Despite Potential Legal Threats, YouTube Goes 'All In' With WebM


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.

11:09 am

There's a New Firefox Beta In Town – And It Starts Up Faster Than Ever Before


Firefox 4 is running behind schedule, but today, Mozilla released the 9th beta version of its popular browser. This new version is mainly focused on improving speed and only features small interface enhancements. Thanks to a plethora of changes under the hood, Firefox now also starts significantly faster and complex animations will be smoother. Mozilla also notes that it has improved the bookmarks and history code, which should make bookmarking faster as well.

This new beta doesn’t include too many cosmetic changes, but Windows users will notice that their tabs have been raised to the top of the window and are now level with the Firefox menu button.

Firefox Sync, Panorama (which I personally never use, to be honest) and App Tabs are obviously also included in this new beta and the new add-on manager Mozilla introduced in the last beta has received some much-needed UI polish.

Given the current discussion about Google’s decision to drop support for H.264, it is also worth noting that this beta (just like others before it) supports WebM natively.


3:58 pm

Google Tries to Clarify Why It's Dropping Support for H.264


Very few developments in the tech world this week got as much attention as Google’s announcement that it would slowly drop support for the H.264 video codec from its Chrome browser. Given how ubiquitous H.264 is on the Web today – though it is also encumbered by patent and licensing issues – quite a few pundits shook their heads at this development. Today, Google published a more detailed explanation for this decision.

In this, Google product manager Mike Jazayeri explains that these changes will only affect the HTML tag, where the standards organizations involved have reached “an impasse.” Mozilla, for example, won’t support H.264 for the tag anytime soon, while the current versions of Apple’s and Microsoft’s browsers offer support for this codec. Given that different browser now support different codecs, Google argues that “core web technologies need to be open and community developed to enable the same great innovation that has brought the web to where it is today. These facts led us to join the efforts of the web community and invest in an open alternative, WebM.”

Google also notes that it has to pay royalties for using this codec and that there is no guarantee that licensing fees for H.264 won’t go up in the future.

We Don’t Want to Control WebM

When Google first made its announcement earlier this week, a lot of pundits speculated that Google wants to control web video by pushing its own codec to the front of the pack. In his post today, Jazayeri addresses this question quite diplomatically and argues that Google expects “majority of organizations and individuals contributing to WebM won’t be affiliated with Google or any single entity.” Be that as it may, I don’t think that this answer will satisfy a lot of the company’s critics.

“Few sites use it today.”

Another point of criticism we heard a lot this week was that publishers will not be forced to support multiple copies of their content and encode their video is multiple formats – something that can be difficult for small publishers to do.

2:36 pm

Google Plans to End H.264 Video Support From Chrome in Favor of Open Formats


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.

3:33 pm