surprising move, Google has abandoned support for the h.264 video codec, used
(among other codecs) to power HTML5 video in its Chrome browser. The
company writes [blog]:
We expect even more rapid innovation in the web
media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those
technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To
that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 support to make it consistent with the
codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are
supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding
support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an
important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for
the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open
is extremely significant as it leaves Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 (test
builds) and Apple's Safari 5 as the only browsers on the market that support
The debate over what codec should be used for HTML5 web video has been a
contentious one and a partisan debate among browser makers who ultimately have
to make the choice for their customers.
The group that licenses h.264, which Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs notably
holds stock in, recently came out promising not to charge consumers or web developers to
use its video standard for free web video. It does still plan to charge
for paid video or internal websites. Advocates, though, argue that h.264
offers the best video quality.
Critics oppose the fact that h.264 is proprietary and not always free.
They tend to support either Ogg Theora or WebM.
Theora is supported by Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome, with Mozilla being its biggest advocate.
However, Apple has raised an interesting argument against Theora, claiming that
unknown “phantom” patents may exist that could result in lawsuits against
browser-makers and web developers if the codec became broadly used. They
claim these patent holders may merely be lying in wait, watching for the ideal
time to strike.
The final alternative is WebM. Whereas Theora is based on an open-source
release of On2 Technologies’ older V3 codec (proprietary), WebM is an
open-source release based on the newer V8 codec. VP8/WebM is supported by
Opera, Google Chrome, and Firefox.
The loss of Google shifts the balance of power in favor of both Theora and
VP8/WebM – but with Microsoft supporting h.264, the proprietary codec
is still very much in the game. The web video mess seems unlikely to sort
itself out anytime soon. That's unhappy news for web developers who have
to encode video for all three formats, and put additional HTML tags anywhere