The video codec war

Google announced earlier this week that Chrome will not support the h.264 codec and I read a lot of comments ranging from how “closed” Google is, demise of Chrome to roadblock for HTML5. I honestly do not understand why this is such a big deal. Apple does not support Flash on the iPhone or iPad, people have found ways to live with that. Besides Chrome does not have a huge user base for this to really affect a vast majority of users unless Google decides to take their decision one step further and block installations of plug-ins that support H.264 on their Chrome OS. Now that would be interesting……

While one of the reasons given by Google is a move towards more open standards and we all know H.264 is not truly open source. Code distribution using this codec is free but any application distribution is subject to licensing fees. However aren’t most codec’s based on some patent and hence are subject to licensing fees? Maybe they are not enforcing the collection of these fees.

One area where this decision might hurt is, most GPUs have H.264 decoding built into the silion, so boycotting this codec might alienate developers who will be not able to take advantage of hardware acceleration for graphics that is inbuilt for the H.264 codec. Given that IE9 will support H.264 and hence have the performance benefits it gives it an big edge up.

A lot of this video codec controversy is started by the HTML <video> tag which is supposed to move browsers to nirvana land by allowing users to view videos in all codecs with the <video> tag. While the goal is noble, move browsers away from proprietary technologies like Flash it does not state the standard codec either, so the debate on which codec works best with the <video> tag will still exist, IMHO.

One place where reducing codec’s supported is infrastructure costs in saving and distributing content that supports multiple codecs but we have to remember that H.264 is a very popular codec.

Since Chrome is such a small presence in browser usage this does not seem like a big deal to me, maybe a way to cut infrastructure and licensing costs but the bigger question which maybe a big deal is, given how deeply ingrained the H.64 codec is all the way from silicon to software, why make such a move which will prevent your users from viewing millions of pieces of video content?
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