Google planning to open the VP8 video codec

Google logoWhen Google announced a deal to acquire video technology company On2 last year, the move generated speculation that the search giant was aiming to liberate the VP8 codec in order to accelerate the advancement of standards-based open video. Google has remained silent about its plans for On2's intellectual property, but signs have emerged that the company is planning to do precisely what the speculators anticipated.

According to a report at NewTeeVee, inside sources have confirmed that Google will be open-sourcing the VP8 codec next month at the Google I/O conference. Mozilla and Google will also reportedly announce plans to implement support for VP8 in their respective browsers at that time. The move could have profound ramifications on the viability of standards-based video playback and the future of rich media on the Internet.

The need for an open codec

HTML5 defines a new standards-based method for embedding video content in a webpage, but the standard doesn't specify a codec. The major browser vendors haven't been able to reach a consensus—some support the royalty-free Ogg Theora while others favor the technically superior H.264 format. Although all parties broadly agree that a royalty-free codec would be beneficial, none of the existing royalty-free codecs deliver adequate compression quality to satisfy everyone.

Funding from Google and Mozilla has helped to improve Theora considerably, but it still doesn't match H.264. Despite its profound efficiency, the downside of H.264 is that it is encumbered by patents and requires costly licensing fees that set a high barrier to entry.

The lack of an appropriate universal codec for the HTML5 video element has made it difficult for standards-based video to reach everyone. Adopters are building implementations that only support specific browsers and environments. Some major websites like Wikipedia are only supporting Theora and many of the companies that are trying to make their content accessible to Apple's devices are exclusively supporting H.264.

This conflict over codecs is the reason why Google's acquisition of On2 generated substantial enthusiasm among open Web advocates. On2 has a long history of leadership in the art of video encoding. Theora itself is based on a very old variant of the company's technology. On2's current flagship codec is VP8, which is said to be highly sophisticated and competitive with H.264. If Google were to open VP8 and make the underlying intellectual property available under royalty-free terms, it would end the HTML5 video impasse by supplying an ideal codec.

Browser vendors and Web developers have been eagerly waiting for Google to reveal what it plans to do with On2's codec technology. NewTeeVee's sources say that the wait will end next month when Google opens up VP8 during the Google I/O conference.


Tags: Google, HTML5, Internet

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