Why IE Doesn’t Support HTML 5 Video (Yet)

One of the most talked about aspects of the emerging HTML 5 specification is the new video tag. Several browsers including Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox support HTML 5 video already, though to date Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) does not.

The HTML 5 video tag removes the need for a browser to embed a separate video player (like Flash) and enables the Web page to control the player. One of the big sticking points for the HTML 5 video specification revolves around the issue of which (if any) codec to include by default.

The latest iterations of the HTML 5 specification have removed any direct requirement for a codec, be it H.264 or Ogg Theora. Mozilla supports Ogg, while other browser vendors have been leaning toward H.264 which includes patented technologies.

It is issues around codecs and patents that could limit the effectiveness of HTML 5 video and its adoption by both Web site developers and even browser vendors.

“We do not currently support the AUDIO or VIDEO tag and are concerned about the patent issues that surround some of the codecs,” a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com. “We’ll continue to be involved in the HTML working groups around this issue and work to find a viable solution.”

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8 in March of this year and includes numerous features from the under development HTML 5 specification.

Among the HTML 5 features supported by IE 8 are AJAX Navigation which enables the use of the back button in Ajax Web sites. DOM Storage provides new capabilities to let the browser store and retrieve data on a user’s hard drive.

“We are committed to providing a browser that accurately supports Web standards,” Microsoft’s spokesperson said. “Our primary concern was making sure that we got CSS 2.1, a specification that has reached final candidate stage, done right before we moved on to specifications that are still in development and may change. HTML 5 is still a standard in progress, and while Internet Explorer 8 does support some parts of HTML 5 and other browsers support some parts of HTML 5, no one supports the whole thing.”

Mozilla’s recently-released Firefox 3.5 is among the browsers that support many HTML 5 features, including Video.

In the case of Firefox 3.5, the Ogg video codec is specifically supported as part of Mozilla’s efforts to encourage open video across the Web. Mozilla staffers have said in the past that they encourage others, including Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), to adopt Ogg as the default HTML 5 codec as well.

Spokespersons from Apple and Google did not respond to InternetNews.com‘s requests for comment by press time.

Even without HTML 5 formally specifying a default video codec, Mozilla’s view is that the video tag is still useful.

“The video tag and the video JavaScript API allow developers to treat video as a first-class citizen of the Web,” Mozilla Standards Evangelist Arun Ranganathan told InternetNews.com. “There is great value in the Video tag and API, but we are keen to see a common video codec emerge on the Web that is both free to use and of a high quality for Web applications.”

The HTML 5 specification itself is still in the drafting phase, which means the final version could potentially still be adjusted to specifically include a default video codec.

“We will continue to lobby for the inclusion of Ogg Theora as part of the normative part of the HTML5 specification,” Ranganathan said. “Ogg is free and of high enough quality-per-bit for use within Web applications. The emergence of a common video format on the Web will allow developers to really use the power of the video API, and it is absolutely part of Mozilla’s standards advocacy to ensure a free and reliable video format becomes a part of the Web platform.”

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