HTML 5 drops open-source video codec

Summary:The next version of the web-coding language will specify neither H.264 nor Ogg Theora as its native video codec, due to a lack of agreement between browser makers

HTML 5 will no longer specify Ogg Theora as its video codec, the Google employee who maintains the burgeoning web-coding standard has announced.

Ian Hickson wrote on Monday that he was reluctantly dropping the open standard due to opposition from Apple, and said the rival H.264 codec could also not be specified due to opposition from other browser vendors. This means HTML 5 will not specify a single codec for web development.

One of the key features of HTML 5 is its native handling of rich media such as video and audio through the <video> and <audio> tags, which mean web developers do not have to rely on proprietary products such as Adobe's Flash or Microsoft's Silverlight.

However, "there is no suitable codec that all vendors are willing to implement and ship", Hickson wrote on the website of the Web Hypertext Application Technology (WHAT) Working Group, the coalition of companies working to develop HTML 5.

"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 wrote.

Hickson said that Apple will not implement Ogg Theora for Quicktime video due to "lack of hardware support and an uncertain patent landscape", although he acknowledged that he may have oversimplified the situation in that assessment. ZDNet UK has approached Apple for confirmation and clarification of this, but had not received an answer at the time of writing.

Google has implemented both H.264 and Ogg Theora in Chrome. However, Google cannot provide the H.264 codec license to third-party distributors of Chromium, the Linux version of Chrome, and has indicated a belief that Ogg Theora's quality-per-bit is not yet suitable for the volume handled by YouTube, according to Hickson.

Opera and Mozilla — the latter of whom has built Ogg Theora support into its recently released Firefox 3.5 — will not implement H.264 due to patent and licensing issues, and Microsoft has "not commented on their intent to support <video> at all", Hickson wrote.

Hickson suggested two future scenarios: one where Ogg Theora support and use increases to the point where Apple's concern regarding patents is reduced, in which case Theora becomes the de facto codec for the web; and one where the relevant H.264 patents expire and that standard becomes freely available, in which case H.264 becomes the de facto technology.

"The situation for audio codecs is similar, but less critical, as there are more formats," Hickson wrote. "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. I will revisit this particular topic in the future when common codecs emerge."

Hickson noted in his post that he was "incredibly sorry" about the state of video codecs in HTML 5. "This is a terrible situation for the spec to be in," he wrote. "I wish we had good answers instead of this quagmirish deadlock."

Topics: Software, Networking

About

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

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