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How Online Video Works: Flash Very Much Alive

HTML5 video and Apple's refusal to allow Adobe Flash Player on iOS didn't kill Flash, it just changed the way people use it. Flash still offers so many features unavailable in HTML5 -- such as a variety of streaming modes, multicasting, DRM and closed captioning -- that it's still widely used, both on mobile through AIR apps and on the desktop through the browser plugin.

Mobile Markets

Now let's turn our attention to the two dominant platforms in the mobile markets, iOS and Android. As you can see in Table 2, both support HTML5 and AIR applications, but the Flash player isn't an option for either. If you decide to go the HTML5 route, H.264 is the obvious choice.

Table 2: Mobile markets and video-related features.

HTML5 support100%100%
Flash Player supportNoNo
AIR app supportYesYes
On-Demand Video 
Flash streamingAIR onlyAIR only
H.264 supportYesYes
WebM supportNoYes
Adaptive streamingHTTP Live Streaming (HLS)/AIRHLS (Android 3.0+ ~ 30%)/AIR
Live videoFlash, HLSFlash, HLS
Advanced features 
Digital rights managementHLSHLS (Android 3.0+ ~ 30%)/AIR
Closed captionsHLS/AIRHLS (Android 3.0+ ~ 30%)/AIR
Peer to peerAIRAIR

HTTP Live streaming provides adaptive streaming, digital rights management and closed captions for all iOS devices, and for Android 3.0 and later devices, although this still comprises only 35.8% of Android devices according to Google's latest numbers (as of Dec. 5). In addition, HLS support has some notable flaws, such as the inability to seek through on-demand streams, and scenarios where the aspect ratio can be distorted upon full-time playback.

The other alternative to deliver these features to Android devices is an AIR application, though Flash DRM is not supported on the iOS platform via AIR applications. The only alternative for peer-to-peer and multicast delivery in an AIR application on both platforms.

In general, for single-file streaming to desktops and mobile markets, supplying an H.264 file for HTML5 playback and deploying an HMTL5 player with fallback to Flash should suffice for many websites. Those publishers wishing to go beyond single-file playback will find HTML5 of little value, and might have to deploy a multiple technology strategy incorporating Flash, HLS and AIR applications, and perhaps a transmux-capable server like the Wowza or Adobe Media Server.

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