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Google open sources VP8

Apple fanbois might end up with Betamax
Thu May 20 2010, 14:24

WHEN WE WROTE that Google was planning to open source VP8 in a move that could seriously kick H.264 in the nadgers, we were told that we were talking rubbish.

Most objections came from Apple fanboi losers who cut and pasted their usual abuse on the basis that Steve Jobs had told them that H.264 would replace Flash.

However, as we predicted Google has chucked a spanner into Jobs' dream by announcing that it will open source VP8.

Google announced at its annual Google I/O event in San Francisco that it will make the VP8 codec available as open source code with a royalty free license as part of its Webm project. Google said it will pair VP8 with the Vorbis open source audio codec and support the two in its Chrome web browser and on its Youtube streaming video service.

Now that VP8 is open source, Mozilla's Firefox, Opera, Google's Chrome and even Microsoft's Internet Explorer will announce support for HTML5 video playback using the VP8 codec, and that's well on the way to turning Steve Jobs' proprietary H.264 into the Betamax of video codecs.

Most web browser vendors are in favour of the open standard, open source video format and even Adobe claims it can support any other browser, through which developers can experiment with online video that can be seen and used by others.

Microsoft will not provide VP8 support out of the box initially, but Internet Exploder users can install the software, which most people will probably do.

But not Apple fanbois, of course. Since they can only download what Steve Jobs tells them, they will be stuck with the H.264 standard. This is because Jobs lacks the flexibility to change, we guess. He has spent a lot of cash backing H.264. About two-thirds of the videos available on Apple toys are encoded in H.264 format.

Mozilla is supporting the move to the open source VP8 video format in Firefox, as is Opera, since it doesn't come with any proprietary licensing issues. Meanwhile Microsoft's forthcoming Internet Explorer 9 will also support the VP8 format.

Logitech will be using Google's Webm in the next release of its video calling service, Vid HD, while Skype said that it had launched its video calling service in 2005 with VP7, the predecessor to VP8, which suggests that it will probably upgrade to VP8, too. Brightcove said it will provide both H.264 and Webm as standard encoding options for Adobe Flash and HTML5 videos to its 1,500 media publisher customers worldwide.

To be fair to Apple, VP8 has got its problems. For a start there is no provision for digital restrictions management (DRM) on it, which will mean that it is not going to attract the same amount of attention from the movie studios. However it being open source means there is nothing to stop them from creating their own self defeating DRM scheme for it.

While the H.264 specification is a chronically difficult document, developers have also been whingeing that the VP8 specification is imprecise, unclear, and overly short, leaving many portions of the format vague. The complaint has been that it will be too tricky for anyone to write an encoder or decoder solely from the specification, however that's not a very credible criticism because Google's implemention of VP8 is, after all, open source and therefore available for study.

And already some of those who are heavily invested in H.264 are muttering vague patent threats about VP8. Jason Garrett-Glaser moaned to AppleInsider about possible H.264 patent infringements by VP8, among other things.

Apparently Google has said that it will not protect adopters of its Webm technologies from patent liabilities. This seems to be a bit of a problem, because one would think that the best reason for adopting VP8 will be to avoid such potential legal complications. µ


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