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Google releases open-source WebM codec

Google releases open-source WebM codec

Support for the WebM codec is due in all major browsers shortly - but can it beat H.264 to the punch?

Google has figured out how to make the most of its $134 million deal to acquire video compression specialist On2 - by giving away the crown jewels.

According to an announcement by Sundar Pichai, the company's vice president of product marketing, at the Google I/O conference - and reported over on V3.co.uk - the company has decided to weigh in on the HTML 5 video format debate by releasing an open-source codec, WebM.

WebM is simply an open-source version of On2's well-regarded VP8 video compression codec along with Ogg Vorbis audio - and already has a wealth of support in the industry. Now the codec is available under an open-source licence, that's likely to increase - and the Mozilla Foundation and Opera have both committed to including support for WebM into their respective browsers, along with Google's own Chrome browser.

Interestingly, Microsoft has also stated that it is to include WebM video support in Internet Explorer 9 - with one interesting caveat: according to Neowin.net the support will rely on the codec being installed into Windows, rather than being built directly into the browser.

The move to WebM is already being hailed as the solution to the HTML 5 video format issue and a way for smaller companies to avoid the exorbitant licensing fees that come from using the popular H.264 video codec - but there is a note of warning being raised: Electronista points out that the WebM codec may be similar enough to rival H.264 to violate closely-guarded patents and open itself up to future lawsuits from the patent holders.

Despite this, Google is forging ahead - and promises to have all 720p and higher resolution video formats on its own sites encoded in WebM by the end of the month.

Are you pleased to see a royalty-free open-source web video format from Google, or is H.264 too entrenched - and too heavily defended by software patents - to be displaced at this late hour? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

26 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
barndoor101 20th May 2010, 13:37 Quote
excellent news
Unknownsock 20th May 2010, 13:39 Quote
Firefox is back again!
mi1ez 20th May 2010, 13:49 Quote
Just we need! Good work G!
StoneyMahoney 20th May 2010, 14:34 Quote
The patent pool held by the MPEG-LA is so far-reaching that some of it's members to claim no-one can make a commercial video codec anymore without violating some of their IP. That would seem to indicate the purpose of the MPEG-LA pool is not only to protect H.264 and it's licensing terms, but also to form a global monopoly on *all* video encoding.

On the other hand, this could very well be ill-informed FUD with no legal basis, tested or otherwise, as they haven't mentioned which patents they're talking about. On2 also had it's own patent pool covering it's VP codecs, and (considering how old video encoding is) it's likely there is considerable prior art, throwing additional doubt on how valid the more fundamental patents in this argument actually are.

I also read that, thanks to the licensing terms of the MPEG-LA, you don't just owe royalties on video in it's final distribution format. If any MPEG-LA controlled format was used for recording or as an intermediary, you also owe them royalties for that as soon as you publish, no matter what format you used.
Nedsbeds 20th May 2010, 14:36 Quote
how does this fit with hardware support? obviously there are a lot of phones/mobile devices with hardware for specific codecs. Will they be able to also work with webM?
flibblesan 20th May 2010, 14:40 Quote
Excellent news. One more thing we needed for an open web.
somewhereoveryonda 20th May 2010, 15:42 Quote
This had to happen sometime!
HourBeforeDawn 20th May 2010, 20:32 Quote
but how is the overhead? is it less then H.264? so that even net books wont have issues with playback? will there be GPU processing support for it? I mean I would like to know more then just that its open source.
SinnerG 21st May 2010, 00:27 Quote
Google annoys me sometimes with their manner of forcing a "standard" onto people by opensourcing it.
ch424 21st May 2010, 00:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by HourBeforeDawn
but how is the overhead? is it less then H.264? so that even net books wont have issues with playback? will there be GPU processing support for it?

Low, yes, yes and yes.
barndoor101 21st May 2010, 00:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SinnerG
Google annoys me sometimes with their manner of forcing a "standard" onto people by opensourcing it.

nobody is being forced to use it. but when you have a choice between an open-source product, and one that will bend you over in the near future, which would you rather have?
chrisb2e9 21st May 2010, 01:02 Quote
exactly, if there is a good standard and its free, then it looks like a win win for the consumer.
general22 21st May 2010, 09:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SinnerG
Google annoys me sometimes with their manner of forcing a "standard" onto people by opensourcing it.

I don't see where anybody is being forced to do anything. Anyway this is good news and at least with google behind the codec there is enough legal muscle to protect it from patent troll lawsuits in the future.
HourBeforeDawn 21st May 2010, 09:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ch424
Low, yes, yes and yes.

really? then ya Im all for it. :)
Elledan 21st May 2010, 17:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by StoneyMahoney
The patent pool held by the MPEG-LA is so far-reaching that some of it's members to claim no-one can make a commercial video codec anymore without violating some of their IP. That would seem to indicate the purpose of the MPEG-LA pool is not only to protect H.264 and it's licensing terms, but also to form a global monopoly on *all* video encoding.

On the other hand, this could very well be ill-informed FUD with no legal basis, tested or otherwise, as they haven't mentioned which patents they're talking about. On2 also had it's own patent pool covering it's VP codecs, and (considering how old video encoding is) it's likely there is considerable prior art, throwing additional doubt on how valid the more fundamental patents in this argument actually are.

MPEG-LA just announced it's assembling a patent pool for use against VP8. Didn't take them very long. I seem to recall mentioning this happening in my recent interviews with The Register and such on Wild Fox.

