All posts tagged ‘H.264’

Microsoft Puts H.264 Video Back in Google Chrome, Considers WebM for IE

Microsoft has announced a plug-in for Google’s Chrome web browser that allows Chrome on Windows to play H.264 web video through the HTML5 <video> tag. The new plug-in comes on the heels of Google’s decision to remove H.264 support from Chrome and focus on the company’s competing WebM video codec.

You can grab the new Chrome plugin from Microsoft. Microsoft previously released a similar H.264 plugin for Firefox, which also only supports WebM video.

The video move is the latest sign of a collision between the two tech giants, who now compete directly in search, courtesy of Microsoft’s Bing initiative and mobile, where Google’s Android is taking market share and the new Windows Phone 7 is struggling for a foothold. Google has also launched various cloud-based applications that take aim at Office. This week, the two threw punches over search, with Google claiming Microsoft copies its results, and Microsoft complaining the Google perpetrated a sting worthy of a spy novel.

Now the two are sparring over web video. Google has thrown its weight behind the WebM codec, which the company owns, while Microsoft supports H.264. However, Microsoft says that, provided Google makes some changes, it may be willing to support the WebM codec as well.

While HTML5′s video tag promises a native way to watch video in your browser, video codec support among browsers is divided. Firefox, Opera and Chrome support the WebM codec while Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s IE9 support H.264. As it stands there is no “it just works” solution, which means most websites still use Flash video players.

Microsoft’s H.264 plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome are part of the company’s attempt to be pragmatic — since Windows includes native support for H.264, users should be able to watch H.264 video even if the browser doesn’t support it. On the other side of the coin, Internet Explorer 9 will be able to play WebM video through a similar third-party plug-in.

However, while Microsoft isn’t including native support for WebM in the next version of IE, it doesn’t appear to totally rule out the idea. As part of the plugin announcement, Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president for Internet Explorer, outlines some of Microsoft’s problems with the WebM codec. The main problem is that Microsoft is concerned about WebM’s potential patent risks.

Google insists that it owns all of the patents covering WebM and the VP8 video codec. But the company offers no indemnification for costs incurred should a patent lawsuit arise. That means that anyone distributing WebM/VP8 could be on the hook for any patent-related fees that might come up.

Some have dismissed Microsoft’s patent worries as an example of Microsoft spreading “fear, uncertainty and doubt” about WebM, but Microsoft does have history on its side in this case. As Hachamovitch points out, such patent lawsuits often don’t arise until a technology is in widespread use. So just because no one is suing over WebM now, doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. Hachamovitch cites the JPEG photo compression format, pointing out that JPEG was around for ten years before the first patent lawsuits appeared. Eventually the patents in question were ruled invalid, but not before millions of dollars were spent defending and licensing JPEG.

Of course the same patent threats potentially hang over H.264, but the MPEG-LA consortium — the governing body that oversees the patents surrounding H.264 — provides a kind of legal buffer between H.264 licensees and any lawsuit.

Surprisingly, Hachamovitch says that, if Google is willing to indemnify WebM users against patent lawsuits, “Microsoft is willing to commit that we will never assert any patents on VP8.” Of course that doesn’t mean other companies won’t, but it would be a huge step forward for WebM if Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon. Google did not respond to a request to comment in time for this story.

For now at least Microsoft has chosen a pragmatic approach — plugins. There will be a WebM plugin for Internet Explorer and H.264 plugins for Firefox and Chrome. In the end, Windows users will be able to watch just about any video on the web regardless of which browser they’re using. It might not be an ideal solution, but it is one that, from the user’s point of view, just works.

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File Under: Multimedia

MPEG LA Extends Web Video Licensing Moratorium Until the End of Time

The group that oversees patents on the H.264 video format has announced it will not charge royalties for H.264 videos that are freely broadcast on the internet.

The MPEG Licensing Association (MPEG LA) holds patents on AVC/H.264, the most widely-used video format on the web.

The group announced earlier this year that it would extend a moratorium on royalty fees for H.264 videos on the web from 2011 until the end of 2015. Thursday’s announcement extends this royalty-free period for “the entire life of [the AVC Patent Portfolio] license.”

This means that as long as H.264/AVC videos are around, publishers can post them on web pages and people can watch them in their browsers without having to pay any licensing fees.

The moratorium is only for the Internet Broadcast AVC video patent, which covers videos that are freely available via a web browser. Thursday’s announcement basically extends the status quo until the end of time — you don’t have to pay MPEG LA royalties to watch H.264 video on the web from free services now, and you won’t have to in the future.

The MPEG LA says it will continue to collect fees on AVC/H.264 video that consumers pay for. The video format is used on Blu-Ray discs and on most on-demand and paid video delivery services, such as iTunes. It will also continue to collect fees from software that ships with the coders and decoders required to play H.264 video — even software that’s distributed for free, such as web browsers.

