What HTML5 Video Means for PowerPC Browsers

On Tuesday, January 27, 2015, YouTube announced that it had made HTML5 video its default instead of Adobe Flash, which is still be supported. What does this mean for Mac users?

HTML5 logoHTML5 video doesn’t require additional software, which immediately sets it apart from Flash video. Further, HTML5 video is supported on some older hardware and operating systems that Flash no longer supports – PowerPC in particular.

That said, HTML5 video isn’t a single thing. There are three different types of video encoding supported by HTML5:

  • H.264/MP4, promoted by Apple and Google, integrated into QuickTime
  • patent-free Ogg Theora, promoted by Mozilla and Opera
  • royalty-free WebM, sponsored by Google

Some browsers support all three, some two, some only one, and some old browsers none at all.

Each of these video formats has its pros and cons, with H.264 generally considered the most efficient, but with the drawback that it is not patent- or royalty-free.

Power Mac G5I have been testing HTML5 video support on a variety of browsers supported by Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard on PowerPC hardware. My test machines are a dual 1.25 GHz MDD Power Mac G4 and a dual 2.3 GHz Power Mac G5. The test page I’m using is http://www.quirksmode.org/html5/tests/video.html

Video performance will vary depending on the speed of your internet connection, processor speed, the number of CPUs in your Mac, and your video card.

OS X 10.4.11 Tiger Results

  • Safari is the Mac’s default browser, and version 4.1.3 is the last supported in Tiger. Only H.264/MP4 video is supported.
  • Opera 10.6.3 supports Theora, but does not display H.264 or WebM.
  • TenFourFox is our standard recommendation for Tiger users. It is a PowerPC specific port of Mozilla (a.k.a. Firefox) that is optimized for G3, G5, and two varieties of G4 CPUs. The current version is 31.4.0, and I used it with QuickTime Enabler v.120 installed, which lets TFF use QuickTime to display video. Theora works nicely, WebM works very poorly on the G5 but nicely on the G4, and H.264 does not work at all.

Our advice to Tiger users: Use Safari for H.264 and TenFourFox for Theora and WebM.

OS X 10.5.8 Leopard Results

  • Leopard runs a newer version of Safari, 5.0.6, which only supports H.264/MP4 video, not WebM or Theora. Video on the G5 is very smooth.
  • Opera 10.6.3 is the most recent version for Leopard as well as Tiger on PowerPC Macs. As with Tiger, only Theora displays video. Quality is good on the G5 and not bad on the G4.
  • TenFourFox provides WebM and Theora playback, but not H.264. Theora seems a bit smoother than WebM on the G5.
  • Aurora is a Leopard-specific build of TenFourFox that is currently at version 20.0a2. It supports H.264, WebM, and Theora video – all very nicely on my G5.
  • Stainless is intended to provide PowerPC Mac users a browser that works similarly to Google Chrome by running separate processes for improved speed and stability with a reduced memory footprint. It supports H.264/MP4, but not the other standards.
  • Roccat is a newer browser designed to work on both Macs (OS X 10.5 and later) and iDevices. It only supports H.264/MP4.
  • On a lark, I gave the ancient Camino browser a try. It only supports Theora. (It doesn’t support anything on Tiger.)

Our advice to Leopard users: Give Aurora a try, because it’s the only PPC Leopard browser to support all three protocols.

For details on how well each browser performs with YouTube, see HTML5 Video Performance on PowerPC Macs.

OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Results

With the impending demise of Dropbox on Macs running Tiger and Leopard, a lot of PowerPC users are going to be looking at low-end Intel Macs, and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is the hands-down choice. It’s very similar to Leopard in the way it works (none of this Lion-and-beyond nonsense of replacing Save As… with Duplicate, for instance), is the last version of OS X that can still run PowerPC software, and has a smaller footprint than more recent versions of OS X.

Snow Leopard is Intel-only and will give you access to lots of newer software written only for the Intel OS X platform. If you’re on Intel, there really is no reason to stick with Tiger or Leopard; Snow Leopard is the cat’s meow.

I have a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo Mid 2007 Mac mini with 3 GB RAM and OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard installed, which is my primary production machine alongside a 2.0 GHz Late 2008 Aluminum MacBook with OS X 10.9 Mavericks that I use when in the field. The Core 2 Duo Mini was fairly low-end when it was introduced over seven years ago and has become more so over time.

  • Safari 5.1.10 is the newest version of Apple’s browser supported by Snow Leopard. It’s H.264 support is very good, and there is still no support for Theora or WebM video.
  • Opera 12.13 supports Theora nicely, WebM decently, and H.264 not at all.
  • Firefox 35.0.1 supports all three standards.
  • Stainless on Intel/Snow Leopard takes a step forward, supporting both H.264 and WebM, but not Theora.
  • Like Firefox, Google Chrome supports H.264, WebM, and Theora.
  • Roccat on Snow Leopard supports both H.264 and WebM, but not Theora.

Our advice to Snow Leopard users: Google Chrome and Firefox both support all three HTML5 video protocols. Give each a try to see which you prefer.

For details on how well each browser performs with YouTube, see HTML5 Video Performance on PowerPC Macs.

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