Video for HTML5: The latest update

On2’s VP8 video codec “is now fully open and completely royalty-free,” thanks to Google (source: DZone).

This is a big deal not only because Apple — in its full-out war against Adobe — has declared Flash video to be a non-starter and crowned H.264 the online-video heir apparent, but also because H.264 is no more open, really, than Flash (FLV and F4V) video.

I wrote about this video war in April: What you should know about HTML5 today. What’s at stake is the format for all video on the Web — because, as Lawrence Lessig wrote in 1999, “Code is law.”

When HTML5 is fully baked and comes out of the oven, we will be stuck with whatever video standard(s) has been baked in.

I don’t want us to be stuck with a proprietary standard controlled by Apple, Adobe, or Microsoft — or Google.

Google completed its acquisition of On2 Technologies, Inc., in February 2010. While most people have never heard of On2 (which has a pretty weird name, it must be said), its video codecs were part of Sorenson Squeeze back when I first started struggling with Web video several years ago, and they were often preferable to the other options available because they gave very good results — always a trade-off between file size and audio-visual quality in video.

Google, along with Mozilla and Opera, is part of the WebM Project, “dedicated to developing a high-quality, open video format for the web that is freely available to everyone.” Although they haven’t run around screaming about it, they are no more eager to accept the status quo of Flash video for the future Web than is Apple.

If Adobe were really smart, they would have open sourced (fully) not only their video formats but also the SWF format. Like, a month ago. I kept waiting for them to do it. But no — just more posturing, like Apple, like dictators of small, violent, self-absorbed countries.

In this game, it seems to me that Apple and Adobe are equally pigheaded and old school. Meanwhile, Google — while surely not a mild-mannered philanthropist in its corporate heart of hearts — has done what one of them should have done, instead of pouring gasoline on the fire.

Is this over yet? I’m sure it is not. But Google’s (apparent) commitment to open standards is better for all of us than a proprietary lock-out (or locked-down) approach.

5 Comments on “Video for HTML5: The latest update

  1. Hi Mindy, the open-able parts of Adobe Flash Player have already been opened… reference links here, among other places:

    (The SWF file format itself has been openly published for over a decade.)

    “Apple — in its full-out war against Adobe — has declared Flash video to be a non-starter and crowned H.264 the online-video heir apparent”

    Adobe Flash Player has included H.264 decoders since 2007. It’s difficult to compare a codec and a video interface layer… here are some recent attempts at explanation:

  2. Thanks for the clarification, John. I know SWF is considered an open standard, and apps other than Adobe’s can author SWF files. But is it really, truly “open,” like HTML or CSS or Linux?

    I realize one issue is the Flash Player, which is neither a video codec nor a SWF, but a browser plug-in. What I would like best, personally, is to be able to author in Flash when the content calls for it. 🙂

    As far as the video goes, I think we are all looking for a solution that will work in all browsers with the HTML5 video tag.

  3. “But is it really, truly ‘open,’ like HTML or CSS or Linux?”

    Dunno. In a previous lifetime I used to work on what “organic” meant, until it became a marketing term and was subject to wider forces.

    Best way I could reply would be to ask what you want to do, what you’re concerned may be longterm risks, what specific stoppers you see. This seems more direct than debates over a label’s definition…?


  4. I’m not a programmer, so I don’t know what parts of SWF, FLV or F4V are not open, or what difficulties that causes. I only know that open-source people say they are not fully open. (Not trying to start an argument.)

    Because the Flash Player is such a big issue for mobile devices, it would be nice if other plug-ins could handle SWF files.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.