Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

Summary: And, Google isn't moving against open-standards either. It's just video standard wars as usual.


In some technology circles, you'd think Google was proposing throwing cats into a wood-chipper from the way some people are reacting to Google's announcement that it was focusing its support on its own open VP8/WebM and Theora video codecs, and dropping support for H.264. This is not a step back for openness; any kind of new road-block for HTML5; nor is it going to ruin the Chrome browser. It's just another chapter in the Web's video standard wars.

Let's start from the top: How can Google's move be a step back for openness when both WebM and Theora are the only video codecs that actually are open source? H.264 while extremely popular is a proprietary format and its encumbered by patents held by MPEG LA, a patent holding company. Historically, MPEG LA hasn't charged much for the use of H.264, but who's to say that MPEG LA is always going to stay that generous?

Ed Bott thinks that Google may be moving into possible patent troubles by relying VP8/WebM. He's right. Of course, they are. Welcome to technology post Bilski.

Today, as the patent lawsuit madness surrounding smartphones shows, technology innovation is starting to take a backseat to patent litigation. Even the open-source favorite Theora isn't completely clear of patent issues.

Maybe, in the long run Google just wants to see what patent trolls may be out there waiting for either VP8 or Theora. In the short run, as Jason Perlow suggests, perhaps Google wants to cut down on the infrastructure costs of supporting half-a-dozen plus different video code variants. After all, if someone really wants H.264 video, depending on its container, they can view it with Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, or some other browser add-on program that includes H.264 support.

Or, maybe, here's a thought, this is a strategic move against Apple, which doesn't support Flash on the iPhone or iPad and against Microsoft, which is supporting H.264. Google wouldn't be the only other Web-browser company doing this. As open-source expert Simon Phipps points out both Firefox and Opera also support Theora.

This seems to me to be the most likely explanation. There seems to be this illusion that HTML 5, the latest proposed version of the Web's foundation markup language, would somehow magically get rid of all the fights about video codecs and we'd all be able to view all video from any browser. What nonsense!

Sure, Ian Hickson, one of the editors of the HTML 5 standard, said, "One of HTML 5's goals is to move the Web away from proprietary technologies such as Flash, Silverlight, and JavaFX, but HTML5's codec-neutral video tag doesn't spell out which codec would be the official standard codec. In short, the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) ended up just pushing the same old Web video standard fights into a new arena. Now, besides the usual fights over which is better or more open, it's also about which one is better for HTML 5.

While I think the answer is the more open standards, VP8 and Theroa, what I think doesn't matter much. This is just a round in another standard fight: the real question is who will win and get control and money. I doubt we'll see a winner this decade. The W3C moves very slowly and these are multi-billion dollar companies struggling with each other.

All the browser companies have their favorites. Google has just declared which ones they like the most. For users, it won't make a damn bit of difference. In 2020, developers are still going to fighting over video standards, there still won't be an official HTML5 video codec; and no matter what browser you'll be using, you'll still need one or more helper applications to be sure that you'll be able to watch all 800,000 plus funny cat videos.

Topics: Google, Browser, Software Development

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Mobilemedia & MPEG LA

    I reckon it's because of MobileMedia, a patent troll operated by the CEO of MPEGLA, the H.264 licensing authority.

    See it covers similar ground, and licensing H 264 doesn't give you a license to his new troll companies patents. This troll is already suing.

    It looks like he's created a way by which the patent pool that is H.264 can be leveraged into a big profit for MobileMedia instead.
    • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

      @guihombre Wow are you ever right. Here's a quote from the article:

      "What this story illustrates - apart from the idiocy of the US patent system, obviously - is that despite the reassuring cuddles from Apple, Microsoft, and its supporters, the MPEG-LA is anything but afraid of playing dirty patent games. It would be one thing if the patent troll was merely owned by the MPEG-LA, but having the same CEO only makes it all the more clear.

      The MPEG-LA is shackling the web (and beyond) to H264 and its patents, so that it will be able to collect royalties until the end of time, and sue anyone who dares to step out of line. Their behaviour is harming innovation, and a direct threat to the freedom of the web. MobileMedia Ideas' patent troll behaviour is only a taste of what's to come if we allow H264 to ruin the web even further."
  • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

    Great article! I completely agree.

    This move made sense in many ways for Google, and doesn't hurt any user or company not named "Apple."

    This move obviously will help Adobe the most, and hurt Apple the most.

    Adobe's Flash is as close a "standard" as there is for web video, with well over 90% adoption in today's browsers (including iOS Safari, which does NOT support Flash, of course). In addition to helping Adobe, this will also help Google's Android OS/WP7/WebOS/BlackBerry6, which all support Flash.

    With this announcement, Flash is going to remain the video standard for at least a few more years while the HTML5 video tag standardization war (that's a mouthful!) wages on. We have Google/Firefox/Opera in one corner with about 40% browser share in support of WebM, and Microsoft and Apple in the other corner with about 60% browser share in support of H.264.

    But let's face it - the number of browsers in use that support HTML5 is below 50%, so the video tag itself is nowhere near a standard like Flash. This is key, because all of those content producers screaming "there will be no standard now" are wrong -- Flash is still king, still the (yes, proprietary) standard to beat.

