​Good-bye Flash, hello VP9

The newly formed Alliance for Open Media hasn't officially announced that they see VP9 as the next-generation media format, but sources indicate that will be the case.

We all know that Adobe Flash is a hot, bug-ridden mess. If you've been following the video codec business, you'll know that HEVC Advance, a patent pool, wants 0.5-percent of content distributors' gross revenue for using HEVC Video. In other words, they want 0.5 percent of Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, and all other HDTV and 4K content distributor's revenue.

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That's gone over well.

For the Internet companies, who've been annoyed at the MPEG-LA video patent fees for ages, this was the last straw. Seven leading Internet companies today announced formation of the Alliance for Open Media. This open-source project will develop next-generation media formats, codecs and streaming technologies. The Alliance's founding members are Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Netflix.

Although they've battled each other with proprietary video formats for years, these companies are ready to quit fighting with each other. They're also sick and tired of cleaning up one Adobe Flash security problem after another.

The new Alliance is working together to create top-quality video, audio, imagery and streaming technologies that will work across devices of all kinds .

The Alliance's initial focus is to deliver a next-generation video format that is:

  • Interoperable and open;
  • Optimized for the web;
  • Scalable to any modern device at any bandwidth;
  • Designed with a low computational footprint and optimized for hardware;
  • Capable of consistent, highest-quality, real-time video delivery; and
  • Flexible for both commercial and non-commercial content, including user-generated content.

This initial project will create a new, open royalty-free video codec specification. This will be based on the contributions of members, along with binding specifications for media format, content encryption and adaptive streaming.

While the Alliance isn't saying on the record what this new codec will be based on, sources close to the Alliance say that Google's VP9 will be its foundation. VP9 is already being rolled out on YouTube.

A big hint that VP9 is the Alliance's codec of choice is that in a Microsoft Edge browser development site, the open-source VP9 codec is now listed as being in development for Edge. In addition, other developer resources show that Microsoft plans on supporting the open-source Vorbis, Opus, and WebM.

Jonathan Rosenberg, CTO of Cisco Collaboration Technology Group, added in a statement, "We have been very vocal about our desire to deliver a royalty-free codec and we believe that joining the forces of the designers of the Daala, Thor, and VPx codecs in [the Alliance] will multiply our collective efforts to deliver next-generation media codecs, formats and technologies."

The goal of the Alliance, said Gabe Frost, the Alliance for Open Media's Executive Director, is to bring together "the leading experts in the entire video stack to work together in pursuit of open, royalty-free and interoperable solutions for the next generation of video delivery."

"The Alliance," said David Bryant's Mozilla's VP of Platform Engineering, "will operate under W3C patent rules and release code under an Apache 2.0 license. This means all Alliance participants are waiving royalties both for the codec implementation and for any patents on the codec itself.'

Christopher "Monty" Montgomery, creator of the open-source Ogg media container and Vorbis audio container and founder of Xiph.Org, which promotes public domain multimedia codecs, believes in the Alliance. Rather than detracting from the IETF's NETVC codec effort, he blogged, the Alliance won't be a competitor but "something quite different and complementary."

Of course, not everyone is on board. Besides the video patent holders, Apple, Adobe, Facebook, and Hulu haven't joined. They're welcome to join. Bryant said, "The initial members are just a start. We invite anyone with an interest in video, online or off, to join us."

Still, this alliance of powerhouse companies is the best news for a free,open-source video codec in years.

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