Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 31st Jan 2010 14:20 UTC, submitted by lemur2
Internet & Networking Despite the recent interest in adopting HTML5's video tag, there is still one major problem: there is no mandated standard video codec for the video tag. The two main contestants are the proprietary and patended h264, and the open and free Theora. In a comment on an article about this problematic situation, LWN reader Trelane posted an email exchange he had with MPEG-LA, which should further cement Theora as the obvious choice.
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RE[2]: Correction
by elsewhere on Mon 1st Feb 2010 02:41 UTC in reply to "RE: Correction"
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The license is not transferrable. If Mozilla had a license, it would only cover copies distributed by Mozilla. Linux distributors could not include Firefox. Developers of other software that uses Gecko could not distribute Gecko without getting their own license. OEMs could not include Firefox on a machine (PCs, netbooks, phones, whatever) without getting their own license. No forking. No modified versions. No developing new software based on it. No incorporating it into something else.

The license doesn't have to be transferable, the product itself carries the license.

Mozilla could provide h.264 with every firefox download, but it would involve having to provide a binary blob and paying the royalty cap ($5M or something like that). Mozilla could certainly afford it if they wanted to go that route, with the pot of gold that Google has been providing these many years.

It wouldn't impact re-distribution, either. The distros could still include the blob.

Not that this is an ideal solution, and certainly flies in the face of Mozilla's OSS roots, but it's not un-doable. Mozilla could provide an optional binary blob if they choose to.

Opera has a similar problem as Mozilla - they couldn't include a licensed h.264 decoder in their free desktop browser for the same reasons that Mozilla can't include one in Firefox. They also won't, because it's too expensive.

Opera could easily include h.264, the fact that it is given for free is irrelevant, they would just have to pay the royalty cap. Flash utilizes h.264, and it's a safe bet that they're not paying a per download fee, they're paying the cap.

Whether Opera should, or not, is a business choice for them to make.

That's not even getting into licenses for encoders (same as the decoders, plus the possibility that you may have to pay $2,500 directly to the MPEG-LA for each copy you use for distributing video). Or worse - royalty payments for streaming video. Unless the MPEG-LA are willing to forgo those royalty payments until 2015, they'll start charging those royalties in 2011.

Basically, using h.264 prices everyone except the really big players right out of the market.

Safari or Google could build a browser that supports h.264, because they have lots of money to spend on it, and can control the distribution of their browser. Nobody else can. Worse - you wouldn't even be able to build one of these web browsers into another application, or into some piece of hardware, without paying royalties to the MPEG-LA.

The likes of YouTube can afford the royalty payments on video encoders, and on the videos themselves, but could a smaller site? Could YouTube itself have been able to afford it before they were bought by Google? Would YouTube have even existed if they had to pay those royalties back when it was three guys in a garage?

Ahhhhh.... now you're hitting the nail on the head. Anyone that wants to stream h.264 over the web next year is going to have to pay an undetermined royalty fee. That point rarely gets brought up in these discussions.

Google is the largest purveyor of online video streaming. They are in a unique position that they alone could potentially force the standard of their choice.

It is in the consortium's best interests to keep Google on board, and it's in Google's best interests to keep their dominant position for online streaming.

A cynical person could theorize that perhaps Google is leveraging their position, as well as their recent acquisition, as a bargaining chip for the upcoming royalty fees in 2011+. They could do an end run around the consortium, and negotiate with each patent holder separately, ultimately negotiating a cumulative fee that could be below whatever schedule of fees MPEGLA will be issuing at the end of the year.

With the widespread availability of h.264 compatibility in mobile handsets and computers, there's very little downside to them supporting the standard as the codec for HTML5 video. Any licensing fees paid are much more easily absorbed by Google than their smaller competitors, or any future upstarts, who will now face a large barrier of entry to compete in online video.

Good thing for the web that Google isn't evil. ;)

How about the current trend to try to use video content to generate ad revenue? Remember that ads are typically pay-per-click, while those royalties on the video are payable for each view. What's the chance that the ad revenue would even come close to covering the royalties?

For that matter, what about all the other uses for web video that nobody's thought of yet?

That guy from Mozilla was right - the web grew up on, and thrives on, royalty free.

The technical problems with Theora are solvable. The licensing problems with h.264 are not solvable. Seems like a simple choice to me.

This, ironically, could wind up hurting h.264. It's one thing to license for the encoding and decoding, but to license for web streaming as well is a bit of an over-reach.

This could potentially hinder innovation as the burgeoning streaming market risks becoming under the control of a group of well-heeled companies with the money to pay, while blocking out the underfunded competition.

We saw what happened when Microsoft tried to extend their desktop dominance to the internet by the imposition of proprietary technologies, simply by leveraging that desktop dominance.

We're still cleaning up the mess to a certain extent a decade later, but ultimately they failed. Smaller upstarts came at them, and in large part succeeded by simply supporting the open standards that Microsoft was trying to undermine.

If the h.264 consortium tries to become a gateway to internet-based multimedia, then it's inevitable that an alternate solution will start to appear.

h.264 won't disappear, but it's entirely plausible that web services could wind up having to support closed and open media standards, much as they spent the last decade having to support IE and open browsers, in order to ensure maximum viewers.

There's no reason h.264 shouldn't be an option for streaming media, it offers a number of advantages, but it shouldn't become the only option.

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