The importance of there being another open source codec

Open source -- free, unencumbered open source -- is going to become the default for basic Web video.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

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.

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