Today was the last day to provide a submission and input to the Australian Government’s discussion report on “Access to Electronic Media for the Hearing and Vision Impaired: Approaches for Consideration”.
The report explains the Australian Government’s existing regulatory framework for accessibility to audio-visual content on TV, digital TV, DVDs, cinemas, and the Internet, and provides an overview about what it is planning to do over the next 3-5 years.
It is interesting to read that according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics about 2.67 million Australians – one in every eight people – have some form of hearing loss and 284,000 are completely or partially blind. Also, it is expected that these numbers will increase with an ageing population and obesity-linked diabetes are expected to continue to increase these numbers.
For obvious reasons, I was particularly interested in the Internet-related part of the report. It was the second-last section (number five), and to be honest, I was rather disappointed: only 3 pages of the 40 page long report concerned themselves with Internet content. Also, the main message was that “at this time the costs involved with providing captions for online content were deemed to represent an undue financial impost on a relatively new and developing service.”
Audio descriptions weren’t even touched with a stick and both were written off with “a lack of clear online caption production and delivery standard and requirements”. There is obviously a lot of truth to the statements of the report – the Internet audio-visual content industry is still fairly young compared to e.g. TV, and there are a multitude of standards rather than a single clear path.
However, I believe the report neglected to mention the new HTML5 video and audio elements and the opportunity they provide. Maybe HTML5 was excluded because it wasn’t expected to be relevant within the near future. I believe this is a big mistake and governments should pay more attention to what is happening with HTML5 audio and video and the opportunities they open for accessibility.
In the end, I made a submission because I wanted the Australian Government to wake up to the HTML5 efforts and I wanted to correct a mistake they made with claiming MPEG-2 was “not compatible with the delivery of closed audio descriptions”.
I believe a lot more can be done with accessibility for Internet content than just “monitor international developments” and industry partnership with disability representative groups. I therefore proposed to undertake trials in particular with textual audio descriptions to see if they could be produced in a similar manner to captions, which would make their cost come down enormously. Also I suggested actually aiming for WCAG 2.0 conformance within the next 5 years – which for audio-visual content means at minimum captions and audio descriptions.
During last week’s LCA, Jan Gerber, Michael Dale and I gave a 3 hour tutorial on how to publish HTML5 video in an open format.
We basically taught people how to create and publish Ogg Theora video in HTML5 Web pages and how to make them work across browsers, including much of the available tools and libraries. We’re hoping that some people will have learnt enough to include modules in CMSes such as Drupal, Joomla and WordPress, which will easily support the publishing of Ogg Theora.
I have been asked to share the material that we used. It consists of:
Note that if you would like to walk through the exercises, you should install the following software beforehand:
- apache2 or a Web server of your choice
- firefogg plugin
- firebug plugin
- vlc, mplayer, totem or xine
- kino or pitivi or another video editor that exports Theora, e.g. iMovie with XiphQT
The exercises include:
- creating a Ogg video from an editor
- transcoding a video using http://firefogg.org/
- creating a poster image using OggThumb
- writing a first HTML5 video Web page with Ogg Theora
- publishing it on a Web Server, with correct MIME type & Duration hint
- writing a second HTML5 video Web page with Ogg Theora & MP4 to cover Safari/Webkit
- transcoding using ffmpeg2theora in a script
- writing a third HTML5 video Web page with Cortado fallback
- writing a fourth Web page using “Video for Everybody”
- writing a fifth Web page using “mwEmbed”
- writing a sixth Web page using firefogg for transcoding before upload
- and a seventh one with a progress bar
- encoding srt subtitles into an Ogg Kate track
- writing an eighth Web page using cortado to display the Ogg Kate track
For those that would like to see the slides here immediately, a special flash embed:
Vimeo started last week with a HTML5 beta test. They use the H.264 codec, probably because much of their content is already in this format through the Flash player.
But what really surprised me was their claim that roughly 25% of their users will be able to make use of their HTML5 beta test. The statement is that 25% of their users use Safari, Chrome, or IE with Chrome Frame. I wondered how they got to that number and what that generally means to the amount of support of H.264 vs Ogg Theora on the HTML5-based Web.
According to Statcounter’s browser market share statistics, the percentage of browsers that support HTML5 video is roughly: 31.1%, as summed up from Firefox 3.5+ (22.57%), Chrome 3.0+ (5.21%), and Safari 4.0+ (3.32%) (Opera’s recent release is not represented yet).
Out of those 31.1%,
Given these numbers, Vimeo must assume that roughly 16% of their users have Chrome Frame in IE installed. That would be quite a number, but it may well be that their audience is special.