I guess it just underlines as you state that these patents are so far-reaching that there can be no 'free' codec, and that it's only a matter of time before Theora gets whacked upside down as well.
steveo_mcg 21st May 2010, 17:15 Quote
Whilst there might be dubious patents that could affect WebM the question becomes do the patent trolls have the funds to go against google? I doubt it, look at what they did to blue destiny records
barndoor101 21st May 2010, 17:26 Quote
the answer is obvious. tactical nuke patent trolls.
TWeaK 21st May 2010, 19:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SinnerG
Google annoys me sometimes with their manner of forcing a "standard" onto people by opensourcing it.

Whether they're forcing people into it or not, having a widely adobted open source standard is a good thing. By being open source, any problems or potential optimisations will more than likely quickly be spotted and dealt with. The fact that Google's behind it doesn't generate them any extra revenue, only good publicity.
Shagbag 22nd May 2010, 11:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elledan
MPEG-LA just announced it's assembling a patent pool for use against VP8.
this is just FUD by the MPEG-LA. Google paid 125m to get VP8. Does anyone really think they didn't do their homework beforehand? The MPEG-LA have just come proved they are full of ****.
Elledan 22nd May 2010, 14:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shagbag
this is just FUD by the MPEG-LA. Google paid 125m to get VP8. Does anyone really think they didn't do their homework beforehand? The MPEG-LA have just come proved they are full of ****.

MPEG-LA is formed by some of the biggest and most influential companies in software and hardware markets. I'm fairly sure they are not the ones who will make FUD statements and not back them up.

Notice how Google didn't indemnify VP8 users, or even claim VP8 was patent-free? It was also found from looking at the VP8 source that it had striking similarities with H.264, making it a prime target for patents in possession by the MPEG-LA patent pool.
SinnerG 23rd May 2010, 00:04 Quote
I wasn't dissing google for being pushy, what I was kind of getting at was that the discussion for supported codec for html5 was still up in the air and to push the issue google pushed vp8/webm out there.

Well, after having a look at some sample between a 2Mbit H.264 and a VP8 I am really impressed. The H.264 sample was patchy/blocky compared to the smooth VP8 encoding. Although I did sense alot of smoothing was happening with VP8, the final result was so much easier on the eyes, especially at those bitrates. Given a "normal" H.264 bitrate for home media of around 8Mbit I am dying to see a VP8 HD movie.

I'm game for playing with this. Can anyone suggest a good directshow-based trancoding tool? I've installed the webm codecs and my normal array of tools are all loaded with their own codecs.
SinnerG 23rd May 2010, 00:05 Quote
Oh, and I'm game for anything that gets rid of flash movies. :D
SinnerG 23rd May 2010, 00:10 Quote
Toonook 24th May 2010, 13:55 Quote
So no flash soon then?? Good news if it is . I use my iPod touch so much and flash is a pain in the a**
Shagbag 24th May 2010, 18:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elledan
MPEG-LA is formed by some of the biggest and most influential companies in software and hardware markets. I'm fairly sure they are not the ones who will make FUD statements and not back them up.
One of those companies is Microsoft. Microsoft is the master of FUD - indeed they created the whole industry of dissing your competitors without any substance. They've been FUDing Linux for years now and this latest (h.264) brain damage is no different. MS have been wailing about how linux 'violates their patents', yet they've consistently failed to identify which patents they're talking about. People got so sick of hearing this crap from MS that it largely goes ignored. Canonical and Red Hat have both given MS the two fingers and said 'sue us' and yet MS hasn't done anything about it.

It's the same old FUD, just a different target.

Who says the MPEG-LA's 'patents' are valid in the first place? As SCO have learned the hard way (and no prizes for guessing who bankrolled SCO's claim again UNIX) claiming something violates your patents and having a Court uphold that claim are two entirely different things. Or in other words (to quote the maxim): substance talks, bullshit walks.

I expect the MPEG-LA will continue to trot out this 'patent violation' drivel in ever increasing desperate attempts to stop developers going with VP8. They tried to do it with Ogg Theora but now, all of a sudden, Google announces VP8 and Jobs and co are, like, 'oh noes, our Ogg Theora FUD is useless now, weez got to goes after VP8 because its free and everyone will use it because they don't have to pay us royalties'.
Quote:
Notice how Google didn't indemnify VP8 users, or even claim VP8 was patent-free?
So bloody what. Do you think they should indemnify every man and his dog who decides to use it? That's ridiculous and no one would ever do it. And Google is on record as stating they are very confident VP8 is patent free.
Quote:
It was also found from looking at the VP8 source that it had striking similarities with H.264, making it a prime target for patents in possession by the MPEG-LA patent pool
Good point. Maybe Google should be going after MPEG-LA for violation of VP8's patents. In fact, maybe we should all be shouting from the rooftops that both VP8 and MPEG-LA violate some patent that we've never disclosed save to claim that we have actually got one. "Look here. I've got this 'patent pool' that I'm not going to be anymore specific about but I'm going to try and convince you and any gullible bystander that my claims have some substance without actually explaining why"

Don't get me wrong, Elledan, I'm not being personal. It's just that I see this bullshit from industry players time and time again and people fall for it, time and time again. People also fail to appreciate the biggest 'F**k Off' fact of them all: software patents don't exist outside of the US. So all this bollocks is about some turf war going on in the US. Let them sort it out - and their shitty patent system - by themselves.

We should not be being used as a mouthpiece for patent trolls to spread their FUD.
Elledan 24th May 2010, 20:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shagbag

Don't get me wrong, Elledan, I'm not being personal. It's just that I see this bullshit from industry players time and time again and people fall for it, time and time again. People also fail to appreciate the biggest 'F**k Off' fact of them all: software patents don't exist outside of the US. So all this bollocks is about some turf war going on in the US. Let them sort it out - and their shitty patent system - by themselves.

We should not be being used as a mouthpiece for patent trolls to spread their FUD.

Oh, I completely agree :) I didn't start the Wild Fox project for no good reason :D
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