HTML5 loomed large in the opening day of the Google I/O developer conference, as Google and partners announced enhanced support for the rapidly emerging Web specification, including rallying around a video codec known as VP8.
During a May 18 keynote address, Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google, said, “HTML5 is everywhere; the question is, How do we make use of it?”
Well, when it comes to video, the way Google and some of its partners want to support HTML5 is with the VP8 codec. And Google, Opera Software, Adobe Systems, Brightcove and others have established the WebM Project, which announced a preview release at Google I/O.
According to a WebM Project post by Jeremy Doig, engineering director of video for Google, and Mike Jazayeri, Google group project manager, “WebM includes: VP8, a high-quality video codec … Vorbis, an already open-source and broadly implemented audio codec; [and] a container format based on a subset of the Matroska media container.”
“We think VP8 is the best-in-class codec,” Pichai said at Google I/O. “And we’re fully open-sourcing VP8 under a completely open-source license.” VP8 came to Google through the company’s acquisition of On2 Technologies.
Mike Shaver, vice president of engineering at Mozilla, said VP8 provides “industrial-strength, royalty-free video with broad industry support.”
Opera Software CTO Hakon Wium Lie demonstrated the Opera browser running VP8 and pronounced the company’s support for WebM. Lie is the creator of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), a key technology for Web developers.
“We look forward to working with Google in the future to ensure that the Web remains open,” Lie said.
Also at Google I/O, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch said Adobe will support VP8 and the WebM project. “We’re really excited to see VP8,” Lynch said. “We’re going to put VP8 inside of Flash Player.”
Even Microsoft said it would support VP8. Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft’s general manager of Internet Explorer, said in a blog post, “In its HTML5 support, IE 9 will support playback of H.264 video as well as VP8 video when the user has installed a VP8 codec on Windows.”
“A key factor in the Web’s success is that its core technologies, such as HTML, HTTP, TCP/IP … are open and freely implementable,” said Doig and Jazayeri. “Though video is also now core to the Web experience, there is unfortunately no open and free video format that is on par with the leading commercial choices. To that end, we are excited to introduce WebM, a broadly backed community effort to develop a world-class media format for the open Web.”
In the post, the Google WebM team also said, “The team that created VP8 have been pioneers in video codec development for over a decade. VP8 delivers high-quality video while efficiently adapting to the varying processing and bandwidth conditions found on today’s broad range of Web-connected devices. VP8’s efficient bandwidth usage will mean lower serving costs for content publishers and high-quality video for end users. The codec’s relative simplicity makes it easy to integrate into existing environments and requires less manual tuning to produce high-quality results. These existing attributes and the rapid innovation we expect through the open development process make VP8 well suited for the unique requirements of video on the Web.
“A developer preview of WebM and VP8, including source code, specs and encoding tools, is available today at www.webmproject.org.“
Meanwhile, open-source advocate Florian Mueller, founder of the European NoSoftwarePatents campaign and author of the FOSS Patents blog, issued comments: “Google says it holds certain patents on the VP8 video codec that is part of WebM but there’s no assurance that Google’s patents are the only patents required. What about patents that third parties could assert? While it appears to be a nice gesture if a major player releases software on open-source terms, it’s imperative to perform a well-documented patent clearance.
“Developers should be provided with detailed explanations [of] why Google believes that no one adopting WebM will have to fear allegations of patent infringement. Otherwise those developers might be exposed to a considerable risk. It wouldn’t be possible to check on millions of different patents, but at the very least I think Google should look at the patents held by the MPEG LA pool as well as patents held by some well-known ‘trolls’ and explain why those aren’t infringed. Programmers have a right to get that information so they can make an informed decision for themselves whether to take that risk or not.”