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Google will ditch H.264 support for Chrome, doubts cast on future of H.264-encoded Youtube videos

Sometimes, the world just has to prove to El Jobsco that not everything has to go his way. In what must be the clearest sign that Google will not stand for the proprietary and patent-encumbered H.264 video codec championed by Apple and currently used for HTML5 video, the search giant is announcing the termination of all support for the codec in its Chrome browser in favor of WebM. What will this mean for HTML5 videos encoded in H.264?

Just when everybody thought that the whole deal between H.264 and WebM for HTML5 video streaming was just about to die down, out comes Google with a very bold move to make the Internet a more open ecosystem that is not shackled down by proprietary codecs. In what must be a most exciting twist to the HTML5 video issue, Google has just announced that the Chrome browser used by millions of people all over the world will be stripped of all H.264 codec support with the “next couple of months”, thus making use of only existing codecs such as WebM/VP8, Theora and Vorbis.

And lest you think we are attempting to pull a fast one on you, the latest blog post made by Chome Product Manager Mike Jazayeri should quell all disbelief about this being a very bad joke. Simply put, Jazayeri has confirmed that the Chrome development team is taking a very strong stance on the use of open codecs, as shown in the screenshot below:

The implications of Google’s move are far-reaching. To begin with, WebM support is already built into Google’s Chrome browser, which is widely used and bundled as the default web browser in Android and Chrome OS. Furthermore, competing browsers Opera and Firefox have also chosen to support WebM over H.264, while several ARM processor manufacturers have already licensed WebM for use in their hardware, thus giving WebM a much greater user base than what most people will credit it with.

But the real talking point of Google completely dropping H.264 support from its browser is that the search giant may use it as a stepping stone to challenge and break the hold which MPEG-LA currently has over HTML5 video. After all, Google already owns the single and world’s largest online video streaming service, YouTube, whose videos are encoded with the proprietary H.264 and Flash video formats. This could change now that Google has shown the world that it will not hesitate to break proprietary standards, and yanking H.264 from YouTube to create a pure WebM ecosystem is a very real possibility.

If Google does go ahead with such a plan, to say that it will have a profound impact on HTML5 video will be a huge understatement. Most smartphones and tablets, especially Apple’s line of iOS-powered devices, are designed to view online videos encoded in H.264 only. And with YouTube’s large user base, shutting out iOS-powered devices will undoubtedly force Apple to take drastic measures in order to continue assuring its users that they will not be denied Google’s online video streaming service.

While it may be seem that Google is abusing its monopoly on online services, the truth is that it is hard to fault Google for pushing its own standard, simply because WebM is by no means a proprietary container. Google has released both WebM and its corresponding VP8 codec under the free BSD-license, which means that any user of WebM is entitled to a worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free patent license. Moreover, Microsoft has already stated that it has no objections to users loading WebM on Windows to view online videos; this just leaves Apple as the main obstacle in getting WebM and VP8 recognized as the de facto container and codec for HTML5 video.

Simply put, the ball is now in Apple’s court: the first stone has already been cast. All that is left to do is to wait and see how the H.264 vs WebM will end.

Reference: Chromium Blog

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