Google said Tuesday that it had begun to transcode all new videos on YouTube to the WebM codec, an open source effort supported by Mozilla, Opera, Adobe and others. The technology supports high-quality video using the HTML5 video tag, and is available for use under a royalty-free license.
The site has been at work transcoding YouTube videos in the catalog since Google first open-sourced the VP8 codec -- the basis for WebM -- in May of last year. Currently about 30 percent of all videos that make up about 99 percent of the views on YouTube have been transcoded, Google says.
Support for WebM is still in its infancy: Mozilla just began to support the codec natively with the release of Firefox 4 in late March. Opera added support in May of last year and Chrome has supported WebM since last summer.
In Internet Explorer, a plugin is required to view video. Apple's Safari browser is the only one yet to have an official plugin for WebM although one is in development -- it is likely the Cupertino company itself will not support the codec anytime soon.
This is due to Apple's desires to promote its own H.264 video codecs for use with HTML5, and Steve Jobs himself has said in the past that being open source does not protect these codecs from claims of patent infringement.
Apple can breathe easy: Google said it still intends to support H.264 as an "important codec." But its clear that it has every intention of promoting its own work -- now open source -- as a worthy alternative.
"The world of online video is incredibly complex and dynamic," software engineer James Zern said. "We'll continue to invest in new video technology that improves the experiences for all users, builds a better infrastructure for online video, leads to greater access of information and spurs continued innovation."