    Apple is the biggest loser here. The pressure on Apple to implement Flash 10.2 within iOS is going to get even higher over the next couple years as the Tablet Wars heat up, especially since the iPad is the only OS not to support Flash.

    My prediction: This move by Google to only support WebM, will lead to Apple implementing Flash 10.2 on its iOS devices by 2012.
    • Strange post

      "This move made sense in many ways for Google, and doesn't hurt any user or company not named "Apple.""<br><br>So MS support for h.264 video for HTML5 is unaffected?<br><br>"Adobe's Flash is as close a "standard" as there is for web video..."<br><br>And Flash video today is h.264.<br><br>"But let's face it - the number of browsers in use that support HTML5 is below 50%..."<br><br>In fact far less, it's only a draft at this point. However it currently has impressive support for the future, so much so it'll be the basis for our future front-ends.<br><br>"The pressure on Apple to implement Flash 10.2 within iOS "<br><br>Our RIA are currently written with Flex. Personally I'd be happy to see flash, but it isn't going to happen. Google support for HTML5 remains unchanged, only their choice of video codec (remaining compliant with the current HTML5 draft).
      Richard Flude
      • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

        @Richard Flude

        The problem is that H.264 is a MUCH BETTER format than VP8.... at the same KBPS and bandwidth, H.264 can ALWAYS deliver better quality video!

        This is going to hurt HTML5 big time, because when people see the difference between H.264 and VP8, they are going to be calling for Google, Mozilla and other people's heads on a platter.
    • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

      @Apple_Jax I think you've got it right on the mark. Since FLASH is obviously the largest content provider on the web (YouTube alone) this will eventually have Google converting (which they already have been doing) all YouTube video content straight to WebM only and dumping H.264 altogether, it's obvious that Apple iOS will no longer have access unless they add support for FLASH and/or WebM. The biggest loser isn't Microsoft, because they already support FLASH on everything and no doubt all it takes is a codec update on all their devices for WebM. Eventually it will be natively installed. Because Microsoft just isn't as pigheaded and Maoist or Nazi-like as Steve Jobs and Apple!!!<br><br>No doubt Google is simply serving notice on Apple that they will only be supporting WebM in the very near future on YouTube. So if Apple wants to keep their customers happy they need to get off their high horse and either switch support on iOS to WebM (or support both H.264 and WebM) for HTML5 open standards. Because it correlates more closely to their original reason for opting for Open Standards based HTML5 in the first place. They could possibly deny their former hatred of Adobe and start supporting FLASH. But that's more unlikely as they couldn't save face as readily!<br><br>Next move to shed more pressure on Apple will be Firefox and Opera both switching to support WebM only. Then the brutal blow of YouTube switching all content over to WebM and dumping their H.264 caches. Microsoft will remain committed to supporting both codecs through add ons including FLASH. Which include ironically..... Chromium!
  • Finally a blogger that understands this is not a big deal!!

    Just a little game of chicken and posturing to try to flush out the cockroaches.
  • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

    Just want to say...nice typo in the title.
    • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

      @Aerowind Heh - had to read that twice :)
  • Agreed

    Just the GIF war all over again.
    Alan Smithie
    • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

      @Alan Smithie -- except how many browsers *removed support* for GIF after implementing PNG?
      • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5


        Bluff, deception, posturing and disinformation are all part of a war too. I think the 2016 expiry date is a real booby trap that Google is very wise not to walk into.
        Alan Smithie
  • That clears things up... thanks

    Mind you, it would be nice if there was an official W3C approved standard codec (unencumbered by patents), but I'm not holding my breath.
    John L. Ries
  • Adobe Flash never needed to be attacked in the first place!

    Adobe Flash Player may need to be optimized for the mobile, and surely is on its way... Apple should have never launched the war on Flash in the first place.<br><br>Apple has a strategy to direct the stream of technology in its own favor, on its own terms, and all this, with the good intention that it wants to remove Flash cause it's proprietary. <br><br>Apple itself is too closed of a platform, regardless of its shortfalls, the iOS is a great product nonetheless.
    • Flash needed the attach because it SUCKS

      @sachax <br>- Flash is super insecure. It is by design.<br>- Flash is a system hog. No other platform is as bad with resources as Flash.<br>- Flash is a battery drainer. Just spend 15 mins watching YouTube video on a fully charged laptop how fast the battery is drained. In fact, when I want to fully drain my laptop battery, all I do is visit YouTube and my battery is gone in minutes.<br><br>A lot of complains about the battery life of Android phones are because the user installed Flash and not necessarily because the OS is a power vampire.
      • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5


        Unfortunately, I have to agree.... Flash is BAD with resources, and need a total, not taking into account backwards compatibility, rewrite.
  • Novel idea here: why integrate video into HTML at all?

    I can't be the only one to think: "Great, now there's ANOTHER way to have buffer overflows in the browser!" and since there are ways to view this if you want to view it, and a defacto standard for viewing most of these items, isn't this a "solution" in search of a problem to fix?
    D. W. Bierbaum
  • RE: Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5

    It seems like deja vu all over again...