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MPEG LA to offer free H.264 licences

MPEG LA to offer free H.264 licences

The removal of the deadline means H.264 is free for use in video streaming services forever.

The MPEG Licensing Authority - the group behind regulation of the popular H.264 video codec - has responding to the growing popularity of Google's rival WebM codec - by making H.264 free, forever.

In a surprise announcement, the MPEG LA stated that the licence for "Internet Broadcast AVC Video" - in other words, the use of H.264 to stream video over the Internet - would remain free to end users. It's also free for anyone to implement on a site so long as the service that provides is a free one.

Such usage of H.264 has been free since the codec's inception, but there was always a deadline in place of 2016 - after which, the MPEG LA had hoped, H.264 would be the clear and dominant standard, and a charge could be levied that no one would dare not pay for fear of being excluded from the video streaming party.

It was a strategy that could have netted the Authority a great deal of money, but it's clear that the group believes the threat from the open-source - free-as-in-speech as well as free-as-in-beer - WebM codec released by Google is great enough to sweeten the deal with a guaranteed free licence for video streaming sites.

The news will be a shot in the arm for the use of the technology as an alternative to Adobe Flash for video streaming, but restrictions in the distribution of the codec will make it difficult to adopt for many software developers - meaning that H.264 support is unlikely to appear as standard in Firefox and other open-source browsers.

The MPEG LA isn't giving up on its profit projections just yet, of course: the use of H.264 in set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, personal media players and smartphones will still require a paid-for licence from the group.

Are you pleased to see that the MPEG LA's deadline is a thing of the past, or are there still too many restrictions to make H.264 the obvious choice above alternatives like WebM? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

17 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
hexx 27th August 2010, 10:48 Quote
this is great news, nothing against WebM apart from the fact there could be problems in the future as we know there are bits and pieces in VP8 and WebM which have been copied directly from h264.
stonedsurd 27th August 2010, 10:50 Quote
URL goes to the wrong page.
yakyb 27th August 2010, 11:08 Quote
i was going to write great news but to be honest, it doesnt effect us really

we only need to make sure we support them all

and if you are creating vids, just use which ever free tool you want
aradreth 27th August 2010, 11:28 Quote
Technically youtube and most other sites still may not be able to use it without paying as they carry adverts so it will still be a legal quagmire in the US.
Quote:
Originally Posted by hexx
this is great news, nothing against WebM apart from the fact there could be problems in the future as we know there are bits and pieces in VP8 and WebM which have been copied directly from h264.
Where exactly did you get that from? Either provide a reliable source or stop with the FUD.
eddtox 27th August 2010, 11:56 Quote
TBH, this is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to try to stem WebM's increase in popularity. I really don't see why anyone would choose to build their long-term strategy around h.264 over WebM/VP8.

Video is a hugely important phenomenon in our culture and having a standard which is free and open source lowers the barrier to entry and allows organizations to actively contribute and influence its development.

For the cost of licensing h.264, a company can just hire a programmer to contribute to WebM and implement/improve feature x that they really need/want. As time goes by h.264 will struggle to compete in that sort of environment.

Of course, that's only if MPEG LA doesn't put them out of business through the court system.
Arkanrais 27th August 2010, 11:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by aradreth
Technically youtube and most other sites still may not be able to use it without paying as they carry adverts so it will still be a legal quagmire in the US.

I beleive they meant sites that require the user to pay for its use (subscription sites etc), or else damn near every site could be ruled out for haing advertising on their pages.
aradreth 27th August 2010, 12:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Arkanrais
I beleive they meant sites that require the user to pay for its use (subscription sites etc), or else damn near every site could be ruled out for having advertising on their pages.
Opps skimmed over the article and missed the bit about the end user paying a subscription.

Anyway it doesn't matter as Mozilla and Opera have said they wont implement it and everyone but apple is providing a method for WebM.
aradreth 27th August 2010, 12:40 Quote
Sorry double post.

Oh and the link in the first post points to the wrong piece of news. :p
hexx 27th August 2010, 13:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by aradreth
Where exactly did you get that from? Either provide a reliable source or stop with the FUD.

wtf??? it's been out in news when google released first info about WebM, do research on your own FFS!!!
hexx 27th August 2010, 13:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by hexx
Quote:
Originally Posted by aradreth
Where exactly did you get that from? Either provide a reliable source or stop with the FUD.

wtf??? it's been out in news when google released first info about WebM, do research on your own FFS!!!

for you: http://x264dev.multimedia.cx/?p=377

summary:

VP8, as a spec, should be a bit better than H.264 Baseline Profile and VC-1. It’s not even close to competitive with H.264 Main or High Profile. If Google is willing to revise the spec, this can probably be improved.

