l d Players: We’ve Got You Covered
Back in January 2014, I wrote an article discussing the top five “off the shelf,” or OTS, players ( bit.ly/1Y3CJgT) wherein I touched upon
many of the deployment aspects revisited in this
article. Most if not all premium OTS players are
doing their part in making sure their respective
frameworks are getting the most out of native
HTML5 playback wherever possible:
1. JW Player: My top pick among subscription
license players continues to remove its
dependencies on a Flash fallback. Native
MPEG-DASH playback on HTML5 browsers
that support MSE, HLS playback via native
browser, and Flash fallback, as well as
RTMP live or VOD playback, are among the
many features this versatile player offers.
2. Flowplayer: If you’re not a fan of subscription-based player licensing and want a one-time
license for your needs, Flowplayer might be
your pick. Flowplayer hasn’t expanded its
range of playback options to include MPEG-DASH, but it does have a Flash fallback that
supports RTMP deployments.
3. THEOPlayer: This up-and-coming player
boasts HLS and DASH playback without
any Flash assist and can be used on
browsers that don’t natively support HLS.
All manifests and segments are loaded
with THEOPlayer’s specialized HTML5
Flash-less HTML5 world and has no support
for RTMP streams. THEOPlayer is also built
for HTML5 browsers that support MSE/EME.
If your targets include legacy browsers
prior to Internet Explorer 10, Chrome 23,
Firefox 47, you may need another player.
4. Bitmovin: Another Flash-less HTML5 player
is Bitmovin’s Adaptive HTML5 Player, which
can play HLS and DASH content across more
modern HTML5 browsers that support MSE
and EME. One of the benefits of Bitmovin’s
player is that you can use a fully featured
license-free version if your utilization is
less than 5,000 impressions a month. I’m a
big fan of freemium players, and Bitmovin’s
pricing model also enables you to test to
your heart’s content and deploy for free until
you’ve exceeded the limit. Like THEOPlayer,
Bitmovin’s player is not designed with a Flash
fallback and does not support RTMP streams.
The top two open source or license-free players are MediaElement.js and Video.js. MediaElement.js has not changed much since my coverage of it 3 years ago, and it does support a
Flash fallback. But, it hasn’t been updated to support MPEG-DASH or nonnative HLS playback.
However, Video.js continues to receive support
from the HTML5 video community, with many
enhancements or “plug-in” code extras available
library. There are plug-ins, for example, that enable DASH and HLS playback just like the premium players from THEOPlayer and Bitmovin.
However, don’t underestimate the potential
learning curve for customization of a Video.js
player that uses more than one plug-in package.
It’s worth noting that none of the players discussed here support WebRTC (or any RTC) publishing or playback. This in and of itself is no
reason for alarm—even when the world was
dominated by Flash video players in browsers,
low-latency, real-time streams were the domain
of custom Flash SWF controllers that handled
connections and camera capture.
But Seriously, Can’t I Still Rely on Flash?
As we near the end of this article, you die-hard
Flash and RTMP lovers might still be wondering,
“Flash isn’t really dead, is it?” The practical answer for most video business needs is yes—the
vast majority of short-form, unprotected video
playback doesn’t need the luxury of a Flash plug-in to play. However, if you’re in the business of
live streaming, video chats in desktop browsers, and/or legacy browsers, your dependency on the Flash plug-in won’t be a thing of the
past until browser vendors adopt a ubiquitous
real-time specification. So, you may be in a dwindling crowd, but you will be in a righteous one
that still holds out for more consistent alternatives to emerge. And you may hold out hope (but
not your breath) for a truly Flash-free future that
will actually support seamless video delivery.
Robert Reinhardt ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder of VideoRx and
is internationally regarded as an expert on multimedia application
development and online video, particularly in HTML5, iOS, Flash,
AVC/H.264, and HEVC/H.265.
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