Google Explains Why It's Abandoning H.264 in Chrome

Google clarifies its position on dropping H.264 support for its Chrome Web browser: it no longer wants to support the patent royalty system instituted by H.264 owner MPEG LA.

Google said it would not support H.264 as a baseline video codec standard for HTML video because it refuses to accept the licensing requirements imposed by H.264 proprietor MPEG LA.

Google Jan. 11 dropped a bombshell on the video content industry when it said it would no longer support H.264 in future versions of its Chrome Web browser, opting instead to push its own open source WebM codec and the Ogg Theora codec.

This blog post from Google Chrome Product Manager Mike Jazayeri elicited concern from publishers and developers concerned they would have to maintain multiple copies of their content if Google canned support for the industry standard H.264 format.

Others saw Google's claim of "openness" as a ruse to push its own WebM codec, which the company cultivated after acquiring On2 Technologies for $124.6 million in 2009.

Seeking to clarify Google's rationale for discontinuing support for the H.264 codec, Jazayeri said Jan. 14 the announcement was solely related to the HTML <video> tag in HTML5, the spec Google is aggressively pushing to facilitate its dozens of Web services in the future.

However, Google will continue to support the Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight plug-ins that facilitate H.264 videos in Web applications.

Google's move appeared to make Google the tiebreaker in a classic technology format standoff. To that point, browser makers Google, Microsoft and Apple were on board for H.264, while Mozilla and Opera supported WebM and Theora codecs.

The result is that all publishers and developers using the <video> tag must support multiple formats, a major inconvenience that leads to fragmentation.

Moreover, Google does not want to pay MPEG LA, which licenses hundreds of vide for Microsoft, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Philips Electronics, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba, royalties for H.264.

"To use and distribute H.264, browser and OS vendors, hardware manufacturers, and publishers who charge for content must pay significant royalties-with no guarantee the fees won't increase in the future," Jazayeri explained.

"To companies like Google, the license fees may not be material, but to the next great video startup and those in emerging markets these fees stifle innovation."