Google Goes Open Source With WebM, VP8 Codec

Google announced on Wednesday that it has released its VP8 video codec into open source under the WebM open Web media project.

The VP8 codec can be used to run video in Web browsers and devices and brings a second codec into open source after Ogg Theora. VP8 will be released under a "BSD-style, royalty-free license," according to Google's announcement.

Currently, H.264 may be the most widely used video codec. However, the right to use it commercially and in the public sphere is managed by a consortium of patent owners under the MPEG LA group.

The new WebM project consists of three basic elements. One of them is VP8, a codec that Google developed after acquiring intellectual property from On2 Technologies in February for about $125 million. The second component is the open source audio codec Vorbis. Finally, there's a media container based on the Matroska open source media container.

Google's announcement of WebM and VP8 as open source code comes after much discussion elicited by Microsoft's announcement late last month to support the proprietary H.264 codec natively in its forthcoming Internet Explorer 9 Web browser. Microsoft was a late-comer in announcing video codec support for HTML 5 video technology, which will be a big feature of IE 9 when it's released (IE 9 currently is at the pre-alpha test stage).

Microsoft has since clarified earlier this month that IE 9 will support other video codecs as plug-ins to the browser. On Wednesday, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer, added further clarification, indicating that IE 9 will support Google's VP8 video codec, but only if the codec is installed on Windows.

"In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video as well as VP8 video when the user has installed a VP8 codec on Windows," Hachamovitch wrote in the IE blog.

Various companies working on Worldwide Web Consortium HTML 5 committees have been helping to iron out the details of the HTML 5 specification, which may be 10 years away from being ratified as an actual standard. However, an agreement to use specific video codecs with HTML 5 was never reached at the W3C.

In that standards vacuum, browser makers have rallied around different video codecs. Microsoft and Apple (Safari) favor H.264 for their browsers, and they also hold some intellectual property rights to that codec under the MPEG LA consortium. Google supports its own VP8, Ogg Theora and H.264 in its Chrome browser. Mozilla (Firefox) and Opera Software (Opera) support Ogg Theora and now VP8, but they have rejected H.264 due to potential licensing costs.

Mozilla announced on Wednesday that it has joined WebM and voiced its support for Google's move to release VP8 as open source code without royalties for its use. Opera Software also announced its support for the WebM video format in a blog post on Wednesday.

Adobe plans to support VP8 in the Adobe Flash Player in a forthcoming release, the company announced on Wednesday. The Flash Player also supports the H.264 video codec. Adobe claims that 75 percent of videos viewed online uses its Flash Player. Adobe has long supported Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser with a plug-in Flash component. However, Apple has rejected Flash for use in its various products, including Safari and mobile devices.

One of the promises of HTML 5 video technology is that plug-ins like Flash will no longer be needed to view video over the Web.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.