John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Google Open Sources VP8 Video Codec. Will Apple, Microsoft and Intel Use It?

Google’s plan to open-source the VP8 video codec has been rumored ever since the company acquired its developer, On2, in August 2009. After all, in the press release detailing the acquisition, Google clearly stated that “video compression technology should be a part of the Web platform.”

So it’s no surprise that the company announced an open-source, royalty-free HTML5 video format based on VP8 at its I/O conference Wednesday. What is surprising is the level of industry support Google has already rounded up.

Dubbed WebM, the format uses the VP8 codec for video and Vorbis codec for audio and is offered under a pretty permissive BSD-style license that makes it quite a bit more attractive than H.264, a rival format with pretty steep licensing fees.

Google is pushing the format hard. The company has convinced Mozilla and Opera to add WebM support to their browsers (Chrome support is obviously a given) and it has begun encoding all YouTube videos 720p or larger in the format.

Google has also lined up some 40 software and hardware vendors to support WebM. Among them: Oracle (ORCL), AMD (AMD), ARM (ARM), Nvidia (NVDA), Qualcomm (QCOM) and Brightcove. Also on the list: Adobe (ADBE), which plans to use VP8 for Flash.

An impressive lineup of supporters, though there are three notable omissions: Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC). Will those companies come around and back the standard as well? Given enough industry support for VP8 playback through HTML5, they may have to. I’ve asked them and will update here if I hear back.

UPDATE: Intel tells me it will support WebM and V8, not because it particularly favors them but because it plans to support most video formats.

“We’re supportive of multiple formats,” a company spokesman told me. “We don’t support one format to the exclusion of another format.”

UPDATE: Interesting. There’s speculation that WebM may violate some H.264 patents. “VP8 is simply way too similar to H.264,” developer Jason Garrett-Glaser concludes after an exhaustive analysis of the format. “[A] pithy, if slightly inaccurate, description of VP8 would be “H.264 Baseline Profile with a better entropy coder”. Though I am not a lawyer, I simply cannot believe that they will be able to get away with this, especially in today’s overly litigious day and age. Even VC-1 differed more from H.264 than VP8 does, and even VC-1 didn’t manage to escape the clutches of software patents. Until we get some hard evidence that VP8 is safe, I would be extremely cautious. Since Google is not indemnifying users of VP8 from patent lawsuits, this is even more of a potential problem.”


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