Ronnie05's Blog

Chrome and H.264(Part I)

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on January 18, 2011

Recently Chrome announced that it was taking off support for H.264 video codec triggering a debate about video codecs, future of open internet and the “do no evil” Google philosophy.The objective behind Chrome’s boycott of H.264 seemingly is to enable open innovation, and directing Chrome resources towards completely open codec technologies. This post examines pros and cons of Chrome’s decision of dropping the H.264.

Is dropping of H.264 justified? Yes

H.264 is a “codec” that compresses video in a way that makes it good for streaming. H.264 makes video cheaper to package into physical media like BluRay disks and cheaper to send over the Internet via services. It’s often used to encode HD cable channels and is used as part of the preferred format for Apple’s iOS devices. Google’s main issue against H.264 is that the ideas behind it are patented, so any software makers who want to encode or decode H.264 video have to pay into a licensing pool called MPEG LA once their audiences reaches a certain size. For Chrome-only licensing, Google could save a capped $6.5 million per year in license fees.H.264 can [be] expensive for software and hardware developers to license if it doesn’t fall into this narrow line of use. MPEG LA, the keeper of the H.264 codec, told Mozilla to cough up $5 million to license H.264 in the Firefox browser–which is why there’s no H.264 support in Firefox. However, it really is not about money. Google’s royalty fees for the H.264 codec are literally a rounding error on top of a rounding error. $6.5 million over Googles revenue machine of $17.68 billion.

Google is the largest provider of video content on the web and has sworn allegiance to HTML 5 as a tool for enforcing open standards on the web. This all augurs well in line of supporting the small developers and content providers on the web free of any licensing requirements. Google is taking the long view, and wants video to be unencumbered go forward, so it can flourish just like HTML and the web did.

Dropping of H.264: Not justified

The codec form that Chrome is supporting currently, VP8 or WebM in its new avatar has not been upto mark.Practical studies have shown that H.264 uses LESS power and can deliver HIGHER QUALITY content than VP8 at the same bitrate.
Virtually all codecs are based on patented technology, and many of the essential patents may be the same as those that are essential to AVC/H.264. Therefore, users should be aware that a license and payment of applicable royalties is likely required to use these technologies developed by others, too. However, licensing H.264 costs a relative pittance for larger companies because licencees not only get to use the H.264 codec, they also get the right to use an enormous portfolio of patents from 26 companies in the pool administered by the MPEG Licensing Authority (MPEG-LA).That provides security against patent-related lawsuits. Indeed, it was a key reason for Microsoft’s decision to adopt H.264. Thus, H.264 provides the best certainty and clarity with respect to legal rights from the many companies that have patents in this area.
However, H.264 has serious advantages which could backfire seriously on this choice that Chrome has made. Consider this: Just about every modern graphic processing unit (GPU) now has H.264 decoding built into the silicon, and IE9 is going to take advantage of hardware acceleration for graphics and text.” That has a huge impact on performance, battery life, and heat, all of which are crucial to the next wave of computing platforms.

While, the Chrome announcement could foreshadow an announcement by Google of dropping of H.264 support across all screens and all products, but in the meantime H.264 is so widely used that for Chrome users it will likely mean another addition to an already significant amount of incompatibility issues on the Web — issues that end up being solved by plugins and other installables that popup and annoy users.

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