About half a year after Google announced its WebM video codec at Google I/O, Chromium has made some interesting announcements on how the open-source browser project plans to support open-source video.
Chromium Project Manager Mike Jazayeri writes that his team is “changing Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project.” That means WebM (VP8) will be supported, as will the open-source codec Theora. H.264, on the other hand, will be phased out.
When Google rolled out WebM back in May 2010, we were excited by the possibilities for this open-source, royalty-free format for online video. The technology uses the VP8 codec that Google acquired in February 2009.
Google has been using the WebM format in its HTML5 YouTube experiment with mixed results.
Now, Jazayeri writes that only open-source video codecs will be supported. So far, these codecs include WebM and Theora, a traditionally inferior and still developing technology, as far as playback is concerned.
The H.264 standard has been around since 2003 and has gained a great deal of traction during that time. Still, it’s technically not an open technology. The entity that controls licensing for H.264 video says it will refrain from collecting royalties until the end of 2015. So while the technology is free for now, it’s still proprietary. And in the world of die-hard FOSS advocacy, that’s a huge no-no.
It’s also likely no coincidence that H.264 is strongly supported by Apple and has been for many years.
Jazayeri writes, “Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.”
While the FOSS love-fest is a thing of beauty, more than one commenter on the Chromium blog post pointed out the impracticality of Google’s lack of ideological and technical support for one of the most widely used video codecs on the web.
As one person wrote, “This is a move by Google where they care more about the open source ‘community’ than they do actual users of their browser. Let’s be real here: WebM has a LONG way to go before it will have any serious amount of traction, and Theora is a joke. Like it or now, H.264 is becoming the standard, and dropping support for it for no good reason is ridiculous.”
We’ll see how the web video “wars” play out and will continue to report on newsworthy updates in this area. In the meantime, we’d love to get your opinions in the comments. Is support for open technologies — even flawed ones — better than support for proprietary technologies, no matter how ubiquitous?
Image based on photo from Flickr user Damon Duncan.
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