Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taming the Video Demon

In one of our earlier posts, we had talked about the importance and significance of videos. It has become increasingly clear that the future of the eLearning industry will be ruled by videos among other things (like gamification, tincan etc). While adopting videos as your primary course delivery mechanism has some obvious advantages as discussed in that post, you are likely to run across some issues if you don't choose wisely. One such issue is beautifully illustrated in this post

As Steve Jobs predicted in 2010, flash is on the way out, being replaced by HTML5. For a browser to play videos in flash, the browser should support flash, the flash player plugin should be installed, and the flash version should be compatible with the browser version. In short, there is no standard. Before deciding to use flash as your primary video delivery mechanism, it would be a worthwhile exercise to make sure that your customers use flash supported devices, or be ready to be bombarded with flash related support queries. If you still prefer flash (due to encryption and DRM reasons), this flash help will come in handy to let your customers check if their browser supports flash, to install and to update the flash plugin. 

However, even if you are choosing HTML5 as you video delivery medium, that's no reason to rest easy. You still have to do your research. What HTML5 does, and flash lacks, is providing a web standard for playing videos. HTML5 uses semantic markup, so for starters, your browser should support the HTML5 video tag. The video element (<video>) helps you to play videos in the browser without the help of any plugins. You can check whether your browser supports the video tag here. You don't have to worry too much here, barring some old browser versions, all the major browsers support the HTML5 video now. With flash, you don't have IOS or MAC support, with HTML5 you have cross platform support guaranteed. So generally, we recommend HTML5 to our customers. However, as mentioned earlier, if you have a specific requirement like DRM or encryption, you can still choose flash. Our course building tool Techniq Portfolio is equipped to deal with both flash and HTML5 scenarios.

Please note that choosing HTML5 is only job half done. HTML5 only specifies a web standard to embed your video (using the video tag) on the web (as against converting your video to the proprietary flash format). You still have to determine which video format to use. Choosing the preferred video format is another gigantic task. Everyone have their preferred video file formats, not all of them render properly on a browser. Our system is equipped to handle all the major video and file formats out there. MP4s are the most preferred formats out there, but there is more to the picture than that. 

While choosing a video for the web, you have to look at two things. 1. the filetype or format - like mp4, flv, avi etc. 2. the video format - in other words the codec or the compression format used. Some examples include MPEG-4, H.264, VP6, VC-1 etc.

So in short, just saying MP4 is not enough, you have to specify the codec used as well. For example, MP4 with H.264 codec might work on a browser but the same MP4 with MPEG-4 codec might not work on the same browser (H.264 is just one type of MPEG-4, but we don't have to go into the details). Long story short, the video format we prefer is MP4 with H.264 codec (which is supported by most modern browsers). We strive to provide the best user experience to our customers and minimize support calls to save time (most importantly that of our customers). But 'caught in the eternal browser wars', we stumble (mostly due to no fault of ours), but the 'video demon' can be tamed with the help of informed customers and a helpful support documentation.

Contributed by Vinod Rajendran, Vitalect Customer Support