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Tuesday, August 17, 2010, 10:00 pm PT (01:00 am ET)

Vimeo launches Flash-free Universal Player for iPhone, iPad

Video sharing site Vimeo has launched a new embedable HTML5 video player aimed at Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Vimeo adds embedded 'Universal' playback

Vimeo launched an HTML5-based video playback site at the beginning of the year, but it is now enabling users to embed its videos with a new Universal Player that can detect the viewer's client and provide optimized video that is compatible with it.

Embedded Vimeo videos previously required Adobe Flash for playback. Using the new Universal Player, Vimeo can now deliver lower bandwidth videos to mobile clients, and send H.264 video to HTML5 devices such as Apple's iPhone and iPad.

In order to serve mobile video to iOS users (or other mobile platforms such as Android or the Palm Pre), Vimeo users must have a paid Plus account (which costs $60 per year) and activate mobile versions of their videos. Vimeo Plus accounts also provide 5GB of storage, higher quality video encoding, HD video embedding, ad-free videos, and other premium features.

A report by USA Today cited Vimeo vice-president of product and development Andrew Pile as saying the effort took nearly five months. "The videos will be playable in any browser," Pile said, "And work with future platforms as well."

Apple's Flash disruption

"While it was relatively easy to build an HTML5 player that worked on Vimeo.com," the company says, "making an experience that could live and work anywhere is actually a big undertaking. For example, we had to write several new video players to replace what used to be just one: behind the scenes there is a new Flash player, new Flash mobile player, new iPad player, new iPhone player, and new HTML5 player. And we expect to add more.

"It used to be you could rely on Flash to perform the same way everywhere, but now HTML5 and embed code act very differently from browser to browser and device to device. We've spent the past few months evaluating different options and testing quite a lot."

Google's YouTube brought Flash-free video playback to the iPhone in 2007 through Apple's bundled YouTube app, but its HTML5 web-based videos arrived only earlier this year, just days before Vimeo. Embedded Google videos can play without Flash using ClickToFlash on the Mac desktop, and play through Apple's YouTube app when encountered on iOS devices like the iPhone.

Google has backpedaled on its ambitious plans for HTML5 and H.264 playback somewhat after buying On2 and releasing its VP8 video codec as WebM. It has also cozied up to Adobe to prominently promote Android and the forthcoming Chrome OS as a Flash-compatible platforms.