Friday, 4 June 2010

WebM: Battle Lines for Web Video Drawn

The battle lines are drawn in the fight for control of next-generation high-def web video under HTML5.
"The WebM project is dedicated to developing a high-quality, open video format for the web that is freely available to everyone."
The WebM launch is promoted heavily by Google, supported by Mozilla, Opera, Adobe and more than forty other publishers, software and hardware vendors including Intel which may offer hardware acceleration for WebM if it takes off. But this is far from certain...

Yes we need a new high-definition, high-compression, low-bandwidth video format for the web, preferably not subject to the licensing constraints of H.264.

WebM includes:
  • VP8, a high-quality video codec Google insists is under a BSD-style, royalty-free license
  • Vorbis, an already open source and broadly implemented audio codec
  • Container format based on a subset of the Matroska media container (have you dealt with Matroska? Its been a fragmented, disparate standard with cross-platform issues and little support. A technical nightmare, no trouble for the mass consumer market there, then!).
The VP8 codec source code and specification are licensed differently. Sounds like a nightmare to me. Apple is already mischief making and suggesting it is heading for legal issues. Microsoft is fence-sitting saying that Internet Explorer 9 will support it (but not natively - download the codec if you want it).

The VP8 Bitstream Specification is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License, granted by Google, the remainder under a conventional software re-distribution license - not GPL, not CC not Apache license.

WebM is "royalty-free" in so far as some video codecs require content distributors and manufacturers to pay patent royalties to use the codec (such as H.264). WebM and the codecs it supports (VP8 video and Vorbis audio) require no royalty payments of any kind.

The MPEG LA organisation recently suggested that its members and other parties may hold patents on some of the technology that is used in VP8. It threatens the ubiquity of H.264 under the MPEG LA, a licensing consortium holding the patent pool for various multimedia technologies and compression algorithms. Guess what Apple belongs to?

So WebM isn't the best and may be not as good as H.264, but Google is behind it, so YouTube should adopt it and right now YouTube IS web video. If the Google-TV partners get behind it, that's a lot of weight. The battle hasn't even started yet.  RC

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