Mozilla will lobby for the VP8 video codec to become the recommended standard video technology on the web, the company’s CEO says. Mozilla will propose the idea to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in order to have the technology, which has just been open sourced, added to the specification for HTML5.
“That’s our hope,” Mozilla CEO John Lilly tells CNet’s Stephen Shankland. “We’d love for VP8 to be specified in the HTML5 standard. Once it’s in the spec, it can really get better traction from other players.”
The company would need to rally support from all the major browser vendors and the W3C to get such a proposal into the spec. Mozilla isn’t saying just yet how it plans to go about doing so, but we can expect a statement in the coming days, according to Shankland’s report.
For its part, the W3C is anxious to arrive at a standard recommendation for a single native web video solution. The consortium has a policy that any technology it recommends adheres to its own royalty-free patent policy. The WebM project, the group behind VP8, is confident the codec does not infringe on any patents.
SAN FRANCISCO — When Google announced it would be releasing the VP8 video codec under an open source license, all of the major browser vendors jumped up to support it.
Well, all of them except Apple.
The WebM Project, a partnership between Google, Mozilla, Opera and dozens of other software and hardware makers, provides web developers a way of embedding video and audio in HTML5 pages without plug-ins, and without resorting to patent-laden technologies.
Watchers of the open web have been waiting for this development for some time. The HTML5 video playback experience varies greatly between browsers, with different browsers supporting different flavors of video, creating a poor user experience and forcing developers to rely heavily on plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight. Google was widely expected to take a step towards solving the video problem on the web with Wednesday’s WebM announcement.
Indeed, within minutes of the project’s launch here at Google I/O, links went up to new versions of Firefox and Opera with built-in support for WebM video. Chrome support will be coming in the next beta, due later this month. Microsoft says that Microsoft Internet Explorer 9, due to arrive as soon as the end of 2010, will support VP8 video playback if a user has installed the free codec on their copy of Windows. Adobe says Flash Player will also support it as soon as possible. Executives from Mozilla, Opera and Adobe were all on stage during Wednesday morning’s keynote to pledge their support.
But nobody from Apple appeared, and as of Wednesday afternoon, the company has made no such announcement about support for WebM video in Safari. When asked to comment on this story, Apple didn’t respond.
Of course, Apple has a great deal of time and money invested in a competing technology, H.264. Its Quicktime ecosystem is built on H.264, and it uses the video format for all of its content served through iTunes. It’s also the native format on iPads, iPhones and iPods.
Most video on the web — approximately two-thirds of it — is served in the H.264 format, but various licensing requirements make some nervous to use it. Apple owns patents around H.264 and benefits from the licensing fees that allow its use (so does Microsoft, and many other companies).
So, will Apple begin supporting a open source video codec that competes for space on the web with H.264?
“Stranger things have happened, but I’d be surprised if that happened soon,” says Christopher “Monty” Montgomery, creator of the Ogg container, an open source video and audio technology integral to the new WebM Project, in an e-mail to Webmonkey.
Apple has sent not-so-subtle threats about possible patent violation complaints being brought against supporters of open video codecs. In an e-mail to a blogger, Jobs warned that MPEG-LA, the licensing group that oversees H.264, was assembling a patent portfolio to “go after” open video codec makers.
“Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents,” Jobs wrote.
But Monty isn’t worried about the MPEG-LA suing him or anyone at the WebM Project.
“The recent saber-rattling by Jobs felt more like a message to his own troops than a warning shot to ours,” he says. “MPEG itself has always has an internal contingent that has pushed hard for royalty-free baselines from MPEG, and the missives about video codecs and patents were probably meant for them, not us.”
Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai says the company has done “a thorough legal analysis of VP8″ since acquiring it, and remains confident it can release the technology under an open source license without infringing on any patents.
The Safari browser is based on the same WebKit engine as Google Chrome, and the WebKit engine is open source. But codec support is not a component of the rendering engine, so even though Google’s browser supports VP8 and WebM content, it doesn’t provide an instant fix for Safari.
And of course, iPad and iPhone browsers run Safari, so WebM video won’t work on those devices until Apple adds support.
However, it wouldn’t be tough for Apple to implement WebM support. All of the technologies involved have been released under permissive open source licenses, and it’s already been rolled into three major browsers.
