Software Programs

Google Moves to Kill Off H.264 Web Video


Google wants to eliminate support for H.264 video in its Chrome browser on the grounds that the ISO-compliant video codec is proprietary and as such stifles innovation.

The surprising maneuvering was made public in a Tuesday post on the Chromium blog announcing that the search giant will be "focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles."

The company will instead push WebM VP8 and Theora video codecs in Chrome acquired when Google took video compression company On2 under its wing last year.

Interestingly, the Mountain View, California-based search monster will continue supporting Flash technology even though it too is basically a proprietary standard belonging to Adobe.

MPEG 4 H.264 codec is maintained by a standards body and licensed to tech companies seeking to use it in their products. Apple, for example, relies exclusively on H.264 as the preferred media technology across its iDevices ecosystem. The codec is widely used to deploy video content on the web as well.

In fact, Adobe’s Flash experienced a considerable setback when a number of video sharing sites began distributing H.264-encoded content wrapped inside HTML5 <video> tag, among them YouTube and Vimeo. As a result of this initiative, and in part due to Apple CEO’s Steve Jobs’ crusade against Adobe Flash, modern browsers that support the latest HTML5 technologies are able to render the growing number of H.264-encoded web videos without a plug-in of any sort.

The MPEG Licensing Authority said last August it would indefinitely extend royalty-free licensing of the H.264 video codec to end users for web video. Google advises content publishers and developers to "make any necessary changes to their sites."

It remains to be seen, however, if the Chrome browser’s web usage share is high enough to convince content creators to drop H.264 and embrace WebM VP8 and Theora codecs. This ballsy move by Google was initially met with a lot of criticism across the web.

On the other hand, Google operates YouTube, the largest video sharing property on the web, and if the site starts re-encoding H.264 YouTube clips in WebM VP8 codec, the move might incentivize other content publishers to play ball.

Source: The Chromium blog