The broadband industry has been juggling a number of technology updates that have moved from the “nice to have” arena to being “must haves,” and they include the transition to IPv6, a move to Long Term Evolution in the wireless space, applications that use iOS and Android for content distribution, and now the move to the next incarnation of Web development: HTML5.
While HTML5 mostly has been a Web darling, it now has to be front-burnered by operators and service providers who want to make sure the customer experience, when it comes to content, continues to be top-notch. HTML5 is the next major update of the hypertext markup language, which is the underlying coding used to create Web pages and documents; HTML4 now is 10 years old. According to one analyst, “HTML5 is praised for its ability to deliver high-definition content streamed to connected devices. Utilizing the H.264 codec, HTML5 brings a higher standard of video to the Web and enables mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone to view this quality on the go.”
And while Flash requires a browser plug-in, a separate player for HTML5 video is unnecessary. HTML5 video now is built into Websites and the video will play as long as viewers have a HTML5-compatible browser. HTML5 also is used for interactive Websites – a huge customer driver – and it includes Cascading Style Sheet (CSS)3 for a nicer-looking layout.
The Customer Experience
According to video search engine MeFeedia, which tracks the percentages of HTML5-compatible videos available on the Web, nearly 70 percent of all Web video now is compatible. However, there are some notable holdouts: episodes from the major TV networks and most cable content. This apparently is because content providers plan to charge extra for HTML5 video.
ActiveVideo Networks, creators of the CloudTV cloud-based app platform, demonstrated at the recent IBC show how CloudTV’s support of HTML5 can allow multi-channel video providers to deliver “rich user interfaces and content to the television.” The company says its applications written in HTML5 – as well as in other open Web standards – can be delivered from the cloud to traditional set-top boxes, and to Ethernet-connected and Wi-Fi CI Plus Conditional Access Modules (CAM).
“As the power behind compelling user interfaces on Google Chrome and Apple Safari, HTML5 is quickly becoming a dominant authoring tool for the entire content and distribution community,” said Ronald Brockmann, managing director/Europe for ActiveVideo Networks. Adds CTO John Callahan, “The role of HTML5 in enabling many of the most compelling user experiences delivered by Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers and its growing use for multimedia and graphical content have rapidly increased the importance of HTML5 authoring tools for the development community. Ultimately, our goal is to make it easy for content developers and network operators to overcome set-top box constraints and quickly reach mass audiences with cutting edge user experiences via the CloudTV platform.”
CloudTV leverages content stored and processed in the network cloud to significantly expand the reach and availability of rich, Web-based user experiences. Apps are delivered as a single, adaptable video stream to the CE device or set-top box, which simply passes keyclicks from standard remote controls through to the cloud.
According to Tarun Kripalani, senior director/Platform Product Management at ActiveVideo, the move to HTML5 is all about customer experience. “MSOs want to improve the usage of their set-top boxes, and one way is with Web standards – how to make usage more intuitive,” he says. “Apple has had a huge influence on good user experience, so HTML5 is a step in this direction.”
HTML5 also shortens the new-product or new-app development cycle from months and years to just weeks, because customers want their TVs to do everything their smartphones can do, he adds, explaining, “MSOs have to mirror what mobile devices can do.” Kripalani believes “the lightbulb will go off” in 2012, and that larger operators already are quite cognizant of what’s happening with the Web.
“When Steve Jobs said ‘no Flash,’ that really shook them up,” he notes. “Running Flash on set-top boxes is an expensive operation. Many thought HTML5 was just Steve Jobs trying to exert power, but it really was visionary. Flash really isn’t needed on a set-top to deliver customer experience.”
At the Cable Show earlier this year, SeaChange International showed its Nitro multi-screen user interface software. Nitro is now being tested by an unnamed MSO, which will take Nitro commercial before the end of the year. SeaChange Nitro uses HTML5 to give subscribers “intuitive features and functionality for controlling video content on any screen they choose.”
Key Nitro features include support for linear and on-demand video viewing, multi-room DVR, virtual channels, TV listings, bookmarking, search and recommendation, and handheld-as-a-remote capability, the latter transforming enabled mobile devices into in-home remote controls. SeaChange also says Nitro supports "virtual parties," whereby users can enjoy a common VOD experience from different locations by communicating, sharing commenting and inviting others to participate…all using different devices, if they wish.
