As we barrel headlong into a future of HTML5 video online, many have wondered aloud if the closed H.264 video codec is the way to go. The company that manages the patent pool for the video compression standard, MPEG LA, has made an announcement today aimed at quelling those fears. According to MPEG LA, they will never charge for the use of the codec in free video streams.
The open source Firefox browser has refused to include the closed H.264 codec this far. Google itself has been developing an open alternative called WebM. HTML5 is not tied to H.264, and could theoretically use any codec, but H.264 has the early lead. More than likely, any HTML5 video you've ever seen has been H.264.
The announcement from MPEG LA is certainly good, but it leaves a lot of wiggle-room. Paid streams might still need to pay licensing fees down the road. Companies using H.264 encoders/decoders would also have to pay up. MPEG LA has also made noise about assembling a patent pool to go after anyone using WebM. So even that standard may not end up royalty free. What do you think should be the format of the future?
Google debuted its open, royalty-free WebM video format last month. Based on the open-source V8 video codec, WebM is meant as a challenger to the propriety H.264 video codec, which threatens to saddle web video with hefty licensing fees and royalties.
Google, Opera and Mozilla are easily its most prominent backers, with the trio pledging WebM support in their respective browsers. As for the rival camp, Apple's weight is firmly behind H.264, whereas another important patron, Microsoft, has decided to support both H.264 and WebM beginning with IE9.
“Like every codec, WebM is not immune to change; the difference in our project is that the improvements are publicly visible, and compatibility and implementation issues can be worked through in an open forum,” Jim Bankoski, Google's Codec Engineering Manager, wrote in a blog post.
It's no secret that Google is a fan of open standards, and in particular, open video. The HTML5 beta currently in full swing on YouTube is evidence enough of this trend, but at least up until now, all the video being delivered has been in patent encumbered H.264. Given the commitment made to the standard it seemed pretty clear cut that they would be the codec winners in the Google camp, but in a rather interesting turn of events, the search giant has decided to dump a ton of cash into TheorARM, a competitor to H.264 aimed at mobile platforms.
Just in case we lost you, HTML5 delivers on its promise to offer up open standards for Web video, but browser vendors have so far been unable to reach a consensus on what underlying codec should be used. Ogg Theora is a royalty free option favored by most, but when it comes to sheer compression power, H.264 has it beat hands down. Compression is likely the reason for H.264's popularity given the massive bandwidth bills for streaming internet video, but clearly Google doesn't want to be seen as picking sides.
By supporting TheorARM Google is making a significant contribution to open video, and might eventually make it possible for Theora to gain broader support on the mobile web. According to Google's Robin Watts, "We need a baseline to work from-one standard format that (if all else fails) everything can fall back to". This hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement of the technology, but I'm sure the Theora won't turn down the support or big bag of cash.
The JooJoo has gone through some changes since it ceased to be the CrunchPad when the partnership of Arrington and Fusion Garage broke down. Among those changes is a new home screen UI and improved virtual keyboard. There’s also expanded codec support for playing local media.
The old home screen was sort of a disaster. The background was a solid color and the icons were black tiles with various website logos in them. Then there was the confusing pinch to go back gesture. The new set up is much improved with high resolution user customizable backgrounds and much more attractive icons. The pinch gesture has been replaced with a more intuitive swipe.
The new keyboard can be used in a smaller one-handed mode that can be moved around the screen, or in full screen mode. It also fully supports multitouch complete with chording (registering multiple simultaneous presses). We’re also hearing you can plug in mass storage and play almost any video format under the sun including AVI, DivX/XviD, MKV, MPEG-4, and MOV. The JooJoo is set to ship later this month. At $499 it’s priced the same as the low end iPad. Is anyone planning to pick one up?
If all the talk of HTML 5 has piqued your curiosity, then you may want to give YouTube's new HTML 5 experiment a try. The world's most popular video streaming portal is now offering a HTML5-based alternative to the Adobe Flash player. But the YouTube HTML 5 video player is only compatible with three browsers: Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer with ChromeFrame. While other browsers may support HTML 5, only the two mentioned above support the H.264 video codec at this moment.