Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

Summary: Google explains more about its logic in supporting WebM and Ogg Theora codecs for the HTML5 video tag over H.264, but the Web video standard battle will only continue.

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A few hundred words from Google Product Manager Mike Jazayeri announcing that Google would be supporting WebM and Ogg Theroa instead of the H.264 video codec in Google Chrome for the HTML5 video tag has lead to enormous controversy in browser and video circles. Now, Google has explained in more detail what's its trying to do, and ends up defining the sides in the HTML5 video fight.

In his latest post, Jazayeri said that the prior "announcement was solely related to the HTML "Video" tag, which is part of the emerging set of standards commonly referred to as "HTML5." We believe there is great promise in the tag and want to see it succeed. As it stands, the organizations involved in defining the HTML video standard are at an impasse. There is no agreement on which video codec should be the baseline standard. Firefox and Opera support the open WebM and Ogg Theora codecs and will not support H.264 due to its licensing requirements; Safari and IE9 support H.264. With this status quo, all publishers and developers using the tag will be forced to support multiple formats."

This last point has been ignored by some critics who say that "H.264 is what we need." While Jazayeri acknowledges "that H.264 has broader support in the publisher, developer, and hardware community today (though support across the ecosystem for WebM is growing rapidly). However, as stated above, there will not be agreement to make it the baseline in the HTML video standard due to its licensing requirements."

Jazayeri continues, "To use and distribute H.264, browser and OS vendors, hardware manufacturers, and publishers who charge for content must pay significant royalties-with no guarantee the fees won't increase in the future. To companies like Google, the license fees may not be material, but to the next great video startup and those in emerging markets these fees stifle innovation."

The patent pool company that controls H.264's patents, MPEG Licensing Authority's (MPEG LA), members include Apple and Microsoft. The company, which has been sued by the German software company Nero on anti-trust grounds is accused by Nero of using its patent power "to willfully maintain or extend its monopolies for years beyond their natural expiration ... and administer its licenses in an unfair, unreasonable, and discriminatory manner that stifles competition and innovation, and harms consumers."

Garrard Beeney, a Sullivan & Cromwell attorney representing MPEG LA, replied to this claim that "I think we're looking it as a typical response by a company that has not abided by the terms of the license they've taken."

Page 2: [H.264 Distrust: Beyond the Lawsuit] »

H.264 Distrust: Beyond the Lawsuit

Regardless of who's right or wrong in this case or how it will turn out in court, the Nero litigation is an example of the distrust that many companies and open-source organizations have towards MPEG LA and how it manages its patents and their licenses.

In addition, while MPEG LA has announced that it will not collect royalties for Internet video, specifically Internet Broadcast AVC Video, that is free to end users until at least 1 January, 2016. But MEPL LA can, and does, charge licensing fees for software and hardware H.264 encoders, decoders, and streaming of paid video content.

That may seem a long way away, but at least one patent in the MPEG LA pool will not expire until 2028, and more patents are being added to the pool (PowerPoint Link). For companies, who are not members of the MPEG LA group, fees can currently range up to $6.5 million a year with 25% at each renewal for similar license grants (PDF Link). As members of this pool, Apple and Microsoft, which support H.264, don't have to pay these fees.

Jazayeri explains though that Google is taking its stance not just because of "the license fees; an even more important consideration is the pace of innovation and what incentives drive development. No community development process is perfect, but it's generally the case that the community-driven development of the core web platform components is done with user experience, security and performance in mind. When technology decisions are clouded by conflicting incentives to collect patent royalties, the priorities and outcome are less clear and the process tends to take a lot longer. This is not good for the long term health of Web video."

Google's decision to support open standard video formats also doesn't mean that it will be blocking H.264. Jazayeri said, "H.264 plays an important role in video and the vast majority of the H.264 videos on the web today are viewed in plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. These plug-ins are and will continue to be supported in Chrome. Our announcement was only related to the tag, which is part of the emerging HTML platform."

