All posts tagged ‘web video’

File Under: HTML5, Multimedia, Web Basics

Google Pools WebM Video Supporters for Patent Protection

Google has announced the new WebM Community Cross License (CCL) initiative. The new group is designed to create a patent-safe haven around Google’s WebM video codec for HTML5 video. Members of the new CCL initiative agree to license any WebM-related patents to each other under royalty-free terms.

The WebM codec is one of several ways web developers can deliver native HTML5 video on the web, without requiring the Flash Player plugin or other proprietary, non-standard tools. The other major codec, H.264, is older and more widespread, but carries expensive licensing fees for broadcasting sites like YouTube.

So far Firefox 4, Opera, Chrome and Internet Explorer 9 (via a plugin) all support the WebM codec. Apple’s Safari and Mobile Safari are the lone holdouts for H.264 (IE9 also supports H.264).

Microsoft, which many suspected would ignore WebM, has thus far remained cautiously supportive of WebM. While the company doesn’t include support out of the box, it has pledged to support users who “install third-party WebM video support on Windows.” Many of Microsoft’s concerns about WebM revolve around unresolved patents and licensing.

Google’s CCL initiative seems geared at least in part to assuage Microsoft’s patent fears, laying out in clear terms how participating companies will handle patents. In short, organizations that join the CCL agree to license any essential patented WebM technologies to other members of the CCL under royalty-free terms, affording each member a measure of protection against potential patent lawsuits.

For the launch Google has put together 16 companies including AMD, Cisco, LG and Samsung, as well as browser makers Opera and Mozilla.

The elephant in the room is the MPEG-LA organization which governs the licensing of the H.264 codec. MPEG-LA recently closed out its call for the submission of patents essential to WebM, but has yet to announce any lawsuits against WebM. That does not of course mean that MPEG-LA has failed to come up with any potential WebM patent violations. In fact, not announcing anything helps build the sense of patent fear, uncertainty and doubt that surrounds WebM at the moment.

But MPEG-LA may have problems of its own. The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating the group to see whether the organization is trying to stifle competition from Google. Our friends at Ars Technica report that DOJ investigators are “looking into whether MPEG-LA or its member companies (which include Apple and Microsoft) are making an active effort to cripple adoption of WebM.”

While WebM’s future may still be in doubt, Google is clearly pushing forward regardless. The company has already removed H.264 support from its Chrome web browser and recently began serving up WebM videos on YouTube. With the new CCL initiative Google has expanded its range of WebM allies beyond just browser makers and is well on its way to having a patent pool that can back up WebM against MPEG-LA.

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MPEG LA Starts the Search for VP8 patents

MPEG LA, the one-stop shop for motion video patent licenses, yesterday announced a call for patents essential to the VP8 video compression algorithm — the algorithm that is fundamental to Google’s WebM video format. MPEG LA is asking organizations that hold patents believed to cover integral, unavoidable parts of the VP8 algorithm to come forward and submit those patents to the licensing company. The patents will in turn by analyzed by MPEG LA, and those deemed to be relevant will be pooled together. The pooled patents will then be available to license as a single convenient bundle.

In its promotion of WebM and VP8, Google has insisted that all the relevant patents were developed by codec company On2, which Google purchased last year. The patents can be licensed from Google without payment of any royalties or any restrictions on usage. Google has been heavily promoting WebM for use with the HTML5 <video> tag, which allows plugin-free video to be embedded in webpages, and the royalty freedom is a key part of WebM’s value proposition.

Competitive codecs such as the open and industry standard H.264 require royalties to be paid by software and hardware developers. Companies like Opera and Mozilla, as well as the W3C group that is developing the HTML5 specification, deem these royalties be an unacceptable impediment to their usage. They have no such qualms about the royalty-free WebM.

If MPEG LA is successful in assembling a patent pool, that royalty freedom could come to an end. The company is soliciting patent submissions until March 18th. Once the submissions have been made, it will determine which patents are essential to VP8; only those patents that are unavoidable can form part of the patent pool. The owners of those selected patents will then decide on the license conditions they wish to impose, and these conditions could include royalty payments.

Whether this will happen, of course, is the big question. MPEG LA might fail to form a patent pool altogether: it may receive no relevant patent submissions, in which case the patent pool process will likely end. Such an outcome still won’t mean that WebM is in the clear — a company may feel that it’s more lucrative to avoid a patent pool and allow WebM usage to become more widespread before asserting claims — but it would probably imply that there aren’t dozens of potential claimants just waiting to come forward.

This sort of outcome might well see Microsoft’s current neutral stance towards WebM (it will work in Internet Explorer 9, just as long as a suitable third-party codec is installed) become more overtly positive. Redmond might start shipping a WebM codec of its own, for example.

If MPEG LA does form a patent pool, the license terms will be critical. MPEG LA exists to monetize patents, however, so it’s unlikely that any patent pool would permit the kind of indiscriminate royalty-free license that Google currently offers. More likely, they would choose terms similar in kind to those of H.264; Web video may be free, but decoders still incur a royalty. This would put WebM implementors in a difficult position — either drop WebM support, pay up, or risk going to court to fight a patent infringement suit.

