Skype has announced today that it is preparing to adopt Google’s open source VP8 codec for all video calls. The upcoming Skype 5.5 Windows client will use VP8 for 1-to-1 calls as well as group calls, which have used VP8 for some time. This is definitely a boost to Google’s WebM open video initiative.
Denver-based patent pool outfit MPEG LA, which is responsible for the royalty-saddled H.264 video codec, is trying to form a pool of “patents essential to the VP8 video codec specification.” It is a clear attempt at sabotaging the open-source, VP8-based WebM video format backed by Google against H.264 in the ongoing battle for HTML5 video supremacy. Not the one to be intimated, Google has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by MPEG LA and is ready to defend WebM with a patent pool of its own. The Internet giant today announced the formation of the WebM Community Cross-License (CCL) Initiative.
Google is forging ahead with their quest to promote the WebM open video codec. To those ends, Google has announced that all new videos that are uploaded to YouTube will be encoded in WebM in addition to the other supported formats. Google is also working hard to get the entire 6-year backlog of YouTube videos converted to their preferred format.
In case you missed it, Microsoft last night put its final coat of polish on Internet Explorer 9 and released the finished browser to the public. Not wasting any time, Google has made available its WebM video plug-in for IE9. It's not a finished release, but a technology preview that Google admits has some known issues. What those issues are is anyone's guess, as the page Google links too is still blank.
Denver-based patent pool outfit MPEG LA, which licenses the H.264 codec, has called upon holders of “patents essential to the VP8 video codec” to join the VP8 patent pool it’s trying to assemble. As some of you might recall, MPEG LA has time and again questioned VP8’s royalty freeness, all along threatening a VP8 patent pool. I guess you are familiar with the "hit the jump" routine.
Internet Explorer 9 has hit the release candidate milestone and Microsoft is behaving like any browser vendor would when its browser reaches a new development milestone. You guessed it right, Redmond is touting the blazing speeds brought along by the Release Candidate. Read on for a complete list of enhancements.
Google has been coping a fair amount of flak ever since it announced the withdrawal of H.264 support from its Chrome browser. Apparently, the internet giant was having nightmares about a closed, royalty-fettered future of web video before it decided to drop H.264 support in favor of the open source WebM format. However, the company couldn’t quite explain why it continues to support other closed-source technologies like Flash and Silverlight.
The internet giant posted a lengthy explanation on the Chromium Blog this past Friday, but did little to address the principal gripe about its decision to drop H.264 support. In fact, instead of explaining why it has different yardsticks for different closed technologies, it actually made it a point to emphasize support for Flash and Silverlight. It now sees a symbiosis between H.264 and the two plug-ins.
“H.264 plays an important role in video and the vast majority of the H.264 videos on the web today are viewed in plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. These plug-ins are and will continue to be supported in Chrome,” wrote Mike Jazayeri, a product manager at Google, in a blog post.
“Our announcement was only related to the <video> tag, which is part of the emerging HTML platform. While the HTML video platform offers great promise, few sites use it today and therefore few users will be immediately impacted by this change.”
It is now concentrating its efforts on popularizing the use of the open-source WebM format for HTML5 video. An uphill task to say the least. Nonetheless, the WebM Project team will soon release plugins to enable WebM support in Internet Explorer and Safari through the HTML standard <video> tag. This not only defies logic but belies the raison d'être of HTML5 video, which was conceived as a means of disencumbering web video from the clutches of special plugins. That said, all major stakeholders are equally culpable for the current state of fragmentation.
Another major hurdle in WebM’s path is the widespread hardware support that H.264 currently enjoys. The open-source format is unlikely to take off in an era of hardware-accelerated video without support from GPU vendors.
Many feel that codec standardization is necessary if the HTML5 video tag is to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of online video. But right now it seems fairly optimistic to even imagine the introduction of a standard format to the HTML5 spec. The battle lines are, in fact, now more pronounced than ever, with Google today announcing that the H.264 codec will no longer be supported in its Chrome web browser. Instead, Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support will be restricted to only open source codecs. However, its own WebM (V8) and OGG Theora are currently the only ones on its list of supported codecs.
“Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies,” announced Mike Jazayeri, a Google product manager, on the Chromium blog. “These changes will occur in the next couple months but we are announcing them now to give content publishers and developers using HTML <video> an opportunity to make any necessary changes to their sites.”
With this announcement, Google joins the ranks of Mozilla and Opera as a browser vendor who has completely shunned the rival, royalty-saddled H.264 codec. But H.264 is not short of backers either, with the eminent likes of Microsoft and Apple owning patents in the H.264/AVC patent pool. Moreover, H.264 is not only the default video codec in IE9 – the next major release of the world’s most popular browser, but most modern GPUs now feature H.264 decoding.
The confusion created by these competing standards is surely great news for Adobe, whose Flash Player plug-in is the most popular way of delivering video on the internet. The plug-in already supports H.264 encoded video and VP8 support is on its way. If the deadlock persists, as is most likely, support for both these rival codecs will guarantee Flash’s popularity long into the future.
What to do you make of Google’s move? Do you think the internet giant has done the right thing by withdrawing H.264 support from Chrome on the pretext of promoting open web technologies, especially when the very same browser comes with Adobe’s not-so-open Flash Player built into it?
Almost all the images you spot on the web are JPEGs, but Google is looking to change that. An offshoot of the search giant's WebM video technology is a new image format being called WebP. WebP and JPEG are both so-called "lossy" formats. Meaning they do not reproduce an image exactly, but rather compress the data an create a reasonable facsimile that can be used online.
Where WebP may actually attract attention, is in the efficiency of the compression. According to Google, WebP produces image files about 40% smaller than JPEG. This is a potential bandwidth and load time saver. On image heavy sites, this could be particularly useful on mobile devices where resources are limited. WebP would still have a big hill to climb though. JEPG is built into so many devices and programs already. "The challenges are tremendous," said Google's Richard Rabbat. "We foresee it's going to be a very long conversation."
Google will be adding native support for WebP to Chrome in the coming weeks. They will also be releasing conversion software so users can decide for themselves how good WebP is. Would you consider using this new format if your software supported it?
“It's important to understand what a site like YouTube needs from the browser in order to provide a good experience for viewers as well as content creators. We need to do more than just point the browser at a video file like the image tag does - there’s a lot more to it than just retrieving and displaying a video,” YouTube programmer John Harding wrote on the YouTube API blog.
Harding cited a number of reason for YouTube's current lack of confidence in HTML5 as far as online video distribution is concerned. He stressed the need for a standard video format, which is obviously not the case right now as the propriety H.264 codec and the open WebM format are locked in a battle to determine the most popular HTML5 video format – the HTML5 spec does not require support for a standard format.
“The <video> tag certainly addresses the basic requirements and is making good progress on meeting others, but the <video> tag does not currently meet all the needs of a site like YouTube:”