Autoplay is a common feature associated with web video. It allows multimedia content to begin playing automatically on page load without user interaction. For scenarios where immediate playback is beneficial (think background videos, or product demonstrations), the autoplay attribute ensures a smooth and user-friendly experience – your users don’t need to interrupt their browsing of a product to click a "play" button somewhere off to the side.
In this blog post, we'll delve into the topic of autoplay, exploring how this feature has revolutionized online content delivery, the pitfalls to avoid, and pairing it with ImageKit to make autoplay an asset (and not an annoyance!) for your website.
HTML5 Video and the
<video> element’s autoplay attribute (a boolean value) to specify that the video should start playing on page load, without the user specifically requesting playback.
We’ve covered the specifics of HTML5 video here, so read up on that as a refresher. This post is going to focus entirely on the technical aspects of autoplay.
The basic HTML5 structure for an auto-playing video looks like this:
<video autoplay> <source src="/src/Dance-Video.mp4" type="video/mp4" /> Your browser does not support the video tag. </video>
What happens when you set the
autoplay property to true? Now, the following series of checks will take place:
- “Is the page allowed to use
autoplay?” – This might be unintuitive, but simply including the
autoplayattribute might not be enough, as most browsers have their own set of conditions to check if autoplay can be allowed. These include checking if the media has an audio track, if the user has interacted with the page yet, etc. We'll talk more about these checks in a later section.
- “Was the
<video>element created during page load?” – As in, not inserted programmatically later. Again, this makes sense as a guardrail against malicious intent.
- “Has a large enough chunk of the video been downloaded to begin and continue playback?” – This doesn’t mean the entire video must be downloaded before it can begin, just the minimum chunk needed to play something, and then download the rest as it plays through to the end. Notably, this check does not take into account network interruptions or unexpected bandwidth changes in the middle of playback.
As long as all three are true, the video will begin to autoplay.
Fleshing out our snippet with CSS and the
controls attribute to add basic video player controls, here’s what it would look like in action, on a real webpage. You can check out the full code at this CodeSandBox here.
What are the benefits of HTML video autoplay?
HTML video autoplay offers several benefits when used thoughtfully. Some of these include:
- Boosting Engagement with Content: Autoplay immediately draws the user's attention to a video when they land on a webpage, perfect for showcasing engaging, new, or featured content. For example, Netflix autoplays trailers for hot and happening movies and shows as soon as you arrive. Users get a taste of the content this way and continue watching, consider subscribing, or consider staying subscribed.
- Reducing Bounce Rates with Seamless Navigation: Autoplay allows users to preview video content without having to manually click "play." YouTube, for example, often auto-plays related videos right after you finish watching one. This keeps the user invested with a steady stream of multimedia content, and when users encounter more videos that match their interests, they are more likely to stay on the website for longer periods, reducing bounce rates.
- Promotions and Storytelling: On Amazon, you’ll often see bite-sized autoplaying videos as banners to announce limited-time discounts or special offers. Conversely, a website for a non-profit or charity might autoplay a video on their landing page that showcases testimonials or the impact of their work, invoking emotions, establishing trust, and encouraging support.
- Product Demos and Tutorials: E-commerce websites employ autoplay to showcase product demos or tutorials. As users navigate to a product page, an explainer video can begin showcasing the item in use, highlighting the product's features and benefits. This helps users make informed purchase decisions.
- Design and Aesthetics: Autoplaying videos can run in silent background loops that add a dynamic and aesthetic element to your website. Consider a fashion brand's website with a subtle, looping animation of models walking down the runway, creating an aesthetic consistent with the brand. Or, autoplaying videos integrated into parallax scrolling, creating an immersive effect as users scroll down the page.
While autoplaying videos offer several advantages, it is critical to tread carefully with their implementation. If overused, or not correctly implemented, autoplay can actively harm the user experience (and accessibility) instead of enhancing it, and become disruptive and annoying. On mobile devices, misuse of autoplaying videos is even more intrusive due to limited screen real estate.
Moreover, there’s the issue of unoptimized, full-quality videos on autoplay that burn through data and battery, leading to slow loading times and lower PageSpeed Rankings.
To prevent this, consider using autoplay only in specific situations - where it adds value, such as for video previews, product showcases, or promotions. Judicial use is the secret sauce to autoplay.
Browser compatibility for HTML5 Autoplay
Most modern web browsers support the HTML video autoplay attribute. However, the behavior of autoplay may vary depending on the browser, and you need to meet certain conditions for it to work consistently.
First of all, here’s the current state of popular browser compatibility for the HTML5
Secondly, it’s imperative to note that autoplay policies have evolved to enhance user experience and prevent intrusive or data-consuming behavior. Autoplay policies are different for each browser.
- Google Chrome: Chrome has specific criteria for allowing autoplay with sound. These include:
- User Interaction: Autoplay with sound is permitted on domains where the user has previously interacted.
- Previous Media Playback: If the user has played a video with sound on an active tab before, autoplay with sound is allowed.
- Mobile Engagement: For mobile users, if they have added the site to their home screen or installed the site’s Progressive Web App (PWA), autoplay with sound is permitted.
- Media Engagement Index (MEI): Chrome uses a metric called the Media Engagement Index to determine if videos should autoplay with sound. The MEI calculates this based on various factors, including the history of the user's interactions with media on the site.
