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Streaming Media East Google Keynote to Show the Future of HTML5

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It's less than one week until Streaming Media East begins, and HTML5 will again be a top topic for the two-day web video conference. Providing the opening-day keynote is Matt Frost, senior business product manager at Google Chrome. We spoke to Frost to get a preview of what attendees will learn during his address. For Frost and his team, building out HTML5 is a major priority.

Why do the keynote address now?

We've been spending a lot of time over the last year trying to get the message out about Google's initiatives around video technology, and obviously streaming media is an issue that's near and dear to Google's heart. We think Streaming Media East, which is a conference we've attended many times, is really the perfect place to talk about what our vision for video on the web is.

What will you be sharing with us?

I come to Google from On2 Technologies and I'm part of the Chrome Web Media Platform team, so we're going to spend most of the time talking about how we see web video developing, the initiatives around HTML5 video and building out the HTML5 video spec, and then what Google's plans are going forward for not only implementing HTML5, but also helping to build the next generation of technologies that are going to power video on the web as part of the HTML5 stack. For Google, that means both video technologies like WebM, which is the open source technology that we've been working on, and WebRTC which is the piece that we contributed from the Global IP Solutions acquisition, and which is going to be powering applications like Hangouts.  

What challenges do video distributors face today?

The challenge that faces video distributors now is really the same one that's faced them over the last five years, which is how do you make sure that you can encode in a form that gets to the most users in an acceptable form. One of the challenges that we see is there's more and more devices out there that can play back video, but those devices support a whole host of different resolutions and have different screen sizes and they're supporting different codecs. It's a constant challenge to try to make sure that you've got content that's available in an acceptable quality to the broadest range of devices without sacrificing quality. Layered upon that is varying network conditions. It's a constant challenge to try to figure out how to encode content in a way that minimizes your overhead and yet makes it accessible to the broadest audience.

What can we expect from Chrome?

You'll continue to see the Chrome team trying to work cooperatively with members of the web community to build out HTML5 and ensure that HTML5 has all of the features that we've come to expect from Flash, for instance. Flash did a very good job with things like content protection and adaptive streaming, and just providing a uniform experience across platforms. We have to make sure that HTML5 is doing exactly the same thing.

One of the things we'll be talking about is initiatives Google's been working on around content protection and around adaptive streaming. The next will be to give people some more insight into where we're going with these technologies that we're developing, where we're going with the next generation of web video and the WebM project, and how we believe the work that we're doing and the work that the people in the audience are doing can help contribute to a much richer video experience on the web.

What are the unique needs now for streaming video and audio?

The needs arise from the need to try to get to as many clients as possible. The challenge is easier when you're only dealing with PCs, but when you start to deal with these various connected devices now that people expect to play back video on, it's trying to make sure that you have your video encoded in the right formats at the right resolutions and right bitrates to give a really compelling experience to the most users out there. From the perspective of companies that are distributing huge amounts of content, you're paying a lot for distribution, you're paying relatively a lot for storage, there are encoding-related costs, so it's really this balancing of all of those factors with the ultimate goal of making sure that your video is accessible in a reasonable quantity by the broadest possible audience.

That's the promise of HTML5, is that you eliminate a lot of the thought that has to go into what's the player that you're going to have to support. First, we have to make sure that HTML5 is ready to stream premium content, for instance, that it has the monetization, whether it's content protection or whether it's all of the advertising hooks to support monetization. Then you have to make sure that you have uniform implementation across browsers. You have to make sure that you have a really robust adaptive streaming standard that allows for streaming across various network conditions.

The immediate challenge for our team and for Google is to make sure we've got HTML5, which is really this rising technology but still quite a new technology, that it is ready to step up and to start fulfilling on the promise for browser-based video.

Will you turn skeptics into believers on WebM?

It's not our goal to step up and preach about WebM. We firmly believe that there's no need to defend a high-quality open video format, that the technology speaks for itself. We will certainly talk about our plans for the technology and about why we think that the web needs an open video technology that is modern and is up to the standards and expectations. When you look at things like Google Hangouts and Hangouts on Air, these sorts of live, high-quality video experiences just aren't going to work without a high-quality video codec to support them. WebM/VP8 happens to be that sort of a technology. We certainly believe enough in the technology to use it heavily, but I don't think that that's going to be a focal point for this. It's not our goal to supplant H.264 or to take the place of H.264, and it takes a while for video codecs to be adopted. We think we're making good progress. 

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