Nor, is Google trying to force its own WebM format down the throat of developers or users. Jazayeri continued, "Google views its role like any other community member and has no desire or intent to control the WebM format. Our goal is to see the HTML tag become a first-class video platform. As with many other web platform efforts, we expect the majority of organizations and individuals contributing to WebM won't be affiliated with Google or any single entity."

The Google manager acknowledges though that publishers may need to create multiple copies of their videos. But, there's nothing new about that. "Remember, Firefox and Opera have never supported H.264 due to its licensing requirements, they both support WebM and Ogg Theora. Therefore, unless publishers and developers using the HTML tag don't plan to support the large portion of the desktop and mobile web that use these browsers, they will have to support a format other than H.264 anyway (which is why we are working to establish a baseline codec for HTML video)."

What if Microsoft and Apple don't support WebM in their Web browsers, Internet Explorer and Safari? Jazayeri added a postscript to his blog saying that "Safari and IE9 plug-ins to be released by the WebM Project Team enable WebM playback via the HTML standard tag."

So, the battle over video standards seems destined to continue. On one side, there will be Google with Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, and Opera Software's Opera. On the other, there will be Microsoft with Internet Explorer and Apple with Safari supporting H.264.

Don't expect the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) to sort the tag problem out. Philippe Le Hégaret, the W3C's Interaction Domain Leader and thus the lead on HTML5, tells me that no video format has been chosen for the HTML5's video tag. I strongly support the goal of a single Royalty-Free (RF) code for HTML5. I don't yet know how we'll get there, whether H.264 patent holders choose to license it, or WebM is standardized under RF terms, or some other scenario. Participants in W3C's HTML Working Group have all made RF commitments for that specification. W3C invites those with IPR [intellectual property rights] claims around video codecs to follow-suit, and to build broad industry support at W3C for a single RF codec for the Web."

There seems to be little chance of that though. While Google seems to intend to make WebM royalty-free, the MPEG LA has shown no interest in making H.264 RF. Even if both did become RF, getting the two sides to agree on a single Web video standard codec seems about as distance a possibility as it was when video started appearing on the Web. The Web video fights are certain to continue on for years to come.

Topics: Software Development, Browser, Google

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39 comments
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  • Jazayeri spins the RDF as good as Jobs.

    <i>"Google?s decision to support open standard video formats also doesn?t mean that it will be blocking H.264."</i>

    For those that want to know, h.264 is a defined ISO open standard. WebM is just Open and not a defined standard yet.

    Open != Open Source != Free.
    Bruizer
    • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

      @Bruizer ISO != open. It's just means that it's an ISO-approved standard such as the ever so not open OpenXML.

      Of the two, WebM, for the moment, appears to be the more open of the two. We'll see what Google does with it as time goes on.

      Steven
      sjvn
      • More open???

        @sjvn@...

        The format is either open or not. h.264 is a dully open and documented format.

        WebM is open source but lack a good standards body control. Serious weak spot for anyone wanting to support it.
        Bruizer
      • Members still have to pay

        @sjvn@...

        They don't get a free ride. They may or may not get more money back than they put in. That is how patent pools work. So many issues with this article it is not funny.
        Bruizer
      • Why do people keep propagating wrong info

        @sjvn@...

        #1- WebM is not a video format. WebM is a CONTAINER, a glorified zip for video. It is not even a product of Google because it is in fact a ripoff (fork if you prefer) of Matroska (MKV).

        #2- V8, the actual video codec format, is a 100% proprietary format (not a standard) that is not immune to patents. Google got some when it acquired On2 Tech ... but there is a possibility that Sony may own part of them too.

        I'm not against WebM. But I don't see how switching from an certified ISO to a proprietary video format is an improvement.
        wackoae
      • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

        @sjvn@...
        A couple of poorly informed respondents to your response.

        Better include Microsoft in with Google here. They have announced that WebM will be native in IE9. Apple is the only remaining holdout.

