Autoplay, HEVC & Live streaming

Radiant Media Player Blog

Last updated on October 11, 2017 - Back to blog home page

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Autoplay with audio is (about) no more!

Fall 2016 we got excited as both Chrome for Android and iOS Safari started to exhibit support for muted autoplay of HTML5 video. If you remembered correctly before that it was (near) impossible to autoplay content with HTML5 video on mobile devices.

Fall 2017 has also its autoplay-related breaking news as both Apple and Google, the 2 most important browser/WebView manufacturers of the last few years, are starting to actively block HTML5 video autoplay with audio in respectively desktop Safari and Chrome. On macOS Safari 11+ this is already a default setting and for Chrome this is coming in full by January 2018 with Chrome 64 public release. Other browser manufacturers are sure to follow we can bet.

Here is what we can read from the Autoplay (The Chromium Projects) article: "Use autoplay sparingly. Autoplay can be a powerful engagement tool, but it can also annoy users if undesired sound is played or they perceive unnecessary resource usage (e.g. data, battery) as the result of unwanted video playback."

Apple Safari team says: "These changes provide users the ability to browse the web with fewer distractions, particularly in the form of relief from websites that auto-play with sound."

For further references you can refer to our autoplay documentation here.

While these changes are surely to be welcomed by viewers across the globe it begs the question of how publishers can adapt to this shift in autoplay policies. This is especially true if you are monetising content with video ads. The answer is: unified muted autoplay (read muted autoplay on both mobile and desktop devices). While autoplay with audio is actively blocked both Apple and Google have committed to supporting muted autoplay whenever possible.

So, now I have your attention with the whenever possible word? Well there is a catch - even for muted autoplay. Our latest testing show that on iOS 11 muted autoplay is not available in low power mode. On Safari 11 for macOS users have the ability to enter Safari preferences and to completely block autoplay (even muted). Publishers should now go one step further and start thinking about a fully-fledged non-autoplay strategy.

On a JavaScript development point of view this means that we can no longer be sure that autoplay, even muted, will be available on a device. Whenever we want to use autoplay we now need to use a promise-based approach. See here for a basic example of implementation. This also means that we need to programmatically start our custom player with JavaScript and cannot use the HTML5 video/audio autoplay attribute anymore (as it won't give us access to the play() promise). Starting with Radiant Media Player 4.5 we have implemented promise-based autoplay - and also implemented a fallback for browsers that do not support promise-based autoplay. As of October 2017, latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari & Opera support promise-based autoplay but MS Edge and Internet Explorer 11 currently lack this feature so implementing and testing a fallback solution is important.

To finish on a "more positive" note we can point to the Chrome Media Engagement Index (MEI) that will come along the new Chromium autoplay policies. "The MEI measures an individual's propensity to consume media on a site ... From that, Chrome calculates a media engagement score which is highest on sites where media is played on a regular basis. When it is high enough, media playback is allowed to autoplay on desktop only." As such frequently visited sites by a viewer could be allowed to autoplay HTML5 video with audio.

Is HEVC (H.265) really coming to the web?

Yes, HEVC is about to get real for the web. Well at least if you own a recent Apple device. Our testing show that fragmented MP4 HLS with HEVC encoded video content can be effectively used on macOS High Sierra Safari and iOS 11 Safari.

HEVC promises to reduce output file sizes by up to 50% for the same quality as AVC (H.264). This can enable playback of 4K, high frame rate and/or HDR content to a larger audience. But it can also really help for viewing content in highly fluctuant mobile networks.

So far HEVC has had low adoption in the online video industry due to expensive and questionable licensing fees mainly. AVC (H.264) maturity has also been a road blocker for HEVC adoption and newer royalty-free codec like AV1 could also challenge industry-wide adoption of HEVC. More likely a new fragmented-codec world is about to see the light of day.

But enough with the usual chit-chat: HEVC is here and publishers able to support it should do so whenever possible. This can help with reducing delivery/CDN cost and improve user experience with better video quality.

At Radiant Media Player we have a dedicated HEVC strategy that allows to use HEVC with HLS or MP4 progressive download on newer devices that support it and to fallback to AVC on devices that don't.

Live is as hot as ever!

If we were to make a parallel with crypto-currencies I would say that live is the current bitcoin of the online video industry. It is exploding. I think Vimeo acquiring Livestream and launching its own live video service is the last sign of it.

The gaming industry, health industry, banking industry are all gearing up for live media streaming. For the news industry this is also a game changer. People do not want to get the news anymore they want to be part of it - to live it.

Now successful live media streaming is not easy, and will probably require significant time and money. We are not here to discuss how to achieve this. However, if you are in doubt as to whether or not you should be launching your live video service then the answer is: doubt no more and do it ... the live media streaming train is not going to wait any longer.

Radiant Media Player supports live and DVR video/audio streaming with HLS and MPEG-DASH.

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