Silvia Pfeiffer on "a new type of web"

Silvia Pfeiffer is a web video pioneer having worked on hyperlinked video through CSIRO and Xiph since 2000. Since 2007 she consulted first to Mozilla and now to Google on HTML5 video accessibility. She's heavily engaged in the specification process and wrote The Definitive Guide to HTML5 Video (Apress). She's @gingertech on Twitter.

This article first appeared in issue 224 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: What are the specification challenges?

SP: In essence, the key challenge is to make video on the web as powerful as video in desktop applications. This not only includes the replication of all the functionality that video plug-ins such as Adobe Flash are currently providing, including video publication, live streaming, and video conferencing. It also requires allowing the development of more complex video applications such as video recording software, video editors or video surveillance systems. To allow this, we need a large number of different interfaces for video in browsers and the standardisation of these interfaces so they provide for all the use cases of consumers, content publishers and distributors

.net: What about Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

SP: DRM is a term that includes many different techniques for authorising access and securing content. Every content publisher has its own requirements on which techniques need to be used to control access to their content. Some of these techniques are already supported on the web. Others are hard, if not impossible, to support by web browsers, such as an encryption of content with a key that can only be used by the browser to decode the content once and only on a given device. When the decryption algorithm is not known by the user, a video player can control the use of the encrypted content quite effectively. However, the web consists of open specifications and open source web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox. Thus, it’s not possible to hide the decryption algorithm.

Achieving the kind of content control that content owners have come to expect under the term DRM is thus a challenge on the Web. On top of all the technical challenges, the DRM space also hasn’t yet developed a standard set of protection techniques that everyone should use. I’m sure the last word has not been spoken about DRM for video on the web, but for now we don’t have a solution. I’m expecting that we’ll see the market place approach these challenges before we see any standards emerge in this space.

.net: What’s next?

SP: The recent W3C Web and TV workshop ( brought further requirements of professional video publishers to the table, which include:

  • The need for interfaces to detect available video and audio input and output devices and their capabilities – think about using your TV and stereo in your living room and controlling it from a tablet device.
  • The need for a HTTP adaptive streaming standard across the web video formats MPEG-4, WebM and Ogg Theora.
  • The need for content protection/DRM.
  • The need for Parental Guidance standards.

There are several years of standardisation and implementation efforts ahead, but when all this is finished we will have a platform for the development of networked video applications like none before. This will be the basis for the creation of a new type of web: a web that’s driven by video rather than by text.

We can only imagine some of the ways in which we will interact with video: we’ll ‘channel surf’ by following hyperlinks in videos that give us more detail on the topic of interest and make our own programming from the comfort of our living room. The applications that will blow our minds, however, still have to be invented and HTML5 is shaping up to be the standard to enable it all.

For more on video, see The Future of HTML5 video

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