Native Video and Audio dropped from HTML 5 spec

Written by Tim Smalley

July 6, 2009 // 4:18 p.m.

Tags: #consortium #hickson #html5 #ian #specification #w3c #web #wide #world

Despite efforts from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organisation for the World Wide Web, it's looking like HTML 5 will not specify a video and audio codec in the specification for using with the new <video> and <audio> tags.

"There is no suitable codec that all vendors are willing to implement and ship," wrote Ian Hickson, Editor of the HTML 5 specification for W3C, in an email.

The original draft specification for HTML 5 included <video> and <audio> tags that would enable browsers to natively support this content without needing to install separate plug-ins. Unfortunately though, the major browser makers have not agreed on which codecs should be supported by the new HTML spec.

The only decision, then, was for W3C to drop the feature. "I have therefore removed the two subsections in the HTML 5 spec in which codecs would have been required, and have instead left the matter undefined, as has in the past been done with other features like <img> and
image formats, <embed> and plugin APIs, or Web fonts and font formats,
" Hickson continued.

The disagreement is over the use of the open source Ogg Vorbis codec for audio and Ogg Theora for video, which are both license-free unlike the MP3 and H.264 formats also under consideration.

Hickson outlined why each of the major browser vendors won't implement common video and audio codecs in their browsers. Apple refuses to back Ogg Theora in QuickTime because of a "lack of hardware support and an uncertain patent landscape," while Mozilla and Opera refuse to implement H.264 because of the "obscene" licensing costs.

Google has implemented both codecs into Chrome, but said it "cannot provide the H.264 codec license to third-party distributors of Chromium" and that "Ogg Theora's quality-per-bit is not yet suitable for the volume handled by YouTube," which currently uses the H.264 codec.

Finally, Microsoft is yet to outline its intentions to support the <video> tag in Internet Explorer.

"I considered requiring Ogg Theora support in the spec, since we do have three implementations that are willing to implement it, but it wouldn't help get us true interoperability, since the people who are willing to implement it are willing to do so regardless of the spec, and the people who aren't are not going to be swayed by what the spec says," Hickson added. "[That] seems like a bad precedent to set. . . . there's not much point having the spec require [Ogg Theora] if it's not going to be followed by everyone."

As for audio codecs, the situation "is similar, but less critical," said Hickson. "Since audio has a much lower profile than video, I propose to observe the audio feature and see if any common codecs surface, instead of specifically requiring any."

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