• Developments in open-source video codecs

    As predicted, Google has released their newly-acquired VP8 video codec as an open source, royalty-free format. They've packaged VP8 video with Vorbis audio in a Matroska container and called it WebM.

    Why is this important? Because the next generation of HTML (HTML5) is looking for a good open, patent-free video format. If Google can convince the decision-makers to adopt WebM, it will likely become the dominant web video format.

    In order to gain support, WebM will need to not only be better than Theora (the current front-runner in open video formats), but it will need to be as good as h.264 (the current front-runner in patented formats). The examinations have already begun; for example, this article provides a very detailed comparison and declares WebM better than Theora but worse than h.264. If true, that's a serious problem for WebM.

    Of course, we know from experience that quality doesn't guarantee victory in format wars. There are many battles yet to be fought, and naturally one of those will be in the patent court. WebM is similar in many ways to h.264 and there could be any number of patent trolls lining up for a shot at WebM. At the very least, this means uncertainty and the prospect of lengthy delays.

    There's also the issue of hardware support - h.264 enjoys a lot of hardware support while WebM will initially be relying on software-only decompression (hardware support is promised though).

    Meanwhile, Theora is preparing for an upgrade to v1.2. Whilst the development team are upbeat, Theora faces an uphill battle to remain relevant in the world of HTML5.

    The big fight is likely to be between h.264 and WebM. Watch for developments over the coming months.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Update: It looks like Internet Explorer 9 will support VP8, meaning that all major browsers except Safari have committed to it. Your move, Apple.
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