Other up-and-coming HTML5 video solutions include:
The PowerUp HTML5 Solution for tru2way: Zodiac says this innovation delivers a Web browser presentation engine coupled with a services layer to provide a rich authoring environment with full browser control of all systems and subsystems for both tru2way and IPTV infrastructures. The solution has been developed as a services-based layered architecture, providing a thin client front-end supported by a service layer that separates the presentation layer from the underlying business logic.
The Espial TV Browser: According to Espial, its TV Browser now is powering a wide range of consumer devices that includes smart TVs, set-top boxes and digital media players. The browser, based on WebKit, reportedly delivers a PC-like Web-browsing experience, applications, widgets, video, HTML5 and Adobe Flash 10.1.; and it provides access to "search," "news," "video," "photo," and social networking and sport sites. Espial also has preset such Websites as Yahoo!, Google, YouTube, Daily Motion, Picasa, Facebook, Twitter and ESPN.
Brightcove has licensed Adobe Pass authentication and authorization technology, and it also is a certified Adobe Pass Enablement Partner, allowing the company to offer new “TV Everywhere” authorization services to broadcasters, cable programming networks, and distributors to streamline their initiatives and provide on-demand access to TV content across both Flash and HTML5 environments. Adobe Pass can validate the authentication using both Flash and HTML5, enabling access in both Web browsers and native apps across PCs, mobile devices and connected TV devices.
The Brightcove TV Everywhere authorization service with Adobe Pass is expected to become generally available in the second half of 2011, and the company is working with several cable programmers to accelerate TV Everywhere rollouts based on the new technology. In addition, the service will be offered at an additional cost to Brightcove Enterprise Edition subscribers.
Ericsson demoed a prototype browser geared to mobile usage at the recent Ericsson Business Innovation Forum in California. The browser reportedly features support for real-time streaming of HTML5 audio and video, with an eye toward developing functionality for video chat and video conferencing.
HTML5 Goes Mobile
Analysts have said all along that HTML5 will greatly improve the audio and video capabilities of mobile browsers but it will take time. By 2016, more than 2.1 billion mobile devices will have HTML5 browsers, up from just 109 million in 2010. While the official line from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is that the HTML5 standard won’t be complete until 2020, ABI Research believes 25 HTML5 features currently in development will become widely used at varying intervals within the next three to five years.
“We expect HTML5 features in such categories as graphics, multimedia, user interactions, data storage and others to be widely adopted sooner rather than later,” says ABI Senior Analyst Mark Beccue. “HTML5 adoption is going to accelerate because it will be a key differentiator in the smartphone OS war. I believe that Apple will be the key driver of HTML5 and, consequently, a primary benefactor as well.”
Apple’s competitive edge stems from vision and its lack of fragmentation. “The key to HTML5 growth is browser capabilities. Apple will quickly develop HTML5 features capabilities for their browsers and be able to easily push those updates out to their devices,” Beccue adds. “Android does not have the capabilities to move so quickly. BlackBerry has market share, but their installed base of phones with HTML5-capable browsers are limited.”
One important HTML5 feature – video – is making a play to challenge the popular Adobe Flash Player plug-in software. The feature would allow video to stream without the necessity of activating a plug-in. While industry discussions of Flash’s disappearance generally conclude that Flash will not be phased out any time soon, Beccue thinks differently.
“I think the disappearance of Flash is closer than people think,” he predicts. He also points to the iPhone’s move toward more HTML5 as seen in the new YouTube app for iPhone that allows iPhone users to browse and search for videos, access details of their accounts and stream video playback without the Flash plugin. Other video providers including CBS networks are reported to be developing players based on HTML5 for their streaming content.
Mobile marketing firm Velti has evangelized that HTML5 is coming fast and that stakeholders have no excuses left if they aren’t onboard. Dimitrios Kontarinis, vice president/Innovation at that company, says users can bypass the Apple apps stores and download new apps from alternative Web stores that use HTML5. He says content and media providers have been the early adopters, and ads that are created in HTML5 and then viewed on mobile devices “are twice as memorable as TV ads.”
Debra Baker is editor at Communications Technology. Contact her at email@example.com.