Google drops support for H.264 video in favor of WebM

google-chrome-logo-1000The codec wars are beginning to feel more like a bad lead-up to a high school dance.

Google has dumped HTML5 support for H.264 video from its Chrome browser, a codec that appeared on the brink of replacing Flash video as the industry standard. In its place, the ‘open’ Chromium project will now support WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs in HTML5 <video> tags. Though nicely worded in a brief blog post, the move is an odd mirror to Steve Jobs’s own declaration against Flash last year.

“Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies,” said Mike Jazayeri, product manager for Chrome.

Codecs are a messy business, but some are questioning Google’s motives in dropping H.264. After all, if it is dropping support for H.264, why does it still continue to support Flash video, a completely closed standard?

For those unfamiliar, codecs translate video and audio, encoding them and decoding them. Much like MP3s, they attempt to crunch down and compress data, while maintaining the highest quality output possible. Flash has been the most popular technology that allowed video to be streamed on the Web. It’s completely controlled by Adobe and uses its own internal set of codecs to make this possible. However, HTML5 includes built in support for video, eliminating the need for plug-ins like Flash. H.264 is free, but still a codec owned by MPEG LA, which could begin charging for it at any time.

So WebM is where Google’s vote now lies in the great debate over Web video. Will Apple and Mcrosoft follow suit?  Certainly Mozilla is happy. The organization banished H.264 from its FireFox browser last year.

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