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TED.com now available in HTML5, serving many mobile platforms, including iPhone, iPad

Posted by: Emily McManus

Since TED.com launched in 2006, we’ve always aimed to make TEDTalks work across a wide variety of platforms. Anywhere people watch video, we want them to watch TEDTalks.

In the past year, smartphones have emerged as a major platform for watching video and web content. And while TEDTalks have always been viewable on the phone itself (via our iTunes podcast or independently created iPhone, Windows Mobile and Android apps), we saw a demand to view our website through the phone browser.

For this reason, we’re thrilled to announce that TED.com now supports the HTML5 open standard and the H.264 codec. What it means for you: if you own an iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad — or any smartphone that supports the open HTML5 standard — you can watch TEDTalks right in your browser, and also make comments and rate the talks (though you won’t yet have access to our subtitles). And when you access TED.com from your computer, you’ll still get the same feature-rich playback experience — using the Flash platform — that you always have.

This is just the latest step in evolving TED to reach new audiences and platforms. In a few weeks time, we’ll unveil an application for the iPad, which will create a unique stand-alone viewing experience. We’re also at work on initiatives to reach other platforms, including Symbian, in the next year. Would you like to see TED on a particular platform? Let us know …

After the jump, read the FAQ on HTML5 / H.264 >>Q. What is the big change?
A. Previously, TEDTalks videos on TED.com were only delivered using the Flash platform. Since Flash is not generally available on mobile devices, you could not watch our videos on TED.com through your phone browser. So we modified our site, and now use an HTML5 video player — showing video encoded to the H.264 codec — to deliver video to the majority of mobile devices accessing TED.com. What it means is: Now, on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad running iPhone OS 3.0 or later, you can watch videos on TED.com, using the phone’s web browser. Since Android devices do not yet support HTML5 video in the browser, the experience is slightly different. You will need to click to view in the native video player.

Q. What is HTML5 video? What is H.264?
A. HTML5 video is a new open-source markup language standard that helps content providers deliver rich media on the browser without an external plug-in. Read more about it here. Although HTML5 video is a fairly new technology, adoption is growing rapidly, and we believe it is a great solution for the mobile space. For TED.com, we recognize that we need to be reaching out to our audience on mobile platforms, and HTML5 video was the perfect solution to move forward with. It is quite exciting.

H.264 is a video compression standard frequently used in Blu-ray, television and real-time video conferencing, as well as web video. Read more about it here.

Q. Do you plan on replacing all TEDTalks with HTML5 video / H.264?
A. We have no plans to move away from Flash. This new feature was created to broaden our video distribution reach to areas where Flash isn’t supported. TED fans on platforms that support Flash will still get our feature-rich playback experience using the Flash platform. That said, we are planning to move to the H.264 codec for all our videos – whether they’re delivered via Flash or HTML5 video.

Q. Why start with the iPhone when there are already two community-created iPhone applications?
A. The application experience and the browser experience are complimentary. Some people like using an app, like those from the TED fans at VenueM and MotherApp, while others prefer using the browser.

Q. Will this work on the iPad? What about iPod Touch?
A. Yes and yes. As long as you have iPhone OS 3.0 or later, you should be able to watch our videos on these devices.

Q. Only Apple and Android devices are mentioned. What about the others?
A. These two kinds of devices cover more than 90 percent of our mobile traffic. If a new device comes on the market that supports HTML5 video / H.264, our video should just work.

Q. Do you plan to support TEDTalks on all mobile devices?
A. We think HTML5 video/H.264 is the right combination for mobile. As more devices support these technologies, support will be gained automatically.

Q. Why HTML5 — why not Ogg Theora?
A. We’d love to support open formats such as Ogg video/Theora, but few mobile devices support the Theora codec. We’ll continue to monitor support for different codecs, but for now, H.264 has broad support in the mobile space.