Clearly, the MPEG LA is feeling pressure from the WebM Project, a new initiative launched in May that seeks to build a patent-free web video format. The project has created the WebM format as an alternative for H.264 and other patent-encumbered formats. WebM has already gained the support of Mozilla, Google and Opera, all of which are shipping new versions of their browsers with support built in. It has also gained the support of developers passionate about free and open web standards, especially as the web increasingly moves towards HTML5-based video experiences that work without the aid of plug-ins like Flash.

As promising as WebM’s advancements are, H.264 remains the dominant format for video on the web by a very wide margin — about two thirds of web video is H.264. By extending the royalty moratorium, the MPEG LA is likely trying to maintain that dominance on the web and encourage content providers to continue to use its format for publishing videos. By doing so, it also guarantees the group a revenue stream of licensing fees from the tools used to create, encode and watch those videos — cameras, editing software, authoring suites and web browsers.

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

ie9

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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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia, Software

Miro’s New Multi-Format Video Converter Rocks

mirovideoconverter1

The team behind the Miro project has released a new video converter tool that makes it dead easy to publish videos on the web that work in all browsers.

It’s called, appropriately enough, the Miro Video Converter, and it’s an entirely new and separate desktop software product by the same people who brought you the Miro open source video player.

The tool can convert just about any video format to Ogg Theora or H.264/MP4. It works with Flash video files (.flv) which is a huge bonus. It also works with DivX/AVI, MOV, Windows Media and MKV, among others. It uses ffmpeg and ffmpeg2theora to handle the conversions.

The experience is incredibly simple — just drag and drop a video onto the application window and choose an output format. You can get a file that will play in a web browser with native video support, or you can choose to resize your video for portable devices like the iPhone and iPod, Droid, Nexus One and PSP (There’s no iPad preset, but we should expect one soon).

Miro Video Converter is available for free from Miro’s website in Mac and Windows versions. There is no Linux version yet. Like the Miro player, it’s an open source project.

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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia

Royalty Deadline for H.264 Extended, But It’s Still Bad for the Web

As if the web’s video codec issues weren’t complex enough, the group that controls the licensing and royalties for the H.264 video codec has announced that H.264 will remain royalty-free until the end of 2016.

One the surface it sounds like a good thing — at least until 2016, you’re free to post H.264 videos on your web site without paying royalties to MPEG-LA, the controlling body. But after 2016, MPEG-LA could charge you whatever it wants — even an Austin Powers-style one million dollars per second of video.

MPEG-LA’s latest move seems ripped straight from a crack dealer’s marketing guide — “Here kid, the first hit’s free.” Then, once the web is even more heavily invested in H.264 than it is now, MPEG-LA can set its royalty fees at whatever rate it wants, sit back and reap the profits.

This news comes at a time when the web is in a heated debate over how to best display videos in the browser. The vast majority of content providers rely on Flash (which can decode H.264) to show videos. The certainty of Flash’s longevity on the web was thrown into question by the recent arrival of the iPad, which, like the iPhone, iPod Touch and other mobile devices, doesn’t support the Flash Player software. Some sites are experimenting with using HTML5 to display videos in either H.264 or Ogg Theora file formats. But different browser makers have chosen to support different file formats because of the licensing complexities — Mozilla, Apple, Opera and Google are all picking different sides.

It’s important to understand that the royalty fees being deferred by MPEG LA are in addition to the licensing fees the group already has in place (at over US$50,000 per year). Proponents of H.264, along with many unaware users, often argue that the licensing fees are irrelevant because web users like you and I remain unaffected by them.

But that doesn’t mean that the licensing fees won’t affect the web. Sure, the fees are no big deal for Apple, YouTube and other established players, but what if you want to build a web video encoding service to compete with YouTube and Vimeo? Well, if you want to serve your video to iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad users you’re going to need to come with $50,000+ in licensing fees.

Even without the royalty fees arriving in 2016, the licensing costs alone put start ups at a disadvantage, meaning that an H.264-encumbered web might well miss out on the next big leap in web video sharing.

Then there’s the decoding side of the equation.

At least part of the reason Mozilla and Opera refuse to support H.264 is the licensing fee necessary for software that decodes H.264. While both companies can likely afford it, smaller players can’t. For example, if you want to distribute your own version of Firefox, or simply create something totally new — some next-generation web browser or add-on based on Mozilla code — again, get ready to pony up the licensing fees if you plan to support H.264.

Even using Flash to decode H.264 doesn’t protect you from the licensing fees. As the Adobe H.264 page notes: “commercial use of the Flash Player to decode H.264 video may require a separate license.”

We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with H.264 or MPEG-LA’s desire to make money off it, but let’s not delude ourselves — H.264 isn’t a viable solution for the web’s open video woes.

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