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Google unveils WebM open-source video format

The web giant has announced a free, open-source video format for the web, which will compete with the popular but more restrictive H.264

Google has announced that its VP8 video codec standard is now open source and available for royalty-free use for online and mobile video, among other uses.

VP8 is being bundled with the Vorbis audio codec in a new video format called WebM, Google said at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

It added that all new high-definition video content at 720p or higher on YouTube, which it owns, will now be encoded using WebM.

As well as the standard itself, Google released a software developer kit for WebM, as well as source code for VP8 under a BSD-style licence.

Mozilla and Opera have committed to supporting the format in their respective Firefox and Opera browsers. Microsoft said in a blog post that is upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser update will support VP8 video, although users will have to install WebM themselves.

Adobe, AMD, ARM and Nvidia have also committed to VP8, with Adobe's Kevin Lynch promising in a keynote speech at Google I/O to "push it to over a billion users in less than a year of its release" through Flash Player.

The VP8 standard is an alternative to H.264, which requires a commercial licence from patent-holder consortium MPEG-LA for its use, although personal usage is free until at least 2015.

Google said in its WebM FAQ that "WebM and the codecs it supports (VP8 video and Vorbis audio) require no royalty payments of any kind. You can do whatever you want with the WebM code without owing money to anybody".

VP8 was developed by On2 Technologies, a company bought by Google earlier this year for $125m. The codec has attracted attention both for its claimed performance and its claimed freedom from H.264 patents.