If you’re a video producer, have friends who are video producers, or are just freaky geeky, take note: Google’s dropping native support for the H.264 video codec from the next version of Chrome.
This matters to those who are moving towards HTML5 and clashes with publishers’ existing attempts to deliver video across platforms. Simply, Apple’s dominant mobile platforms (various iThings) only play video encoded as H.264.
Google has rather nonchalantly dropped a bombshell on the web — future versions of the Chrome browser will no longer support the popular H.264 video codec. Instead Google is throwing its hat in with Firefox and Opera, choosing to support the open, royalty-free WebM codec.
Google says the move is meant to “enable open innovation” on the web by ensuring that web video remains royalty-free. While H.264 is widely supported and free for consumers, sites encoding videos — like YouTube — must pay licensing fees to the MPEG Licensing Association, which holds patents on AVC/H.264
Prior to Google’s announcement, the web video codec battle was evenly split — Firefox and Opera supported the open Ogg and WebM codecs, while Safari and Internet Explorer supported H.264. Google took the egalitarian path and supported all three codecs.
Google’s move away from H.264 makes sense given that Google is already heavily invested in WebM. In fact, the only reason the WebM codec exists is because Google purchased On2, the creators of the VP8 codec. Once Google acquired the underlying code it turned around and released VP8 as the open source WebM project.
There’s been considerable outcry from developers concerned that they now need to support two video codecs to get HTML5 video working on their sites. However, given that Firefox — which has a significantly greater market share than Google’s Chrome browser — was never planning to support the H.264 codec, developers were always going to need to support both codes for their sites to work across browsers.
Takeaway: if delivering video, make sure you’re encoding it, or using a video service provider that’s encoding it, with both H.264 and WebM.
Ars Technica’s Peter Bright thinks dropping H.264 is a step back, writing:
Google’s justification doesn’t really add up, and there’s a strong chance that the decision will serve only to undermine the use of the <video> tag completely. This is not a move promoting the open web. If anything, it is quite the reverse.