John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Codec Capers: Google Drops H.264 Support in Chrome

Here’s one way to spur adoption of your new video codec. End your browser’s support for a widely used rival codec.

That’s what Google did today, announcing that its Chrome browser will ship without native support for H.264, the video specification on which the Web is arguably standardized (certainly it’s the one prefered by folks like Apple and Microsoft). Instead it will support WebM, Google’s open-source, royalty-free codec, and Theora, another open compression developed by the Xiph.org Foundation.

“We are changing Chrome’s HTML5 video support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project,” Google said in a post to the Chromium blog. “Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. 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.”

A ballsy move on Google’s part and one that will certainly spark off the video codec contretemps once more. Sadly, it’s going to make the the HTML 5 transition even more messy than it already is. Right now, video can be encoded in H.264 and served up to pretty much any browser or mobile platform–using a Flash wrapper if necessary. But once Google ends support for H.264, video producers will have to encode their content a second time to play natively in Chrome.

Which seems unfortunate. Particularly because Google is billing its decision as a move to free, open standards and away from proprietary ones like H.264 that must be licensed. By ending support for H.264, Google is actually encumbering video producers with additional costs. Said SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill, “I’m left with two choices: Gulp and double my costs on an unknown tech, or return to Flash as primary solution. Ugh. Thanks, Google.”

But Flash isn’t free and open standard, either. If Google’s goal is to “enable open innovation” shouldn’t it be dumping Flash from Chrome as well? Evidently, that’s not part of the master plan which includes Adobe as a WebM partner …

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work