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18 January 2011, 13:24

WebM: Google explains

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WebM Logo Google's decision to remove H.264 support for the HTML5 <video> video element from Chrome sparked considerable discussion last week. Now, Chrome product manager Mike Jazayeri has tried to answer the most frequently asked questions. The executive also announced that plug-ins for Safari and IE9 are planned in order to provide WebM support in the remaining browsers which support H.264. However, Jazayeri didn't mention a release date for these plug-ins.

Responding to the question of why Google will only support WebM and Ogg Theora for HTML5 video, Jazayeri listed several arguments. For example, he said that web developers who want to use HTML5 video are currently forced to support two formats because there is no consensus about a standard video format. While Firefox and Opera support the open WebM and Ogg Theora codecs, and will not support H.264 due to its licensing requirements, Safari and Internet Explorer 9 support H.264. "It is clear that there will not be agreement to specify H.264 as the baseline codec in the HTML video standard due to its [commercial] licensing requirements." The executive said that, since Google – like the W3C – believes that core web technologies need to be based on open formats, his company has decided to invest in the open WebM alternative. H.264 content can still be rendered in Chrome via Flash and Silverlight.

Another accusation has been that the move was an effort by Google to control the web video format. Jazayeri responded that Google has no desire or intent to control the WebM format, and that WebM is backed and developed by many in the web community. Google's goal is to see HTML5 video become a first-class web video platform.

By moving away from H.264 and, at the same time, releasing the hardware design of a VP8 / WebM decoder, Google has continued to exert pressure on the H.264 patent holders. Last February, the H.264 patent holders initially extended the royalty free period for users streaming free internet content until 2016, and later further extended this to the end of life of the licence, following the announcement of the "Open Web Media Project" (WebM). However, it remains to be seen whether the patent holders will also waive their royalties for H.264 decoders that are integrated into web browsers.


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