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Vimeo speeds its online videos, goes HTML5 by default

The online video site has overhauled its video player for shorter waits for video, better sharing, and more accessibility and Web standards support.

The new Vimeo player is designed to work well on a multitude of screen sizes, something made possible through use of HTML5 video that isn't reliant on Flash Player.
The new Vimeo player is designed to work well on a multitude of screen sizes, something made possible through use of HTML5 video that isn't reliant on Flash Player. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Vimeo has sped up its video-streaming technology and made the shift from Flash-powered video to HTML5 by default, the company said Tuesday.

The new player software improves performance, social links, and post-production capabilities, Vimeo Chief Technology Officer Andrew Pile told CNET. It loads in half the time -- not only when the video player populates on a Web page, but also when people click the play button.

Faster performance generally helps Web-based businesses -- Vimeo's new on-demand video-purchasing program through which people can rent or own videos, for example. Indeed, as Vimeo gradually distributed the new player to viewers, the company observed increases in how many videos people watched, said Vimeo President Dae Mellancamp.

The project to overhaul the player software has been going on for the past year, the IAC Interactive subsidiary said.

The player also now supports screen readers and closed captioning for better accessibility, and social sharing is easier with Facebook and Twitter publishing options built into the interface. Previously, people had to copy and paste embed codes.

The new player also makes it easier for people sell video right from the player when teaser videos are shown. "With the addition of this 'buy now' button on the trailer, everywhere the video travels, there is an instant call to buy that comes with it," Mellancamp said.

The move to the HTML standard follows one the Web slowly is making as Adobe Systems' Flash Player fades from use. Flash helped ignite the online video revolution, but the browser plug-in doesn't work on mobile devices. As it began fading out, browser makers and others standardized video sent using Hypertext Markup Language, the technology used to describe Web pages.

Vimeo logo

Two thorny issues still complicate HTML5 video, though. One is digital rights management (DRM), which lets content owners encrypt video and audio to curtail copying. Another is the choice of codec -- the technology used to compress video and audio.

HTML5 standardized how to send video, but didn't specify which code was to be used. Google's open-source, royalty-free VP8 and newer VP9 codecs are one option, but most of the tech industry -- especially those in the video world -- preferred a royalty-bearing standard called H.264. Google said it would eventually phase H.264 support out of Chrome, and Mozilla was a strong VP8 advocate, but H.264 won out: Google backed off its decision, and Mozilla added H.264 support by drawing on modern operating systems' built-in support.

For DRM, Microsoft and Google have controversially developed a standard called Encrypted Media Extensions (EME), which already is in use for Web-based video streamed by Netflix. DRM isn't much of an issue for Vimeo, though: "Videos, whether downloaded or streamed, on Vimeo On Demand are DRM-free," the company said.