Q. My smartphone supports HTML5 video but I can’t see the video — what’s up with that?
A. There are a couple of possible reasons. We are looking for people to help us on this front. If you have a smartphone that supports HTML5 video / H.264 and know your way around mobile video, send email to contact@ted.com, subject line HTML5. We would love to get help from the TED community to catalog the experience.

Comments (38)

  • Harald Felgner commented on May 6 2010

    Coming somewhat late to the party, I found this announcement while doing a little research on how to improve the iPhone user experience of my blog embedding more than 100 TED talks. The solution I went for a year ago switching from the old to the new Flash code – http://www.felgner.ch/2009/01/496-ted-talks-migration.html – is not not feasible in the long term.

    So here comes my question: How do I obtain the embed code for the HMTL5 solution?

  • Rob Mulally commented on Apr 21 2010

    EDIT: (old post removed) Nokia N86 Video centre was not playing .mp4 files I would get Sound but not the Video! I have found the resolution for this issue. I posted up my solution quickly here: http://robmulally.blogspot.com/2010/04/nokia-n86-video-center-not-playing-mp4.html

  • Jane Perzyk commented on Apr 5 2010

    I downloaded the TED app from the iTunes store on Friday, and was thrilled with this mobile app, using it for an hour or so that evening. However, subsequent attempts, even with my wi-fi option selected on my iPhone, show a blank space for Latest Items, Videos, and Audio where previously those “pages” were populated. Any thoughts?

  • Norton Chia commented on Apr 1 2010

    I too find it annoying that I could get all the HTML5 goodness on my desktop browser sans Flash, but only after I change my browser agent to fake it as something like iPhone. I’d love to use TED.com without Flash as an option please.

  • Ray Stantz commented on Apr 1 2010

    Can you please support an Ogg Theora version of the videos? I would (as I’m sure many other Firefox, Chrome, and Opera users also would) prefer to be able to watch TED videos on my desktop without plugins.

  • Craig Tennenhouse commented on Apr 1 2010

    What are the options for Windows Mobile? Are you talking about Kinoma Play? That’s the only application I’ve found, outside of Skyfire which is also far from ideal, for watching TEDtalks on my phone. Is anyone using a different application?

  • Gene De Lisa commented on Apr 1 2010

    Great first step. Thanks

  • Stephen Collins commented on Apr 1 2010

    What I’d really like s to be able to choose the HTML5 version for my regular browsing. A plugin free, standards compliant view of the TED world on my desktop browser is what I want.

    Can it be done without me faking the browser header so the site believes I’m browsing from a mobile device?

  • Barnabas Kendall commented on Apr 1 2010

    Here are the stages of rolling out new web technologies to replace old ones:

    1. Automatically enable new technology only for clients that can actually use it, but tell everyone else.
    2a. As ability to consume new technology becomes more ubiquitous, offer some users the opportunity to enable it as an option instead of old technology, allowing them to change their preferences to switch back freely.
    2b (optional). Default users to new technology but allow them to switch back to old technology.
    3. As clients which support new technology become the majority, remove old technology preference option, but detect old clients that do not yet support new technology and automatically fail back to old technology for them.
    4. Remove old technology entirely. Encourage users to upgrade in order to use new technology, which is now the only option.

    TED.com is on step 1. Be patient.

    Also, the question “Why HTML5 — why not Ogg Theora” should be “Why H.264…”.

  • Jeremy Baker commented on Apr 1 2010

    This is a great step forward. It would be great if you could provide a setting for desktop browsers that support HTML5 to use it. Perhaps a setting in Accounts?

  • Lawrence Kwok commented on Mar 31 2010

    Finally I can watch videos on my iPhone! Thanks for looking out for everyone. And of course thanks for the always-inspiring videos TED!

  • Jeremy Baker commented on Mar 31 2010

    Don’t touch “Ogg” … its a basket case: http://ffmpeg.org/~mru/hardwarebug.org/2010/03/03/ogg-objections/

  • E Nomine commented on Mar 31 2010

    Can we get this for traditional desktops and laptops, please. I despise flash. I want nothing to do with it, why does the iPad/iPhone get all the love?

