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HTML5 video for all (well almost)

How to use HTML5 video and make it work for Internet Explorer

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Table of contents

Can’t wait? You can view the example here or download it here. Excuse my ugly mug..

In-browser video

HTML5 brings the ability to play video natively in the browser without any requirements for third party plug-ins like Flash or Silverlight. Developers rejoiced until they realised that whilst Webkit and Gecko browsers have support Internet Explorer is yet to implement any aspect of HTML5. Queue much crying into a hankerchief.

But all is not lost. You can still use HTML5 video for capable browsers and fall back to Flash for Internet Explorer. Here’s how:

The markup

<!--[if IE]>
  <script src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/swfobject/2.2/swfobject.js"></script>
<![endif]-->
<video id="player" controls>
  <source src="path/to/your/movie.mov" />
  <source src="path/to/your/movie.ogv" />
  To view this video you need the latest version of <a href="http://www.apple.com/safari/">Safari</a>, <a href="http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/">Firefox</a> or <a href="http://www.google.com/chrome">Chrome</a>. Alterantively download the videos and watch them offline. <a href="path/to/your/movie.mov">Windows / Mac (mp4)</a>, <a href="path/to/your/movie.ogv">Linux (ogv)</a>
</video>
<!--[if IE]>
<script type="text/javascript">

  var flashvars = {};
  var params = {
      allowscriptaccess: "true",
      file:"../video/mov/movie.mov"
  };
  var attributes = {};

  swfobject.embedSWF("swf/player.swf", "player", "640", "480", "9.0.0", flashvars, params, attributes);

</script>
<![endif]-->

Explanation

We’re using conditional comments to serve IE using SWFObject and the LongTail Player, everyone’s favorite method of embedding flash unobtrusively. HTML5 capable browsers get to play the video using the video element, whilst IE will fall back to the old skool flash player. Providing your video is encoded correctly it will also play on the iPhone. So almost everyone (I’ll come onto that in a minute) is a winner. This degrades well too - non-compatible browsers (older Gecko & Webkit, IE & Opera) are invited to download the video to view offline.

Why don’t you just use flash?

Given the ubiquity of flash that’s a good question. The answer is I like open standards that anyone can use. It makes publishing content easier and the web in general more interoperable. Open = Good. If you want to know more buy me a beer and I’ll bore you for an hour or so. Making it easy and cheap to publish and share content is the whole point of the web for me. Open standards go a long way to making that happen.

Issues

There are still some issues to be resolved with this technique and if you have any solutions please haalp! I’m a damsel developer in distress.

Opera

Firstly Opera is still yet to implement HTML5 video in their major releases. They have implemented video in a number of Labs projects but to date (as far as I know) this technique won’t work in Opera’s mainstream releases. If anyone knows more about the state of HTML5 Video at Opera I’d love to know - I can’t find much on the web other than a statement of intent from November 2007.

iPhone

The iPhone will play correctly encoded videos natively but it is a bit more picky. The Safari Reference Guide has more information on encoding video for the iPhone. If you want to use this technique for video on the iPhone you’ll need to pay attention to the spec and adjust your videos accordingly. In particular your video can’t be bigger than 640 x 480 at 30 fps. From the specs I can’t see any way around these limitations.

Encouraging stuff

Look what we’ve done - open video for most and a viable alternative for Internet Explorer users. I’m sure the clever bods at Opera will catch up soon and we are done. Internet Explorer might just catch up in 2013, but at least with this method they don’t miss out on watching your video.

Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.

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