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YouTube Defaults to HTML5 Video and VP9 Codec for Most Browsers

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On its Engineering and Developers Blog, YouTube announced yesterday that it will default to HTML5 video using the VP9 codec for most viewers. Supported browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer 11, Safari 8, and beta versions of Firefox.

The move has been a longtime coming. While YouTube showed interest in switching to HTML5 four years ago, it took time to overcome limitations in the young technology. According to Richard Leider, the YouTube engineering manager who wrote the blog post, YouTube "worked with browser vendors and the broader community to close those gaps."

Hurdles that needed to be overcome included the lack of support for adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming and the need for simple content protection. By using encrypted media extensions and common encryption, YouTube can use one set of assets to support multiple content protection systems on various platforms.

The VP9 codec, Leider writes, can reduce bandwidth by up to 35 percent. Smaller file sizes will make 4K video at 60fps available to streaming viewers. Also, videos will start 15 to 80 percent faster, he notes.

Offering fullscreen video is critical for YouTube, so it uses new fullscreen HTML5 APIs to make that possible.

While this isn’t the end of Flash on the desktop, it marks an important step in the maturation and usability of HTML5 video.

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