Multimedia Integration On The Web Computer Science Essay

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This review will look into the prospects of HTML5 and will examine whether HTML5 is better than flash in delivering multimedia over the web. Adobe flash currently dominates the multimedia content of the web, having a market share of 33.5% of the URLs. [1]. However HTML5, a groundbreaking upgrade to the prominent Web presentation specification, could become a game-changer in Web application development, one that might even make obsolete such plug-in-based rich Internet application (RIA) technologies as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Sun JavaFX. The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) HTML5 Proposal is geared toward Web applications, something not adequately addressed in previous incarnations of HTML, the W3C acknowledges. In other words, HTML5 tackles the gap that Flash, Silverlight, and JavaFX are trying to fill. [2]

Multimedia on the web:

Multimedia is the digital integration of text, graphics, audio, still images and motion video in a way that provides individual users with high levels of control and interaction. [3]. For computer users browsers are now their new OS, which is used for activities like the e-mail, personal finance and other activities which were previously done using desktop applications. The web now is more sophisticated than it original form as a passive hyperlinked document. Sophisticated scripting languages and active client side technologies are used by the developers to provide users with rich internet experiences and delivering multimedia content over the web is an important part of today's most websites.

"In 1993, a debate was exploding on the fledgling HTML mailing list, and finally a college student named Marc Andreessen added <img> to his Mosaic browser. People objected, saying it was too limited. They wanted <include> or <embed>, which would allow you to add any sort of medium to a Web page with the much-touted content negotiation used on the client. That was too big a project, according to Marc, and he need to ship ASAP. Mosaic went with <img>, and it would be years before including media in a page using <embed> or <applet> or <object> would surface again. Mosaic shipped with <img>, Tim went off to the nascent World Wide Web Consortium, and Marc left for California to start a little browser company called Netscape." [http://www.webstandards.org/learn/articles/askw3c/jun2004/]

HTTP is built on Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to deliver data packets using acknowledgments, timeouts and retries. The TCP is good for documents and images it is not good for time sensitive information such as video and audio. So the Real Time Transport Protocol (RTP) and the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) were designed. The web browsers in general do not have the ability to play audio and video streams, so they need special plug-ins to present multimedia within the flow of the hypertext document by establishing their own connections to servers. The third party plug-ins for browsers also benefit in hosting the 3D applications. As the amount of multimedia data stored on the Web keeps increasing content based indexing of multimedia becomes a challenge. The current search engines have a low recall ratio for searching such content.

Adobe Flash:

Adobe Flash is proprietary vector animation software used to add animation, video and interactivity to websites. SmartSketch the predecessor to Flash was created by Jonathan Gay in 1993 from the software firm he established called the FutureWave software. SmartSketch would allow users to electronically draw on their computers. In 1995 after the feedback from the people at SIGGRAPH the developers at FutureWave realized the potential for using SmartSketch as an animation tool. The developers at the FutureWave added animation and Java features to SmartSketch and FutureSplash animator was born. The internet and the web were relatively new concepts at that time and at that time the only way to extend a Web browser to play back animation was through Java, which was very slow. Finally when Netscape came out with their plug-in API, the performance was decent for animation on the web. After failed attempts to impress Adobe and Fractal Designs the first units of FutureSplash Animator was sold to the public in the summer of 1996. After the success of FutureSplash Microsoft approached the developers of FutureWave for creating the most TV like experience for their online version of MSN and believed that FutureSplash would provide the smoothest and highest quality graphics. Other high-profile client for FutureSplash was Disney online, which used the FutureSplash to build animation and the user interface for their Disney Daily Blast. In December 1996 Macromedia purchased FutureWave and FutureSplash Animator became Macromedia Flash 1.0. Today Flash has become synonymous with animation on the Internet. It's even possible that Flash Player is now the most widely distributed piece of software on the Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator and Real Player. [4]

Video on the Web:

The Big Three Video Players:

The three most popular web video players other than flash are Apple's QuickTime, Microsoft Windows Media Player and Real Networks' RealPlayer. They include various capabilities that Flash doesn't have, while lacking come of its features.

Apple's QuickTime: QuickTime was released in market in 1991 which is free to download. QuickTime supports a range a video formats but it doesn't support Windows Media Video (WMV) and its plays Microsoft's Audio-Video Interleaved (AVI) format.

Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Media player was also released in market in 1991. Media Player is now in version 12 which offer features like the ability to transfer recorded TV files to portable devices. Media player which is integrated into the Windows OS helps in attracting users to the platform.

Real Network's RealPlayer: Real Networks launched RealPlayer in 1995 which was the first application to provide streaming video. RealPlayer strength is its cross-platform interoperability, which runs not just in Windows and Mac OS but also on Linux. RealPlayer also supports all major video formats, including Microsoft's WMV and AVI, MP3, MP4, Apple's MOV and 3gp and also adds compatibility with all MP3 players including Apple's IPod.

