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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anonymous's picture

Here's some text from an ad for the new Toshiba Tablet:
“Such a shame,” reads the headline on the non-Flash site. “Add this to the list of interesting places on the Internet you can’t see on your device. Of course, if you had a Toshiba Tablet, you would enjoy the entire Internet."

This (Flash) seems to be the way Google has decided to attack the iPad. My guess is, Toshiba is just following orders from Google in the making of this ad. For years, Microsoft used Flash against Apple. Now Google has taken over the reins. This is, in my opinion, the strategy behind Google removing support for H264 from Chrome. Google needs to kill H264 to in order to have a weakness in the Apple iPad it can exploit. Google needs a viable Flash, and attractive Flash content to give its tablet OS a strong advantage. The result will be that we are back to Flash. Years of work to get everybody on the same "page" is in jeopardy.

anonymous's picture

Youtube is just a bunch of cat videos without Vevo.

anonymous's picture

Two corrections for you:

1. "Chrome will not support the h.264 codec" should be "Chrome will not continue to support the h.264 codec, as it has since the HTML5 <video> element was introduced."

2. "H.264 is not truly open source." You fail to mention that neither is WebM, the alternate codec that Google holds all rights to and is hoping to push onto web developers. There's nothing "open source" or even "open" about WebM -- it is an entirely proprietary codec being freely licensed by Google. One company, Google, still holds all the cards here, unlike any real open source project.

anonymous's picture

WebM/VP8 is a patent nightmare waiting to be unloaded.

WebM just plain stole code from the H.264 codec, and in other places just came up with complex ways to pretend they weren't adding 2+2.

anonymous's picture

Interesting that you think ChromeOS will have more market share than Chrome ;-) The property that you're forgetting is perhaps YouTube?

Like Google you appear to be conflating open standard with open source standard with non-patent encumbered standard; open != open source and open != no patents. Open standards are published, documented standards irrespective of the licence or patent status.

Google may be trying to wrest control of HTML 5 (now just HTML to the WHATWG) back from the W3C; first defining the VIDEO tag codec that the W3C decided to leave open, then declaring that HTML 5 is just whatever version of HTML they have at any given time, stopping browser vendors who implement agreed specifications looking like stick-in-the-muds.

Also, at Google IO Intel committed to hardware acceleration support for WebM; would love to hear how that is going?

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