CBS and Apple power up for HTML5 on the iPad, freeing users from the proprietary Flash format... with another proprietary format, H.264.
Maybe Apple was right... if it can convince enough key players to adopt HTML5

The good news for HTML5 advocates is that Apple's iPad for better or worse may finally push the format into the mainstream, which could eventually displace proprietary formats like Flash and Silverlight.  The bad news is that Apple has pushed a version of HTML5 that uses another proprietary format -- H.264.

This week observers discovered that the homepage contained some suspicious new "iPad - test" links.  Clicking these links in the desktop browser would redirect to a page with TV episodes on a Flash-driven player.  If you spoofed your browser's User Agent to think you were an iPad or used the iPad SDK Simulator, though, you were redirected to an HTML5 version of the player.

Currently the videos do not play.  However, the feature to enter "fullscreen mode" is properly functioning in the iPad SDK Simulator.

So what does this all mean?

Well with CBS onboard the iPad and HTML5 score a big victory in their fight against Flash.  CBS is a huge player in the TV business and beat out Fox to become the most viewed network in 2008-2009.  Its TV shows include 
NCIS: Los AngelesThe Good WifeTwo and a Half MenCriminal MindsCSI: NYNumb3rsCold CaseHow I Met Your MotherBig Bang TheoryThe Mentalist,Survivor, Cold CaseThe Amazing Race, and 60 Minutes.

What it also means is that it drives HTML5 farther towards a proprietary implementation.  H.264 patents are owned by a group of companies who license the format through independent Denver-based MPEG LA, LLC.  In countries that uphold software patents (like the U.S.), both browser makers (like Apple) and commercial content providers (like CBS) may have to pay to use the codec.

The alternative proposed by the open source community is to use an HTML5 implementation that uses the Ogg Theora codec, a similar video technology.  Users of this implementation would not have to pay licensing fees.  Some, such as Google and Apple, have suggested that Theora is not powerful enough, but demonstrations show that video feeds in H.264 vs. Theora show little noticeable difference to the end user.

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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