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02 February 2011, 16:46

Microsoft releases H.264 plug-in for Google Chrome on Windows

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H.264 Logo Following Google's recent announcement last month that it would pull H.264 HTML5 support from its Chrome web browser, Microsoft has announced that it has released a plug-in for Chrome on Windows to provide support for H.264 video. This isn't Microsoft's first H.264 add-on: in mid-December, the company released an add-on for Mozilla's Firefox browser that allows for the playback of H.264 encoded video on web pages using the built-in abilities of Windows 7.

In a post on the IEBlog, Microsoft Internet Explorer Corporate VP Dean Hachamovitch, commented that, "Setting aside the speculation about the reasons and objectives, this [Google] announcement has created instability and uncertainty around video on the Web". He and his colleagues at Microsoft higjlight several questions that they've heard as part of the public conversation about H.264 and WebM, adding that, "To get back on track, technical enthusiasts, developers, businesses, and consumers need consistent and sustainable answers to many questions about WebM. These groups also deserve to be part of an open discussion."

H.264 / MPEG-4 Part 10 or AVC (Advanced Video Coding) was one of the earliest compression standards for high definition video and has become a de facto standard for the video industry. While it is widely used for commercial applications, the algorithms used in H.264 are patented and subject to licence fees in countries that recognise software patents. Licensing is administered by the MPEG Licensing Authority, although in August 2010, MPEG LA announced that royalties will never be charged to end users for H.264 encoded video that is distributed free of charge.

On the other hand, the WebM / VP8 video format is an open, royalty-free media file format for the web that was introduced by Google in May of 2010 as part of its WebM Project. The format does not require a plug-in and allows users to stream high-quality content over the internet, while also having a small footprint. In addition to Google and the FSF, other WebM supporters include Mozilla, the organisation behind the Firefox web browser, and Opera – Microsoft and Apple both support H.264.

The H.264 plug-in, referred to as the "Windows Media Player HTML5 Extension for Chrome", is available to download from Microsoft's Interoperability Bridges and Labs Center web site under a Microsoft proprietary licence (direct download RTF file). Hachamovitch notes that the yet to be released update to Internet Explorer, version 9, will include support for H.264

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