On the potential of HTML5


— 5:01 PM on February 5, 2010

By now, many of you must have looked at, or at least heard of, the experimental, HTML5 version of YouTube. And if you read the news, you'll know Steve Jobs now expects HTML5 to replace Adobe Flash altogether as the predominant web video standard. Such a development would conveniently make the iPhone and iPad's lack of Flash support a non-issue.

HTML5 video isn't quite there yet, of course, because browser makers still can't seem to agree on whether to use Ogg Theora or H.264 video codecs. But HTML5 is much, much more than just another way to embed videos in a web page. I've been looking at some example applets that showcase HTML5's other capabilities over the past few days, and I can't help but be impressed. Let me show you.

One of the first examples I came across was Gil Megidish's partial HTML5 and JavaScript port of Another World, a cult adventure platformer from 1991:

Playing is as simple as pressing the right keys in the browser window. The port bears a striking resemblance to the original, too; just compare it to this YouTube video of the full game. As Megidish acknowledges, however, this isn't a perfect port—more like a proof of concept.

Old-fashioned 2D games aren't the extent of what developers can put together. Next up: Jacob Seidelin's port of Wolfenstein 3D, a much more elaborate application with pseudo-3D graphics, music, and sound:

The game seems to capture mouse input, but you can play simply by hitting with the arrow keys to move, X to open doors, and C to shoot. Here, too, we can see some occasional graphical glitches, but the port works surprisingly well and uses little CPU power, to boot.

Finally, here's HTML5 and JavaScript put to use in a graphical image editor with draggable palettes, multiple undo levels, customizable brushes, and all that good stuff—Michael Deal's Sketchpad:

You can check out some more examples over at Chrome Experiments. Some of the applets there are pure JavaScript, but many use new HTML5 capabilities like the canvas element. To use anything with HTML5, you'll need the latest version of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Opera. Internet Explorer doesn't support any of this functionality right now.

Lack of support in IE could be a pretty big roadblock toward broader adoption of HTML5 features, of course. But considering Microsoft's new-found embrace of web standards with IE8, I wouldn't be too surprised to see the company hop on the bandwagon sooner or later. After that, it'll be up to developers to decide whether they want to write their web-based apps, games, and video players using open standards or Adobe's proprietary tools. I think the mere presence of a choice can only mean good things for the web.

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