H.264 encoding also known as MPEG-4 Part 10, or AVC (for Advanced Video Coding) is ready to become the format of convergence in the digital video industry, regardless of which playback platform the viewer chooses. Big Internet players like Google/YouTube, Adobe, and Apple iTunes are all backing this cross-platform format.
While VP6 based Flash video is a standard right now for the web, it is not the encoding format of choice for many consumer electronics products that support video. These include TVs, set-top-boxes, game consoles, mobile devices, and portable media players. This is partially due to the fact that Adobe's format is proprietary.
However, recently, Adobe announced full support for this new format as a native format for Flash. Additionally, Google plans to transcode all of its YouTube content to H.264.. Mobile multimedia from 3GP is also working on incorporating it.
Because of this growing support from both PCs and consumer video products, we will likely see the expansion of this accepted format.
If you compare this format to MPEG-2 (the format of traditional digital television and DVDs), H.264/AVC offers 2-3 times greater compression. Due to this compression, it is much more attractive for video network delivery and for delivery of HD, high definition video.
AVC is an open format with published specification and is available for anyone to implement.
Currently, Microsoft has no plans to use this format. They will not provide full support because they have Microsoft's VC-1 format.
External References for H.264 AVC:
- IEEE Overview of the H.264/AVC Video Coding Standard
- Vcodex: H.264 Tutorials
- MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Information - Doom9's Forum
Here is some additional information regarding video formats and players:
- Flash - FLV, SWF
As seen on YouTube, currently the most popular format with the widest computer support. Flash light is a new format offered for video delivery on mobile platforms. Video was introduced with version 6 and has improved a lot over the past five years. Made by Adobe, formerly Macromedia.
- QuickTime - MOV
Historically poor Windows support has improved with the popularity of iTunes (which includes the basic free QuickTime player).
- Real Media - RM
Once a popular option due to excellent compression and cross-platform capability, now apparently in decline, though it is supported on some mobile devices.
- Windows Media - WMV
An obvious choice on Windows, but not recommended for web use due to cross-platform and codec issues. Made by Microsoft, no longer available on Macs (though Safari can use the free Flip4Mac plugin).
- ShockWave - SWF
Free player made by Adobe, formerly Macromedia, now effectively obsolete on the web.
- Ogg Theora - 3GP
Open source cross-platform alternative, not yet fully developed, inconsistent performance. May well suffer the same fate as Ogg Vorbis but popular with Linux users. Made by the Xiph.Org Foundation, playable in QuickTime, RealPlayer and some others using free codec.
- MP4 and variants
ISO specification supported on computers, many phones, PlayStations and iPods (including the iPod Touch).