VP8, as an encoder, is somewhere between Xvid and Microsoft’s VC-1 in terms of visual quality. This can definitely be improved a lot.

VP8, as a decoder, decodes even slower than ffmpeg’s H.264. This probably can’t be improved that much; VP8 as a whole is similar in complexity to H.264.

With regard to patents, VP8 copies too much from H.264 for comfort, no matter whose word is behind the claim of being patent-free. This doesn’t mean that it’s sure to be covered by patents, but until Google can give us evidence as to why it isn’t, I would be cautious.

VP8 is definitely better compression-wise than Theora and Dirac, so if its claim to being patent-free does stand up, it’s a big upgrade with regard to patent-free video formats.

VP8 is not ready for prime-time; the spec is a pile of copy-pasted C code and the encoder’s interface is lacking in features and buggy. They aren’t even ready to finalize the bitstream format, let alone switch the world over to VP8.

With the lack of a real spec, the VP8 software basically is the spec–and with the spec being “final”, any bugs are now set in stone. Such bugs have already been found and Google has rejected fixes.

Google made the right decision to pick Matroska and Vorbis for its HTML5 video proposal
hexx 27th August 2010, 13:22 Quote
...and from wiki - it's even there:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebM#Licensing
sear 27th August 2010, 14:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by eddtox
TBH, this is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to try to stem WebM's increase in popularity. I really don't see why anyone would choose to build their long-term strategy around h.264 over WebM/VP8.

Video is a hugely important phenomenon in our culture and having a standard which is free and open source lowers the barrier to entry and allows organizations to actively contribute and influence its development.
Large corporations don't like it, and large corporations control the ebb and flow of technological development. I don't see why a lower barrier for entry is a good thing for them - it just means more competition for people who already have enough competitors and want to dominate the market. You can preach "for the betterment of mankind" to them all you like, but that's not going to help much unless you demonstrate it converts directly into cash.
CharlO 27th August 2010, 15:29 Quote
This is poinless, netflix still won't have to pay for webM, and they won't own your work as if you edit it with h.264. Seriously, the standard and is's regulation sucks.

It's only based on the ignorance of people and the fact that they won't read the Windos/Mac MovieMaker EULA and accept to pay and give rights over they're own intelectual creation to a company who has nothing to do with it.
amacieli 27th August 2010, 18:23 Quote
Who cares? In 5 years' time, there'll be the next codec, H.265 or whatever, causing further waves of fanboys to ask incessantly about whether or not XYZ supports it and anything that doesn't is "phail".
LooseNeutral 28th August 2010, 09:08 Quote
Free-as-in-beer? Who's got free beer? I'd like to stream some of that with a nice movie. As far as the topic, Time will tell. Other compression formats will surely rise with growing computing power. Don't make the public angry and turn against you. If you do, you're in real trouble! Ask MS about the mob rule factor. Intel's in the cross hairs. Apple better be careful. Everybody wants to rule the world. I'd just like some free beer and a movie
Chimel 28th August 2010, 18:35 Quote
The idea that someone can license a software standard goes beyond comprehension and common sense.
If you make H.264 a standard for blu-ray, you can't at the same time ask millions of users to pay for it.
MPEG LA is just a crook company. Imagine if TCP/IP, HTML and pixel display on monitors were turned into paying licenses?
Cthippo 29th August 2010, 00:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chimel
The idea that someone can license a software standard goes beyond comprehension and common sense.
If you make H.264 a standard for blu-ray, you can't at the same time ask millions of users to pay for it.
MPEG LA is just a crook company. Imagine if TCP/IP, HTML and pixel display on monitors were turned into paying licenses?

You remember when MS wa trying to patent the double click? IF they thought they could get away with it, they would.

The fact that MPEG LA is going this route rather than taking legal action on the basis of patent issues tells me that they don't think their arguments will hold up in court. Making the codec free to use will potentially cost them money in the long run, and once they make a commitment to keeping it free it would be really hard to change their minds on it. 2016 is still a long ways off and so if they took the legal route and lost they could still go the free route .

I think history will record this as being a really really bad decision. They're creating an incentive for the people who actually pay to use their product to go to the competition, and that competition more and more looks to have wider acceptance in upcoming browsers.
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