Google wants WebM not H.264 for HTML5 video chat

Google wants WebM not H.264 for HTML5 video chat

Summary: Google wants its WebM/VP8 codec to be made a mandatory standard for real-time communications on the web, and has recommended against the use of the H.264 codec. While this is fine in theory, H.264 is already entrenched, and Google itself supports it


Google wants its WebM/VP8 codec to be made a mandatory standard for real-time communications on the web, and has recommended against the use of the H.264 codec. At the moment, the W3C's draft specification dated 12 July 2012 says: "User agents negotiate the codec resolution, bitrate, and other media parameters." In other words: whatever works.

In a post headed Google statement on codecs, aimed at influencing the WebRTC standard, the company says: "Given the ability to deliver a royalty-free platform with no compromises on quality, we see no reason to include mandatory royalty-bearing codecs."

WebRTC (Real Time Communications) is the attempt to build a standard system for web-based audio and video conferencing using HTML5 in the browser, without any plug-ins.

Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera. Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Skype are all expected to support WebRTC. The only doubt concerns support in Apple's Safari, since Apple is following a proprietary route with its own FaceTime system, using H.264. However, WebRTC could presumably be enabled on Apple devices via third-party plug-ins.

Neither Firefox nor Opera supports H.264 directly because it is patented and requires a licence, but these browsers can rely on H.264 codecs shipped as part of Microsoft Windows 7 and Apple's Mac OS X. Where H.264 is not available, Adobe Flash usually provides a fallback. (Apple iPad users apparently don't mind gaping holes in their web pages.)

Although Google has made noises about not supporting H.264 in its Chrome browser, it wouldn't make much difference because Chrome already comes bundled with an integrated Flash plug-in.

The H.264 codec is also the preferred system for video on mobile devices because most if not all modern chipsets include built-in decoding. This is more battery-efficient than decoding highly-compressed H.264 video in software.

Mozilla's chief technology officer Brendan Eich has pointed out in a blog post, Video, Mobile, and the Open Web, that "Android stock browsers (all Android versions), and Chrome on Android 4, all support H.264 from <video>". He adds:

"Google is in my opinion not going to ship mobile browsers this year or next that fail to play H.264 content that Apple plays perfectly. Whatever happens in the very long run, Mozilla can’t wait for such an event. Don’t ask Google why they bought On2 but failed to push WebM to the exclusion of H.264 on Android. The question answers itself."

Mozilla lobbied against H.264, even though it is an open, multi-vendor standard (MPEG4 Part 10), and a mandatory standard for Blu-ray movie playback (AVC).

Eich, like most of us, would prefer a web unencumbered by patents. However, Eich says: "What I do know for certain is this: H.264 is absolutely required right now to compete on mobile. I do not believe that we can reject H.264 content in Firefox on Android or in B2G [Boot2Gecko] and survive the shift to mobile."

Google is heavily involved in WebRTC development, having bought GrandCentral (now Google Voice) for $95 million, Gizmo5 (formerly SIPphone) for $30 million, and Global IP Solutions (GIPS) for $68.2 million. GIPS offered VoiceEngine and VideoEngine (including its own video codec) and offered web-based conferencing services to corporations in competition with Skype and similar VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services.

Google acquired the VP8 codec by buying On Technologies for $124.6 million, and then made it open source as WebM. It did this in preference to backing the open source Theora, which is actually based on VP3, a 12-year-old On2 codec.

Presumably Google sees making WebM/VP8 support compulsory in WebRTC video chat as a roundabout way of making it more popular for streaming video.

Google has also allowed its Motorola Mobility subsidiary, bought for $12.5 billion, to continue suing both Apple and Microsoft over their use of its standards-essential patents. These are supposed to be licensed on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" (FRAND) terms. However, Motorola is demanding what look like unreasonable fees, and trying to block the sale of products that use H.264, such as the Xbox 360 games console.

Anti-trust bodies may put a stop to this. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) "has opened a formal probe into whether Google Inc's Motorola Mobility unit is honoring pledges it made to license industry-standard technology for mobile and other devices on fair terms," according to Bloomberg, while the "European Commission [is investigating] Motorola Mobility's suspected abuse of standard-essential patents against Apple and Microsoft," according to FOSSpatents.

Competition authorities only allowed Google to buy Motorola Mobility on the basis that it would not abuse its power. We must hope the presumption that Google wouldn't be evil was not misplaced. 

Find out more about WebRTC:

Google I/O session, WebRTC: Real-time Audio/Video and P2P in HTML5 (video) 

Getting Started With WebRTC by Google's Sam Dutton at


Topics: Emerging Tech, Google

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • What in the world would make anyone think WebM/VP8 will be

    royalty-free? There is absolutely no indication that it does not infringe on others IP. No one uses it so no one has sued yet. There's no reason to believe that as soon as people start making boat loads of cash using it that patent claims wont be from all corners for a piece of it.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Exactly my thoughts

      On top of that, WebM is technically inferior and much less widely supported. I wonder if Google's alleged abuse of the H.264 patents inherited from Motorola Mobility is part of an attempt to undermine H.264 in favour of this dodgy (legally and technically) WebM crap.
    • Nope...

      "There is absolutely no indication that it does not infringe on others IP."

