Microsoft is committed to supporting the HTML5 specification in Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), and when it comes to which HTML5 video codec to support Microsoft is putting its weight behind H.264, case closed.
Microsoft is committed to supporting the HTML5 specification in
Internet Explorer 9, and when it comes to which HTML5 video codec to
support, Microsoft is putting its weight behind H.264, case closed.
That is essentially what Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's general
manager for Internet Explorer, said in a couple of recent blog posts.
Initially, on April 29,
Hachamovitch said that in supporting HTML5 the specification does not
call for a particular video format, "but IE9 will support playback of
H.264 video only." After a bit of community furor over his post,
Hachamovitch felt compelled to post a response.
In his initial post, Hachamovitch went on to describe how H.264 is
an industry standard and he noted that Microsoft's IE9 team has
demonstrated IE9 playing H.264-encoded video from YouTube.
Moreover, Hachamovitch said that although other popular codecs come
up in the discussion of which ones to support, Microsoft was going with
the one most available and least likely to cause any kind of
intellectual property issues.
"The distinction between the availability of source code and the
ownership of the intellectual property in that available source code is
critical. Today, intellectual property rights for H.264 are broadly
available through a well-defined program managed by MPEG-LA. The rights
to other codecs are often less clear, as has been described in the
press. Of course, developers can rely on the H.264 codec and hardware
acceleration support of the underlying operating system, like Windows
7, without paying any additional royalty."
However, a flurry of comments sparked a response from Hachamovitch.
The commenters asked why Microsoft would only support one codec when
other alternatives exist, such as Ogg Theora, v8 or vc-1. Meanwhile,
other commenters said Microsoft's choice represented a sad day for the
Open Web, others questioned Microsoft's financial or empire entrenching
motives, while others accused Microsoft of being Adobe's lapdog because
of Hachamovitch's stated policy of supporting Flash and related specs
-- and acknowledging that "video on the Web is predominantly
However, in rebuttal, Hachamovitch laid out his case that developers
want certainty and predictability in a browser and, simply stated,
H.264 offers a more certain path.
"First and most important, we think it is the best available video
codec today for HTML5 for our customers. Relative to alternatives,
H.264 maintains strong hardware support in PCs and mobile devices as
well as a breadth of implementation in consumer electronics devices
around the world, excellent video quality, scale of existing usage,
availability of tools and content authoring systems, and overall
industry momentum - each an important factor that contributes to our
point of view."
Also, because the rights for implementations of the H.264 standard
are managed by MPEG-LA -- a firm that specializes in managing patent
pools for standards -- "H.264 also provides the best certainty and
clarity with respect to legal rights from the many companies that have
patents in this area," Hachamovitch said. The rights to other codecs
are less clear, he said.
To further support this, Hachamovitch said: "Many people seem to
assume that availability of source code under an open source license
implies that there are no additional costs, or that the code has
properly secured necessary intellectual property rights from all
rightful owners. Our experience and the experience of others indicate
However, Microsoft said it will allow third parties to provide
support for alternative codecs and customers are free to use those if
they so choose.
Indeed, Hachamovitch said Microsoft pays into MPEG-LA about twice as
much as it receives back for rights to H.264. "Microsoft pledged its
patent rights to this neutral organization in order to make its rights
broadly available under clear terms, not because it thought this might
be a good revenue stream," Hachamovitch said in his most recent post.
"We do not foresee this patent pool ever producing a material revenue
stream, and revenue plays no part in our decision here."
Hachamovitch also defended Microsoft's decision to support plug-ins
such as Flash and Silverlight, in a light that takes an opposing stance
to that of Apple CEO Steve Jobs in his recent jab at Adobe and Flash.
In conclusion, Hachamovitch said:
"The biggest obstacle to supporting more than H.264 today is the
uncertainty. When there's industry consensus and confidence that the
uncertainties are resolved, we'll be open to considering other codecs.
Until then, we'll continue with our current plans to deliver great
HTML5 video in IE9 with certainty for consumers and developers."
Yet, a lot of good it did. Commenters still took the opportunity to
tear into Microsoft's stance on the video codec issue. One commenter
called Microsoft's strategy just another move to promote format
lock-in. And another commenter identified as Florian Bosch, wrote:
"H.264 is the next GIF, and personally I don't fancy another 20
years in which some strangulating monopolistic standard cripples the
Web, the effects of which still reverberate in today's image support in
browsers. Trying to make H.264 the standard for video is guaranteeing a
GIFication of Web video and another 20 years or more of stagnation in
the field of Web video."