Before Flash, playing video on the web required one of the three applications namely Apple's QuickTime, Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Real Network's RealPlayer. Unlike the three big players, Flash player also supports animation and vector graphics. Although Flash can play both kinds of video, on-demand streaming video is the major focus of adobe marketing strategy which includes markets of advertising media and e-commerce. The technology handles streaming similarly to Microsoft, Apple and Real but Flash offers efficient playback and High Quality Video. When a user accesses video, the server streams the compressed file to a Flash player for decompression and playback on a Flash browser, embedded in the host Internet browser. [5]

All plugin-based systems have two major drawbacks. First, they are plugins and not installed by default on most systems. Therefore, the user has to deal with plugin installation, security and browser or OS incompatibility issues. Second, the presented systems define an application and event model inside of the plugin, which is decoupled from the DOM content. Developers, who try to develop integrated web-applications or web-pages that use both, the DOM/browser and the plugin-model, have to deal with the small plugin-specific interface and it's synchronization capabilities. We believe that these major drawbacks are one reason why plugin-based systems, besides Flash, were not successful over the years. [6]

"Anyone who has visited YouTube.com in the past four years knows that you can embed video in a web page. But prior to HTML5, there was no standards-based way to do this. Virtually all the video you've ever watched "on the web" has been funneled through a third-party plugin - maybe QuickTime, maybe RealPlayer, maybe Flash. (YouTube uses Flash.) These plugins integrate with your browser well enough that you may not even be aware that you're using them. That is, until you try to watch a video on a platform that doesn't support that plugin.HTML5 defines a standard way to embed video in a web page, using a <video> element. Support for the<video> element is still evolving, which is a polite way of saying it doesn't work yet. At least, it doesn't work everywhere. But don't despair! There are alternatives and fallbacks and options galore. If your eyes haven't glazed over yet, you're doing better than most. As you can tell, video (and audio) is a complicated subject - and this was the abridged version! I'm sure you're wondering how all of this relates to HTML5. Well, HTML5 includes a <video> element for embedding video into a web page. There are no restrictions on the video codec, audio codec, or container format you can use for your video. One <video>element can link to multiple video files, and the browser will choose the first video file it can actually play. It is up to you to know which browsers support which containers and codecs." [7]

HTML 5:

HTML5 is the next generation of HTML, superseding HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0 and XHTML 1.1 with new features which are necessary for modern web applications. HTML5 is designed to be cross-platform that is its independent of OS and the only requirement for it to run is a modern web browser. The latest browsers which support HTML5 are latest versions of Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera. The mobile web browsers found in IPhones, IPads and Android Phones have HTML5 support. The features like the video playback and drag and drop incorporated in HTML5 is not dependent on third-party browser plug-ins such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight and Google Gears. Thus developers will be able to develop rich internet applications with needing to master multiple proprietary technologies and browsers would be able to deliver this content without the need of third-party plug-ins.

Features of HTML5 are new semantic elements, canvas, video, geolocation, persistent local storage, offline web applications, improvements to HTML web forms, Microdata, graphics acceleration etc. offline support, local storage, graphics acceleration. HTML5 will also support newer mobile technologies like the geolocation and location-based services (LBS) and also Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG).

HTML5 Canvas: HTML5's new key feature is Canvas, which with the help JavaScript lets developers create and incorporate animation, graphics and video on webpages. It is an Apple-originated technology for rendering 2D graphics and animations. The graphics is rendered locally, thus avoiding the server and bandwidth restrictions making graphics heavy pages to render faster.

Video tags: HTML5 defines a standard way to embed video in a web page, using a <video> element. With HTML5's codec-neutral video tags nonproprietary video formats like Ogg, Theora and H.264 can be included in a page. The video tag lets the browser know that the associated information is to be handed as a HTML5 compatible video stream thus allowing the users to view the embedded video without a specific video player.

Location-based services: Location API offers support for mobile browsers and location-based services (LBS) applications by enabling interaction with GPS technology.

Working Offline: Data and programing code from the online applications can be stored locally using AppCache which lets Web-based programs work as desktop applications even without an Internet connection. HTML5 lets web applications store code, graphics and data locally by supporting client-side SQL database, offline application and data caching.

Web Workers: The web workers element of HTML5 runs scripts in the background which can't be stopped by user interactions thus speeding up background tasks.

Syntax and Semantics: HTML 5 makes some changes to the syntax and the semantics of the language's elements and attributes. For example, as Figure 1 shows, HTML can be written in two syntaxes: HTML and XML. Using XML will enable more complex webpages that will run faster on Web browsers. XML requires a stricter, more accurate grammar than HTML and thus necessitates less work by the local computer to run quickly and correctly. However, XML pages require more work by the developer to achieve the higher accuracy level.

HTML+RDFa: The W3c has recently divided HTML5 into subsections for easier development like HTML+RDFa (Resource Description Framework in Attributes) which provide a way to embed description frames in webpages. This lets developers to incorporate machine-readable data into webpages which would enable faster page rendering. [8]

HTML5 in the Future of Web:

The HTML 5 promises to take the web development to next level. HTMLS as an upgrade to web presentation could become the game-changer in web application development, making plug-in based web application such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight and Sun JavaFX. The W3C HTML5 Proposal could tackle and fill the gap Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX are trying to do. With increasing support by the browsers like the Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome HTML5 is ready to take a big leap and even Microsoft have announced support of HTML5 in the upcoming IE9. HTML5 has the potential to take over the vendors like Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight and Sun JavaFX by offering web experiences based on industry standards. This will make Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight obsolete when HTML5 becomes widely adopted by the developers. And the goal of HTML5 to get rid of proprietary technologies would be fulfilled. However there are some issues which need to be addressed like the timely user acceptance and security concerns like letting web applications run on local systems would allow web-based malware to do the same.

Conclusion:

Although HTML5 is still in its infancy, it would be a big leap if it succeeds in answering the needs of users and developers of a more advanced and user friendly technology which would be free from proprietary plug-ins. With strong foundations set up by previous versions of (X)HTML and large community activity surrounding Web standards, we're coming to a new age with a wealth of knowledge and the ability to learn from the past mistakes. HTML5 is being set up with the expectations of a very powerful markup language and it's up to us to utilize it in a way that can benefit us all. There are so many great features to look forward to from new elements to tons of killer APIs. We can make data available offline, easily combine technologies and create very intricate animations all within a familiar landscape. [9]

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