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.
However, Speed alone is not the only area of improvement. The browser is now armed with key HTML5 technologies, including Appcache, Web Workers and the royalty-free WebM online video format (based on the VP8 codec). The latest version also brings improvements to the UI and search suggestions. “Beyond the speed boost, the latest version of Opera improves on our robust HTML5 support and provides more options for quick and efficient Web search through your preferred search engines. By combining raw speed with intuitive and easy-to-use features, Opera places you among the fastest Internet users on the planet.”
When Google announced the WebM codec at Google I/O, some in the open source community voiced concern over the license being used. The search giant was using a custom license that had not been approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Now Google has altered the WebM license, and is using the well established BSD license.
The original license had some provisions that flew in the face of General Public License. This made it unworkable in the open source community. The rejected version of WebM licensing would have revoked distribution rights for so-called "downstream parties" that file patent suits against Google. In the new GPL-friendly version, companies that file patent suits would have the royalty-free use of WebM revoked, but would still be able to use the codec.
It's not a huge difference in the eyes of many prospective WebM licensees, but it lets the open source community sleep easy. Now WebM just has to become relevant in a web where H.264 already has a big head start.
In the emerging world of HTML5 video, the H.264 codec has the early lead. But as anticipated, Google threw a new competitor into the mix today at Google I/O. Google's VP8 codec is now available to anyone to use royalty-free. This was announced as part of a larger project called WebM in conjunction with Mozilla and Opera.
Many have been concerned with the patent ownership of H.264, and open source projects like Firefox have been unable to include it. VP8 could be a real alternative here. The other open alternative, Ogg Theora, is seen as having inferior quality to that of H.264 and VP8. There were rumors earlier today that Microsoft would be building support for VP8 into the upcoming Internet Explorer 9. Redmond has clarified they will support the standard, but users will need to install the codec on their systems.
In short order Chrome, Firefox, and Opera will have support for the new codec. Youtube will also be made compatible with VP8. No word on if Safari will join the VP8 club as well. Flash isn't dead yet, but there's another vulture circling it now. Would you prefer VP8 or H.264 be the next generation video standard?