        Forget about H.264 ever becoming a W3C standard. The W3C has a strict policy of avoiding all encumbered products. This means that H.264 would need to be offered royalty free to both users and creators for a non-expiring term. The best that the Hollywood MPAA, Apple and Microsoft could get was a tag that would let the browser redirect. A native tag would beat that all the way around.

        The rest of the issues being brought up all around the Web are just related to the fact that WebM isn't quite finished yet.
        YetAnotherBob
  • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

    It is difficult for me to take this post seriously.<br><br>As far as I can tell, the lawsuit against MPEG LA was dismissed twice, the second time with prejudice. Not surprisingly these were both under reported.<br><br>"As members of this pool, Apple and Microsoft, which support H.264, dont have to pay these fees." Source? This looks like an outright fabrication.<br><br>There are plenty of reasons to argue for WebM/VP8 and against H.264, but do it honestly.

    Edit: Changed H.263 to H.264 in my last sentence.
    Rich Miles
    • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

      @azzlsoft Perhaps you're not aware that the suit s being refiled. As for the payment situation, that's what patent pool companies do. They set up licensing programs, collect license fees, and distribute the proceeds to their members.

      Steven
      sjvn
      • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

        @sjvn@... I am definitely not aware of that. And I can't find any reference to it. Typically, when a court dismisses a lawsuit "with prejudice" they can't refile.

        Yes, the fees go to the members. But that does not mean they don't have to license the patents if they make products using them. There is a big difference.
        Rich Miles
      • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

        @sjvn@... <br><br>"I am definitely not aware of that. And I can't find any reference to it. Typically, when a court dismisses a lawsuit "with prejudice" they can't refile.<br>---------------------<br><i>Court Dismisses Nero's Antitrust Claim Against MPEG LA" <br>The US District Court for the Central District of California dismissed for a second time last week a Sherman Act Section 2 claim brought by Nero AG against MPEG LA, this time with prejudice. <br><br>Nero had filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the MPEG-LA last May, claiming the MPEG licensing body had abused its monopoly power, and that is had not honoured agreements made with the US Department of Justice.<br><br>Nero is the maker of a number of CD, DVD and Blu-ray burning applications - software for which it had to acquire licenses from MPEG LA.</i><br><br><a href="http://www.cdrinfo.com/sections/news/Details.aspx?NewsId=28902" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.cdrinfo.com/sections/news/Details.aspx?NewsId=28902</a>

        also..
        http://www.mpegla.com/Lists/MPEG%20LA%20News%20List/Attachments/233/n-10-11-29.pdf
        doctorSpoc
  • Broken link

    Just a note: your text link to second page is broken (it goes to the Dropbox-GDocs article instead).
    rfdparker2002
    • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

      @rfdparker2002 How odd. It worked before that story went up. Thanks for the catch. It should be working now.

      Steven
      sjvn
  • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

    While this fight is academic to most people, I create interactive eLearning that includes video. Currently I support H.264 through WMP, Flash and HTML5. This allows me to use one video format and some code to determine which player is available. With Google not supporting H.264 in HTML 5, I'll simply use Flash which hopefully ChromeOS will support adequately. It's annoying to have to code for multiple browsers and add-ons, but we've been doing it for years.

    On devices without Flash like the iPad and iPhone, Apple has restricted the use of autoplay in HTML5, so I won't be doing any web-based eLearning for those platforms. WP7 will soon have Flash, so our eLearning will work on that.