“It’s not a technical challenge,” says Google VP of engineering Linus Upson. “If you look at the other browsers that have already implemented VP8, it’s just been a matter of a few weeks.”
Google’s Upson and Pichai both say they hope all web browsers will support WebM’s efforts eventually.
SAN FRANCISCO — The web received a shiny new gift Wednesday morning — a truly open and royalty-free video codec for HTML5 web pages.
The new open media project is called WebM. As expected, the VP8 codec is at the center of WebM. Google acquired the video technology earlier this year, and developers have been itching with anticipation for Google to release VP8 as open source code. Wednesday morning, they got their wish.
“We are fully open-sourcing VP8 under a completely royalty-free license,” Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai announced to the thousands of attendees at the company’s I/O developer conference, taking place here this week.
Google has already added support for the format to Chrome, and on YouTube as part of the site’s ongoing experiment in building an entirely HTML5-powered experience.
WebM is a set of codecs (coder-decoders) for browsers to use to play video and audio content embedded on HTML5 web pages without the use of plug-ins. The project was launched with the backing of Mozilla, Opera and Google. All three browser vendors have already begun building support for it, and Microsoft announced Wednesday that it will support the video technology in Internet Explorer 9, which is due later this year.
Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch was also on stage at Google I/O, and he announced that VP8 and WebM support would be rolled into Flash Player in the near future.
WebM arrives at the height of a great debate about the future of video online. Support is split between several technologies, including two separate technologies for native video playback, and the Flash Player, which some developers are moving away from in favor of open web standards like HTML5.
The primary components of WebM video are the VP8 codec, which is used for video, and the Vorbis codec, which is used for audio. The content is served inside of a Matroska container. Google acquired the video technology company On2 this year, and it has been working on developing VP8 for use in browsers and on hardware devices since the acquisition was approved.
The dominant video codec in use on the web is H.264, which some developers and browser vendors are loathe to use because of patent and licensing restrictions. H.264 patents are handled by the MPEG-LA licensing group, of which Apple and Microsoft are members.
Mozilla VP of engineering Mike Shaver came on stage to praise the new WebM technology, saying “We want to see this in all browsers, on all devices.”
Hakon Lie, CTO of Opera Software, creator of CSS and long-time proponent of open web video, also took the stage and underscored the importance that open, unpatented video technology would make on the web.
Opera’s ongoing work on WebM, along with the latest browser builds with WebM support, can be found at labs.opera.com.
Homepage photo of Vic Gundotra, VP of engineering for Google: magerleagues/Flickr
Google will soon control the patents around the VP8 video codec, one possible alternative to H.264 for web video. And the leaders of the free software movement are banging their drum, urging the company to ditch those patents and offer the new video technology for free.
Shareholders of the video company On2 have approved an acquisition offer made by Google, which was initiated last year. On2 has developed the VP8 video codec, and currently holds the patents on it.
If Google were to release the newly-acquired VP8 as a free, open source video codec, it could significantly alter the web’s HTML5 video landscape. After all, Google owns YouTube and puts out the Chrome browser, so adoption would get a huge kick-start.
Free software advocates unhappy with the license-heavy and patent-encumbered video codecs like H.264 and the video quality and performance of free alternatives like Theora have long been hoping that Google would take the VP8 codec and release it as a free, open source savior for web video.
Even with Google at its back, VP8 would face an uphill battle against H.264.
While the picture quality and compression of VP8 is generally believed to be superior to Ogg Theora, which is based on On2′s VP3, much of H.264′s appeal lies in hardware optimizations. For example, part of the reason H.264 works so well on your iPhone — offering smooth playback and little drain on the battery — is because the hardware is optimized for H.264.
So, even if Google does release VP8 into the wild, it would still be some time before it could possibly catch up with H.264 on the hardware level. A similar lack of widespread hardware optimization also plagues the Dirac codec, another potential alterative to H.264.
There are also some unanswered questions around the patent status of VP8. Since VP8 is currently closed source and proprietary code, it’s hard to say what patent claims it might be vulnerable to. The MPEG LA consortium (which oversees H.264) governs almost 2000 video encoding patents. The odds of anyone creating an entirely new way of encoding video that doesn’t somehow infringe on at least one of those patents is pretty slim.
In short, while we’d like to see Google do exactly what the FSF is suggesting, that doesn’t mean that such a move would magically solve the web’s open video conundrum.