Microsoft Says Web Video in IE9 Is All About H.264

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Microsoft’s next browser will support native playback of videos using HTML5, but it will only support H.264, and not its more open alternatives.

In a post on the official IEBlog Thursday, Microsoft’s general manager of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch outlined his company’s position in the ongoing Flash vs. HTML5 video debate. He says that when it comes to playing web videos without plug-ins, Microsoft will support H.264-encoded videos in its browser. He makes no mention of those encoded with Theora or any other codecs, and nobody is expecting Microsoft to support anything other than H.264 — Hachamovitch first mentioned singular support for H.264 in IE9 last month when he showed off an early version of the browser.

The argument over which web video playback technology to support has been a point of major tension among browser makers ever since last year, when the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) bowed out of the debate, declining to recommend any single video technology for HTML5. The result, so far, is a stalemate — Microsoft and Apple are supporting H.264, Mozilla and Opera are supporting Ogg Theora and Google, for the time being, is supporting both.

As we’ve said before, H.264 is a dangerous path for web video to go down, mostly because there are patents and licensing issues associated with it that keep it from being freely used. It should be noted that both Microsoft and Apple — the two main proponents of native H.264 playback in their browsers — hold patents in the H.264 patent pool.

Other technologies, such as Ogg Theora and VP8, appear to be a much safer alternative for video on the web to remain free and open, which is why the browser makers who have no stake in H.264 (Mozilla and Opera) are pushing for Theora.

Google Chrome’s support varies based on platform, and there’s a rumor the company will release the VP8 video technology it now owns under an open source license soon.

Curiously, there’s no mention of Silverlight in Hachamovitch’s post. But he doesn’t tie Flash to the whipping post like so many others have been quick to do. His words on Flash are quite tempered. Diplomatic, even:

Today, video on the web is predominantly Flash-based. While video may be available in other formats, the ease of accessing video using just a browser on a particular website without using Flash is a challenge for typical consumers. Flash does have some issues, particularly around reliability, security, and performance. We work closely with engineers at Adobe, sharing information about the issues we know of in ongoing technical discussions. Despite these issues, Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web.

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