Says 'open' codec consistency is behind the move

Google’s Chrome to drop H.264 in HTML5 video format war

Google’s Chromium web browser team announced that the firm would drop support for the H.264 video codec from the Chrome web browser apparently to be ‘consistent’ in the browser’s support for so-called ‘open’ codec standards.

The move means that the HTML5 video tag in the Chrome web browser will, within the next few months’, only support the WebM and Theora video codecs. Google acquired the VP8 codec, the basis of the WebM format, from On2 when it acquired the firm in early 2010 and then released the codec patent free.

The move marks a bold new strategy of attempting to ensure that the H.264 video standard does not become a de facto video format in HTML5 video, largely because H.264 is a standard that demands royalties be payable to a patent pool administered by the MPEG LA for all applications that encode and decode H.264 video.

In August the MPEG LA said that products using H.264 to create Internet video "free to end users" would not attract royalties until the end of 2015. The move was largely seen as making H.264 more attractive to be adopted in the HTML5 video tag. 

"Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies," wrote Chromium project product manager Mike Jazayeri on the Chromium Blog.

The distinction of what codec is patent encumbered and what is ‘open’ may, however, be a little more complicated than Google suggests. While Google has set up WebM in such a way that no royalties will be payable to Google for using the standard, video codec experts such as the developers of the x264 video encoder have said that WebM shares enough similarities to H.264 that it may not be immune from patent attacks.

HTML5 is still in the early stages of deployment with market share leading Internet Explorer not yet featuring HTML5 support at all and with the vast bulk of Internet video streaming services continuing to use the Adobe Flash plug-in to deliver H.264-encoded video. 

Microsoft and Apple are among the members of the H.264 patent pool and both have pledged support for H.264 in HTML5, most notably the next version of Internet Explorer, IE9, will support H.264. 

Google’s YouTube, as the world’s largest source of Internet video, is currently co-encoding all video into H.264 viewing (via Flash) and WebM (via HTML5). 

The Internet giant has a vested interest in ensuring that there is a way to deliver Internet video with a modern codec before the MPEG LA agreement to limit royalty on H.264 Internet video expires by the end of 2015.

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