      Same can be said of H.264. The difference here is VP8 doesn't have a conglomerate pushing hard for it while promising they won't sue... yet. And I'd trust Microsoft and Apple about as far as I could throw them.
      • No, the same can not be said about H.264

        Because H.264 is settled down for a quite a time already, and everyone who has something with it is already in H.264 patent holders pool. And this pool prolongs the condition that this standard is free every five years.
    • Re: "There is absolutely no indication that it does not infringe on others"

      Because "guilty until proven innocent" is a hallowed principle of Western society.
  • Wow. So since people don't want to use WebM/VP8

    try and force WebM/VP8 codec to be made a mandatory standard so they'll be forced to use it, while Google still is trying to extort money from Apple and MS on the side.

    Welcome to the REAL Google, not the benevolent entity they tell everybody they are.
    William Farrel

      Google does notwant users to be buting or using any app on their devices tgat are not google! The contyol is what has google obsessed with making sure all users buy and use only google apps, productsN including music, Ebooks, Cothong, ETC..,
    • Not at all.

      Maybe you can't read ... or comprehend what you've read ...

      The Basis of Googles decision is something that everyone (except those making money from the present situation) should support. It's not at all Google being evil!

      "Given the ability to deliver a royalty-free platform with no compromises on quality, we see no reason to include mandatory royalty-bearing codecs."

      Furthermore it is made perfectly clear that Google has made WebM/VP8 open source.

      "Google acquired the VP8 codec by buying On Technologies for $124.6 million, and then made it open source as WebM."

      So now you're trying to claim that by allowing everyone to freely use technology that they spent millions on they are being evil and nasty. Now that is some seriously messed up thinking! With the ability to do mental gymnastics like that you must be an Apple FanBoi.
  • Another....

    Writer/Blogger citing an extremely biased source as FOSS patents/Florian Mueller. Please guys, be a little less lazy and do your homework. Or...are you being influenced/forced for any reason to mention what FOSS (Microsoft-Oracle Public Relations service) writes?
    • Re:

      Nope, I actually like this blogger. Is he saying something that is not true, because I can't find it.
    • There are thousands of other sources

      which you can easily find using Google. For example:

      My citation is an easily-verifiable statement of fact that has nothing at all to do with FOSS patents/Florian Mueller. There is nothing lazy about citing him: he has provided very thorough coverage of the case. Also, being European, he is a lot closer to it than some US sources.

      Incidentally, I have dealt with Florian Mueller for several years, and found him reliable. I actually have more respect for him than I have for people and groups who try to convert complex legal issues into personal smears, and I don't think this is an adult or useful way to approach things.

      You will also note that practically all of the post is about WebM/WebRTC, and has nothing at all to do with the EU and FTC regulatory enquiries. I've included coverage for completeness, simply because they are related to Google's attempt to displace H.264.

      In sum, the whole Florian Mueller thing is a side-note to a footnote, and therefore a distraction from the more important things that are going on. Generally, I've found that people do better if they concentrate on the stuff that matters rather than the stuff that doesn't.
      Jack Schofield
      • Mueller reliable?

        Like is "reliable" coverage of the Oracle vs Google court case, in which he was hysterically anti-Google from the get-go, whilst managing to get just about everything about the case wrong.

        The fact that he was trousering money from Oracle for various consultancies was entirely coincidental, of course.
        • Unfortunately or not...

          Based on many years of experience, I regard you as a much less reliable source than FOSSpatents, and I think his opinions are infinitely less hysterical than yours.
          Jack Schofield
  • Gawd!

    When is Google going to stop beating that dead horse WebM!
  • Perfect example of how patents have stifled innovation and creativity...

    The fact that everyone fears using a free standard because it MIGHT attract lawsuits from patent holders says a lot about how bad our patent system has become.

    Think about it. There is a societal need for a free video codex standard that can be used universally on the web, yet nobody can create a good one because they fear all of the patent trolls nesting on massive hoards of vague patents concerning encoding and decoding video. So, a societal need goes unfulfilled because we stupidly allow people to patent broad concepts rather than specific implementations. This is so wrong on so many levels. Our IP laws are strangling our progress as a society. Our government is firmly in the pocket of the biggest patent trolls. It's becoming more and more obvious that our only hope for the long-term future is the collapse and replacement of our existing government with something that protects the needs of the people over the needs of giant corporations.

    Perhaps we'll be hit by a massive solar CME (coronal mass ejection) that takes out all electronics and our power grid. Then, we can start over, rebuilding our society under a new government with laws that prevent money or corporate interests from influencing government decisions. Government should serve the best interests of the people as a society, not a few large corporations. We should not guarantee longevity and profits to ANY corporation through legislation or regulation. Corporations should profit solely based upon the quality of the products they produce and sell. Our current system allows one company to strangle the entire marketplace, preventing any competition, improvement, or innovation, simply by patenting a concept before anyone else. They don't even have to make a product. That's just wrong. The next government needs to prevent this, not encourage it.
  • Cloud to the Rescue

    Well.. YABOT (Yet Another Battle Of Technology). Who cares which codec is used.. we live in a heterogeneous world, and we consider choices as innovative. So what if Google wants WebM and Microsoft/Apple/Mobile Service providers prefer H.264. Cloud comes to the rescue.

    While WebRTC, in its simplest use case of 1-1 call, relies on peer-to-peer connection, it also embraces the need for network resources for other use cases.. such as multi-party. Here at OpenClove, we just announced that our cloud MRF, called OVX, now supports multi-party mixing and transcoding for WebRTC. See the demo here -

    In addition, we are also attacking the mobile delivery problem - peer-to-peer for more than 2 parties just does not work.. this is where OVX mixing, transcoding and dynamic compression comes handy.

    Codecs an issue? Cloud comes to the rescue!