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Google Open Sources VP8 and it's Going Into Flash - Take That, H.264!

05.19.2010
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The first big announcement at Google I/O today was a game-changer for HTML5 web video.  As many predicted, Google announced the open sourcing of On2's VP8 video codec.  Unlike H.264, which is patent encumbered, or Ogg Theora, which might have a patent pool being assembled against it, VP8 is now fully open and completely royalty-free.  Just minutes later, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch announced that his company would use VP8 in Flash.


Before today, On2, which was acquired by Google, had over 2 billion VP8 installs recorded.  Google found that the codec was a great piece of technology that was optimized for the web, efficient with bandwidth, and a best-in-class coder for real-time streaming video.  Google didn't forget about audio codecs either.  The Ogg Vorbis audio codec will join VP8 in the WebM initiative.  You can find a WebM developer preview now at webmproject.org.

For years, the battle over HTML5's video codec has raged on.  Although H.264 is an excellent codec and royalty-free until 2016 for non-commercial video, it's patented - and that doesn't sit well with the "open" web philosophy.  Ogg Theora on the other hand, is not patent encumbered (so far), but its quality is inferior.  By the grace of Google, we now have a third player in this arena (with performance potentially on par with H.264) that adheres to the open web ideology and is well-positioned for rapid growth.



Google has already started re-encoding the entire library of YouTube HTML5 videos using WebM codecs.  As if that weren't enough to give WebM a serious push towards massive adoption, Kevin Lynch came on stage a few minutes later to make another major announcement.  After fiddling with some shiny new HTML5 and CSS features in Dreamweaver CS5, and a new multi-device screen view, Lynch told the audience that Adobe would be putting VP8 inside Flash player.  After the applause died down, he said that Adobe is going to distribute VP8 to a billion people in less than a year.  Now that's push.

Ogg Theora supporters, Mozilla and Opera, are also putting their weight behind WebM and supporting the "industrial strength" royalty-free technology in their browsers.  VP8 can harness multiple cores and also work with low power devices.  The developers at Ogg have already started supporting the WebM initiative in their work with Vorbis.  Representatives from both Mozilla and Opera got up on stage to show their browsers running the VP8 codec in HTML5 video.  

I wonder how Steve Jobs will defend his statement that "All video codecs are covered by patents" now.  

Update:  A ZDNet report says that Microsoft will be supporting WebM in IE9.  If true, it could be curtains for H.264 in HTML5.