Noting that the stakes are significant for learning and development professionals, CorpU researchers have been monitoring the battle between Flash and HTML5 over the course of the past year. Why? In our analysis, more than 90% of video content in corporate universities have been rendered as Flash video (or, more precisely, are video files that have been transcoded using the H.264 codec and placed inside a Flash Shockwave, *.swf, file).
Because Apple's iPad and new iPhone devices cannot play Flash files, and because most corporate videos are set to be played back in Flash, many L&D professionals are analyzing the cost to convert thousands of videos and learning materials that use the current stock of online video content — that is, if handheld devices replace standard desktop computers and if more device manufacturers decide to follow Apple's lead. What makes it more challenging is that most of the e-learning content authoring tools output to Flash, and vendors of these tools have struggled to find ways to provide an upgrade that allows previously published Flash content to be republished as HTML5.
According to Web video sharing company, MeFeedia, more than 63% of the 30 million videos it monitors across 33,000 web sites (such as Hulu, CBS, ABC, YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv, and DailyMotion) are encoded in HTML5 with the H.264 codec rather than in Flash using the H.264 codec (Source: MeFeedia 24 Feb 2011, http://blog.mefeedia.com/html5-feb-2011). According to their statistics, the rate of change to support HMTL5, in about 12 months' time, has been staggering (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Percentage of H.264 Video Available for HTML5 Playback (CorpU and MeFeedia, 2011)
The fact stands that, in about a year, the percentage of web videos being HTML5 compatible — that is, not needing Adobe Flash — has risen from 10% to 63%. Furthermore, the overall amount of video available for playback in HTML5 is growing rapidly, even though the growth rate as a percentage is slowing. This is to be expected since many sites are only converting videos with high traffic volume, and smaller sites struggle to store and support multiple formats.
The battle is not over by any stretch of the imagination. The next series of tablets to challenge the current supremacy of Apple's iPad, such as Motorola's Xoom and Research In Motion's Playbook, will offer Flash support as part of the operating system (Google's Android and the Blackberry OS, respectively). Some industry pundits note that Flash support by these devices offer differentiation from the iPad but at increasingly less advantage (see Business Insider, for instance).
The looming question: will corporations adopt Andorid tablets and/or Blackberry tablets in larger numbers because of built-in data security features and support for systems administration management? If Flash for corporate devices becomes a purchasing requirement, then L&D professionals and vendors of e-learning authoring tools have been given a longer timeline to address converting courses and materials from Flash video to native browser rendering in HTML5.
As the current state of video on the web suggests, even if the battle over Flash video playing is settled, the next battle waits in the wings: will the owners of the H.264 codec charge an onerous usage fee when the royalty period ends in 2015, and if so, is the new battle between the H.264 codec (favored by Apple) and the WebM codec (favored by Google)?
Google has already begun testing massive conversions on its YouTube platform to WebM, and is planning to release native WebM support in the Google Chrome browser and the Google Android mobile operating system. CorpU analysts have designed a grid of currently supported codecs and formats a few weeks back, but we all wait in anticipation.
It's still too early to decide on a firm course of action. A lot is likely to change over this next year, and each of these manufacturing decisions will affect video in your courses. Perhaps the safest recommendations are the following:
This article supports the CorpU 12 Dimensions of Learning Excellence - Organize (Technology and Infrastructure) and Execute (Program Design and Delivery)
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