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05.20.10

Techrights Welcomes Google’s WebM/VP8 Push

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 10:40 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Victory under water

Summary: Google does the right thing when it comes to codecs; it already converts vast amounts of video and it is going to defend free codecs from software patents, which in turn would possibly eradicate Flash and Silver Lie (if all goes according to plan)

YESTERDAY we alluded to the exciting news from Google [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] and presented the FFII's response, which was mostly enthusiastic.

Google’s VP8 is not perfect (no codec can be perfect), but it works decently and it shall be Free software to be supported by the major Web browsers, apparently even Microsoft’s (“Don’t forget that Microsoft basically does not have an option,” Oiaohm remarks about the news). Here is the “first in-depth technical analysis of VP8″ (it is the author’s claim that it’s the first). In conclusion it says:

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, but not via conventional means.

VP8, as a decoder, decodes even slower than ffmpeg’s H.264. This probably can’t be improved that much.

Patents are the issue many Web sites are discussing right now. These are of course software patents, mostly mathematical (compression, matrices, etc.) and Google might be addressing the issue by buying Global IP Solutions and eying the VoIP market (watch out, Skype).

According to this Web site, “Zencoder Excited About Open Source VP8″ and Theora’s founder thinks that it’s “wonderful”.

“This is great news,” said Christopher “Monty” Montgomery, founder of the Xiph.org Foundation, when I reached him by phone right after the announcement. Montgomery is spearheading the development of Ogg Theora and is a Theora developer himself, but he called VP8 going open source “absolutely wonderful” and sounded honestly stoked about the initiative. Montgomery did mention that Google didn’t make too much of an effort to reach out to open source developers ahead of the official announcement. He was notified of the development, but many others weren’t. “We have to see how it’s going to play out in the open source community,” he told me, adding that it will be a while until VP8 will really have an impact.

Guess who is still standing in the way? Flash’s co-creator.

However, Gay is skeptical that Google’s plans to open-source its VP8 video codec will be able to fundamentally change this situation, cautioning that it may be impossible to build open-source codecs that don’t infringe on someone’s patents.

Here we go. The “P” word again. Microsoft, Nokia, and Apple love bringing that one up, as we mentioned in:

Flash’s co-creator (or Adobe) is worried about VP8 because it complements HTML5 and may ultimately send Flash back to the dark ages. Silver Lie too is already suffering. TechCrunch‘s new headline states that “Netflix Is The Latest To Talk The HTML5 Talk”

As we all know, the battle between Flash and HTML5 for the future of online video is raging. But what about that other plugin some sites use for video? You know, the one made by Microsoft — Silverlight? A new posting tonight may call that platform’s future in video into question as well. Because arguably their most important client is looking to jump on the HTML5 video bandwagon: Netflix.

That’s excellent news. Will they use Ogg Theora? VP8? Hopefully not H.264, which would potentially put a form of tax on GNU/Linux [1, 2].

Google’s Tim Bray wrote about video publishing just days before Google’s anticipated announcement (people already knew that it was coming) and the press characterises Google’s move as a “gift” [1, 2] (even if it’s a self-serving one).

It is probably safe to say that the winners here are Google and the public, whereas the losers are companies like Nokia, Apple, and Microsoft. It’s a sad day for software patents maximalists and a wonderful day for the rest.

Google’s new codec could become the lingua franca of video on the web. From there it could influence all manner of gadgets connected to the web and render the polyglot of codecs antiquated. I would not be surprised if it became popular on CDs as well. What conserves bandwidth on the web can also save space on hard drives and CDs.

Electronista says that “WebM’s royalty-free HTML5 video raises patent issues” and Florian Müller argues that “The risk concerning WebM isn’t a matter of Google’s own patents. What about third-party patents?”

Red Hat’s Wildeboer responds to this pessimism by saying: “we should adopt webM and adopt it everywhere. Don’t be afraid of patent threats.”

“Google backs open codec against patent trolls,” heralds The Register.

Google is “very confident” that the newly open-sourced VP8 video codec will stand up to the sort of patent attack Steve Jobs warned of when he defended Apple’s decision to shun VP8′s predecessor, the open-source Ogg Theora.

[...]

In a private email, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs even went so far as to say that unnamed forces were putting together a patent pool to “go after” Ogg Theora. Today, when The Reg asked if VP8 was vulnerable to patent attack, Google product manager Mike Jazayeri indicated this isn’t a big concern for the company.

“We have done a pretty through analysis of VP8 and On2 Technologies prior to the acquisition and since then, and we are very confident with the technology and that’s why we’re open sourcing,” he said.

But wait. It gets better. A week or two ago, ARM complained that Flash was standing in the way of delivering sub-notebooks with GNU/Linux to the market. Watch this new report from the EE Times:

Chip makers back Google’s open source codec

A handful of mobile chip makers–including ARM, MIPS, Nvidia and Texas Instruments–said they will support Google’s move to establish V8, a video codec it acquired with On2 Technologies in August.

Google announced at its annual Google I/O event in San Francisco it will make the V8 codec available as open source code with a royalty free license as part of a new WebM project. Google said it will pair V8 with the Vorbis open source audio codec and support the two in its Chrome browser and YouTube service. Browser makers Mozilla and Opera also said they will support the codecs.

This would obviously help Google sell tablets, sub-notebooks, and other form factors with ARM/MIPS chips and Android/Chrome OS on them. So again, Google is acting to advance its own interests, but GNU and Linux may benefit as well.

As we pointed out in the latest news summary, Mozilla has reasons to be happy and to be sad about Google. On the one hand, Google threatens Firefox in more ways than it helps Firefox (competition), but on the other hand, Google is a vital source of income to Mozilla and it now removes a patents barrier that recently led to this Firefox fork which we wrote about in [1, 2]. If many parties commit to VP8, then Mozilla will no longer need to worry about codecs. Neither will GNU/Linux distributors.

“If you want to accomplish something in the world, idealism is not enough–you need to choose a method that works to achieve the goal. In other words, you need to be “pragmatic.””

Richard Stallman

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