HTML5: Between hype and productivity

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    The appeal of HTML5 remains strong, even as questions about its diffusion and implementation linger. The draw is two-fold: service providers and developers endorse the efficiency gains of a standard; and consumers naturally prefer a seamless viewing experience to one interrupted with plug-in requests.

    An underlying driver for HMTL5 among Pay TV operators is cross-device compatibility. During a workshop at Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando, Matt Zelesko, SVP of the Converged Technology Group at Time Warner Cable, noted that proprietary set-top boxes were no longer the operator’s only game, but that that embracing a more diverse array of devices while maintaining consistency requires considerable effort.

    “Right now, we are writing a lot of native applications,” said Zelesko. “That takes a lot of time, and we can’t really leverage our internal resources really well when we do that.” The question that Zelesko posed as moderator of this session was how best to leverage Web standards to deliver services more quickly than with traditional embedded software.

    “The reality is, we’re far from this write-once-run-everywhere nirvana that everyone wants us to get to,” he said. “How do we get the most out of HTLM5 now?”

    Industry observers have noted a surge of activity in recent years around HTML5, the yet-to-be standardized fifth iteration of the hypertext markup language  (HTML). According to the latest Gartner Hype Cycle Report, which Zelesko mentioned in his comments, it has nearly reached the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and five to ten years away from the “Plateau of Productivity.” While Gartner’s assessment has come under fire from practitioners (see ReadWriteWeb andNess Software) there is no question that HTML5 has gained prominence.

    According to co-panelist Robin Wilson, VP Business Development at Nagra, HTML5’s rise had a lot to do with Steve Jobs’ announcement in early 2010 that Apple would not support Flash (the multimedia platform developed by Macromedia and purchased by Adobe). “Two or three years ago, Nagra and our competitors were looking at Flash strongly to now not looking at it all,” he said.

    Instead of Flash, in its Open TV 5 middleware, Nagra is supporting both an HTML5 and SVG (scalable vector graphics) browser. Wilson said much of Nagra’s efforts remain on the underlying JavaScript Library and Web Framework layers, and that what keeps HTML5 a work in progress are such challenges as security (or “hard-wired” DRM) and persistent variations among browsers that are optimized for a web experience rather than video.

    The promise of a common standard contradicts much existing practice. “It’s not just diverse or fragmented, it’s a very fractured world,” said co-panelist Albert Lai, Innovation Architect for Media and Entertainment at online video platform Brightcove.

    Lai mentioned the Android and iOS divide as well as internal variations within those platforms, but he also pointed to a divergent interpretations of HTML5 itself, on issues such as basic behavior (full screen or inline display, end-of-video buttons), browser event timing (play, pause) and tag attribution (network states, video width and height) many of which could impact fundamental questions of measuring and monetizing video playback. Lai also suggested that the current flux has precedents.

    “Think of it as Flash in about 2002, that’s where we think HTML5 is today,” Lai said. Using an abstraction layer as a holistic fix to the many breaks or fractures among browser implementations, Brightcove is betting on the technology’s capabilities and prospects. “We fundamentally believe that HTML5 is the future of the web.”

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