The slow death of Adobe Flash has been hastened — YouTube, which used the platform as the standard way to play its videos, has dumped Flash in favor of HTML5 for its default web player. The site will now use HTML5 video as standard in Chrome, Internet Explorer 11, Safari 8, and in beta versions of Firefox. YouTube engineer Richard Leider said the time had come to ditch the aging Flash in favor of HTML5 as the latter, used in smart TVs and other streaming devices, had benefits that “extend beyond web browsers.”
YouTube has spent years experimenting with HTML5, and engineer John Harding wrote about its benefits in 2010. Harding said that although HTML5 let YouTube bring videos to devices that don’t support Flash Player, such as the iPhone, it did not sufficiently meet the site’s needs at the time. Almost five years later, the proliferation and advance of HTML5 means that YouTube can now use it for its default player in most modern browsers.
Leider called out HTML5’s adoption of Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) as key in its switch. YouTube says ABR, which lets the site change resolution for viewers based on network quality, has reduced buffering by more than 50 percent globally, and by as much as 80 percent on heavily congested networks. The technology also lets people live stream their play sessions on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and use streaming devices such as Chromecast. Also important was HTML5’s support of the VP9 codec, which gives higher quality video at a bandwidth reduction of 35 percent, and new APIs that let YouTube show fullscreen videos with standard HTML UI.
YouTube’s move highlights the shrinking relevance of Adobe Flash on the modern internet. Adobe itself has spent the last few years severing many of its ties with the product — the company’s Flash 2012 Flash roadmap narrowed its focus to gaming and “premium” video, and in 2011, the company killed Flash Player for mobile, saying at the time that HTML5 was the “best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.” In 2015, YouTube has realized that Flash is not the best solution for web video, full stop.