The importance of there being another open source codec

The importance of there being another open source codec

Summary: Open source -- free, unencumbered open source -- is going to become the default for basic Web video.

TOPICS: Open Source, Google

Google's apparent decision to open source the VP8 video codec will mostly be discussed today in terms of Google's ambitions, about Google TV, and about HTML5. (Image from CNET.)

But there's another reason to celebrate, something not considered remarkable by the rest of the media.

An open source codec is no longer that big a deal.

It's hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, the idea of a truly open source codec, like Theora, was considered a sign of the apocalypse by Hollywood.

But after this favorite of the FSF found its way into the VLC Player (with 152 million served and counting) the world did not come to an end.

All the predictions of doom from having an off-patent codec that did not have to follow Digital Rights Management rules turned out to be wrong. In fact it's easier to put a video into a blog post today than a photo or other flat image.

As X264dev wrote back in February, the war against open source video is over and open source won. Even Microsoft now enables a free competitor to its Silverlight, called Moonlight. Adobe's decision to fight the power rather than get in line with it was the wrong decision.

By making VP8 open source, Google has a good chance of getting it included in the final HTML5 specs, which will finally embed video into basic Web standards. Open source -- free, unencumbered open source -- is going to become the default for basic Web video.

And what about Hollywood? Well, they're going to do what all smart industries do, when the low end becomes a commodity. They're going up-market.

The rise of 3-D, with such movies as Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, is causing new investment by and new interest in movie houses that were dropping like newspapers last year. It's the biggest thing since Cinemascope, the widescreen format from the 1950s aimed at fighting off TV.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Avatar when it drops as a home video on Earth Day. The studio is putting as much technology as it can into the home version, but it's still a 2-D movie. Can the excitement of 3-D create 2-D sell-through?

My guess is it can. So Hollywood will survive VP8. An open source codec is no longer a big deal.

And that's a big deal indeed.

Topics: Open Source, Google

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  • Why did it take them so long?

    When google bought On2 last year many seemed confused by the obvious purpose of the deal including authors on this website. It'll be great to have plug-in free videos all over the Internet and no longer be the slave of the awful flashplayer.

    What I never understood is why dirac was never considered in the HTML5 spec. I mean the BBC designed it to be a royalty free open source codec for high def broadcast through multiple mediums. Exactly what the W3C wants.

    It took over a year to open source VP8 any guesses on how long it'll take to convert Youtube? My guess after it's adopted by HTML5.
    • I imagine that Google had to sort through all of the legal issues arround

      all of the pieces in VP8. But, it did seem like
      a long time . . .
      • RE: The importance of there being another open source codec

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    • Platform move

      If Google does this, you can bet that Chrome
      will have support almost immediately, and plug-
      ins will become available from them for IE and
      FF. New videos will be offered in VP8 or Flash.
      Old ones will be converted over time.

      Google is making a platform move. They want
      their offerings to work on every device
      available (especially mobile, which is where
      Schmidt sees everything going and is a place
      Dirac has no chance). Pushing the move to HTML5-
      based everything with open codecs helps Google
      in that regard.
  • Might want to look further upstream.

    Desktop computers have had 3D for quite a while, now.

    3 types, in fact; the simple red/cyan glasses, electronic shutter glasses, and special monitors that don't require any headgear.
    • Still need faster bit rates

      The bit rates of BluRay don't deliver the quality,
      as I think the home version of Avatar will show.

      Bit rates only improve via negotiation when it
      comes to optical disks.
      • Computers aren't limited to BR disks any more than the theatres are.

        Anyways, standard BR players can play BR discs of up to 100GB. That should be more than enough even for a long movie like Avatar.
  • RE: The importance of there being another open source codec

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