Ronnie05's Blog

Chrome and H.264 (Part II)

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on January 19, 2011

Continued from an earlier post

Chrome believes that the licensed H.264 codec that is currently supported by Microsoft and Apple stifles the cause of open web and innovation. In an earlier post, i had written about the benefits and pitfalls of Chrome dropping H.264. This post examines the Chrome alternative to H.264 and the eco-system view of he same.

The Alternative: WebM

Google spent around $107 million in 2009 to buy On2, makers of a video codec called V8 that it later open-sourced under the name WebM. Chrome’s move could boost adoption of WebM at the expense of H.264. Or perhaps it’s the first step in an attempt to overthrow the H.264 altogether, a move that would probably impact Apple’s screen-spanning media empire and not likely that of Adobe’s Flash since Adobe has expressed intent to support WebM in near future. WebM is currently supported by only 17% of browsers whereas, H.264’s has big benefits from iPads to set-top-boxes it works on most of the screens people use. To unseat H.264 in popularity, Google’s WebM standard would have to find support across all the screens we use.

The eco-system view of Chrome’s dropping H.264

This puts Google at odds with Microsoft, which has publicly declared its support for H.264 as the default video codec in IE9. Microsoft has already likened the Chrome decision to drop H.264 to abandoning English.More importantly, it puts Apple between a rock and a hard place. Apple doesnot support the Adobe Flash and now Chrome will not deliver H.264 coded content. That nixes Apple’s media content. One vital question is whether future versions of Chrome will actively block the installation of H.264 support via plug-ins, especially in devices running the Chrome OS. If Google takes that drastic approach, it risks alienating content providers and developers.

Apple and Microsoft currently support H.264 in HTML5 and, as the defaults browser providers for their respective platforms, are likely to keep H.264 in majority use. Mozilla’s Firefox and Opera’s self-titled browser currently only support open formats like WebM and Ogg Theora, but both currently have flat market share where only Chrome and Safari have been seeing measurable gains.

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