YouTube Transitioning To HTML5, Flash In Jeopardy

YouTube announced that it has officially transitioned to the newly-published HTML5 standard as its default video player, and away from the older proprietary Adobe Flash standard. YouTube first added support for HTML5 back in 2010, having access to the initial working draft of the standard, but it is only now moving to HTML5 as its default video player.

HTML5 has been a work in progress for a number of years now. Starting in 2004, a community effort of key individuals from Apple, the Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software began active work on HTML5 after an initial proposal to continue work on HTML was rejected by the World Wide Web Consortium. Deciding to push forward with the development of HTML5, the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (or WHATWG), was founded. On October 28, 2014 HTML5 was finalized and published as a new standard.

Fortunately, as a result of the long development and early access to drafts and updates as the standard developed, most major web browsers, including Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 11, and Safari 8 have at least partially implemented HTML5 already. Though these implementations will likely need further work to be completely compliant with the new standard, they still support major features of HTML5 (including YouTube's video player). Mozilla Firefox currently has HTML5 implemented in a beta version, but it has not yet had a major update to the browser with HTML5 compatibility.

Among the many changes to HTML5 brought in the release includes DRM technologies. This is the final bit of software YouTube required in order to completely transition over to HTML5, as many users of the popular video watching site want the ability to control their content. As an open standard, WHATWG was initially against the adding of DRM features. W3C, another organization which has contributed to the development of HTML5, submitted proposals throughout development to add this feature to the standard with the use of an API layer that would allow for DRM technologies to be used.

This change was likely done in order to attract major sites such as YouTube and Netflix to adopt HTML5. Both of those sites, which used Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight respectively, require DRM technologies in order to ensure the control of content. The addition of DRM enables major sites to protect content from being downloaded and makes HTML5 an open source alternative to proprietary programs.

For many users, this new change will be a positive one. The HTML5 standard allows for Google's VP9 codec to be used as an alternative to the H.264 codec, which significantly reduces the amount of bandwidth necessary for videos – by an average of 35 percent.  In addition to the better codec used by HTML5, there are also new MediaSource extensions such as Adaptive Bitrate (or ABR), which allows for the system to adjust the bitrate without notice to the user with the effect of reducing buffering globally by over 50 percent, and up to 80 percent on some networks.

These extensions also enable live streaming for game consoles and various other devices such as Chromecast. While this is obviously good for YouTube, as it will reduce the demands on the site's network and servers, on the user side this also translates into videos loading faster. Early reports claim that these advantages held by HTML5 over Adobe Flash could result in videos starting anywhere from 15 percent to 80 percent faster depending on the size of the video and the available bandwidth on the local network.

Another feature that HTML5 brings over Adobe Flash is the inclusion of WebRTC. WebRTC is a real-time communication API that allows users to broadcast both audio and video. Anyone who is familiar with Google Hangouts should be familiar with WebRTC. While not a direct part of HTML5, thanks to the MediaSource extensions, YouTube and other websites are able to make use of WebRTC to allow its users to broadcast, record and upload videos simultaneously in a much more efficient and hassle-free way than previously available. It is currently supported on all major browsers and mobile devices with the exception of Internet Explorer and Safari, but support can be added to these with the use of plugins.

Some users will not like this change, however. YouTube announced that following the transition, it will begin to shut down and remove Flash object tags that previously allowed users to embed videos. As a result, in the near future Flash-based embedded videos will cease to function. For websites and blogs that contain a large number of embedded videos, this will be problematic and time-consuming to fix.

YouTube will now use the iframe API for users to embed videos, a standard neutral embedded format that will work on both Flash and HTML5. All current videos that users wish to keep on their individual web pages should be changed over to the iframe API in order to avoid sudden removal of videos.

Ultimately, this looks to signal the beginning of the end for the long-standing Adobe Flash Player software. Flash has come under heavy criticism over the years for a variety of reasons, ranging from performance issues, numerous security problems, update problems, privacy concerns and the dependence on Adobe for the use of the software technology (because it's a proprietary standard owned by and under complete control of Adobe).

As other websites transition over to HTML5, the future use of Flash is uncertain and could be in danger of being replaced entirely by the new standard. While there are still a few features that Flash supports, such as Binary Manipulation of code and Linked Text Frames, it is likely that future revisions of the HTML5 standard (such as the already-in-development HTML5.1) will attempt to add these features. Flash will also hold on with older devices that do not have the ability to support HTML5, but it still could be only a matter of time before Flash is ultimately superseded entirely.

Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • heartunes
    I'm glad. Youtube works like crappola for me, so I'm going to add an add on of HTML5.1. It has to get better.
  • mortuum
    DRM on youtube? Oh god. This won't be good.
  • dextermat
    About time, when java was ditch by some website a while ago, it help with getting less computer infected.
    Also had to update flash every 2 days and sometime things where not working was really annoying.
    Boo to DRM indeed.
  • Onus
    While I'm not thrilled about more DRM, as many security holes and other issues there are in Flash, let that die a graceful but speedy death.
  • IInuyasha74
    Youtube already had DRM features in use. Flash has DRM features:

    So DRM really isn't going to be a change in that it is there, but it might get better security for it.
  • dstarr3
    So long as my YouTube downloading programs keep up, I'm a-okay with this.
  • turkey3_scratch
    Good, I am tired of Flash.
  • IInuyasha74
    No thanks, HTML5 can't handle 4k.

    Actually that isn't true. HTML5 uses mostly VP9 for video play back. Not only does VP9 have reduced bandwidth needs, but it also works with 4k and is what Youtube is using for 4k play back.
  • knowom
    good screw adobe flash should have died out 10 years ago
  • kenjitamura
    Been using HTML5 as my default for quite a while, just required a single change in preferences. But it's great to see Flash go away finally. Bloated software with poor performance and riddled with security concerns should all go away in my opinion.