Implementing video on the internet

by Matt Porritt

Video on the Internet has been around for a long time. It was around 1996 when I saw my first video delivered via the Internet (surprising it wasn't a video featuring cats), a short, choppy, low definition clip of sky diving.

A couple of years later I purchased my first Webcam and immediately learnt about the trials of USB 1.0 on a PC. Ever since the Internet and video has been part of my personal and professional life. 

A lot has changed with where and how we access the Internet since the late 1990's. The ubiquity of access and the smart device revolution...

In almost two decades one thing about the Internet hasn't really changed:

  • Video on the Internet is still a hassle...
  • But! This is changing.

Video to the web browser has always been a combination of plugins (Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight for example) and a mix of video formats (QuickTime, MP4).

Inevitably leading to the dreaded "plugin required" message or the worst nightmare of every presenter who has tried to include a video in their presentation; "it worked on my computer".

The newest comer to the party the smart mobile device isn't immune in fact in a lot of aspects it's afflicted more than any other Internet device.

HTML5 to the rescue

While still in draft the HTML5 spec has been adopted by the major web browsers (albeit to varying levels) with the audio/video aspects having wide support.

HTML5 no longer is embedding video in a webpage an exercise in web development black magic. A couple of lines of code and a URL are all thats needed.

However, even with HTML5 taking large amounts of pain when delivering pre-record video, "easy" real time video exchange (think video chat) was still a feverish dream.

WebRTC our hero

In 2012 a working group brought together by Google, the Mozilla and Opera foundations began working on the draft specification for WebRTC (Web Real Time Communication).

As suggested by the name WebRTC aims to provide an API to allow real time audio, video and data exchange between peers on the Internet using only the web browser (no plugins needed!).

A couple of years since it's inception, WebRTC is still a draft and under heavy development.

The good news is there is browser support already and it has matured to the level where using WebRTC as a base for a platform to deliver real time video over the Internet easily is a reality.

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