An infringement suit is an unappealing prospect: even if you win, the drain on your financial resources can mean that ultimately, you lose. This is especially problematic for organizations like Mozilla, since Google offers no indemnification for users of WebM — if Mozilla gets sued, Google won’t step in to help. As such, the safest, most conservative option for Opera and Mozilla would be to drop support. Google has deeper pockets and can better sustain a legal attack, but even there, the company has to weigh its options carefully. A lost court case could cost tens of millions of dollars. Paying up just to avoid the problem may very well be the better option.

But paying up is problematic too. VP8 is, for most purposes, inferior in quality to H.264. H.264 is much more widespread in software tools, hardware accelerators, and so on: it’s enormously widespread already. If VP8 loses its key feature — royalty freedom — implementers may very well decide that, since they have to pay anyway, they’d be better off paying for the superior, more widely used H.264 license, and abandoning WebM entirely.

Whatever happens — and it will probably be many months before we find out — this is bad news for WebM. The formation of a patent pool directly undermines Google’s claims about the codec — and yet, even if MPEG LA fails to create a pool, question marks surrounding the codec will remain.

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

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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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Google Dropping H.264 Codec from Chrome Browser [Updated]

Google has rather nonchalantly dropped a bombshell on the web — future versions of the Chrome browser will no longer support the popular H.264 video codec. Instead Google is throwing its hat in with Firefox and Opera, choosing to support the open, royalty-free WebM codec.

Google says the move is meant to “enable open innovation” on the web by ensuring that web video remains royalty-free. While H.264 is widely supported and free for consumers, sites encoding videos — like YouTube — must pay licensing fees to the MPEG Licensing Association, which holds patents on AVC/H.264

Prior to Google’s announcement, the web video codec battle was evenly split — Firefox and Opera supported the open Ogg and WebM codecs, while Safari and Internet Explorer supported H.264. Google took the egalitarian path and supported all three codecs.

Google’s move away from H.264 makes sense given that Google is already heavily invested in WebM. In fact, the only reason the WebM codec exists is because Google purchased On2, the creators of the VP8 codec. Once Google acquired the underlying code it turned around and released VP8 as the open source WebM project.

There’s been considerable outcry from developers concerned that they now need to support two video codecs to get HTML5 video working on their sites. However, given that Firefox — which has a significantly greater market share than Google’s Chrome browser — was never planning to support the H.264 codec, developers were always going to need to support both codes for their sites to work across browsers.

Google’s decision to drop H.264 from Chrome does raise some questions though. For instance, Android also ships with H.264 and so far Google hasn’t made any announcement regarding the future of H.264 on the Android platform. One of the reasons H.264 has become so popular is that the codec enjoys robust hardware support across devices — whether it’s desktop PCs, mobile devices or set top boxes. While WebM has made some strides in hardware acceleration since it was originally released, it still lags well behind H.264. At least for now it seems that Android most likely needs to continue supporting H.264.

The move also raises questions about YouTube, still the largest video site on the web. Currently the site serves H.264 videos to most browsers, whether through the HTML5 version of the site or using the Flash Player. It seems obvious that Google must be hard at work converting the site to use WebM, but will it continue to support H.264 for those browsers and devices that don’t support the WebM codec? So far Google hasn’t made any announcements regarding YouTube and H.264.

Critics of Google’s decision to drop H.264 support in Chrome point out that Chrome ships with Flash, which, like H.264, is not really an open web technology. Indeed it would seem hypocritical for Google to dump some closed tools while keeping others, but, in Chrome’s defense, Flash is well entrenched in the web and ditching it really isn’t practical. Rather Google’s decision seems to be pragmatic — the company is in a position to take a stand on video codecs and it is doing so before H.264 becomes as entrenched as Flash.

[Google did not respond to a request for comment on this article. A Google Spokesperson tells Webmonkey that the announcement is related to "Chrome only and does not affect Android or YouTube." Presumably both will continue to offer H.264 support. As for Flash, the Spokeperson says, the Chrome announcement "is about the importance we place on open technologies being the foundation of the emerging web platform moving forward." In other words, dropping Flash support isn't practical.]

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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia

Pick the Perfect HTML5 Video Player for Your Site

There’s no question that HTML5 video is at the forefront of the web’s migration to HTML5. Unfortunately converting your site’s video to HTML5 is a little more complicated than just dropping in the video tag.

We’ve covered a few HTML5 video players in the past — SublimeVideo, FlareVideo and the DIY route — but new players seem to emerge every day and deciding which one is right for you can be complicated.

To help you out developer Philip Bräunlich has put together a great chart of 19 different HTML5 video player solutions. The chart breaks down each player, covering options like whether or not there’s a Flash fallback for older browsers, if keyboard shortcuts are supported, how easy it is to theme and use, and what license the code is available under. The sidebar also has links to demos so you can see each player in action.

If you’ve been trying to figure out which video player has everything you need, Bräunlich’s chart should be a huge time saver.