The Impact of Chrome Dropping the H.264 Codec

January 13th, 2011 by Mike Wilcox

This is an excerpt from my article on BetterVideo:

Chrome recently made the announcement that they will soon discontinue support for the H.264 video codec. While end users may not care, nor should they notice, to video producers this is significant, because supporting multiple codecs means higher costs and longer development.

Choice is good

As web developers, we should know to be wary of proprietary technology. Internet Explorer’s dismissal of standards has made web authoring painful over the last decade. Adobe’s fears of users stealing their precious copyrighted fonts has left the web starkly designed with Arial and Times New Roman. Oracle is currently causing tremors in the Java community.

It’s important to know that Google is not damning H.264. They didn’t claim they are going with WebM because H.264 (or any proprietary technology) is bad – just that they believe in open source, including the WebM codec they invested heavily in. It will be hard to convert users/devs if they keep H.264 as a viable fallback.

There is already a lot of criticism of Google’s move in both the original blog comments and elsewhere. I should remind those critics that you didn’t choose H.264 – it was thrust upon you by corporate entities. I know developers wish for write-once run-everywhere, but if the browser wars taught us nothing else, it’s that this will never happen. The browsers still aren’t standardized – just try and do a simple background gradation with CSS3. But these repetitive tasks are a good thing – and why the web isn’t still dominated by IE 6, and is in effect, moving forward.

Go to the BetterVideo blog to read the whole article.

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9 Responses to “The Impact of Chrome Dropping the H.264 Codec”

  1. [...] video codec. While end users may not care, nor should they notice, to video producers this is… [full post] Mike Wilcox Club AJAX – Dallas Ft. Worth Area AJAX Users Group covering: AJAX, JavaScript, [...]

  2. > While end users may not care, nor should they notice
    That depends on the consuming software. If the consuming software is a web browser then possibly you are correct. If the consuming software is custom software or built into a media device they will immediately notice.

    > As web developers, we should know to be wary of proprietary technology.
    It is not proprietary technology that demands concern, it is the proprietary licensing. Proprietary technology with open licensing is the best possible condition for software, otherwise it takes 5+ years for the most minor of updates that can be corrected unnoticed in a nightly build, and in a superior manner.

    > It’s important to know that Google is not damning H.264.
    That is actually bad. Before this announcement Google supported the choice of the media publisher and/or the consumer. Choice is good. Each codec has its benefits and weaknesses. The community has never bothered with standardizing any sort of media before whether it be fonts, images, audio, or other medium. The whole argument about video always comes down to cost. A license to decode H.264 costs $5 million a year, which is completely insignificant compared to the cost of encoding media in significant enough quantities therefore the only costs that matters to those publishers is the cost of processing the media. For software that subscribes to a GNU license $5 million is entirely unaffordable. This is the only argument at the table, which has absolutely nothing to do with the consuming audience or what is in the consumers best interest. Let the consumer figure it out on their own by the software they choose to use or purchase, and pass the costs back onto the publishers and hardware producers where it belongs and has occurred in the media industry. This is an inter-industry supply chain problem that should not be confused for consumer rights.

  3. Mike Wilcox says:

    @austin
    $5 million dollars a year will affect the price of the product. I don’t see how you can say it is insignificant. And I don’t think the consumer really does have a choice. Nobody chose to have H.264 on their iPhone.

  4. Chris says:

    I guess worse come to worse… we can just add support via a plug in.

  5. Chris says:

    The bottom line is mobile Safari needs to support WebM. I wonder if support for WebM will make it into the webkit engine itself therefore when Safari upgrades there will be WebM support.

  6. There are very many things you do not get to choose on an IPhone. Because I value choice I choose not own an IPhone. For companies like YouTube and Facebook the power bill merely to operate their servers for one hour is about $ 2.5 million. That merely is the cost of keeping the lights on. How does $5 million a year compare to that?

  7. Mike Wilcox says:

    YouTube and Facebook are simply not the only companies that matter. My company produces and hosts video. We are a small <20 shop. 5 million means a lot to us.

  8. Chris says:

    What about the content providers? Are they willing to support WebM? It’d be one thing if WebM was a superior product like the PNG but it’s not and it’s not well supported on top of that. Additionally, it’s likely that it too has infringed on patents. While I think Apple should support WebM in much the same fashion that they do with .png, .jpg, .gif, I still think there are some other things to consider. I guess Google is going to tell us what picture file formats to use next. It’s no biggie to me because Opera works just fine in iOS and they said they are supporting WebM. Plus I don’t use the video on my phone that much anyway. I think people should also consider the cost of double hosting all of the videos to hit all of the target markets. Iphone OS users are particularly of interest to Advertisers because they on average have more money to spend than owners of other devices and have shown a willingness to spend it.

  9. Chris says:

    FYI, I am in full agreement with google on this issue. I’m glad they did it.

    Also, there will be extensions for Safari and IE according to Chromium. So Google is providing an method for end users to get the content they want and not have to worry about codecs.