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A Vicious Debate Rages

Posted on Mar 4, 2011 by in Company Thoughts, News & Events | 0 comments


You may have read rumblings of a truly important debate recently. Both sides seem to refuse compromise, using misguided logic to rationalize their points.

What? Who’s Scott Walker? Oh. Oh my, he trying to… Well, wow, but that’s not what I was getting at.

I meant the video codec and playback debate, of course!

HTML5, looking to standardize the Web retroactively, has created an incredible tool: the tag within its markup. This allows any video to be play without embedding methods, which can be resource intensive.

Much like the tag, which brings an image in purely with a designation of its source, the tag will add many options for customization and more efficient playback. Sounds amazing, right? But there’s a catch.

The video has to be decoded by the browser. In the past, video was decoded by application plug-ins (Quicktime, Windows Media Player) and more recently this task falls to Adobe’s Flash.

It’s a fairly technical issue, but broadly, it comes down to three technologies. Flash, H.264 and WebM. Flash is proprietary but installed on nearly all internet-connected computers. H.264 is licensed but open-use and is relatively popular (Vimeo, YouTube). WebM is open source but has little support.

The goal is to keep video as open as possible, which is why the debate could become interesting.

Playing video with Flash can be usurped with the tag. The Flash plug-in has been unreliable on Mac and on many new mobile platforms.

Safari (Apple) and Internet Explorer (Microsoft) are both support H.264 and have no trouble paying the licensing fees associated with it. The quality of H.264 is well established.

Chrome (Google), recently, announced it was dropping support for H.264 in favor of WebM a lower quality standard that they recently opened to the public. This in order to enhance an open Web.

Firefox (Mozilla) has backed the actions of Chrome. Of the browsers mentioned, they have the strongest argument. They don’t have a multi-billion dollar corporation backing them, paying any licensing fees.

So does Google’s announcement and WebM support make the Web more open?

Google has recently made a call for patents related to WebM’s framework. A license fee may come about from that process. Their own browser comes packaged with a proprietary plug-in (Flash).

WebM is a lower-quality standard, but it’s free, so Safari and Internet Explorer may support it. Potentially, it becomes as ubiquitous as Flash.

What do I hope for?

I want a well-supported standard, a baseline, with higher-quality browsers using H.264 or another high-quality standard in tandem.

It may not be the debates in Washington or Wisconsin, but I’m curious how it will all turn out. Aren’t you?

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