Google will now encode all new YouTube videos in the WebM format, but will still support H.264, too.

Google today announced that it will begin to transcode all new videos into the WebM format. According to the company, those videos that make up 99% of views on YouTube (or about 30% of all the videos on the site) have already been encoded in WebM. Google will continue to support H.264 for the foreseeable future.

Google introduced WebM in 2010 and has been improving it ever since. Today, a number of major browser vendors offer support for WebM out of the box, including Google’s own Chrome, Opera and Mozilla’s Firefox, while others, like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer support it through plugins. WebM is essentially Google’s answer to H.264 – a codec that is managed by the MPEG LA consortium and is neither free of patents nor cost.

To play WebM videos in your browser, join YouTube’s HTML5 Video Player beta here.

Legal Threats

WebM, however, is also not without problems and it’s interesting to see that Google has decided to go ahead with encoding all videos in this format now. MPEG LA, the licensing entity behind the H.264, doesn’t quite buy Google’s arguments that WebM and the VP8 video codec that is part of it is completely free of patent encumbrances.

In February, MPEG LA asked all of those who suspected that WebM/VP8 was infringing on their patents to submit information until March 18th. It’s likely not a coincidence that Google made this announcement exactly one month after the end of this deadline. Chances are, that Google now feels secure enough in its assertion that no other party can claim that it infringes on its patents. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the potential patent holders were under no obligation to send their information to MPEG LA and can always sue Google later.

For more details about the legal issues potentially surrounding WebM, have a look at this excellent post by Florian Mueller on the FOSS Patents blog.