Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 13th Jan 2011 06:32 UTC
Internet & Networking "The promise of HTML5's video tag was a simple one: to allow web pages to contain embedded video without the need for plugins. With the decision to remove support for the widespread H.264 codec from future versions of Chrome, Google has undermined this widely-anticipated feature. The company is claiming that it wants to support 'open codecs' instead, and so from now on will support only two formats: its own WebM codec, and Theora." Sorely disappointed in Ars' Peter Bright. Us geeks reviled web developers for sticking to Internet Explorer when Firefox came onto the scene, and yet now, the same arguments we used to revile are used to keep H.264 in the saddle. How us mighty geeks have fallen.
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Thoughts about HTML5 video and H.264
by supercompman on Thu 13th Jan 2011 19:41 UTC
supercompman
Member since:
2008-09-14

This is a (long) summary of my feelings on HTML5 video and H.264:

- H.264 is not something everyone is allowed to implement
- H.264 streaming of paid-for content requires royalty payments
- Decoding and encoding of H.264 requires licensing

How can communication be free (in both the sense of "speech" and "cost") with H.264 if not everyone is free to implement it? One of the greatest things about the internet is that it is the "great equalizer"... everyone, regardless of means, can have a voice, compete against the biggest players, and have a chance to succeed. Never before has any medium allowed for such wide-reaching open communication and expression by ANYONE.

Can you imagine if a person had to get licenses for every file format type used on the web? For GIF images, that's one license... for JPEG, that's another... same goes for PNG, HTML, CSS, Javascript, SVG, etc. With HTML video, I think everyone would like it to become as ubiquitous as those existing formats. By allowing H.264 to become an acceptable format for the web, a worrisome precedent is set. As new formats and types of content appear and the web integrates them, how many more licenses will a person need? How much will need to be paid in royalties? In the long run, even the amount to be paid for licensing and royalties could be minor compared to the complexity of simply making sure you or your organization stay within the letter of the law with all of the content you provide.

Innovation on the internet has been driven by the ability of ANYONE to be able to implement the standards used on the web and the ability of ANYONE to be able to use those standards to share their ideas with. The internet would not be where it is today without that. Firefox could never have existed without that. Chrome probably would never have existed without that. Even Safari probably would never have existed without that.

Something that the Arstechnica article seems to miss however is that the likelihood of VP8 infringing on H.264 patents is just as great as H.264 infringing on VP8 patents. The patent infringement guessing game is something that really can't be played here. No one seems to be able to say say with any confidence that any given codec doesn't infringe on any patents. MPEG-LA seems afraid to bring infringement charges against either Theora or VP8 which leads to the conclusion that they don't really have a case against Theora or VP8, the patents they are claiming Theora or VP8 are infringing on are weak and are likely to be thrown out, that they maybe counter-sued for infringement of VP8 patents, or a combination of any of those things.

Google seems to be receiving a lot of flack about including Flash with Chrome however; people are crying "hypocrite!" at the top of their lungs. Keeping Flash bundled with Chrome however, with the web in its current state, is a pragmatic decision. Only a small fraction of the web is currently using the HTML video tag while Flash is already deeply rooted. Google made their move with the video tag at a time when it was still feasible, while Flash can't be dropped nearly so easily. The use of MP3 and AAC in the HTML audio tag is however a different matter; this is a case where I will agree with most that if Google is dropping support for H.264 over the matter of openness and freeness, MP3 and AAC should go as well.

Other people are arguing that this move will stop big content providers from supporting the HTML video tag, but they seem to forget a critical thing: big content owners/providers such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu INSIST on DRM. There is currently nothing in any proposed HTML standard, let alone any implementation, that meets this requirement. While the debate on if DRM is truly needed is for another time, the fact of the matter is that these content providers will continue to use Flash or Silverlight as their delivery mechanism until they are satisfied that HTML can provide them with the DRM they feel is necessary, so in no way is this move detracting from the openness of the web.

The last group of people who complain about this move are those who are complaining that they will now have to maintain two versions of video files. Don't worry too much: Adobe has already promised to support WebM in a future Flash release allowing you to still have a single file that is served to the HTML video tag and Flash. It's obviously not a solution that works right now, but it surely will eventually.

Google is doing us all a tremendous favor by dropping H.264 video from Chrome. Could they pay the needed licenses and royalties? Of course. But I think they realise more than most people how important having standards that can be freely used and implemented are to innovation and diversity on the web. By making this move, and hopefully moving YouTube to WebM, Google is pushing both Apple and Microsoft to allow the web to stay open. Without this move, both IE and Safari would be unlikely to ever support Theora or WebM, although I fully admit that IE and Safari supporting these formats will nearly take and act if God: if they ever include these formats, that's openly admitting that they believe these formats do not infringe on any patents or that they are OK with the infringements which is unlikely to happen while both Apple and Microsoft are part of MPEG-LA. The main people who are complaining are only looking at the present, where content creation software already has excellent support for H.264, Flash can play H.264, portable devices have dedicated hardware for decoding H.264, and most OSs already have the required codecs installed for playing back H.264. However, it is incredibly shortsighted to allow H.264 to become the de facto web standard. For the long-term health and continued innovation on the web, an open, free to use and implement standard is required.

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