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Sorting Through The Complexity of Mobile Video

2012 June 10

Video usage is shifting to mobile, particulary tablets. As a matter of fact, a comScore TabLens™ report released yesterday showed that the majority of tablet owners watch video on their device, with 25% paying to watch the content. Video over mobile increased 88% in the second half of last year and accounted for 42% of all mobile bandwidth, according to Allot Communications. YouTube alone accounted for 24% of all mobile Internet bandwidth used in that period. As appetite for HD quality video rises, video will consume even more bandwidth.

Video has increasingly become an important communication medium besides watching TV, Movies and YouTube clips. FaceTime and Skype are great examples. In many industries, such automobiles, real estate, retail and travel, moving images play an important role in sales and marketing.

Training is an important use case for video. I used YouTube myself to learn how to patch a hole in my drywall caused by an over exuberant, bed-jumping child. The task was so much easier because I could see the repair process step by.

Mobile provides the opportunity to provide similar instructive training clips so that your employees or partners – such as a field repair technician on site – can watch wherever they are. This is germane to all manner of instruction from compliance training to new product updates. The ability to see and read the body language of the contributor adds additional depth to the material. There’s a reason the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has stuck around so long, it’s incredibly true, particularly as systems have become so complex.

I recently completed a project involving mobile enablement of an enterprise video management system used for training travel sales professionals, providing them virtual familiarization videos of destinations, cruise ships, resorts, etc. Delivered over their intranet, this approach had proven effective in increasing sales. Consequently, they wanted to expand it for anytime, anywhere access so their agents could view material as they have time throughout the day.

A HTML5 Responsive Design approach was chosen to provide the most complete device support at a reasonable cost. This approach allowed them to serve up video content from a single application instance whether requests came from desktop browsers within their enterprise or smartphones and tablets out in the field. Supporting video, however, is complex whether using a standard browser or on a mobile device.

One must contend with a variety of issues like format, form factor, browser version and bandwidth. In particular, a video strategy (mobile or otherwise) must contend with the glacial pace at which large enterprises upgrade browsers – at present, most are standardized on Internet Explorer versions that do not support HTML5. Below are some charts to convey this complexity, courtesy of OpenWave Computing.

Video codec support in shipping browsers
Video codec support in upcoming browsers

Summary

  • There is no single combination of containers and codecs that works in all HTML5 browsers.
  • This is not likely to change in the near future.
  • To make your video watchable across all of these devices and platforms, encoding the video more than once is required.

For maximum compatibility, video workflow should look like the following:

  1. Make one version that uses WebM (VP8 + Vorbis).
  2. Make another version that uses H.264 baseline video and AAC “low complexity” audio in an MP4 container.
  3. Make another version that uses Theora video and Vorbis audio in an Ogg container.

Link to all three video files from a single <video> element, and fall back to a Flash-based video player.

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