  • Kroc Camen commented on Mar 31 2010

    Why don’t you use HTML5 for Safari / Chrome?

    Seriously, please explain in frank and technical details why you are not doing this. What is the difference between handing an iPad a video file, and Safari? (This sets a really bad precedent) I don’t have Flash installed. You are placing a completely artificial barrier in my way when the video file is fine for the iPad to have, and I can download the same video on iTunes (which is how I view TED content)—so what’s the problem? Develop a JavaScript user interface for HTML5 video. It’ll be faster and won’t crash.

  • John Bamber commented on Mar 31 2010

    You can play TED videos in browser on many recent Symbian phones both Series 3 and Series 5 by using the free Skyfire browser. I have been watching on the Nokia N97 Mini, Nokia 5800.

    You can alse use Skyfire to watch TED videos on Windows Mobile 5.0-6.5 touch or non touch phones.

    For either Symbian or Windows mobile download Skyfire from m.skyfire.com from the native Smartphone browser. Skyfire is also a free download from the Nokia Ovi store. Just search for Skyfire.

    It is a pity that ted.com videos don’t play in the Symbian 3 or 5 builtin browser. Fortunately youtube.com videos play fine.

    It is also a pity that ted.com videos don’t play in the Opera Mobile browser. Fortunately youtube.com videos play fine.
    Many ted.com videos are now on youtube.

  • Vasili Svirydau commented on Mar 31 2010

    I think you should support theora, simply because its support on mobile devices is a chicken and egg problem. TED.com is a large video content provider, and as more web sites serve theora, more mobile devices would be capable to support it.

    I think being patent-free theora should align nicely with sustainability concept, which is a major TED topic. There is a guarantee, that the playback capability of theora will not be restricted in the future. Not to mention, that money saved for not having to pay licensing costs could go to improve other TED.com projects.

    Also, some platforms (e.g. GNU/Linux) do not bundle a copy of H.264 decoder, that allows legal playback capability. This allows for the distribution to be free from patenting issues, and free as in beer. They also do not bundle Flash players, because it is a closed-source, commercial product. And if you really want to spread ideas across as many people as possible, you can’t digitally discriminate users of those systems.

  • Ian Gregory commented on Mar 31 2010

    Great news for mobile users, but what about all us desktop users that run Flash blockers? I run ClickToFlash on my iMac to block all Flash content, so when I go to the TED site I just see a grey box which I have to click to permit the Flash to load. Couldn’t TED follow the example of YouTube and allow desktop users to choose to receive HTML5 instead of Flash?

    Responding to Daniel Wiegert, I understand your preference for a codec which can be used without paying licence fees, but at least some mobile devices rely on hardware H.264 decoders to get adequate performance with limited available power. As far as I am aware there are no hardware Theora decoders. Meanwhile, H.264 is supported by popular open source browsers like WebKit and Google Chrome – it is really only Firefox that is holding out. Presumably TED do not pay any H.264 licence fees because they are non-commercial, and I believe the licence free period has recently been extended to 2015.

  • Ahmet Yükseltürk commented on Mar 31 2010

    Wikipedia link in the second question’s answer is broken. (You can delete this comment after correction.)

  • Silva Daniel commented on Mar 31 2010

    Great! Can’t wait to see the iPad app, hope its better than the iPhone app. I really wish that the iPhone/Ipad app offered the same or at least a similar experience to the actual website.
    Is there any update on the works? Cause the iPhone app really lacks functionality…
    Nevertheless, great work and thank you for adding support to all kind of devices!

  • Daniel Wiegert commented on Mar 31 2010

    I see you have chosen to deliver your streaming material using the html5 video-tag, which is a great step away from the resource hungry Flash. The choice of the H.264 is very unlucky however. The codec is covered by license which makes it available only for a few. The vast amount of users of open sourced web browsers can’t use this codec and are by that left out.

    I’d suggest that you instead use the open sourced codec Ogg Theora, which is available for free for anyone who wants to implement it.