WebM Video Project Launched

May 20, 2010

Google is currently conducting its 2010 developers’ conference, Google I/O 2010, in San Francisco.   Yesterday morning, together with a number of other companies in the industry, including browser vendors Mozilla and Opera, the company announced a new project to create open video standards for the Web.

The newest version of the Web’s standard page-creation language, HTML 5, includes facilities for embedding video and other multi-media content directly in Web pages, without the necessity of add-ons or plugins to the Web browser.   The sticking point has been the software [codec] to encode and decode videos digitally.  Adobe’s Flash is widely used, but it is proprietary, and of course requires a plug-in.  Apple has plumped for a codec called H.264; however, it is encumbered by several patents, and requires that software developers who wish to use it buy a license.  (At present, no special arrangement is necessary to use H.264 to encode video, but there is no guarantee that royalties will not be required in the future.)

The WebM project will aim to provide a completely free alternative by using the existing Ogg Vorbis open-source audio codec, and the VP8 video codec, which Google acquired last year as part of its acquisition of On2, VP8’s developer.   Google yesterday  released VP8 under a BSD-style open source license, free of any royalties.  WebM will also use a “container” format based on the existing Matroška open-source media container project.

According to an article at Wired‘s “WebMonkey” blog, the project has the backing of major browser developers.

The project was launched with the backing of Mozilla, Opera and Google. All three browser vendors have already begun building support for it, and Microsoft announced Wednesday that it will support the video technology in Internet Explorer 9, which is due later this year.

Also noteworthy is that Adobe’s CTO, Kevin Lynch, was also present for the announcement, and said that Adobe would soon incorporate playback support for WebM in its Flash player.  This is significant plus for WebM, because Flash is very widely installed, even in older browsers (for example – shudder – Internet Explorer 6), which will not, for obvious reasons, support WebM natively.    It allows most users of standard computer / browser environments a reasonable upgrade path.  The market segment of mobile devices (such as iPhones and other “smart” phones) is more problematic, since installing new software is much less an option there.

Mozilla and Google have announced that support for WebM will be included in development builds of their browsers beginning now.  Opera also is making development builds with WebM support available.

As always, Google is interested in anything that will make the Web more attractive, and get people to spend more time there, since that builds the value of its core business, advertising.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out against Apple’s “walled garden” approach.

Ars Technica also has an interesting article on the announcement of WebM.

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