    So for the moment I'll stay with H.264 and a combination of Flash and HTML5. As long as Google supports H.264 with Flash, their decision is irrelevant.
    tonymcs1
    • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

      Adobe has also stated it will support (not jet supported by it will) WebM in Flash, so you will also have a possibility of selecting WebM as native (Chrome, Firefox, Opera) and Flash for Safari and Internet Explorer. I think you will make a decision on web browser traffic. If more then 50% will use Chrome + Firefox + Opera + browsers that supports WebM you will use WebM + Flash. If more then 50% will use Internet Explorer + Safari + browsers that support H.264 then you will select H.264+Flash. It will all depend of your browser traffic.<br><br>What looks like Flash is a video platform and it will stay for long long time.
      grofaty
  • Surprisingly Google is pushing for the Video format that they own

    So they call it open and free and that is good enough? It will be interesting to hear an official message from the other side. Google may not have the right to give it away and if a judge says yank your WebM content?
    CowLauncher
  • Question

    What is the incentive for developing new technology. Profit yes? It certainly was for On2 who sold VP8 to Google. How about the companies that invented developed H.264? Certainly their aim is to profit from that work. But here is Google that says hey no problem everyone can use our purchased technology for free. Does anyone think for one moment that they are doing this for free? Someone is going to pay and pay for the use of this format and it's not the people that should be paying. It's a sucker's deal, but all many people can see is the free beer sign.
    CowLauncher
    • simples

      @CowLauncher Google makes money when people use the web. Anything that's good for use of the web is good for Google. Hence it's entirely in Google's interests to support the development of good and truly open web standards. Google's play isn't to get people to pay to use WebM directly. It can't make anyone pay to use WebM now, anyway; it's already open sourced the code for its own specific implementation and the WebM specification, and granted an unlimited and irrevocable license to everyone to the relevant patents - http://www.webmproject.org/license/additional/ . It *can't* take all that stuff back. It could develop a new, incompatible format, call it WebM 2.0, take out some patents on it, and make people pay to use that, but it wouldn't be WebM, and people could go right ahead and carry on using WebM.
      AdamWill
    • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

      @CowLauncher
      "What is the incentive for developing new technology. Profit yes?" - Sure, profit can be one reason... so can reduced costs. While H.264 is free now, it could cost content providers quite a bit of change when they start charging royalties. Think about the potential cost of running Youtube, should it use H.264 and be charged royalties - now, wouldn't it make more sense to release some competing software for free and not worry about those royalty payments then. Furthermore, imagine the cost advantage Apple and Microsoft (being license pool members) would have over Youtube (or other content sites), should they decide to release competing sites.

      It makes perfect sense to support a free codec over one that may cost you down the road - regardless of whether you own the free codec or not. Correct my if I'm wrong, but I believe Google also supports the Ogg codec, which they don't own. What's their motive there? - I don't think they'll be getting any profits on that. Not all companies base their ideology on raping their users' pockets with the products they release (like your beloved Apple). Google makes their money on advertising, not their products.
      NetAdmin1178
      • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

        @NetAdmin1178,

        A couple of minor corrections. Actually, Google does own Ogg. But, it is licensed as Open Source (Apache license if I remember correctly.) without reservation, so any one can use it. In current form forever. If Google tried to close it, a fork would be created overnight from the last free one, so that wouldn't work. Just look at Oracle and Libre Office.

        WebM is just a container file with V8 for video and Vorbis for sound. Google owns patents on V8 and Ogg Vorbis. Ogg Theora is a container with V6 and Vorbis inside. They did go for what they believe is a better container.
        YetAnotherBob
    • RE: Google Defines the Sides in the HTML5 Video Fight

      @CowLauncher

      They already do. Google is ad supported. A lot of the apps for the Android Phone give small ads. Google gets a small cut of that, along with the App writer. It works. I would expect that (Just like now), when a WebM video is watched, a commercial will be added at the front.

      If H.264 is used, the video producer and the ad producer will each owe a big check to MPEG-LA. If WebM is used, no check. That would increase the number of videos made on a low budget. This would mean a bigger ad revenue for Google.

      It's called Capitalism. If you can make a product cheaper, you will move more product.

      For viewers, it's free, just like broadcast television in the US. The fee you pay is enduring commercials. Same thing on the web. Google's goal is to increase the number of ads.

      Now you can understand. Believe it or not, it is possible to make money without having a government grant of monopoly. I.E. a patent.
      YetAnotherBob