Everything You Need to Know About HTML5 Players for Live Video Streaming

May 24, 2022 by
 

An HTML5 player is the most widely supported and available video player on the market for live video streaming. Adobe Flash Player once dominated the landscape, but when Apple refused to support Flash players as far back as 2012 (along with many security and performance concerns), the industry needed a more compatible video player to compensate for Apple products’ popularity. 

Now that Adobe Flash is officially sunset, HTML5 live video players are the streaming and broadcasting industry’s standard. They’re fast and flexible, making it possible for content producers like you to stream video to your audience across the internet. But what is an HTML5 player, exactly, and what makes it work? When and why do you need one? Let’s dive into HTML5 online streaming players and what you should know about them. 

 

What Is an HTML5 Player? 

 You already know that HTML refers to Hypertext Markup Language — the language that composes every page on the internet — but the 5 indicates the latest version of HTML that supports video and audio tags, like so: <video> and <audio>. Web browser developers have added video playback functionality into their browsers like Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox, allowing other developers to add videos to web pages the same way they can with images. 

However, these tags only support embedded videos, not streaming. The built-in video elements provide only limited control over how a browser loads and plays video, often resulting in stalling and buffering. Preventing these mishaps and ensuring a better viewing experience (for both live and on-demand streaming) requires a separate player component, the HTML5 streaming video player. 

At its core, an HTML5 player is a JavaScript package that uses the Media Source Extensions API, or MSE. This API, combined with Encrypted Media Extensions (EME, for features like enhanced security and DRM), and VTTCue (for subtitles) allows developers to use JavaScript to override how browsers handle video tags and improve streaming video delivery. 

 
 

What Do HTML5 Players Do? 

An HTML5 player handles every detail for connecting to a stream, including: 

  • Collecting stream information 
  • Parsing the manifest 
  • Downloading video segments 
  • ABR selection 
  • Buffer management 
  • Presenting downloaded segments to MSE for decoding and rendering on-page 
  • Content security 
  • Subtitles and captions 

Adaptive bitrate streaming support is a significant feature that makes an HTML5 player necessary. By continuously monitoring a user’s bandwidth and buffer levels the HTML5 player identifies which of the available renditions of the stream will provide the best experience and selects that for viewing. This process ensures all your viewers have positive playback experiences regardless of device type or network performance. 

 

Why HTML5 Is Necessary 

 As mentioned previously, HTML5 video came to be a more secure and functional replacement for Adobe Flash. Opera proposed the video element of HTML in 2007, which was implemented in HTML5. Adobe Flash was necessary to add a video to an HTML page before this time. 

Flash leveraged the RTMP protocol to deliver video data from a server or CDN to a user’s web browser. While offering many powerful features, such as dynamic switching, buffer control, and low latency, this protocol was not cacheable, so it required additional CDN resources to scale. 

Along came HTTP-based streaming formats like HLS and DASH. These formats had the advantage of delivering video data in CDN-friendly segments over standard browser protocols. RTMP is still applicable for video ingestion, but protocols like HLS and MPEG-DASH for delivery require fewer CDN resources and, therefore, are more compatible with the modern web and are more capable of streaming to large audiences. 

 

When You Need an HTML5 Player 

 If you want to stream video to an audience, it’s in your best interests to use an HTML5 player. It’s improbable anyone would miss out on your content because nearly every operating system and browser support it. Thanks to its industry prominence and adaptive bitrate streaming abilities, an HTML5 live video player ensures that your entire audience — from end users in big cities with high-speed internet connections to users struggling with high latency in rural locations — has a seamless playback experience. 

 
Graphic of streaming devices with orange backgrounds
 

What to Look for in an HTML5 Player 

 There are many HTML5 players available on the market to choose from. It’s important to shop around and decide which online streaming player best suits your needs, such as major brands including THEOPlayer, Video.js, Flowplayer, Clappr, and Wowza Video’s native HTML5 player. 

Here are some critical features and details to look out for when making your decision: 

 

Open Source or Commercial 

Some live video players are free and open source, allowing you to download and modify them as you need. Others are paid and come with a host of additional features and integrations you won’t find anywhere else. When picking between these options, keep in mind whose responsibility problem solving will be and what kind of functionality and support you need. 

 

Customizability 

 Does the online streaming player you’re considering allow you to customize it to feel on-brand? You’ll want the ability to change its dimensions, watermarks and logos, controls, and other elements so that when viewers watch content, they’ll have a seamless experience they associate with your business. 

 

DRM 

 DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is used to encrypt and protect your content from unauthorized use. DRM systems will support multiple standards based on the delivery protocol and device destination of the stream, so you will want to be sure the HTML5 player you choose supports these different DRM standards to reach every device. 

 

Ad Insertion 

Your HTML5 player needs to handle insertion markers and deliver decision data and insert ads — such as before or during a stream — which is vital if you hope to monetize your content.  

Captions and Subtitles 

 A high-quality HTML5 player will allow you to display subtitles or screen reader descriptions during playback. These features are essential to make your content more accessible to your viewers, so double check if you can include captions (preferably in multiple languages) when selecting the player right for you. 

 

Analytics 

 Analytics are valuable for measuring viewership, engagement levels, and other aspects of your audience’s behavior. The more you can understand how they interact with your content and what they connect with, the better content you can deliver that grows your video ROI.  

HTML5 players can also provide quality of experience data, such as failed playback, buffering, and stalls, which allows you to discover and address delivery problems that help ensure your viewers have the best experience possible. 

 

Choose the Best HTML5 Player for You 

Now that you know a little more about how HTML5 players work and what to look for, check out our list of the best players around, and find out more about how Wowza Video’s player, a fully-featured and customizable HMTL5 playback solution can help you easily integrate streaming video into your business-critical applications. 

 

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About Barry Owen

Barry Owen is Wowza’s resident video streaming expert and vice president of solutions engineering. In this role, he leads a team dedicated to helping customers succeed. From architecting custom applications to solving complex problems, Barry leverages more than 25 years… View more