Dear Lifehacker, I've read about how HTML5 will change the way I use the web, but it seems like the biggest example of HTML5 in action is on sites like YouTube — which don't support my favourite browser, Firefox. What's the deal?
I find myself, and I'm sure tons of others, caught in the Adobe Flash Player vs. HTML5 battle. Flash Player runs terribly on my iMac. Videos on different sites either tell me to install Flash components, show up as blank white areas, load perpetually (CNET TV) or tell me to adjust global storage, and so on. If they do play, I often get the stuttering/buffering that drives me crazy. I had the latest version of Flash Player, uninstalled that and installed the latest 10.1 Beta3, and it's just as bad.
I considered signing up for YouTube's HTML5 beta test, but that only works for Safari, Chrome, and IE, not Firefox. I've read about Mozilla's stance on this issue, too.
I apologise for the long intro to my question, but do you know of any Firefox addon or plugin that installs the H.264 codec? We already have to install a plugin for Flash Player, so perhaps it's possible someone can do this for H.264.
Thanks for any help,
Fighting with Flash
That's a good question, and unfortunately one to which there's no great answer. It actually is technically possible to play HTML5 YouTube videos in Firefox, but it's extremely convoluted (details below)—and Mac users like yourself won't have any luck. First, for those who aren't familiar with why Firefox is excluded from YouTube's (and some other video sites') HTML5 support, here's why:
In order to move to HTML5 from Flash, video sites like YouTube need to host their videos in formats friendly to Flash-free HTML5 embedding. Unfortunately there's no default standard for the format HTML5 videos should use.
As a dedicated open-source, open-standards browser, Firefox chose to support the Ogg Theora video format for HTML5 video. Like Firefox, Ogg Theora is free and open; it's not covered by any patents, so it requires no licensing and is completely free to use for everyone involved.
Other browser makers, like Chrome and Safari, support H.264 for HTML5 video. Unlike Ogg Theora, H.264 is patented, and would theoretically require browser makers to pay licensing fees to use it (though the company that owns licensing rights to H.264 have said that they'll offer it royalty free until 2016). Additionally, the issue isn't just about licensing.
Some tests have shown H.264 to perform better than Ogg Theora in side-by-side comparisons. Apple's stance on the matter, via Wikipedia, is that "H.264 performs better and is already more widely supported." For video sites like YouTube, the main concern is likely which format can deliver the highest quality video with the greatest compression rates. Unfortunately for Team Firefox (and supporters of free and open web standards), it's looking like H.264 might deliver the best results.
It's worth nothing that browsers can support multiple video formats for HTML5 support, but currently Chrome is the only browser that supports both H.264 and Ogg Theora (though through the Frankenstein efforts of Google Chrome Frame, Internet Explorer also gets support for both). The chart below (from Wikipedia) lays it all out:
As you can see, unless either Firefox changes its stance or sites like YouTube decide to support a free alternative like Ogg Theora, Firefox fanatics don't have a clear way to watch HTML5 YouTube videos.
If you're extremely desperate to watch HTML5 YouTube videos but you absolutely do not want to switch to another browser, you've got one simple-yet-absurd solution that'll only work on Windows:
Watch HTML5 YouTube Videos in Firefox (on Windows)
- Install the IE Tab Firefox extension (or one of the other IE-in-Firefox extensions).
- Install Google Chrome Frame for IE.
- In the IE Tab preferences inside Firefox and set YouTube to always open inside an IE Tab (see image below).
- Visit the YouTube HTML5 Video Player opt-in page (if you've set up IE Tab correctly above, it should open in an IE Tab inside Firefox) and click the Join the HTML5 Beta link at the bottom of the page.
- Go watch an HTML5-supported YouTube video.
And... that's it. Ridiculous, but I've tried it, and it seems to work. (Though, unsurprisingly, it seemed buggy, and worked much better in straight Chrome than it did in either IE with Chrome Frame or Firefox with IE and Chrome Frame.) Unfortunately it doesn't help Mac users like Fighting with Flash much, but it's the best we could do.
More than anything, the convoluted process involved in watching an HTML5 YouTube video in Firefox only serves to underscore the problem. It's not something that'll likely be solved overnight (though I guess if Mozilla decides to cave into H.264, change could come pretty quickly), but it's a good reminder that important, web-changing technology almost always comes with a few speed bumps.
Got a better method you're using, or want to weigh in on this whole H.264 vs. Ogg Theora battle? Let's hear it in the comments.