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Smile You're on Video

In a big step for the open web Google open sourced the VP8 video codec yesterday at the I/O conference in San Francisco.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Table of contents

An attempt to solve the video issue

The video tag is now well established in HTML5 specification. I’ve written previously about cross-browser problems, namely the complete lack of support in Internet Explorer and that different codecs are used by different browser vendors. To use HTML5 to serve video and access all users web authors face using two different methods (flash and the video tag). On top of that authors are currently required to export two different video formats to support differing codecs.

When I created this demo I it was great that I could now use a browser API, rather than a third party plugin. But the fact I was doing more work to use this method and duplicating videos seemed a bit counter intuitive. What happened to don’t repeat yourself?

From a developer perspective anyone that has worked with ffmpeg soon realises the complexity of different video formats, frame rates, video sizes and codecs. But from an end user perspective (and that is always the most important) creating a video for use on the web is still a bewildering prospect. Of course you can use a service like Vimeo or YouTube but video is such an integral part of the web that it should be possible to easily create content for the web, and it should be open.

Enter Google on a white horse

It would seem Google agrees that video should be open. Earlier this year Google purchased On2 Technologies, a video compression business and with it the VP8 video codec. In the week that Microsoft launched a patent suit against Salesforce and Adobe and Apple continue to squabble about who is really open Google did something incredible. They open sourced the VP8 codec. That’s the VP8 codec they acquired for $124.6 million. Opera and Mozilla are also on board with this effort which leaves just Apple, who are championing the H.264 format. Even Microsoft will be supporting VP8 in IE9.

It will be interesting to see how Apple respond. They have invested heavily in the H.264 codec for both their desktop and browser products. With Google Chrome being based on Webkit and covered by a BSD license, Apple could presumably leverage the work that Google has already done for their Safari browser. If Apple hold out it looks probable that web authors would continue to have to publish two video formats to ensure cross-browser compatibility leaving us in much the same boat.

A good day for the open web

This announcement should be celebrated as a step forward for the open web. Google have shared a commercial product under a BSD license that they paid over millions of dollars for in the interests of the web as a whole. At a time when other companies are arguing about how open they really are Google can have their moment in the sun.

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