So, how is Ogg Theora support doing in comparison, if we allow such browser plugins to be counted?
With an installation of XiphQT, Safari can be turned into a browser that supports Ogg Theora. The Chome Frame installation will also turn IE into a Ogg Theora supporting browser. These could get the browser support for Ogg Theora up to 45%. Compare this to a claimed 48% of MS Silverlight support.
But we can do even better for Ogg Theora. If we use the Java Cortado player as a fallback inside the video element, we can capture all those users that have Java installed, which could be as high as 90%, taking Ogg Theora support potentially up to 95%, almost up to the claimed 99% of Adobe Flash.
I’m sure all these numbers are disputable, but it’s an interesting experiment with statistics and tells us that right now, Ogg Theora has better browser support than H.264.
UPDATE: I was told this article sounds aggressive. By no means am I trying to be aggressive – I am stating the numbers as they are right now, because there is a lot of confusion in the market. People believe they reach less audience if they publish in Ogg Theora compared to H.264. I am trying to straighten this view.
You probably heard it already: Linux.conf.au is live streaming its video in a Microsoft proprietary format.
Fortunately, there is now a re-broadcast that you can get in an open format from http://stream.v2v.cc:8000/ . It comes from a server in Europe, but relies on transcoding here in New Zealand, so it may not be completely reliable.
UPDATE: A second server is now also available from the US at http://repeater.xiph.org:8000/.
Today, the down under open source / Linux conference linux.conf.au in Wellington started with the announcement that every talk and mini-conf will be live streamed to the Internet and later published online. That’s an awesome achievement!
However, minutes after the announcement, I was very disappointed to find out that the streams are actually provided in a proprietary format and through a proprietary streaming protocol: a Microsoft streaming service that provides Windows media streams.
Why stream an open source conference in a proprietary format with proprietary software? If we cannot use our own technologies for our own conferences, how will we get the rest of the world to use them?
I must say, I am personally embarrassed, because I was part of several audio/video teams of previous LCAs that have managed to record and stream content in open formats and with open media software. I would have helped get this going, but wasn’t aware of the situation.
I am also the main organiser of the FOMS Workshop (Foundations of Open Media Software) that ran the week before LCA and brought some of the core programmers in open media software into Wellington, most of which are also attending LCA. We have the brains here and should be able to get this going.
Fortunately, the published content will be made available in Ogg Theora/Vorbis. So, it’s only the publicly available stream that I am concerned about.
Speaking with the organisers, I can somewhat understand how this came to be. They took the “easy” way of delegating the video work to an external company. Even though this company is an expert in open source and networking, their media streaming customers are all using Flash or Windows media software, which are current de-facto standards and provide extra features such as DRM. It seems apart from linux.conf.au there were no requests on them for streaming Ogg Theora/Vorbis yet. Their existing infrastructure includes CDN distribution and CDN providers certainly typically don’t provide Ogg Theora/Vorbis support or Icecast streaming.
So, this is actually a problem founded in setting up streaming through a professional service rather than through the community. The way in which this was set up at other events was to get together a group of volunteers that provided streaming reflectors for free. In this way, a community-created CDN is built that can deal with the streams. That there are no professional CDN providers available yet that provide Icecast support is a sign that there is a gap in the market.
But phear not – a few of the FOMS folk got together to fix the situation.
It involved setting up Icecast streams for each room’s video stream. Since there is no access to the raw video stream, there is a need to transcode the video from proprietary codecs to the open Ogg Theora/Vorbis format.
To do this legally, a purchase of the codec libraries from Fluendo was necessary, which cost a whopping EURO 28 and covers all the necessary patent licenses. The glue to get the videos from mms to icecast streams is a GStreamer pipeline which I leave others to talk about.
Now, we have all the streams from the conference available as Ogg Theora/Video streams, we can also publish them in HTML5 video elements. Check out this Web page which has all the video streams together on a single page. Note that the connections may be a bit dodgy and some drop-outs may occur.
Further, let me recommend the Multimedia Miniconf at linux.conf.au, which will take place tomorrow, Tuesday 19th January. The Miniconf has decided to add a talk about “How to stream you conference with open codecs” to help educate any potential future conference organisers and point out the software that helps solve these issues.
UPDATE: I should have stated that I didn’t actually do any of the technical work: it was all done by Ralph Giles, Jan Gerber, and Jan Schmidt.
I am a very happy camper today! Not because of the New Year – well, yes, there are new opportunities and challenges for the New Year. But I’ve just received an email from Philip J