YouTube says it will stick with Flash despite HTML5 video

Adobe's dominant Flash video technologies are seeing their first legitimate challenge from HTML5 and its video tag, but don't expect YouTube to be joining the ranks of video sites making the transition to the standards based media format any time soon.

The popular social video site said that HTML5 video does not yet meet all of its needs, although it called the format "a big step forward for open standards." Parent company Google just last month launched its own open source video codec WebM, a possible candidate for the final video standard.

At the moment, there is a split in support for a standard codec. Safari and IE 9 Beta support H.264, while Firefox and Opera support WebM -- Google's Chrome is the only browser to support both. This lack of an agreement is part of the reason why YouTube thinks HTML5 has a way to go yet before it can be considered a serious contender.

YouTube has offered an experimental version of its site since January that does show videos for HTML5-ready browsers, namely Chrome and Safari at the moment, and streams those videos using H.264.

Codec confusion is not the only reason for not pushing ahead with HTML5.

Software engineer John Harding said that streaming issues are another reason, as HTML5 video is delivered over HTTP. This presents a problem in searching through a video: obviously with HTTP the whole video to that point needs to be downloaded in order to view the selected point. Content protection is another issue. With no method available for HTML5, it would make offering products such as the recently-launched YouTube Rentals impossible.

"We're very happy to see such active and enthusiastic discussion about evolving web standards - YouTube is dependent on browser enhancement in order for us to improve the video experience for our users," Harding said, but adding the caveat that "Adobe Flash provides the best platform for YouTube's video distribution requirements."

One has to wonder if Adobe and Google are tighter than what may immediately be obvious, however. Adobe has thrown its support behind WebM, promising to include the technology in a future version of Flash Player. Google is also doing its part: it has opened the doors to its Android mobile operating system to Flash, something Apple will likely never do.

With the strained relationship between Apple and these two companies, YouTube's defense of Flash may be more than just a discussion on the merits of HTML5.

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