While Google didn’t make the VP8 video codec, they did purchase it recently and now, they’re announcing that it will be Open Source. What’s this mean for HTML 5? It might finally have found a winner of the codec race and a savior, in Google. Go figure.
Now I’m sure you might be asking why Google would do such a thing, but let’s back up a bit and get all the facts straight. Google acquired On2 Technologies earlier this year (February) for a meager (for Google) $133 million (a very tiny fraction of a true googolplex).
Now Google is keeping mum on the topic until their Google I/O dev conference, May 19-20 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. While it promises to be two-days full of Googleness it’s also got a potentially huge impact on the HTML community.
Sources (not my sources, but‘s) say that Google is going to announce that they are making the VP8 codec, part of the On2 Technologies deal, Open Source. It’s also being said that at that point both Google Chrome and Firefox will add support for the codec and their HTML 5 video support.
This could be the dark horse we’ve been waiting for. With the perpetual debate over what exactly the standard codec should be for HTML 5 it looked like it was going the way of a double standard, which is no standard at all of course. The leading entrants in the race are Ogg Theora and H.264. Both have some drawbacks though one has more, in my opinion, than the other.
H.264 is not Open Source. It is currently supplied as royalty free, but while MPEG LA has extended the royalty-free duration well into the future, it could, at any time, revoke or choose not to extend it. Very Machiavellian as once the world is dependent on it in the HTML 5 standard you could drop the royalty-free clause and slam everyone with licensing fees. Dastardly to say the least. Now I’m not saying that’s what MPEG LA is planning, it’s just a future possibility.
Ogg Theora on the other hand is Open Source. But the problem lies in the lack of maturity in the codec. There’s not enough easy-to-use tools for it and the quality at times is not as good as some would hope. Now I recently found a really cool Firefox plugin called Firefogg which does a fantastic job of converting video to Ogg Theora. I must say that the quality is far superior to some other encoders I’ve used and it’s guaranteed to be Firefox compatible so no worrying about having the proper settings.
The industry has already drawn lines in the virtual sand and started taking sides. Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Konqueror and Epiphany all support Ogg Theora. Meanwhile, Only Chrome and Safari currently support H.264 and Internet Explorer 9 has been announced as supporting it. Google developed a plugin for IE that basically turns it into Chrome and therefore allows you to watch Theora HTML video now, quite the sly feat on their part.
In regards to major sites, YouTube (owned by Google oddly), Microsoft (Silverlight and IE) and Apple (long-time supporters of H.264) are all supporting H.264. Mozilla refuses to support it because of the licensing stuff. Many others are leaving Theora out in the cold and only supporting H.264 including Brightcove, CBS.com, MeFeedia, and mDialog.
Now Google brings VP8 into the mix if they make it completely Open Source and gives the world a potential answer to the video codec debate. How?
I bet they are hard at work behind the scenes already transcoding all of the video for YouTube with VP8. When the world’s second largest search engine talks, people listen. What better way to move the industry than to take the largest video serving site in the world and turn it into the driving force? Considering the massive amount of videos YouTube shows per month I can only imagine what a license fee for the underlying technology might be.
VP8 is an attractive alternative. It’s got the power and a load of options that would rival a fully pimped out ride. The Macchiavellian (it’s the word of the day) minds at Google could certainly be ready to drive the industry in the pimped out codec.
Plus they would have the satisfaction of Microsoft, Apple and Adobe all having to ride in the back and fight over who gets the b…. er, middle seat. That sounds like reason enough to me!