Google just announced that it plans to fade out support for the widely used H.264 codec from its Chrome browser “in the next few months”. Instead, Google will favor the open Theora video codec and its own open WebM (VP8) codec.
This is an extremely bold move on Google’s part, as H.264 is currently the most popular video codec on the net, though it is encumbered by licensing issues and software patents. Indeed, these issues were one of the reasons why Google launched the WebM project to begin with, but few ever expected Google to drop support for H.264 in favor of other open standards this quickly.
While WebM is an interesting technology, few third-party services currently make use of it. Google will likely drive adoption of this standard because of today’s announcement, but it remains to be seen if others will follow Google’s move.
As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber rightly notes, there are currently no hardware decoders for WebM on the market, while most mobile devices can handle H.264 natively. This means that battery live will suffer on these devices. Developers can’t drop H.264, instead, as Gruber points out, they will have to support both codecs.
Also, given that H.264 video will continue to play even on Chrome as long as Adobe’s Flash Player is installed (and its part of the default install of all version of Chrome), developers really don’t have a lot of incentive to go all out in their support for WebM.