Skip to main content

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Jeffrey Van Camp
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Deputy Editor, Jeff helps oversee editorial operations at Digital Trends. Previously, he ran the site's…
MPEG LA calls for patents essential to VP8/WebM
mpeg la looking at patents for googles vp8webm video  webm logos

Last month, Google unleashed a firestorm of controversy by announcing it was dropping support for "patent encumbered" H.264 video in its Chrome Web browser and placing its bets on the VP8/WebM as a "completely open codec technology." However, The MPEG Licensing Authority—MPEG LA—is giving patent holders a chance to try to sink their claws into WebM: the organization has issued a call for patents (PDF) that may apply to the VP8/WebM codecs. Companies that believe their own a technology essential to the codec have until March 18, 2011, to get their initial details to MPEG LA—the organization is mainly interested in existing, issued patents, but pending patent applications will also be considered.

MPEG LA first indicated it was considering the possibility of trying to create a patent pool for VP8/WebM in mid-2010.

Read more
Microsoft puts H.264 video back into Chrome

Google raised hackles in the Web video community last month when it announced its Chrome browser would be dropping support for H.264-encoded video in favor of Google's own WebM standard. Now, of all people, Microsoft is firing back, announcing it is bringing H.264 video back to Google Chrome for Windows 7 users, by way of a free downloadable Windows Media Player HTML5 Extension for Chrome.

"At Microsoft we respect that Windows customers want the best experience of the Web including the ability to enjoy the widest range of content available on the Internet in H.264 format," wrote Microsoft's Claudio Caldato, in the company's interoperability blog. "H.264 is an excellent and widely-used video format that serves the web very well today. As such, we will continue to ensure that developers and customers continue to have an optimal Web experience."

Read more
Firefox 4 Early Beta Sports HTML5 and WebM Video
firefox 4 early beta sports html5 and webm video 1 screenshot

The Mozilla Foundation has taken the wraps off Firefox 4 Beta 1, the latest version of its popular Web browser application. Firefox 3.0 came out all the way back in 2008, while Firefox 3.5 debuted last year. Firefox 4 is aimed at addressing a number of performance and stability issues, improving security, adding support for new Web technologies…and giving the browser a new look and feel.

Some of the most significant changes for Firefox 4 are under the hood: the browser is implementing support for HTML 5's flash-free video playback capabilities using Google's WebM video format, which purports to be unencumbered by patent obligations. The patent issue is key for Mozilla: the non-profit organization has said it does not intend to support H.264 video—the standard currently supported by the likes of Apple's iPhone and iPad for Flashless Web video—because of patent issues, even though it's currently available to license under a royalty-free agreement from the MPEG-LA trade group. Firefox 4 beta 1 also incorporates a new look at feel: tabs have been moved to the top of the browser window to get out of the way of Web content, and Windows Vista/7 users will notice the Firefox menu is a single button. These changes haven't migrated to the Mac and Linux versions yet, however.

Read more