Apple CEO Steve Jobs apparently hinted in an e-mail message that he believes Google’s VP8 WebM video codec is slow, buggy and at risk for patent violations. That e-mail was a response to one sent by a software engineer, asking, “What did you make of the recent VP8 announcement?”
During the Google I/O developer conference, Google said it will push the now apparently open-source VP8 WebM codec for HTML5 video. Originally developed by On2 Technologies, acquired by Google in February, VP8 is touted by some as an efficient way to compress Web video.
According to a May 20 article in The Register, which posted screen captures of the exchange, Jobs-or someone using his Apple e-mail account-responded to the engineer’s question with a link to a blog, Diary of an x264 Developer, which suggests the VP8 codec has issues.
“Overall, VP8 appears to be significantly weaker than H.264 compression-wise,” that blog’s author, Jason Garrett-Glaser, a primary x264 developer and a third-year student at Harvey Mudd College, said in a May 19 post. “The primary weaknesses mentioned above are the lack of proper adaptive quantization, lack of B-frames, lack of an 8×8 transform and a nonadaptive loop filter.”
The post also pointed out a potential patent issue. “VP8 is simply way too similar to H.264: A pithy, if slightly inaccurate, description of VP8 would be ‘H.264 Baseline Profile with a better entropy encoder,'” Garrett-Glaser wrote. “Though I am not a lawyer, I simply cannot believe that they will be able to get away with this, especially in today’s overly litigious day and age.”
During a May 18 keynote address during the Google I/O developer conference, Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google, said, “HTML5 is everywhere. The question is: How do we make use of that?”
Google’s apparent answer is to back the VP8 codec. Adobe and Microsoft have also indicated that they will support the format; in the latter’s case, the user will need to install a VP8 codec on Windows in order for Internet Explorer 9 to support playback of VP8 video. Additionally, Google, Opera Software, Adobe, Brightcove and other companies have established the WebM Project, which touts itself as “dedicated to developing a high-quality, open video format for the Web that is freely available to everyone.”
Pichai told the audience that Google would open-source VP8 under “a completely open-source license.”
Further developments will show whether Google’s vision of an open-source VP8 WebM codec will mesh well with reality. Whether or not the situation descends into a patent-infringement battle, though, one thing is apparent: The codec likely won’t have a supporter in Steve Jobs.