Codecs Grandior
March 3, 2010 11:22 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to encode & wrap video for web delivery, where best = viewable by the greatest number of users, cross-platform, with the least amount of fuss and need to install codecs or players?

I have a bunch of video, mostly originating on DVD, that I want to provide on the web. The access will require authentication through an existing web login system (a CAS server), so delivering files straight from the web server (Apache 2.2) rather than through any sort of media server is pretty much a requirement, as I'd get the restricted access for free through mod_auth_cas.

The users are a heterogeneous bunch that will include every OS and browser under the sun. I know I won't be able to please all of them, but I want to make things as easy as possible for as many as possible.

There's a lot of codecs, video formats, and container formats out there, and no obviously ideal approach, so I'm hoping for advice from people who've navigated these waters. Is Flash with H.264 really the least bad solution?
posted by Zed to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Oktober at 11:27 AM on March 3, 2010


Flash will have the widest user base of any video delivery system across all browsers. To be ulktra-nice, you could do some browser sniffing and thus determine whether the user's browser supports HTML and can play H.264 without Flash. Mac users (and soon-to-be iPad owners) will thank you for that.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:33 AM on March 3, 2010

Check out html5media, which lets you use the <video> tag without flash in supporting browsers and automatically degrades to flash when necessary.
posted by null terminated at 11:54 AM on March 3, 2010

Yup, h.264 + Flash + an HTML5 player for browsers that don't support Flash. That will get you just about everyone, except for the people who absolutely refuse to use Flash, and don't have a browser that supports h.264 natively. Theoretically, that means you won't reach IE users who refuse Flash, but I suspect that there aren't many of those. Practically, it probably just means you won't be accessable to diehard Firefox loving Flash-hating types.
posted by Good Brain at 11:58 AM on March 3, 2010

If you really want compatibility you need to use FLV and not h.264. Users with Flash older than 9.0 r115 will not be able to play h.264.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:09 PM on March 3, 2010

According to Adobe, penetration of Flash 9 and above is in the high 90s; you'll only be excluding 0.1 - 0.3% of Flash-equipped browsers by using H.264. You just need to decide whether the better compression is worth sacrificing a few of those users (I think it probably is). And you can always use Express Install to try to get those users to upgrade fairly painlessly.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:25 PM on March 3, 2010

If I'm reading the H.264 licensing info correctly, my organization could be required to pay a license fee to stream H.264 encoded video starting in 2016, entirely at the whim of MPEG-LA. Is this correct?
posted by Zed at 1:27 PM on March 3, 2010

But "penetration of Flash 9" is a meaningless term for this discussion. As I said, h264 support was only introduced in 9.0 r115. There were lots of versions before that. For example I'm stuck on 9.0 r48 for reasons that probably aren't interesting, which means no h.264 for me. I have to manually dig out the URL and watch the file with an external player, yet I count under that "Flash 9" column.

And yes, future patent fees are a potential issue for h.264.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:42 PM on March 3, 2010

i've had success with flowplayer ... licensed under the GPL and free (as in beer) if you can stand seeing their logo
posted by beukeboom at 3:22 PM on March 3, 2010

Rhomboid- sorry, yes you're quite right about the minor version numbers and H.264. If there were statistics for 9.x.rxxx versions my link might have been useful, but it isn't really, unless you guesstimate that penetration for H.264-supporting versions is somewhere midway between 9.0.r115 and 10.

I'd still say that Express Install is worth looking at, though. Giving your less experienced users the opportunity to upgrade their Flash version relatively painlessly would probably help to mitigate some of the problems of dealing with too-old Flash versions.

My hunch is that the licensing issue will go away before 2016. Other better codecs will overtake H.264, or it'll go the way of MP3 (where most consumers don't even realise there are licenses involved).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:12 AM on March 4, 2010

beukeboom, flowplayer is a Flash video player, not a plugin/codec. There are many Flash video players, but they're all just interfaces to the same underlying technology.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:15 AM on March 4, 2010

Thanks, everyone. H.264+Flash+HTML5 player it is.

Practically, it probably just means you won't be accessable to diehard Firefox loving Flash-hating types.

Yeah, that would be me. I'M OPPRESSING MYSELF!
posted by Zed at 6:06 PM on March 10, 2010

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