Up until now, talk around HTML5 has largely focused on its promise, without many major sites actually implementing HTML5-specific features as anything more than tech demos. Today, YouTube is taking steps to let users work it into their everyday browsing experience: you’ll now be able to watch some of the site’s videos without a plugin, using the video and audio playback support included with HTML5. No, you certainly won’t need HTML5 to watch any videos, but if you’d like to try viewing the site’s videos without Flash, you now have the option. You can activate the feature in the YouTube TestTube. To get the new player to work, you’ll have to be using Chrome, Safari, or ChromeFrame on IE. Note that YouTube is currently pushing the feature out, so it may be an hour or two before you can turn it on.
Unfortunately, this isn’t being rolled out to all videos. You can only watch videos that aren’t being monetized and that haven’t been annotated (obviously YouTube hasn’t implemented overlays in its HTML5 player). Still, this is a big deal — YouTube is probably the most popular Flash-reliant site on the web. The switch isn’t surprising at all given Google’s support for open standards, but it’s clear they’re moving at a fast pace.
Of course, HTML5 doesn’t really make much of a difference once you’re actually watching the video. In fact, you might not even be able to tell that the video you’re watching is being rendered without Flash (you can right-click and look for the telltale “About Flash Player…” menu item if you want to check). I’m running the dev build of Chrome on a Mac and the player is mostly working, though the Fullscreen button and volume slider are quirky.