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Chrome and H.264: Endlines (Part III)

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on January 20, 2011

Without Google’s support Chrome’s decision to drop H.264 may be a spoiler for its own future (and it hasnt been as bright for Chrome as other Google products)

Advantage Flash. Chrome may suddenly become a little less useful

Most mainstream accessible HD video both online and off today is encoded in H.264 and would need to be either transcoded or put into a Flash container to be viewable in Chrome. Some developers and video editors have said they plan to abandon Chrome as an explicit target since they would have to support at least two and possibly three video implementations to get Chrome to work. Third-party plugins may work around the flaw, but critics have noted that Google so far hasn’t been consistent in dropping proprietary formats and still has fully integrated Flash.

Half Move

Google, with the growing popularity of its Android mobile OS and the recent introduction of Google TV, packaged into electronics by technology companies like Logitech, is growing its reach to the point where it could perhaps mount a challenge to H.264 across all screens. However, Chrome dropping support for H.264 is a half move really because Google continues to support H.264 in its Android mobile operating system and will likely will probably continue to serve thousands upon thousands of videos in H.264 via YouTube. That makes Google’s Chrome-only announcement relatively impotent. Depending on whether Google chooses to extend this technology decision to its other products, the dropping of H.264 support in Chrome could be either hugely influential or dismissively foolish.

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.

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.

Contd here

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