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Google dropping H.264 support from Chrome in favour of WebM

by Pete Mason on 14 January 2011, 12:20

Tags: Chrome, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Opera (OPERA.OL)

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Earlier this week, Google announced - via the Chromium Blog - that it would be dropping support for the H.264 video codec in HTML5 video in upcoming releases of Chrome. Instead, the search-giant will be encouraging sites to use its own WebM container format and the VP8 and Theora codecs for web-based video files.

The reason for the move essentially came down to one of openness - WebM and Theora are open source, whereas H.264 is a proprietary standard which requires royalties to be paid by anyone using it professionally. However, H.264 is by far one of the most widely used video formats on the web, and this move means that Chrome users will have to download a plug-in to watch videos using it. Flash videos using the codec and watched in Chrome will obviously still work as normal.

The move has caused a bit of a stir across the web, with H.264 supporters deriding the removal. Microsoft's web evangelist Tim Sneath lampooned the decision by writing ‘an open letter from the President of the United States of Google' and comparing the move to dropping support for English in favour of Esperanto and Klingon.

Of course, not all parties were against it. Opera's Haavard defended Google's decision while simultaneously slamming an article on Ars Technica that called it a ‘step backward for openness'.

With HTML5 video still in its relative infancy - at least compared to the juggernaut that is Flash - the entire issue is unlikely to have a major impact in the immediate future. However, with Google's ability to influence the web - especially through its ownership of YouTube - and support for WebM either available or planned in Firefox, Opera, Chrome, IE9 and Adobe Flash, it's possible that H.246's days as a wide-spread web standard could be numbered.

HEXUS Forums :: 5 Comments

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Probably just as well. As good as H.264 is, it's far too patent/license encumbered for an open and standard file format.
Probably just as well. As good as H.264 is, it's far too patent/license encumbered for an open and standard file format.

H264 is only patent encumbered if you live in a jurisdiction where software patents have legal force. Thankfully that is not the case in the European Union.

WebM (and Ogg Theora) might also be patent encumbered. There are about a thousand patents covering the technologies in H264, and personally I think it is fairly unlikely that WebM does not infringe any of them. The thing is, we won't know till it is too late, as the patent trolls won't say anything now. (if they did they would just kill the format without making any money), instead they will wait until the format is entrenched, and then pop up like highwaymen and demand royalties from everyone in sight.

H264 is already the dominant format for high definition and hight compression video outside the web. Most modern consumer devices from PCs to smartphones have hardware decoding built in. It is a much better format than WebM. (Which is not built into any chipset).

IMHO, a better solution to this problem is to use it as an illustrative example of why software patents are a bad thing, and try to fix software patents.

Mozilla/Firefox should produce two versions, one with H264 support and one without, depending on where the user lives. Anyone who lives somewhere where the H264 patents are valid can be re-directed to a $1 paypal link to get the fully featured version. Of course lots of people will evade that, but that is not Mozilla's problem.
Here's why I think WebM will have a good chance of share of browsers:

According to Statcounter - in December 2010 - the global market share for all browsers is as followed:

IE - 46.94%
Firefox - 30.76%
Chrome - 14.85%
Safari - 4.79%
Opera - 2.07%
Others - 0.58%

Let’s split those up into h.264 camp and WebM camp:

Browsers that can run WebM videos right now - (Chrome and Opera) - 16.92%
(When Firefox 4 is released this will potentially go up to - 47.68%)

Browsers that can run h.264 videos right now - (Safari) - 2.07%
(When IE9 is released this will potentially go up to - 51.73%)

However the above numbers does not take in account browser upgrades - for example if a user is on Opera 9 then it doesn’t do <video> tags.

So let’s look at browser upgrades here:

As that show, Chrome is at top with 90.6% on the latest version, followed by Firefox with 80.5% and Opera at 77.2%.

The top 3 browsers that are the most likely to be upgraded to the latest version are all WebM-capable browsers (except for Firefox4 which isn't released but with 80.5% upgrading, it would not take long for the bulk of Firefox installation to be on latest) and are the most likely to be on the latest version that support WebM video

Safari is at 71.1% and IE is at a low 60.2% so there won’t be as rapid uptake of IE9 when it come out. IE6 is STILL in use for one (I know I know…company policy and all that!)

The upgrade for IE9 would be much lower since it’s not supported for Windows XP (which does command quite a large market share still, bigger than Windows Vista and 7)

So it would suggest that in the near future, the majority of browers that support the <video> tag will be a WebM majority, not h.264 and the market share of ALL browsers that support H.264 will not even be anywhere near even 40%.

Remember this is about browsers. Embedded hardware etc doesn’t matter here - they don’t dictate the web video market - they don’t do a thing when browsers can’t play h.264.

Right now, the browsers that can play <video> in WebM format outnumber the browsers that can play <video> in h.264.

Furthermore - IE9 can support WebM in a <video> tag BUT the user must install the codec themselves before this happens (MS won’t ship this themselves) - so if IE9 users head to YouTube, Google can automatically provide them with the WebM codec as a installable codec and then IE9 will support WebM so it would actually push the use of WebM codec even more and Safari would actually be the one standing alone here with no WebM support. This will only serve to push up the number of WebM capable browsers higher.

I’m aware of Microsoft providing a h264 plugin for Firefox - but it’s more likely that people going to YouTube will get the WebM codec pushed onto them than the h264 plugin getting installed.

But as stated above - right now, browser support for WebM video vastly outnumber support for H.264. And this gap will just increase. WebM is already ahead of H.264 RIGHT NOW.

And people claim that doing this will prevent innovation - I would like to remind you all of a small simple product that have done much to shake up the browsers and give us the Internet today - Firefox.

Firefox will not support h264 - it is a free product, with open source code available to all. They will not pay for h264 licences. Innovation cannot happen if you have to pay vast amount of money for it.

This is why WebM is a good thing. People can innovate new ideas, products and not worry about the cost.

Film makers can create movies and MAKE money from it and not worry about licensing costs from h264 - thus allowing any home-brew projects to experiment and hope for success without worries of cost.

(In case you’re not aware, if you purchase a digital camcorder or camera that does video, for example I own a Canon 500D which can do HD video. The licence for the camera state clearly that the h.264 codec is for personal use only, I cannot stream it etc. This applies even to the high end professional HD camera including RED, Sony, JVC, Panasonic etc. You MUST purchase a licence for H.264 if you wish to stream the movie (on a page with ads to make money for example) or sell it. - that stifle innovation, not encourage it.)

Hardware support for WebM? It’ll come. There are already hardware starting to appear (PowerVR for one) and graphics card (AMD and NVIDIA and Intel for example) will add support soon enough.
that's one hell of a first post...
Google aims to piss off Apple...again?