- Mozilla Firefox: Firefox has a stricter autoplay policy. It generally blocks autoplay unless the audio is muted (or has its volume set to 0), the user has interacted with the site or the video element before, or the site has been explicitly whitelisted by the user.
- Apple Safari/Webkit: Apple’s policy uses an Automatic Inference Engine to block media elements with sound from auto-playing by default on most websites, but it gives granular control to users regarding whitelisting websites that are allowed to autoplay media content. Notably, Safari’s power saving mode prevents silent videos from autoplaying when hidden, in a background tab, or offscreen.
- Microsoft Edge: Starting with version 92, Edge follows a similar approach to Chrome, disabling autoplay with sound for all videos by default, while allowing some based on domains that users have interacted with previously.
- Opera: Opera's autoplay policy is the same as Chrome and Edge, being based on the same engine. It uses user interaction as a metric to determine whether a video should play with sound.
You should test on different browsers, and verify that your autoplaying videos work across them by taking account of the differences in browser behavior.
How to use HTML5 video autoplay with ImageKit?
ImageKit is an all-in-one, cloud-based, digital asset management solution that can perform real-time video (and image) optimization and transformation via a unique URL-based API that makes it easier to adapt your autoplaying videos for various devices and platforms. Then, with ImageKit’s global CDN, you can be sure they’re served from as close as possible to your users, letting you create seamless and interactive video experiences without getting caught up in the details.
Real-time Video Adaptation
One of ImageKit's standout features is its developer-friendly URL-based API. The API allows you to adapt videos on the fly – resizing, cropping, trimming, adjusting their quality in real time (and more) to suit different devices, screen sizes, and bandwidths.
Unoptimized, full-sized videos are the worst offenders when it comes to bad implementations of autoplay. To fix this, you’d normally need to create different variations of the same video, for different devices. With ImageKit, though, you avoid all of that work. Starting with a single source video, you can crop and resize them to pixel-perfect dimensions for different devices, or even different social media platforms – 16:9 for desktop viewers, square 1:1 for your mobile audiences or Instagram/Facebook feeds, or any arbitrary dimension based on your needs.
Simply add on the transforms you want to your video’s public URL, as query or path params. For example, here’s how easy it is to resize a source 1080p video to a 300px square one.
Need a specific aspect ratio? Use the aspect ratio transform. This is for a 4:3 aspect ratio with a width of 480px.
What if you have a longer video and you want a short, looping snippet (say, starting at the 5-second mark, and lasting 5 seconds) to be played in a banner? You could use the trim transform.
Where so is the start time and du the duration, in seconds.
In fact, you could chain however many transformations you want to apply, in order, just like this.
<video controls autoplay loop> <!-- The ‘loop’ attribute just makes the video play repeatedly--> <source src="https://ik.imagekit.io/YOUR_ACCOUNT_NAME/YOUR_VIDEO.mp4?tr=w-300,h-300:so-5,du-5" type="video/mp4" /> </video>
Now, you can use this URL as the source wherever you want it to autoplay on your website or app.
ImageKit’s Transformation API proves invaluable for ensuring that your autoplay videos can be tailor-made for different user scenarios, devices, and platforms – all dynamically, and all from a single source video.
Automatic Video Format Conversion and Optimization
ImageKit automatically makes sure the most appropriate format for a given source video is served to your users – no matter which device or platform they’re consuming it from. All you need to do is turn on Automatic Format Conversion in the ImageKit dashboard and use the public URL to the video wherever you want, as usual. No need to manually create any variants yourself.
ImageKit can also automatically optimize video files to create a good enough balance between file size and image quality. This is a non-destructive process, and your source video is always intact. Again, this is another dashboard toggle – turn on Automatic Quality Optimization, tune the quality factor as desired, and you’re good to go.
Personalization and Enhancement
ImageKit's video transformation capabilities extend beyond basic optimization. You can personalize your videos by applying image, text, and video overlays, subtitles, and watermarks in multiple layers. For example, you can add your company's logo as a watermark to your autoplay videos, enhancing branding and engagement. Additionally, you can apply transforms even to these overlays you apply, to further tune them however you need.
HTML video autoplay is a powerful tool for enhancing user engagement and storytelling on your website, but you need to employ it judiciously, considering user preferences and ensuring the content aligns with your website's purpose. Consider some best practices like:
- Mute by Default: Mute your Autoplay videos (via the muted property) by default to prevent audio from startling or annoying users. If you use the loop attribute, ensure the video content is short in addition to being muted by default.
- Use ImageKit: Use ImageKit to dynamically optimize, transcode, and transform your video files to best fit your viewers’ devices, and your own needs. This ensures your viewers get the best quality at the best possible file sizes, reducing loading times and data usage.
- Inform Users: Communicate the presence of autoplay video on your website via a clearly visible container and play button. Then, delay the autoplay feature slightly to give users time to orient themselves on the page.
- Browser Compatibility: Test autoplay behavior across different browsers, as some may have specific policies or limitations on autoplaying videos. Also, test different autoplay strategies to see what works best for your specific audience.
- Don’t Ignore Accessibility: Provide descriptive alt text for the autoplaying video and captions (using the <track> element). This benefits users with visual or hearing impairments who rely on screen readers/text-to-speech.
Combining these autoplay strategies effectively with ImageKit, you can provide an enriched and dynamic web experience for your visitors, all while ensuring that your videos are optimized for performance and quality, and personalized to meet your unique requirements.
Remember that the key to success with HTML5 video autoplay is judicious usage and a user-friendly and responsible implementation.