers themselves will enable native video play. And as the pieces fall into place for open video, the experience of streaming video online will improve across the board.
There are two main technology components to the emerging category of open video, a topic that for the first time had a whole conference
devoted to it last week in New York. The first is how browsers handle video. But that, in turn, is dependent on the development and adoption of open video formats for browsers to support. Although H.264 is building momentum as the dominant high-quality video codec, it, like other codecs, still requires licensing fees
. An open and royalty-free video codec would be more broadly accessible.
Browser support for such a format expands the possibilities for interacting with video on a page—for example, playing a video in the background; adding and manipulating objects within videos; and overlaying intelligence onto a video, such as facial recognition. That kind of stuff is possible in Flash today, sometimes with an additional plug-in, but in practice it's separate from the rest of the non-Flash Web page.
The Microsoft Roadblock
With their newest versions,browser makers at Mozilla (Firefox), Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome), and Opera (Opera) are supporting the upcoming HTML 5, a major revision to the core language of the Web. Within HTML 5, it's as simple to include a video on a page as an image; just include the element